Masson’s Dating

David Parkes Masson (1847-1915) was a most assiduous and careful collector of Kashmir covers “as they were happening.” His dating conversions from the Persian are seen in his distinctive hand in red ink. Some of his conversions are defiantly at odds with the evidence of the British date stamps, which leaves us with a intriguing puzzle. There are, in fact, many cases in which Masson’s conversion puts the despatch date after the delivery date:


Our utility converts “11th Assu” to 25 September, with comfort from the cds. The inconsistecy by almost a week was certainly evident to him, but it clearly did not concern him for some good reason. What was it? Detail, Lot 183 Sturton (“Blue”) Sale.



On these two examples, Masson’s conversion dates were again 6 and 10 days past the delivery date as given by British date stamps. Another little peculiarity shows up in the table below with the pair of covers having Masson assignments 16 & 17 Phagan 1924. He does convert these to successive days, but backward running: 26 & 25 February 1868, respectively.

Examples of Masson’s datings are gathered below (data collection for now). One feature that shows up immediately is that the discrepancies are of markedly different duration, from near perfect agreement to differences one way or the other of (so far) up to 16 days. We begin to feel that these shifts are an artifact of a parallel lunisolar convention, which Masson wished to keep tabs upon for some reason, whereas the postal system adhered to the pure solar convention. How we describe the discrepancies in our table can be seen in the following examples:


For the detail on the left, our conversion utility gives 18 November in place of Masson’s 27 November, and we call that a “+9 day” difference because Masson’s reckoning is later by 9 days. Similarly, the detail on the right converts to 21 April on the utility, thus a “−2 days” would be recorded in the table.


Some Masson Dating Discrepancies
Masson DateMasson Conv.UtilityΔ(days)Source
9 Assu 19233 Oct 186623 Sep 1866+10S&M Plate 11
5 Maghar 192327 Nov 186618 Nov 1866+9
20 Magh 192429 Jan 18681 Feb 1868−3
16 Phagan 192426 Feb 186826 Feb 18680Eames #149
17 Phagan 192425 Feb 186827 Feb 1868−2
10 Maghar 192510 Nov 186823 Nov 1868−13Harell
1 Har 192922 Jun 187213 Jun 1872+9
25 Katak 192910 Nov 18728 Nov 1872+2
29 Maghar 192914 Dec 187212 Dec 1872+2
30 Bhadon 193125 Sep 187413 Sep 1874+12Harell
5 Bhadron 193222 Aug 187519 Aug 1875+3Hellrigl #90
9 Besakh 193317 Apr 187619 Apr 1876−2Haverbeck #1351
11 Besakh 193319 Apr 187621 Apr 1876−2
5 Bhadon 193310 Aug 187619 Aug 1876−9
10 Assu 193313 Sep 187624 Sep 1876−11Harell
18 Katak 193321 Oct 18761 Nov 1876−11
2 Har 193427 Jun 187714 Jun 1877+13Eames #152
1 Bhadon 193424 Aug 187715 Aug 1877+9
11 Assu 19343 Oct 187725 Sep 1877+8Sturton #183
16 Assu 19348 Oct 187730 Sep 1877+8Sturton #192
22 Assu 193414 Oct 18776 Oct 1877+8Hellrigl #60
24 Assu 193416 Oct 18778 Oct 1877+8Hellrigl #59
5 Magh 193424 Jan 187816 Jan 1878+8Hellrigl #57
27 Magh 193416 Feb 18787 Feb 1878+9Sturton #184
5 Phagan 193422 Feb 187815 Feb 1878+7ex Mix
11 Jeth 193527 May 187823 May 1878+4Harell
2 Chet 193520 Mar 1878*13 Mar 1879+7Masson II p.12
6 Chet 193524 Mar 1878*17 Mar 1879+7Masson II p.12
26 Chet 193513 Apr 1878*6 Apr 1879+7Haverbeck #1281
3 Har 19357 Jun 187815 Jun 1878−8
19 Magh 193615 Feb 188030 Jan 1880+16
15 Chet 193623 Mar 1879*26 Mar 1880−3Jaiswal 10318
22 Chet 193630 Mar 1879*2 Apr 1880−3Jaiswal 10319
12 Poh 193728 Dec 188024 Dec 1880+4Harell (Poonch)
9 Bhadon 193818 Aug 188123 Aug 1881−5Harell (Poonch)
21 Assu 193829 Sep 18815 Oct 1881−6
30 Katak 19386 Nov 188113 Nov 1881−7Sturton #309
26 Besakh 193929 Apr 18827 May 1882−7Harell
1 Jeth 19394 May 188213 May 1882−9
24 Jeth 193925 Jun 18825 Jun 1882+20
26 Assu 193923 Oct 18829 Oct 1882+14Jaiswal 10422
14 Phagan 19397 Mar 188324 Feb 1883+11Harell
24 Chet 193928 Mar 1882*4 Apr 1883−7Jaiswal 10420
22 Katak 19407 Nov 18836 Nov 1883+1Harell (Poonch)

* An asterisk on certain of Masson’s AD-conversions reflects his taking chet (our ćait) to be the first month of the Hindu year in question (a luni-solar convention), not the last month of the preceding year (the solar convention as used by the post office). Our conversions of those particular dates are thus about a year later, and arguments as to why each tallies with reality (so far as the year goes) are given in the Calendar Conversion link at top of this screen.

Dates in manuscript become scarce in the New Colors period, and we have yet to see a Masson at all. The collection of dates in the table is yet too sparse for obtaining an instructive graph; we should one day like to see how the two systems go into and out of phase with each other. There may not be enough examples ever to do so.



By the way, in cursive writing ćait and jeţh can be difficult or impossible to tell apart. Both are often rendered by a simple undotted hook and completed with an uninterrupted flourish. On the left is ćait 1936, and on the right is 2 māh jeţh 1933, both with cover corroboration. Other pairs of months can be confused as well in rapid cursives, such as even māgh and baisākh.



Another by the way: The hitherto mysterious “nil” that is seen on many a cover in red ink has been rendered unmysterious by Anthony Bard. It was Masson’s notation to indicate that the cover had no date to be deciphered from the Persian. The earliest and latest “nil” that we have seen is from 1866 and 1886. So we might expect actual Masson datings up to at least 1886. So far we go only into late 1883. The years 1884-85 seem rather barren of covers anyway (relatively speaking), so finding one might take some time.


Appendix: Some Lunisolar Complications

In the hybrid lunisolar calender mayhem occurs when two new moons occur within a solar-designated month, something that occurs about once every three years. It seems in effect to cause the afflicted month to “start early,” sometimes considerably so. We quote the alarming lines from Platts p 398 quoting Forbes: “Hence although the month baisākh begins de jure about the 11th of April, it may have commenced de facto from one day to twenty-eight days sooner,” depending on when its first full moon occurs. Other complications arise when accurate daily conversions are to be achieved for a particular location. If you lurk in dictionaries you might also have encountered terms referring to certain intercalary months that are potential disturbances to the system, such as bīsondh and adhimās ~ half-month. The former is of 20 days duration in which money-lenders did not charge interest; the latter, usually of 11 days, comprised the omitted days between the end of the lunar year and the start of the solar year.

Another complicating issue comes in another footnote (Masson II, page 1):

“. . . In some cases I may still be fourteen days ‘out’ in transposing the Christian dates for the Hindu ones. This is due to the Hindu month being divided into halves, shudi and badi, and the envelopes not showing in which half of the month the letters were written. Thus an envelope may bear the date 1st poh 1923; this might mean 1st poh badi, corresponding to our 22nd December 1866, or 1st poh shudi, answering to our 6th January 1867.”

By the way, our utility conversion for 1 poh 1923 is 14 December 1866, which represents an eight-day discrepancy in itself. The 6 January 1867 corresponds to 24 poh 1923 on our utility.


Appendix: Masson Letter

For want of a natural place on the site to put the following bit of Massoniana, we include it here. It is an item of his stamp correspondence, written after on 29 September 1899 at Murree on office stationery. Well, it is said he was a managing-director of the place, and the paper stock was to become defunct in a few weeks anyway.


Murree, 29/9/99   My dear [—], Those are both good stamps. I would have offered Rs25 or so for them, but I did not want to spoil Stewart-Wilson’s chances as he too was negociating. The square is the Jammu blue ½ anna — 72, 74, 76. — and the circular the 1 anna [read 4 annas] 1866 — 19, 20. I willingly paid Rs35/ for a similar find; the circular was a good deal better, and the rectangular not so good. The circular is by far the rarer stamp. Both are genuinely used. Always delighted to “vet” Kashmir stamps. with our united [...test?] regards to you both   Im always sincere...

David P.M.—

Contrasting signature on 29 May 1890, Jaiswal collection.

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