Iron-mine Seal as ½a Postage Stamp

For reasons not clear, the Jammu square obliterator (“the iron-mine” seal) was used to produce a rose-red watercolor on native paper, thus raising its status, in Masson’s phrase, to the “dignity of a die.” These are rare items: a few undated pieces and a dozen or so covers confined to a period of a few weeks. At left is a detail from a September 1877 cover in the Hellrigl collection. The red watercolor was always carefully self-obliterated in black, evidence perhaps of intrigue to hide what was underneath. These items are generally referred to as “Jammu Provisionals,” though their status as legitimate productions has been increasingly questioned. The key modern reference is Wolfgang Hellrigl’s “The Jammu Seal Provisional: An Emergency Issue or a Postal Forgery?” in Fakes, Fogeries, Experts 11, 2008. This article from the annual of the Interational Association of Philatelic Experts (A.I.E.P.) contains a history and an exhaustive accounting of the currently-known examples, with color images.

That there was a need for provisionals at the time can certainly be doubted, what with the spate of oilcolor experimentation that had been going on in the Jammu office from that summer. Most examples are on external covers to India marked with the 1a Postage Due seal on account of the want of British postage for crossing the border. The town of Ferozepore, not otherwise prominent in J&K doings, figures heavily in the postal exploits of this seal.

Restrike of the Seal.  The impression shown above is one of the Staal-Sharma restrikes of 1981 in purple ink done with the authentic implement. It is shown here to show the inscription on the seal. As an obliterating implement, it replaced the Jammu circular seal that was being struck in black since the summer of ’68. The first word mohr ~ ‘seal’ is to be found in the lower-right corner of the design. Stacking upwards and leftwards we have mohr-e āhan-e kān-e jammūn 1915 ~ ‘Seal of the Iron Mine of Jammu 1858 AD’. The seal retired from service in August or September 1879, i.e., during the early New Rectangulars period. Combining all of its careers, that amounts to more than twenty years of use.

Now here is a remarkable thing: the use of the Jammu square seal as a transit marking in April 1873. We can choose different names for the color, all of them slightly unflattering. With thanks to Wolfgang Hellrigl. Anthony Bard reports another for 1878.

Now here is another remarkable thing, from the Hellrigl exhibition. Two iron-mines, seemingly smooshed to resemble circulars, accompany the exceptionally rare ½a red on European white laid paper. The dating on the left side is 14 baisākh 1934 ~ 25 April 1877, with corroborative dating on the reverse, twice. Which is to say, early, both for the stamps (more than and 10 months) and for the “provisional” (some four months).

In other words, there are two kinds of “provisionals,” an early forerunner that attempted to mimic circulars, and the later examples that attempted to mimic rectangulars. The latter obviously had advantages because of the straight-edge problem that plagues the circular ruse.

Masson was the one who had originally brought the matter of the rose-red production to the attention of collectors: “A New Stamp,” Phil. J. India 4, 185 (1900). What follows is an excerpt his account of the matter in Volume I of his book, 1900:

“I have mentioned the square obliterator used at Jammu from 1869 to 1878. I have made a much closer acquaintance with this obliterator while my book has been going through the press, and I find it so specially interesting as to deserve a supplementary chapter. I recognized the impression, amongst a number kindly supplied by Captain Godfrey—from the many obliterators, mostly of the new rectangular period, preserved in the Treasury at Jammu—and the seal itself has since been carefully examined. I reproduce the impression. The inscription reads Mohr Ahan Kan, Jammu, with the date 1915, in small figures at the top. This date corresponds with our 1858, eight years before stamps were introduced in Kashmir, and there is nothing whatever to show how it came to be used for postal purposes. Nor is its original use clear. The translation generally arrived at by persons consulted by both Captain Godfrey and myself is “the seal of the iron quarries,” and the idea is that originally it was for use at the iron mines at one time worked in the Jammu Province.

“But what makes the seal specially interesting is that impressions from it were used as postage stamps, and this raises it to the dignity of a die. Captain Godfrey showed me an impression, on an undoubted original, where it appears half on the envelope, and half on a small square of plain paper gummed to the envelope to represent a stamp. In this case perhaps the impression must still be considered only an obliteration, in which case the blank piece of paper becomes an unchronicled stamp! But impressions were also taken in the ordinary red watercolour of the Jammu old rectangular stamps, and pieces of paper having these impressions, were undoubtedly used as stamps. I possess four copies, which puzzled me sorely. They are poor blurred impressions, but I was convinced they were from the obliterator, used as a die, and I often expressed this opinion to my friends. I did not, however, risk declaring them stamps until they became chained through Captain Godfrey’s discovery. All four were used in September or October 1877, and all are obliterated in the usual way—the same seal thus being used as a die and as an obliterator. The only solution, I can think of is, that about this time the Post-office at Jammu—where all were posted—must have run out of postage stamps, and been under the necessity of manufacturing them on the premises. Captain Godfrey was assured by old officials that the obliterating seals were used to frank letters when Post-offices thus ran out of stamps, and he has envelopes bearing clear seal impressions, and no stamps, which would support this assertion. But it seems to me that when impressions are taken on separate pieces of paper, in the colours of the correct stamp, and these are obliterated in the usual way, then they cease to be franks and are raised to the status of postage stamps.”

Speaking of rose-red watercolors, here is a curious thing from our own collection, date and status here unknown. It too has features of a circular cancelled appropriately at Jammu, but it also exhibits straight edges and other features of geometry hard to account for. Does this piece belong to the same saga of the iron-mine seal being used to mimic a circular? The distinctive pinkish cast, a shade otherwise unrepresented in the circular reds so far as we know, and the demeanor do seem akin to those shown above. (Dr Hellrigl’s scans are always more subdued than our own, while ours variously err in other directions.) It is really the combination of pigment, straight edges, and established precedent that keeps the possibility alive for us. “Provisionally,” of course.

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