Philately Study during the British Colonial Period in Ceylon – Dulshan Ellawela

The third book by veteran philatelist Dulshan Ellawela. The product is a result of his MPhil thesis completed at University of the Visual and Performing Arts, Colombo, Sri Lanka.

The book focuses number of areas including:

  • Evaluation of Ceylon Colonial Stamps
  • Design of Colonial postage stamps
  • Evaluation of the printing, counterfeiting and error stamps utilized during Queen Victoria era
  • Evaluation of Ceylon Revenue and Telegraph stamps
  • Evaluation of Ceylon patent envelopes based on the discovered historical envelope

The reader would be left with new findings that would question the existing literature produced prior to this book being published and ensure to keep an open mind about the history of Philately in Sri Lanka

The book is available to purchase online via this link. Retail price is Rs 5500.

2 Reviews for this book published in the Sunday Times and Sunday Observer of Sri Lanka.

Review 1: Review on the Sunday Times, 9th July 2023

An indelible stamp on forgeries

“Be like a postage stamp. Stick to one thing until you get there” -Josh Billings

An illustration from the book

Dulshan Ellawela has recently published his MPhil research — ‘Philatelic study during the British colonial period in Ceylon’ with the front page featuring an elegant design. Ellawala is a stamp collector and enthusiast with a keen interest in scholarly works. His collection of stamps, old envelopes, blocks, and other philatelic materials is extensive. He is a former student of Ananda College, Colombo, with a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of East London and a Master’s in Philosophy from the University of the Visual and Performing Arts in Colombo.

In his publication, the area of counterfeit stamps intrigued me greatly. The counterfeit stamp may be an exact copy of authentic postage stamps that have been altered to appear valuable or scarce. Most forgeries, particularly of rare postage stamps, are worth only a small fraction of the value of the genuine stamp; however, it is likely that renowned forgers have created certain varieties. Postal counterfeits, or postal forgeries, are frequently used to denote stamps that have been forged to defraud the government of revenue.

Counterfeit stamps issued during the
British colonial period

“Philately study during the British colonial period in Ceylon” examines the philosophical and aesthetic elements used in the design of postage stamps, as well as their incorporation into forgeries. In addition, a deeper mathematical analysis reveals that Ceylon’s postage stamps are counterfeited. Subsequently, the counterfeit stamps are identified by the author by eliminating them from collections of authentic stamps.

Why is it important
to know about forgeries?

The Dull Rose (1859) stamp, which had a face value of four pence when it was auctioned off, brought in a price of $71,875.00 at the Cherrystone auction in January of 2008. This made it Ceylon’s most expensive stamp ever to be sold at auction. Due to the scarcity of stamps, its price rose to an extremely high level. The author has given an in-depth examination of the counterfeiting method that was implemented in the production of the Dull Rose stamp by making use of the four-pence perforated lower catalogue value Ceylon stamps. Due to the value of these stamps, it is extremely important to identify them, as anyone can be conned into buying a fake.

“Counterfeit” stamps published by the Department of Posts (2015) in their publication ‘Postage Stamps of Sri Lanka, Volume 1’ are the subject of an extensive discussion in Chapter 3.2. The chapter is titled “Investigation of the Ceylon counterfeit stamps issued during the British Colonial period.” The reader will be able to gain a better understanding of counterfeit stamps that are currently circulating among stamp collectors and visually identify them after reading this. In his research, the author divides counterfeit stamps into two categories based on their face value: eight pence and four pence. In the eight pence stamp, he mathematically and aesthetically illustrates the forgeries depicted in “Postage Stamps
of Sri Lanka, Volume 1”.

In this evaluation, the author has considered a few significant aspects of the artwork and demonstrated the differences between counterfeit and authentic stamps. In addition, he identified the counterfeit Ceylon Dull Rose stamp depicted in “Postage Stamps of Sri Lanka, Volume 1.”

The beginning of the inscription “CEYLON” on the four pence Dull Rose counterfeit stamp depicted in “Postage Stamps of Sri Lanka, volume 1” is positioned incorrectly. Since this was not previously identified by authorities, Ellawela deserves credit for a significant achievement. Importantly, he also revealed that some of the four-penny stamps in Volume 1 had the same counterfeit artwork. In addition, he outlined the margin-adding and trimming techniques used to forge Ceylon’s Dull Rose stamps.

According to the author, the fake stamp was produced in large quantities as an overprinted stamp. Fake postage stamps are authentic stamps that have been altered so that they can be reproduced in a different format to deceive the public. In his research the author has identified the fake Ceylon CSL262 I/SG361b stamp published by the Postage Stamps of Sri Lanka, Volume 1.In order to illustrate the correct stamp issue, he also depicted the SG361b genuine stamp with the certificate issued by The B.P.A. Expertising Limited London Expert Committee.

An argument is made in this author’s work based on his words, which state “that for an overprinted stamp to be error-free, the surcharge value must conceal the stamp’s initial value.” He has made this statement to avoid confusion among collectors, because, in most cases, the original value was not concealed when the surcharge was imposed. According to the author, “erroneous stamps” are those that need to be brought to attention whenever a stamp displays two different values.

“Philately study during the British Colonial period in Ceylon” contains five chapters. The review was based on the data presented in Chapter 3. Reviewing the complete book is a challenging task but the book is required reading for all philatelists due to its extensive coverage of philately-related topics.

(The reviewer is an expert on philatelic)

Review 2: Review on the Sunday Observer, 11th June 2023

Why and how should we look at stamps? by Anoma Jayasinghe

Review of “Philately study during the British colonial period in Ceylon”.

When asked about postage stamps, we will mostly recall two images: firstly, the traditional paper mail system with its envelopes, letters, and postmen on bicycles ringing their bells, or the collector or philatelist looking attentively at a small stamp through large magnifying glasses. Both ideas are quite accurate, and they both also carry a «smell of the past».

However, most of us do not depend on the postman to deliver our letters. The arrival of instant e-mail and social media has made them the standard means of our private and public communication. If you find a letter in your (physical) mailbox today, most likely it will be a bill, a bank notification, or some commercial propaganda in a pre-paid envelope with no stamps attached or bearing the mark of an automatic postage machine. Stamps now have an aura of both antiquity and curiosity, but not one of being a product of everyday, generalised use.

However, we should not forget that right before our generation, stamps were an extremely common, even pervasive object of modernity. Many postal authorities have issued stamps both in large quantities and for extended periods of time; they have been sold and used almost everywhere, and together with the envelopes they were glued to, they reached almost every corner of the world. Stamps constitute a standard part of the everyday lives of all of us or our families.

Seminal work

In this seminal book, keeping with the title, the author is able to develop new categorisation groups for Queen Victoria stamps based on colour and font variations, and the construction of the new grouping system revealed the dissimilarity between the artworks. In addition to evaluating the author’s collection of Ceylon’s stamps, several colour variations of Dull Rose postal stamps were identified. “Philately study during the British colonial period in Ceylon” by Dulshan Ellawela is a must-read for all citizens, whether he or she is a stamp collector or not.

For most of us, stamps are only small, colourful pieces of paper affixed to envelopes and packages to get the mail to its destination. We still use stamps frequently, but rarely stop to think of their rich imagery and multiple messages. And even if we do, we tend to look at them from our perspectives: as consumers mailing postcards to friends, as stamp collectors, or perhaps as a state representative behind a particular stamp issue. This timely book consists of five illustrative and colourful chapters that teach you how to evaluate Ceylon colonial stamps and the printing methodology of stamps, counterfeiting, and error stamps utilised during the Queen Victoria Era.

This book begins by quoting Josh Billings, “Be like a postage stamp. Stick to one thing until you get there”.

In Chapter 3.1, the author especially investigates the printing techniques used to produce Ceylon postage stamps during the reign of Queen Victoria. Using plate A, he was attempting to spark a discussion regarding the printing process of the Ceylon SG11 stamp. Based on the authenticity of Plate A, the author has made some significant findings. The author describes in detail how SG127/CSE79 and SG121/CSE73 Ceylon stamps were printed using Plates B and C using the typographic printing method. This helps the reader visualise the incorporation of the printing technique.

The author says, “All of his aforementioned judgements and conclusions were made on the assumption that printing plates A, B, and C are authentic” and“It is quite doubtful that the perforations on the printing plates are engraved. Such assumptions are based on Plates B and C” recovered from the Thomas Cliffe stamp factory in Rhyl, North Wales, so it is evident that he has conducted his research based on assumptions.

Printing Plates A, B and C

This valuable book provides an insightful discussion of printing techniques.  It is abundantly clear that the purpose of this book based on research is not to establish the authenticity of the plates. However, some readers who are not properly reading this book may discuss the authenticity of these plates.

These readers should be aware that this book is the result of an MPhil thesis and that the author was attempting to analyse the printing techniques employed during the reign of Queen Victoria, not the authenticity of plates. In addition, it is abundantly clear that even though Plates B and C are reproductions, this does not affect the evaluation of the typographic printing method.

This book is also an excellent illustration of how the visual content analysis methodology can be applied to the event analysis of stamps.

This study examines the philosophical and aesthetic elements used in the design of postage stamps, as well as their incorporation into forgeries. In addition, a deeper mathematical analysis reveals that Ceylon’s postage stamps are counterfeit. Subsequently, the counterfeit stamps will be recognised by eliminating them from collections of authentic stamps.

In Chapter 3.2, the “counterfeit” stamps published by the Department of Posts (2015) in their publication ‘Postage Stamps of Sri Lanka, volume 1’ are discussed extensively.

This will enable the reader to gain a greater understanding of counterfeit stamps circulating among stamp collectors and to identify them visually. As a result of a thorough investigation, the author was able to identify the counterfeiting techniques used to forge Ceylon’s most expensive stamp, known as dull rose.

It disclosed unclassified varieties, error stamps, and the redemption of the third and second exchanges. The Ceylon government is responsible for the flaws in the artwork on the Ceylon Telegraph stamps.

The author also identified unclassified types of surcharged stamps and discovered the additional features of Die 1 and Die 2 of the five cent telegraph stamps. According to this study, the 1849 browns patent envelope discovered in the author’s personal collection was the earliest Ceylon patent envelope.

The writer is a researcher and a former staff member of the University of Moratuwa