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Stanley Gibbons / Scott Catalogue Correlation for the States of Cochin, Travancore, and Travancore-Cochin
by Bob Coale

 Introduction
 Cochin: Regular Issues | Official Issues
 Travancore: Regular Issues | Official Issues
 Travancore-Cochin: Regular Issues | Official Issues 
Archived article from the April 2001 [vol2,no2] issue of Princely States Report

Introduction

My interest in the stamps of the Princely States of India came about through a peculiar route. Although I had collected stamps as a kid, like many of my generation, the urge left me as I reached my teen years what with sports, school, and, yes, girls. My collection, although modest, was subsequently stolen in a house burglary, and all but forgotten.

After college, I was stationed in the Army at the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. It was there that I learned to SCUBA dive and, in that that sport needs a purpose, I began to collect live seashells. I became rather skilled at this and was able, by studying the habitat of many mollusk species, to find them when other collectors came up empty-handed. This hobby continued when I moved to South Africa and then to Bougainville in Papua New Guinea.

This was in 1969, and PNG had just issued a definitive series of stamps (Scott 265-79) featuring seashells. Using these on my mail every day brought back my memories of earlier days of collecting, and it seemed like a good idea to collect shells on stamps, using the PNG set as a first acquisition. While on Kwajalein and again in Bougainville, I had written two handbooks on sea shells and sea shell collecting so I had a pretty good scientific background to develop a stamp collection based on the scientific nomenclature of shells and their habitats. So now I had two related hobbies.

The former ended abruptly when I moved to Salt Lake City - no shells to collect. Fortunately, I had started the shells on stamps theme and concentrated on that. It became apparent rather quickly that the number of stamps that featured the shell as the major design element was limited and that if the collection were to grow by means other than just acquiring new issues as they appeared, I would have to broaden my scope.

The first step in this direction was the development of a checklist of all stamps that featured a mollusk in the design regardless how stylized or minute a part it played. This led to a huge expansion of the number of shell stamps available and the search was on again. Through correspondence with other collectors, catalogue hunting, and other philatelic literature, I learned that practically all of the stamps of the Indian States of Cochin, Travancore, and subsequently Travancore-Cochin featured a small, highly stylized shell in their design.

Turbinella pyrum Linne is very common in the seas off the southern coasts of India. Most examples of this species form in a spiral (as do most shells) in a clockwise (dextral) direction. It is estimated that perhaps one in 2.5 million of these shells forms in the reverse (sinistral) direction making such examples exceedingly rare. So rare, in fact, that they received the adoration of the Hindus. The "sacred chank" is considered one of the holy attributes of Vishnu, an important part of the Hindu religion. Hinduism being the predominant religion of the two founding states was a driving force in picturing the shell on their stamps.

The shells pictured on most of the stamps (and indeed the watermarks of the Travancore stamps) are highly stylized. The shells are presented without the apex and siphonal canal so that the plicae (ribs) on the columella were exposed. These strong, widely spaced, transverse ribs and the internal structure of the shell were of great influence to the original artists of the stamps. The early designs set off the spiral of the shell placing it in the center of the design. As the designs evolved, further ornamentation included pagoda-like crowns on the shells and ribbons or other adornment.

The early stamps of Travancore all feature a highly stylized representation of the shell as the central design. Later issues show the shell, but as a minor part of the design. The early stamps of Cochin (excepting the "numeral" issues) also have a shell in the design, it too being highly stylized. The "Raja" issues of Cochin all feature a small shell in their design.

The Scott Catalog lists only the major stamps and a very few varieties of most of the Indian States. The Stanley Gibbons Catalogue, on the other hand, lists a huge number of errors and varieties. Many of the Gibbons-listed varieties are believed to be represented by less than 10 examples and some catalogue for hundreds of pounds. Now here was a philatelic challenge! Most dealers and collectors do not delve deeply into the identification of stamps with a minute difference from the "normal" copy (for example the accent missing variety on Travancore-Cochin SG 7a). Therefore it is possible to obtain collections and individual stamps at the "normal" price even though the stamp may be very rare. The Indian states are not popularly collected in the United States so this is even easier here.

I found it necessary to develop a checklist between the two major catalogues so that identification and pricing would be facilitated. My first stab at this was with the help of the late Don Griffin who had amassed a superb collection of Cochin stamps and covers. Don offered great help with Cochin, but was not a Travancore specialist so I developed that checklist as well as one for Travancore-Cochin. All three lists have to be revised from time to time as new discoveries are made (primarily Travancore), fakes or oddities are weeded out, Scott recognizes more varieties, and (frustratingly) Gibbons changes the numbering system.

The lists accompanying this article are based on the 2001 Gibbons British Commonwealth Volume 1 entries and the corresponding entries from Scott's 2000 edition. I hope that they are accurate, but welcome notification of any errors or inconsistencies that readers may find.

Editorial note: Bob's catalogue correlations are also available in Excel spreadsheet format, complete with a "checkoff" column for keeping track of your collection. If you would like to receive the Excel version (free of charge) or contact Bob Coale, send an email to our Editor.

 Introduction
 Cochin: Regular Issues | Official Issues
 Travancore: Regular Issues | Official Issues
 Travancore-Cochin: Regular Issues | Official Issues 
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