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The Simons Controversy.

In 1898, some three and a half years after the Native Posts had come to an end, the following Editorial appeared in...

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...the July number of the “Philatelic Journal of India” (Vol. II., p. 180):—

“An arrangement has been come to between the Kashmir Council and the Rev. Father Simons Roman Catholic Missionary at Baramula, under which the latter will have the exclusive sale of the stock of used and unused stamps now in the State Treasury. The stock includes a small quantity of old circular and rectangular, unused, and a quantity of used and unused later issues—mostly 1883 ordinary and 1880 Service. The Reverend gentleman was for many years head of a large Philatelic Institution carried on in London for the benefit of his Church. We should like to know whether any of the old circular and rectangular stamps are genuine, or whether they are all Reprints.”

One or two points of interest emerge from this Editorial which started a more or less acrimonious controversy, carried on through various Journals and newspapers for many months, and of which no connected history has, as yet, been published.

In the first place it seems curious that used stamps should have been stored in the Treasuries at all; but the fact appears to be proved, for Masson, writing in 1900, stated that Father Simons’ stock had been drawn from one of the principal Treasuries in Jammu; and that “in the long-forgotten find were found lakhs of stamps (both ordinary and “Service”) printed and postmarked so late as 1892-94.” The “Service” stamps referred to are, of course, the black Official stamps of the New Rectangulars. Stuart Godfrey informs us that these used stamps would have been on Telegraph forms filed for reference, and also that the ordinary postage-stamps were freely used for prepayment of telegrams.

Some correspondence which followed proved that the Simons’ stock had been drawn from several Treasuries. All of this had been called in, not, as Masson stated, by the British Government, but by the Kashmir State Accountant General, at whose office it was, in the first place, received.

In the September 1898 number of the “Journal” (p. 258), Masson replied to a criticism on some of his research work, previously published by the late Colonel Hancock, a well-known philatelist and collector. The reply is as follows:—

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“I cannot but warn collectors that these very fancy colours, as well as impressions from the circular ‘missing dies,’ are now being sold at high prices by the State Agent at Baramula, side by side with the genuine stamp.”

Up to this point we have only allusions to genuine stamps of 1883-94, and to the Official Forgeries and “Reprints”: but it will be seen, presently, that the term “Reprints” included some impressions to which such a description is not applicable. We now come, for the first time, to the name of Stuart Godfrey, who was, ultimately, responsible for clearing up much of what had previously been obscure.

In the following October number, the “Journal” inserted (p. 316) a further Editorial:—

“Under the head “Correspondence” will be found, in another column, a very interesting letter from Captain Godfrey, Assistant Resident, Kashmir. We rejoice to hear that the State has withdrawn all the forgeries in its stores, and should be glad to hear further that all the reprints have been eliminated from what is left. Will Captain Godfrey and Mr. Masson not take this up now, and earn still more the gratitude of philatelists? We presume, by the way, that the Revd. Father Simons will return their money to all persons who have purchased Official Forgeries from him before their existence was brought to his notice.”

The letter referred to appeared on the following page (317):—

“Dear Sir,—With reference to the note published in your Journal of July, 1898, page 180, concerning the Kashmir State circular stamps, it may interest you to know that I was requested by the Resident in Kashmir, and the State Accountant-General, to meet the Revd. Father C.B. Simons, who has been appointed State Agent for the sale of the old Kashmir stamps, and Mr. D.P. Masson, C.I.E., with a view to determine which of the circulars should be disposed of and which should not be sold.

“There are, in the possession of the State, a very limited number of the circular issues. Of these one set were certainly struck from the dies (since defaced) which are now in the possession of the State. Others were stamped from dies which are not forthcoming. It has, therefore, been decided to sell only those circular stamps which were impressed by the dies now in possession of the State, and not the impressions from the missing dies...” (Signed) Stuart H. Godfrey, Assistant Resident, Kashmir Residency, Srinagar, 27th September, 1898.

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It may be noted here that as none of the “missing dies” ever were “forthcoming,” it is barely possible that they may still be in existence. Impressions from them would not, however, in the light of our present knowledge, be in the least degree dangerous. Col. Godfrey informs us that he subsequently destroyed thousands of the Missing-die forgeries personally.

Coming to the December number of Vol. II., we find another article by Masson, quoting a paragraph from the “Times of India” which positively asserted that no “old stamps” remained in the Cashmere Treasury after 1890. To this, Masson (who had certainly no reason, so far, for being in sympathy with Father Simons), subscribed the following interesting note (p. 378):—

“The State officers and the Revd. Father Simons have a good reply to this comment, in that their stocks were not all on view at the State Treasury in 1890, or at any time. A considerable part of present stocks was unearthed from the Maharaja’s private Treasury at Riasi Fort: and they argue with good reason that nothing but genuine stamps would ever have been stored there.”

Masson was, no doubt, perfectly correct in his judgment of what would have been originally stored at Riasi; but we shall see, later, that what was, in fact, found there, was stock of a very different nature from what Masson expected!

Two letters to the Journal followed (pp. 378, 379) from collectors. These threw little further light on the subject, but both writers assumed that the State had made it a habit to sell “reprinted” circulars to travellers as genuine stamps! This opinion was, as we shall shew, entirely mistaken. The State was, from first to last, kept completely in the dark as to the irregularities of its postal officials.

Next appeared (p. 386) a florid advertisement, addressed to “Primitive Collectors,” from Father Simons himself. It contained nothing to warrant its reproduction here, but it was sent in for publication by a correspondent signing himself with the initials “W.C.H.” together with the following covering letter:—

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“It was recently announced in your Journal that the circular Kashmir stamps, printed on thin European paper, would not, in future, be offered for sale by the Kashmir State, but apparently this is not the case. (The italics are ours.) [meaning Séfi & Mortimer’s, ed.]

“The Revd. C.B. Simons, Agent of the Kashmir State at Baramula, has just sent me on approval 100 unused specimens of Kashmir stamps which include the reprints referred to...The circular stamps on thick native laid paper are reprints in oil colours from the genuine dies. I have seen a few of these reprints on original covers, but it is believed that these were not generally available for sale to the public at the post offices in Kashmir. With regard to the different shades of green, brown, red, etc. ... The varieties are simply due to the colour having been prepared in small quantities, and to no care being taken to obtain the same shade, when the next lot of colour was prepared for use. Some of the shades mentioned by the Revd. Mr. Simons may be rare in the sense that there are only a few specimens left in the Agent’s hands, but it is probable that this is due to a larger quantity of these particular shades having been sold to the public, and to dealers and speculators.”

The price charged for the 100 “stamps” referred to in this letter was 125 rupees, the hundred being made up of eleven circulars on native, and five on thin wove paper; nine Old Rectangulars and 75 New Rectangulars. All this publicity at last began to take effect, and (Vol. III., page 78) the Journal published a letter signed “Viator,” defending Father Simons in the matter. The defence was singularly unconvincing, the only statement of any importance being that the circular dies, placed in the State Museum after defacement, were made of brass. At one time it was believed that the dies had been engraved on ivory. This letter was followed (pp. 78, 79) by the insertion of a letter copied from the “Globe” in which an appeal was made to the Kashmir Government to drop its “undignified retailing of doubtful wares.”

On page 307 of the same Vol. III., an Editorial note published an advertisement in four different languages, with the assertion that this had been prepared by Father Simons in order to increase his sales, and posted up in every petty village lying in the track of tourists. The Editors added that they hoped to give, at a later date, some idea of the “gigantic...

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...stock” held by Father Simons—a stock so large that they doubted whether face-value would be obtainable when its extent became known.

Finally the Journal published in its number for November, 1899 (Vol. III., pp. 463, 464) a “reasoned reply” by Father Simons to all the charges brought against him. The reply made no addition of any philatelic importance to what was already known, and need not be quoted here. It was the reply of one who, having innocently undertaken the sale of a large quantity of spurious stamps had, on being confronted with proof of their true nature, attempted an impossible struggle against expert evidence, rather than lose the money which he had hoped to raise.

To this the Editors added a note disclaiming any idea of having attempted to impeach the bona-fides of the State Agent; admitted the genuineness of his New Rectangular stock; reiterated its opinion as to the contemptible position in which the State had placed both itself and its Agent; and guaranteed full publicity to any articles which the latter might care to contribute to the Journal, with the proviso that Evans or Masson should be allowed to reply to them, in order to get at the truth about the “doubtful stamps” once and for all.

A month later the Journal published (pp. 475-477) an answer, from the State Agent, with an expression of Editorial regret that this answer was merely a resumé of four letters which had appeared from his pen a month previously in the “Pioneer,” and which had already been answered by Masson.

Here we may pause for a moment to note that, up to this point, references to circular stamps had only applied to those in oil on native and on thin wove papers, known to have been Reprints, to Missing-die Forgeries, and to admittedly genuine stamps of the New Rectangulars. Reference has now to be made to an article of the highest philatelic importance, in that it threw the first light on the much-debated oil-printed circular and rectangular issues for Jammu, of 1877-78. Readers will be interested to note the co-operation, with Captain Godfrey, of the writer of our “Foreword”—Sir Charles Stewart-Wilson.

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The article appeared in the “Philatelic Journal of India” (Vol. iv., Feb., 1900, pp. 49-51). Stewart-Wilson commenced by stating that, together with Godfrey, he had been in consultation with a responsible Official of the Darbar (or State Council). This Official had some 28 years’ standing, and had been, between 1874 and 1877, in charge of the State Stamp Department, his duty having been to be present during printing and to see that this was properly carried out.

It is important to realise that this was an Official of the Maharaja’s Council and not of the Postal authorities; the point has a direct bearing on the views expressed by Major Evans in a series of articles published by him in 1903.

The statement of the Darbari was to the effect that, after 1874 at any rate, the printer was in the habit of fulfilling orders from Europe and America for the supply of Circulars and Old Rectangulars, “in various colours and on various papers”; that he would, if he had time to spare after completing these orders, continue such printings until his day’s work was completed; that this surplus would then be added to the normal stock of stamps, and that some of it, at least, was issued to the public. The last of these statements was qualified by the assertion that these issues were usually made to such Post Offices as were largely patronised by European travellers; but, even in this event, the issues were authorised and the Europeans perfectly free to use the stamps for postage, if they wished to do so.

The date, 1874, corresponds with that of the watercolour “Special printings” of Jammu—both Circular and Old Rectangular, which Masson found so difficult to account for.

The statement as to printings on “various papers” naturally tends to throw suspicion on the laid paper used by Jammu for the oil printings of 1877-78—a point which we shall deal with later. It may be noted here, however, that this paper was continued in 1878-79 for the New Rectangulars, to which no taint of official irregularities ever attached. The evidence, so far, points to the Jammu printers as having been concerned, in the first instance, with the postal officials, in making special...

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...printings for sale to collectors. The stamps so printed were, to some extent at any rate, not only available for postage, but actually so used by the public. We gather that this was probably done in all innocence at first, and the sale proceeds duly accounted for to the State, until a time came when the Postal Officials decided to retain the profits, and when it consequently became necessary to devise some means of concealing the fact. But there is no evidence, whatever, of any complicity by the State. Stewart-Wilson, indeed, concluded his article (after giving Godfrey the credit of obtaining the disclosures) with an assertion of his conviction that there were absolutely no grounds for connecting the State with any guilty knowledge, or that it had any reason to suppose that the Remainder stock of 1894 was composed of anything but true originals.

Stewart-Wilson next turned his attention to the impressions recalled from the private Treasury of the Maharaja:—

“We now return to the destination of a portion of the stamps produced in new colours. About 30 miles north of the city of Jammu is the ancient Fort of Riasi, which contained the private treasure of the Dogra rulers of Jammu. In this fort were deposited, beside the reserve treasure of the Maharaja, specimens of all new stamps, coins, etc., issued by the State. This was a matter in which the late Maharaja Ranbir Singh took a great personal interest and it should be added that his intention certainly was that anything of this sort, once deposited, should remain there. Maharaja Ranbir Singh died in 1885, and in 1894 the administration of the Kashmir post was handed over to the Imperial Post Office. The Accountant-General of the State then proceeded to call in from the various treasuries and sub-treasuries the stock of postage-stamps which they had in hand, as they were now useless for postal purposes. In this way the stock of stamps in the Riasi and other treasuries came to the office of the Accountant-General in the ordinary course of affairs. It is this stock which is now being sold by the State Agent in Baramula, but the Riasi stock was only a small proportion of the total.”

It may, incidentally, be noticed that Stewart-Wilson specially referred to the recalling of postage-stamps. No mention was made of Telegraph stamps, though there is evidence that these also were stored in the Treasuries; but Kashmir retained its Telegraphs after its postal system had been taken over in...

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...1894, so that there would have been no need for the Telegraph stamps to be surrendered.

Stewart-Wilson added that it appeared clear to him that most of the circular and (old) rectangular stamps, so found, would be portions of the surplus printings specially made for dealers and speculators; and he concluded by suggesting the formation of a Committee to decide exactly what the State was offering for sale, and, in the meantime, of ascertaining whether any of even the Riasi stock was original!

The suggestion of the Committee was warmly welcomed, but seems to have not been proceeded with. The status of the Riasi stock was partially settled by an Editorial, following a reply to the State Agent, published by Masson in the “Journal of India” (Vol. IV., pp. 90-92); in this the Editor stated that there were reasons for believing that none of the original Kashmir circulars were sent to Riasi.

The proposal to publish the contents of the Simons stock (including the admittedly genuine New Rectangulars) never bore fruit. Whatever the extent of this stock, it has been absorbed by philatelists as readily as have many another accumulation as large as and even far larger than the one in question: and collectors may be sometimes tempted to wish that the editorial prophecy of a difficulty in obtaining face value for even the New Rectangulars was in course of fulfilment to-day!

The conclusion of this Controversy was illuminating. Father Simons inserted in the “Journal of India” of November 1900 an advertisement detailing what he had to dispose of, and guaranteeing everything genuine; it contained New Rectangular stamps only! Two items in the list were of considerable interest, these being (1) an unused sheet of the ½-Anna red on native paper, and (2) a complete used sheet of the 1-Anna green on thin laid. These were priced at 500 and 150 rupees respectively, and were specially advertised as great rarities, which they undoubtedly were. It would be interesting to know whether either is still in existence.

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In the same Vol. IV. (pp. 264, 265), appeared a summing up, by Major Evans, of the Simons Controversy, taken from the May, 1900 number of the “Monthly Journal” published in England (Vol. x., p. 241).

Much of this traverses ground already covered, but some further points of interest appear:—

The first is a presumption that originals only had, in the first place, been stored in the Treasuries, and that these had subsequently been abstracted in exchange for the Missing-die Forgeries. This presumption is undoubtedly correct.

Masson stated that he had spoken to several persons who assured him that they had purchased the “stamps” at the State Post Office at Srinagar. This presumably refers to Reprints, the sale of which would have been fraught with far less danger of detection than if they had been from the forged dies. Such sales, however, must have been almost negligible, for a genuinely used Reprint (or Forgery) is scarcely known. We have seen a variety of covers purporting to have been franked with Reprints and have, in every case, been able to prove that the cancellations were either forged or, when genuine, applied by unscrupulous Postal Officials to stamps affixed to covers which had passed through the post some years prior to the dates shewn by the cancellations. This must dispose of an idea, at one time very prevalent, and shared by both Masson and E.D. Bacon, that Reprints were ever openly on sale at Post Offices for the legitimate prepayment of postage. Evans went so far as to declare that it was “extremely improbable” that any Circulars or Old Rectangulars on laid paper could be originals. It is sufficient to state here that this view was, particularly with respect to the Old Rectangulars, entirely erroneous, as we shall shortly prove. Such irregularities as did occur are confined, almost exclusively, to the Circular stamps.

The text of the Controversy frequently leaves it in doubt as to the exact nature of the impressions under consideration at various points. Such an expression as “stamps” can occasionally be taken to mean anything from Originals to...

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...Reprints and Forgeries. It also, at times, clearly refers to the “Special Printings” in watercolour of 1874-76, as well as the oil-printed issue of 1877-78, both of which included Jammu Circulars and Old Rectangulars. The merits of each of these groups will be fully discussed later; but it may be very briefly noted here that no taint is found to attach to any of the Rectangular stamps of either group. Many are as rare, and generally far rarer in unused condition than they are used, so that there could have been no abnormal supply of the former for collectors. The demand from dealers was undoubtedly for Circular stamps and of these the special watercolour printings of 1874-76 and the oil-circulars on native paper were, with few exceptions, legitimately used for postal purposes. The oil-circulars on laid paper are far less satisfactory, though some did a greater or less amount of postal duty.

Stewart-Wilson’s opinion that the majority of Father Simon’s Circular and Old Rectangular stamps would prove to be from these surplus printings may—so far as it applied to originals—have been perfectly correct; but there can be no doubt whatever that the great bulk of Circular and Old Rectangular impressions, which were offered for sale by Father Simons, consisted of Reprints and Forgeries.

In our view, the course of events ran somewhat as follows:—

Until 1874 printings were normal and parts of them stored in the Treasuries according to practice.

In 1874 the Jammu printer made the first special printings in watercolour to fill orders from dealers (in total ignorance of the consequences which might follow) the orders having been transmitted to him by the postal officials.

In 1877 further special printings were made in oilcolours many of which were produced, as we shall shortly prove, for much more legitimate reasons. Some portions of both these special printings were, as usual, stored in the Treasuries; and sales, whether to philatelists or to the public (for postage) accounted for to the State as previously.

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Some little time after the introduction of the New Rectangulars in 1878, the postal officials, finding that orders for now obsolete stamps continued to be received, decided to keep the profits of such sales for themselves and commenced reprinting in oilcolours. Owing, possibly, to dealers’ suspicions of these Reprints, they next ransacked the Treasuries for all the old original stocks, substituting the Reprints in order to meet any State-official checking which might be made. If this did, in fact, occur, it may well be that much of the earliest stock had been removed even before 1874, and replaced by the Special Printings in watercolour, in which event we should have an explanation of the commonness of the latter in unused condition.

Finally, in 1890, the Missing-die Forgeries were produced presumably, as we imagine (although no proof exists) in consequence of the original dies and plates having come into the custody of the State Officials, thus terminating the profitable manufacture of the Reprints. The forgeries were, at any rate, substituted for other stock in the less accessible Treasuries, including even the private one of the Maharaja at Riasi which, as we have reason to believe, contained, in 1898, these forgeries only.

The fact that all the old dies and plates had been stored at Jammu, coupled with the further fact that the last printings of originals had been made there in oils, and that all Reprints and Missing-die Forgeries were also made in this medium, points very strongly to the Jammu printer having, without the slightest knowledge of the State, assisted some fraudulent postal officials in a highly successful and remunerative swindle at the expense of the State and of philatelists equally.

► Chapter V continued: The Jammu Oil-Circulars.

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