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T.F. Marriner

Sri Chithira Thirunal, late
Maharaja of Travancore
(incorrect—see correspondence
at end of article)

H. H. Maharani Setu Lakshmi
Bai, Regent of Travancore,
with the infant Rajah
(incorrect—see correspondence
at end of article)

Archived article from the April 2001 [vol2,no2] issue of Princely States Report

Editorial note: We wish to thank the kind folks at Stanley Gibbons for giving us permission to reprint this article, which first appeared in the August and September 1931 issues of Gibbons' Stamp Monthly. It's a real treat to read Mr. Marriner's study, discussing stamp issues and overprints up to 1930. It's easy to sense his enthusiasm for Travancore and its postal issues, and it's refreshing to read a contemporary study that draws upon communications with agents of the postal service and printery.
- Ron Rice, PSR Editor


It is somewhat refreshing in these days of political unrest, labour troubles, and heavy taxation, to find that there is at least one little corner of our Empire where none of tbese trials exist, and where everyone finds contentment and happiness in the mere joy of living. Such a Utopia is Travancore, a little State tucked away between tbe mountains and the sea in the south-west corner of peninsular India. In area it is about equal to Wales, but its population is more than double that of the principality.

Travancore was once referred to by a great Indian statesman as "The Model State," and tbe title is a deserving one, for Travancore is the most progressive, and probably the best administered and happiest State in our Indian Empire. Its very name means, "tbe place where the goddess of prosperity resides." It is also sometimes referred to as "The Land of the Conch Shell." This Conch Shell, or Sankha, is the royal device. According to native legend, Parsuramen, in the long ago, called up the land of Travancore from the sea by blowing upon the Sankha. There are two varieties of the shell; one, the size of a coco-nut, has the head removed and a mouthpiece fitted. When blown a booming sound is produced which has great penetrative power, and is supposed to drive evil spirits from tbe neighbourhood. The other variety is smaller and of great rarity. The people believe this variety to have the power of bringing victory and prosperity to its possessors. A shell of this kind, beautifully set with diamonds and plated with gold, is the greatest treasure of the Royal House.

Travancore was not always the happy State it is today. For many years there was trouble between tbe ruling house and the Brahmans, somewhat analogous to the old time troubles between Cburch and State in our own country. It was really owing to these troubles that the Rajah sought British aid and British protection, and, since 1800, when a treaty was made between the little State and Great Britain, a succession of military and civilian representatives of the British Crown have assisted the Rajahs in the government of the State. Some of tbese, able and unselfish men, have left names which have become household words in the State, and their memory lives in the judicial, medical, and educational institutions which they helped to found.

The country is built up of three natural divisions: a low plain with a lagoon-studded coast; a central higher area, broken into by spurs from the third or mountain area, where a height of 9000 feet is reached. It is possible to pass from the breathless tropical heat of the coastal area, through the cooler middle area, and into Alpine cold upon the heights. The volcanic soil is fertile. There are large forest areas affording teak and ebony and other useful trees. The central area has numerous tea plantations where the work is done by coolies. Game hunting is attracting an increasing number of visitors each year as there are big herds of wild elephant to be found, in addition to Indian buffalo, tiger, and leopard.

So far, although there are excellent roads everywhere and a canal system joins up the coast lagoons, there has not been a great deal of railway development.

Education has received careful attention, and there are many good schools and colleges, and, next to Cochin, no State in India has a greater proportion of Christians. The Postal System, like the other Government Departments, is a very model of efficiency, and is the cheapest in the world. The present Rajah is an infant, but the Ranee is proving herself a capable Regent and is continuing the wise and progressive policy of her late husband.

A movement is on foot which will probably result in certain liners making Trivandrum, the capital, a regular port of call. and world tourists seeking new lands may include in their itinerary a visit to the "Model States," "The Land of the Conch Shell," and perhaps from its peace, plenty, and progress, may learn something which their own more highly civilised country has failed to teach them.

The first 1 chuckram issue

The first 2 chuckrams issue

Watermark of the first issues
(incorrect—see correspondence
at end of article)

The First Stamps

Travancore was, philatelically speaking, born on the 16th October, 1888, with an issue of three values. It is not my intention to re-do here tbe wondenul work of Major Evans in Gibbons' Monthly Journal, Vol. XXI. No. 243, but rather to supplement that record, only restating sufficient to render the additional matter clear.

When it was decided to introduce postage stamps the Rajah sent to an English firm, Messrs. Orr. of Madras, for an engraver, and a native who had served an apprenticeship with this firm was sent to Trivandrum. This man, Dharmalingam Asari by name, was responsible for the designs, and engraved the die for each value on brass. Impressions were made from these dies on wax, and from each of these wax impressions an electrotype was made. For the two lower values, 1 and 2 chuckrams, 80 of these electrotypes were placed like dominoes side by side in eight rows of 10, and the whole then locked in a frame. For the 4 chuckrams value, 60 electrotypes in six rows of 10 were taken. These individual electrotypes locked together in a forme were the actual printing plates, and later plates were made up in the same way. I have a letter from a friend out there who has actually seen and handled some of these plates. How dear old Major Evans would have chuckled. Both he and Mr. Wetherell, who wrote on these stamps in the Philatelic Journal of India (1911) must have spent many, many hours in their attempts to plate the stamps. So did the writer until a fortunate chance brought the key to the problem. There is a variety known as longtailed "A" in the name "TRAVANCORE" which has been a source of worry to everyone who has ever attempted plating the stamps. This tail was due to a particle of wax adhering to the die when the impressions were taken. Briefly, the reason for the difference in position of varieties on various sheets is due to the fact that whenever a fault was noticed, or a break occurred, the forme was unlocked, the faulty electrotypes were removed, and fresh ones inserted. Usually the electrotypes got a shuffling up or some moving about in the process. Hence the make-up of the printing plate might be, and sometimes was, altered even in the middle of a printing. Further, this method accounts for the fact that at times one comes across worn tiredlooking specimens, with lines missing or blurred, and in the same block fine, clean impressions where a new electrotype has been inserted. The curious plate also accounts for another fact, namely, that in whole sheets of the stamps one comes across quite a variety of shades from dark to very light, due to the sinking of some of the separate pieces under pressure and a consequent uneven surface.

Great care seems to have been taken in the printing of the first stamps. Probably there was something of novelty to help here, but this carefulness did not last, for later on there occur all sorts of stamp freaks due to moving electros, not cleaning the plates properly after a printing, careless colour mixing, etc.

There were, I am informed, two printings on the laid paper, which came as follows:

    1 chuckram, blue.
    1 chuckram, dark blue.
    2 chuckrams, orange.
    2 chuckrams, vermilion.
    4 chuckrams, yellow-green.
    4 chuckrams, green.

The paper was supplied by Messrs. Dickinson & Co, of London, who have supplied all the paper for the Travancore stamps, and also for most of the State documents. The sheets were watermarked with a large arms device, resembling the illustration (figure x).

The perforating was done with a guillotine machine which did not cut very clean. The printing of all Travancore stamps is done at the State Printing Press at Trivandrum. (In left-hand part of the State building shown in first illustration)

A New Paper and New Values

In 1889 the 1 chuckram, 2 chuckrams, and 4 chuckrams were reprinted from the same plates as before but upon a new white wove paper watermarked with conch shells. Unfortunately, Messrs. Dickinson, the paper-makers, placed the watermarks rather too far apart to fit the electros of the printing plates, and there was not a watermark for each stamp. Further, the paper was cut from larger sheets to fit the size of the printing machine, and gave 56 watermarks to 80 stamps, and in the in case of the 4 chuckrams sheets there were five rows of eight watermarks for the 60 stamps. Nor did the paper-cutters pay particular attention to the run of the watermarks, for, in the earlier printings, most of the stamps show the watermark, or portions of it, sideways.

A new value of ½ chuckram was introduced. The die was cut in brass by the same engraver, and the plate was made up of 56 electros, in four rows of 14. The perforation was the same.

Even the very first printing of 1889 shows numerous shade varieties, due to two main causes, uneven pressure upon the yielding electros, and probably lack of care in the colour mixing for the printing inks.

In 1891 a second printing was made of the three lower values, and the ½ chuckram and 1 chuckram of this printing, like the first, have the watermark sideways. In this printing one sheet of the ½ chuckram was issued minus horizontal perforation.

The 1 chuckram was the most commonly used value, and another printing became necessary early in 1892. The electros of the plate showed marked signs of wear, and, by the time (May 1892) the printing was complete, a new set of electros was deemed necessary. Some of the very best of the old set were retained, but what was practically a new set was made use of for a printing in July 1892.

In 1893 another printing of the 1 chuckram—really the fourth—and a second printing of the 4 chuckrams was made. The 2 chuckrams plate was remade containing 70 electros in five rows of 14. Here again, some of the least worn of the old electros were incorporated.

In 1896 came the fifth printing of the 1 chuckram and the third of the 2 chuckrams. In 1899 there was a third printing of the ½ chuckram on the same paper with the watermarks sideways, and it is in this printing that the greatest variety of shades due to different mixings of ink and varying impressions can probably be found. In this printing, too, there are specimens in which the corner designs have failed to print and are therefore missing. One sheet which had been printed twice, giving a double impression, accidentally found its way to the head post office at Trivandrum, and I am informed that a few of the stamps had been sold before it was discovered and bought by a dealer's agent. This item in used state, bearing the Trivandrum postmark, is one of the most rare items of a Travancore collection. A further printing of the 2 chuckrams value and a third printing of the 4 chuckrams were also made. Though no information is forthcoming upon the point, it would seem that the 4 chuckrams plate had been reshuffled for this printing, for an electrotype is included here which appears in no other printing, in which a piece of the wax has made the "U" of "CHUCKRAMS" into an "O."

¾ chuckram of 1901

New Plates

In 1901 a start was made to supply new plates for all values, and a final printing of the 1 chuckram and the 4 chuckrams was made to carry over until these new plates were got ready. A new value of ¾ chuckram was introduced, the same engraver preparing the die in brass, and the plate consisting of 84 electros. This was the first of the new plates made, and the new value was first issueded upon the old paper on May 14th, 1901, and may be recognised by the sideways watermark.

The new plates were all ready by 1904 and all the values now made their appearance in sheets of 84, six rows of 14. A new paper was introduced along with the new plates, cut to the same size as the printing plates, and giving a watermark to each stamp on the sheet. From now on, except where, as happened now and then, the old paper was used in emergency when supplies were getting low, all watermarks are either upright or inverted.

The stamps in the new plates are set slightly closer together than those of the old plates. The perforation, as before, is 12.

Between 1904 and 1911, so far as my information goes, there were:

    4 printings of the ½ chuckram.
    5 printings of the 1 chuckram.
    2 printings of the ¾ chuckram.
    2 printings of the 2 chuckrams.
    2 printings of the 4 chuckrams.

While I can find nothing to cast doubt upon the first two of these, I am inclined, reliable though the source of the information is, to doubt the last three. In the case of the 4 chuckrams at any rate, there was a printing made during 1908 which differs very materially in shade from any other printing, and this printing must have been only a very small one, for specimens are very rarely met with. In the last printing of the ¾ chuckram referred to, the stamps of the left-hand row of the sheet all show part of the design missing.

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