$25 Revenue Stamps (part I)


General North Borneo Taxes System

The main taxes in North Borneo are poll-tax, criminal and civil fines, land rents and other licences. The poll-tax simply means that every adult native male has to pay one dollar ($1) to the company unless he already pays $3 in other taxes. In an 1884 report of S.E Dalrymple, assistant resident to Keppel province, $900 poll tax have been collected in Putatan district alone.

The General Post Office (GPO) is situated in Jesselton. The postmaster-general is also Superintendant of Telegraphs. The Treasury department is vital. North Borneo has its own State Bank and its own notes and coinage, having adopted the Straits Settlements Currency of the dollar fixed at two shillings and four pence. The finance commissioner is responsible for the stamp issue, which in the past brought to the company significant revenue.

Another important post with regards to revenue collection is the distric offcer (D.O.). A DO is not only responsible for the administration and well-being of his district, but also responsible to maintain the law and order. He is also in charge for the public health, and as a police officer, he is accountable to hunt rebels of the company. As a collector of revenue he collects any fine that may be paid, while as a postmaster, he may sign the invoice of the mail which contains his reports upon the incidence. Additionally he is also the collector of Land Revenue, and holds the power to resolve disputes as to boundaries and ownership. Usually a D.O. has one Chinese and one native clerk, the Chinese responsible for the court work while the native for revenue collections.

What are the $25 Revenue Stamps?

Figure 1: 1889 issue with the word "British"

We have seen these steel blue revenue stamps somewhere, in eBay especially. Most of us, however, wouldn’t have a clue as to what they were or whether they’re worth collecting. In this blog, I will share some of the general information that every North Borneo collectors should know about the stamps.

When the $5 and $10 ‘Postage and Revenue’ stamps were issued in 1889, the British North Borneo (BNB) Company decided to also introduce a $25 denomination stamp solely for revenue purposes. It was not used for any postage purposes and bore the word “Revenue” only. Although there were many colour trials with various colours, eventually the steel blue shade was selected and printed. There are two version of the stamp with regards to perforation, one with 13¾ perforations, and the other is imperforated. Similar to the $5 and $10, or in fact most of the earlier North Borneo stamps, the design incorporates the Company’s coat of arms. In 1894, similar revenue stamp was introduced replacing the word “British” with the words “the state of”. These stamps are also either perforated 13 ¾ or imperforated.

Figure 2: 1894 issue with the word "British" replaced with "The State of"

Printer and Engraver
Up to 1890s, all North Borneo stamps had been engraved by Thomas MacDonald. It is therefore assumed that the $25 revenue stamps were also engraved by the same person, although there is a lack of reference on this. The stamps were lithographed by Blades East & Blades on white paper in sheets of 20, arranged in 4 horizontal rows X 5. Each stamp measures about 3.4cm X 4.15 cm.

Colour Trials

Many colour trials stamps were produced before the steel blue colour was selected. These include orange-brown, pink, yellow etc. These stamps are typically perforated in the middle. In general they are more difficult to find and priced higher than the normal revenue stamps.

Should we collect them?

Figure 5: Imperforated revenue stamp of 1889

Yes, we should collect these stamps because they are the only North Borneo stamps issued solely for revenue purposes. Apart from that, they are they highest stamp denomination of all North Borneo stamps. These stamps are fairly common and easy to find especially the CTO ones, and they are not as expensive as one might imagine. Most of these stamps are either CTO or mint. The mint stamps are probably more expensive than the CTOs. Diligent searches, however, may still find unrecognised example of genuine fiscal use of these stamps, which are extremely rare and should be very valuable.

Stanley Gibbon catalogue does not list these stamps because it only lists postage stamps. This is also true in Scott catalogue, where only USA revenue stamps are listed. Therefore, there are no credible references as to their values. Values are therefore an educated guess at best. The general rule is that the CTO stamps should be valued at around their face value although this can be slightly lower or higher depending on the sellers. The mint stamps should be relatively more expensive than the CTOs and therefore should be valued higher than the face value. In ebay however, there is a wide range of prices depending on the individual seller. On average, these stamps would sell around $15-$25 each. A block of stamps would sell much higher but not in direct multiplication of the general market price for an individual stamp. For example the block of 6 imperforated CTO stamps above sells for around $45.

(Part II - Die flaws in 1889 issue)
(Part III - Die flaws in 1894 issue)

St. Patrick's Day in Cork, Ireland


St. Patrick's Parade in Cork city, Ireland

Postage Paid Postmark of North Borneo?



This is my 2 cent stamp (1886 issue) tied with a blue cancel of the rare lion pictorial.The stamp has a perforation 14, which is the 1886 issue (SG10). The postmark is in blue colour, with the lion symbol fairly clear on top. There is a date at the bottom (25 OC ?) but unfortunately the year is not visible. The picture below (taken from Shipman's Postal History of North Borneo) may give us some indication as to the year i.e. 1887!

Postage Paid Postmark?

To begin with, Postage Paid is basically a mark, indicia or stamp on an envelope to indicate that the correct postage has paid. There are very limited references with regards to this blue postmark and in Proud's book, and this particular postmark is not even shown. There is however a similar postmark, the Sandakan Postage Paid 2 (PP2), showing a circular mark with the lion on top, and incsribed "POSTAGE PAID" in the middle and "1 CENT" at the bottom. Just for the records, here are the other postage paid postmark of North Borneo:

PD2 (Usage: 29.10.92 - 1.12.99)

Similar PD2 postmark

PD4 State 1 (Usage: Possibly around 1901)

Very faint PD4 State 2 (Usage: From 16.6.1930)

50th Anniversary of North Borneo Company Stamps Issues (1931)



If someone asks you what's the most beautiful North Borneo stamps issue, you should consider this one as your answer. In fact, this issue is considered by many as one of the most beautiful British Commonwealth stamps design. Compared to the other definitive issues of North Borneo, these stamps are slightly bigger in size and are beautifully engraved in two colours. These stamps are relatively rare and are getting more pricey every year especially in ebay and other private-owned online shops. If you are interested in investing in North Borneo stamps, I think you should consider this one (the other one, I think, is the 1939 issue without the overprint). Today they are still relatively affordable, but who knows how much they would sell in 5 to 10 years from now.


These stamps were engraved by a famous British empire stamp engraver, J.A.C. Harrison (pic), the same person who engraved Britain's seahorses issues, considered as the best design of British stamps since the Penny black in 1840. In 1930s, he joined the Waterlow and Sons and became its main engraver, producing many engravings of the heads of King George V for use in the British colony. For the 50th anniversary of the British North Borneo Company in 1931, 8 stamps were issued, depicting a Murut man (1 cent), the Orang Utan (6 cents), a Dayak warrior (10 cents), Mount Kinabalu (12 cents), clouded leopard (25 cents), the company's badge ($1), and the arms of the company ($2 and $5). Arabic inscription is written on the left side of the stamp and Chinese inscription on the right, reading the value of respective stamp. The engraving at the centre is in black colour, with each stamp has it's own unique frame design, appearing in distinctive colours.

Stamp values
S.Gibbons (£)
Yvert Tellier(€)
Average  (£)
SG 295 (3 cents)
SG 296 (6 cents) 
SG 297 (10cents) 
SG 298 (12 cents)
SG 299 (25 cents)
SG 300 ($1)
SG 301 ($2)
SG 302 ($5)

Stanley Gibbons full set, Mint set = £250, Used set = £700 ["Specimen" set of 8 = £300]
Scott full set, Mint set = $218, Used set = $331.50
Yvert Tellier full set, Mint set = €365, Used set = €415
The Average price is not the mean of the 3 catalogues but rather a general market price (can be misleading)

Specimen set of the 1931 Stamps

Most Expensive North Borneo Stamps in ebay February 2010


"Most Interesting, Most Expensive February 2010"

From 1st February 2010 to 28 February, some 400-500 North Borneo stamps/philatelic materials have been listed in ebay. Most of these items were the normal stamps/covers that you usually see in ebay all the time. Some, however, were decidedly more interesting, and evidently more expensive. This month, it is even more interesting as most items were sold by one seller and the top 4 items were covers from North Borneo. The cumulative value of the top 5 items this month is $ 2885.31, which is $279.31 more than the cumulative price of the top 5 item last month.





This cover is expensive because of the rare airmail postmark on it. Without the postmark, I doubt, it will ever reach $100 or even $80. Seller dercribed it as "one of the scarest Borneo flight". I have written specifically about the postmark here

It is basically used during survey flights in North Borneo in June 1930 by the RAF sea planes. An aditional charge of 25 cents was added to the normal rates for this special airmail service. The cover is dated 9 June 1930, implying that it was mailed in the first bound Sandakan flight. 
Although the postmark is sufficiently rare, I still feel that $761 for the cover to be quite pricey, at least for me anyway. Nevertheless, you'll be amazed at how much people are willing to spend to collect this kind of rarity. It's not always about the money, it's about  satisfaction too!

Ended 21.02.2010

SG Cat price
> £1000




4 bids


Back of cover click here



This cover comes second, not suprisingly, because of the almost-complete set of North Borneo 1897 issues (10 stamps out of 12). I think the unique aspect of the cover is that it also bears the "Advice of Receipt (AR)" postmark which value about 8 times of the total stamps value. Because the stamps are on cover, the value should be about 4 times more than the normal used value. That means the total value = X 12 (not 8 X 4).

Seller describes the journey of the cover "Sent from Sandakan 9 SEP 1901, Singapore SP 20 1901 transit, London transit of 20 OCT 1901, NY transit of 10-31 1901 and Cincinnati arrival cancel of 1 November 1901". The 18c is the corrected stamp version bearing the inscription "Postage & Revenue" instead of just "Postal Revenue". The 24c stamp also bears the same inscription intead of the 'errored' version where the postal revenue inscription was omitted.

Ended 21.02.2010

SG Cat price >£1000



4 bids


Back of cover click here.

Another quality cover from the same seller. This one comes from Labuan and posted to Mineapolis, USA on 30th Jan 1899. I particularly like the blue cover and the many postmarks on the cover.  

Ended 21.02.10

SG Cat Price (?)

4 bids


Back of cover click here.


Another cover bearing North Borneo stamps of the second North Borneo pictorials. 9 stamps out of 12 were used on the cover. This is a registered cover from Sandakan to Frankfurt, Germany. The $500 price seems to be fair considering the overall condition of the cover and the stamps as well as the clearly visible postmarks.

Ended 28.02.2010

SG Cat Price £



3 bids




This lot comes fifth in the list. It contains a complete set of 1909-1923 stamps issues. All stamps are in used condition and in good overall health. Seller started the auction at $349 and managed to get 1 bid. Overall, I think that this is a valuable lot especially the $5 and $10 stamps. I think the reason why it didn't get as many bids is because the other stamps (1cent - $2) are fairly common. This is nevertheless, a good bargain for such quality stamps.
Ended 28.02.2010

SG Cat Price



1 bid

The selection criteria for this list include (a) stamps/philatelic items of North Borneo appearing in ebay, (b) must be available internationally and (c) must be on auction format only.

This is February 2010 list, check out the other months:
January 2010
March 2010
April 2010