Postage Stamps of Brunei: Early History

Brunei surprisingly was the last among the Borneo states to have its own stamps. Sarawak had theirs in 1869, Labuan despite not being a state in 1879 and Sabah, then known as North Borneo in 1883. Brunei only had theirs in 1895 and even that was considered by stamp enthusiasts as unofficial. Prior to the 1895 issue, the postage stamps used in Brunei was a Sarawak one which was used in Muara, then known as Brooketon. Rajah Brooke ran the coal mining operations there and used the stamps of Sarawak for the community. That postal service in Muara operated from 1893 to 1907.

The 'first' Brunei stamps in 1895 was considered as controversial and known in the stamp world as the 'Brunei Locals'. Printed in Glasgow by a John Robertson who managed to get a concession from the Government - the government gets all internal revenues but he gets all external revenues - was considered as purely speculative. The stamps were considered as 'locals' only - to be used in Brunei but not to be used abroad and was labelled 'bogus' in its early history. For Brunei letters to be sent abroad, it had to have additional Labuan stamps as Brunei then was not a member of the Universal Postal Union (UPU). The Brunei postal services were also described as 'spasmodic' throughout 1895 to 1906 but it was a service nevertheless.

In 1906, the Brunei government started to operate its own postal service. However the first postage stamps that were due to come to Brunei from United Kingdom were said to have been lost in Singapore and an alternative was found at short notice which was to overprint the Crown Colony of Labuan postage stamps with the word BRUNEI. The Labuan stamps were first issued in Labuan in 1902. The first post office was located in the Customs House.

The first of these stamps were used in the inauguration of the Post Office in October 11th, 1906. Since so very few of these early stamps survived, the actual date of the inauguration was also in dispute with some stating that it is October 15th. The stamps are scarce as even in 1906, collectors and dealers were buying up quantities of the mint stamps for investment and it is said that the issue was so heavily speculated at the time of its release but enjoying only a very short life.

By 1907, the proper Brunei stamps had arrived known as the Brunei River Type as the stamps depicted a typical Brunei river scene. A London company, Messrs De La Rue & Co Ltd printed the 1907 stamps and intrestingly enough this same company carried on printing other Brunei stamps until about the 1970s. Between 1908 to 1920, the stamps colours conformed to the UPU requirements of three standard colours - one for printed matter, another for postcard and the third for single letters. In those days, unlike today's multicoloured and multi-image stamps, the colours were standardised to help assist international recognition of the three classes of mail. Uniformity of colours were also carried out under the colonial colour scheme so the colours also confirmed to their counterparts under the Straits Settlement. However during the first world war, Sarawak stamps were used in Brunei as the stock of stamps in Brunei ran out.

In March 1924, a new design was used as well as a change in size. The stamps now show a panoramic view of Kampung Ayer with Brunei Town in the background. The designs were adapted from a sketch made by Mr LA Allan, a former British Resident who in turn took it from a photograph taken from Bubungan Dua Belas, then used as the official residence of the British Resident. The man who took the photograph was the then Resident Mr EEF Pretty.

In 1941, the stamps were sent to Brunei in 'changed colours' and so were unused so as to allow the existing stocks to run out. When the Japanese occupied Brunei during the Second World War, the Japanese government used these unused stamps in 1942 and overprinted them with the words Imperial Japanese Government in Kanji characters.

It wasn't until 1952 before the government issued the first Brunei stamps with the picture of His Majesty Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saiffudien, the 28th Sultan thus beginning the modern era of Brunei stamps.


Zul-Fadly said…
Interesting... I wonder if the people who work at the post office knew about this... This would fit very well in a state of the art National History Museum [If we ever decide to build one that is]
Anonymous said…
I think my dad has those stamps. I thiiink...
Anonymous said…
huh..!! i think i have one old brunei stamp that looks like the 1924 one. have to check it out when i get back home!
Anonymous said…
love reading your blog. gives me a better understanding and appreciation of brunei culture, history, etc.

the old water village house of the 1907 stamp issue looks pretty. do you know if this is a good representation of traditional brunei architecture? and if such structures still exists? eg balinese architecture is very famous n easily identified. is there such thing as brunei architecture?
Hamdi said…
any idea who designed these stamps dude? i'd love to know. love the site btw. what 2nd anonymous said hehe.
second anonymous: it is a fairly good representation of the then brunei architecture. i would have to ask one of my architect friend what is the thpical brunei architecture

hamdi: unfortunately my documents do not have the names of who designed the 1895 and the 1907 stamps. if i find out one day, you will be among the first to know.
Unknown said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said…
i have some collections of those stamps. Im glad you have posted this sort of information regarding postage stamps of Brunei.
aficionado said…
My uncle served in Borneo as a radio operator during WW2 and left me a handful of stamps. there are the De La Rue water scene stamps dated 1907 and the history of the stamps or the value is unknown. Teaching people why they should not pick them up with fingers is an entirely different story.

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