When I came across this cover, my heart skipped a beat. I was familiar with old Stanley Gibbons catalogues that listed a 6d Britannia green (1876) bisect, SG96a. It had been removed when the catalogue was rationalised, but so were many shades and varieties, and not always because they were dubious. Moreover, the 17 numeral cancel had all the right nuances and the cover has a look of authenticity. So buying it was a bet, but not a blind one.
Needless to say the cover came without any references or paper trails, so piecing together its history and pedigree has been quite a task.
The Background of the SG96a.
The earliest SG listing I found was 1923 so it follows that an example must have come to the attention of the catalogue editors around 1920. This example, shown in Figure 1, found its way into the famous Hodsell Hurlock collection and was submitted to the RPSL for expertising. The RPSL kindly searched their records and confirmed that;
“the RPSL Expert Committee originally
considered this item at the meeting of
They also confirmed that this was the only
This cover next turned up as a lot in the Hodsell Hurlock Sale of 1958. It was listed as;
After this point its fall from grace was swift. The SG96a listing was removed from the 1960 SG catalogue. The current SG catalogue editor kindly looked through their records to explain the circumstances. I quote;
I have examined our files and find that the 6d.bisect, formerly SG 96a, was removed for the 1960 catalogue on the advice of John Marriott who said: "Have you examined the Hurlock example? I believe it is the only one – and it does not convince me at all. I have never discovered any documentary evidence for it - nor was there a need for the bisect from the point of view of postal rates". It is clear that a good deal of correspondence was going on between Mr (later, Sir John) Marriott and FW Wall at SG regarding the Trinidad listings at which time a number of reasons were made.
Interestingly, the cover was resubmitted to
the RPSL for an updated opinion, but this time at a meeting on
A Second Look at the Evidence.
The Date Stamps
The bisect is tied to the cover by a Marriott Type 7 numeral cancel from Couva, (assigned number 17). Figure 2 shows this cancel along with two reference examples copied from stamps. It seems apparent that the position of the numbers and letters were set by hand and not held rigidly fixed to the outer circle. This means that there is some relative movement of the numbers and letters. This said, some features appear constant over time, the most distinctive of which concerns the year. Here the first 8 is raised while the following 2 numerals fall away.
When the cancel is overlaid with the reference strike with nearest date, Ref. 1, (10 months later), both the position of the 17 and the day and month are excellent matches. The relative placement of the numbers in the year is well matched but the whole element is shifted upwards. The next reference strike, (Ref. 2, 15 months later), shows more shifting upwards of elements relative to both the original cancel and Ref. 1. But again, the relative placement of the letters and numbers in the elements are constant.
The Route and Dates
In 1877 mail was carried to and from Couva
on the Cedros Steamer, as the railway did not reach Couva until 1880. The original
notice of 1851 has the service operating from
At the time,
The Need for a Bisect
The need for bisects arose because of the absence of
a particular value. In the main, this was caused either by stocks running out,
or the introduction of a new rate and a delay in receiving new suitable denominations.
With regard to stocks running out, clearly this can happen on an island wide
basis or temporarily at smaller offices. In the latter case the bisect would
be much rarer, being applied on a small number quantity of mail and for a short
period of time. In
In our case a bisect would only be necessary if the Couva Post Office ran out of 1d stamps. There is no way to know if actually happened but it is possible to present some circumstantial evidence in the form of demand for 1d stamps. The implication being that a sharp increase in demand would increase the likelihood of running out. The table below estimates demand of 1d stamps from the orders placed [vii] .
Date of Order
Approx. time to next order
14,000 per month
110,000 per month
55,000 per month
20,000 per month
These estimates suggest that around the time of the introduction of UPU rates the demand for 1d stamps did spike, making the possibility of a small office running out more likely.
This is perhaps the most quizzical aspect of
the cover and the perhaps the one which caused Marriott the most unease. The
first thing to note is that this cover was sent during a time when postal rates
were in flux.
The table of postage rates printed in the Trinidad
“In addition to all kinds of Printed Engraved or Lithographed matter, Legal and Commercial Documents and Music in manuscript may be sent Book Packet…. Inscription in Manuscript and Printed or Lithographed Stocks or Share Lists, Prices Current, and Market Reports may have the Prices added in writing” (see Figure 5).
It is not unreasonable to believe that some legal or commercial documents could be sent to an employee of the leading regional bank. Such a letter would command the 3d book rate.
The Penny Drops
Admittedly, the circumstance in which this bisect would be needed, are remote. It requires the Couva Post Office to have run out of 1d stamps at the same time as someone demanding a somewhat obscure rate. However, improbability is not sufficient grounds to dismiss an item, to do this would rid the world of many rarities.
Up to this point there were some good grounds
for being optimistic, until that is, I followed up a reference to a series of
articles by Robson Lowe from 1960 and 1961, titled George’s Work. (George
is a pseudonym for an unnamed forger to whom Robson Lowe attributed a number
of dangerous forgeries including the
Strong words from such an authority should
not be taken lightly. The article also showed a number of covers from other
British Colonies with the same handwriting style. One 1881 cover from
This provided the final nail in the coffin because when the two bisects are lined up it is abundantly clear that they are two halves of the same used stamp. The original stamp was a real 6d Britannia with a clear strike of a 17 numeral cancel. This was bisected and tied to both covers with a forged partial cancel based on the other half of the stamp (see Figure 7). This explains why the cancel is such a good match to genuine ones.
What is clear from the attention to detail, is that George was a first rate forger. To get the transit dates consistent with established dates and select a real verifiable person as the addressee, he must have also done his homework. As far as I could ascertain, the identity of George is still unknown, (despite Robson Lowe’s offer of a reward anyone who could unmask George).
I would be interested to hear from other BCPSG members who have other covers addressed to TJ Howell or have suspicions that they have one of George’s creations. Please e-mail me at email@example.com
The author would like to thank the following for generously providing help, guidance and information; Edmund Bayley, David Druett, Peter C. Elias, Charles Freeland, Taitt Glenroy (UWI, Trinidad), Michael Hamilton, Hugh Jefferies (Stanley Gibbons), Mike Nethersole, Ellen Peachey (American Philatelic Research Library), Fitz Roett, John Shaw (RPSL), The Barbados Museum & Historical Society.
Chin Aleong, Joe & Proud, Edward (1997)
The Postal History of Trinidad & Tobago
Heathfield, Proud Bailey
Clarke, George L.W., Radford, Reynold and Cave, Stephen (1982).
The De La Rue Printings
The Chairman of the Expert Committee (Robson Lowe)
Philately (BPA Journal), March/April 1961 pg 116-117.
The Chairman of the Expert Committee (Robson Lowe)
Philately (BPA Journal), July/August 1961 pg 148-149, continued in September/October 1961 pg 164-165, and November/December 1961.
Manes, Dr. Rene P. (1999)
Survey of British
Sir John Marriott Collection of
and Son (
"The Major Portions of the Gold Medal Collections
[i] See Chin Aleong, Joe & Proud, Edward (1997), Pg 61
[ii] The Trinidad Chronicle of
[iii] In a letter, one Trinidad Chronicle
reader complained of the time added to the journey to
[v] Information provided by the
[vii] The assumption being that orders for fresh stocks would be placed when supplies fell to a certain constant level.
[viii] See Chin Aleong, Joe & Proud, Edward (1997), Pg 77.