The stamp of HH Sultan Suleiman of Trengganu
Commonwealth & World Stanley Gibbons Stamp Guides

The Monarchies of Malaya through their stamps

Within modern Malaysia, there are nine monarchs at any given time. Eight rule over the individual States. The ninth, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (‘He who is made Lord’) is an elective monarch, chosen from one of the eight by their peers for a period of five years, as Head of State for Malaysia.Malaysian issues of the States’ monarchies are infrequent and, ever since the Malayan ‘small heads’ issue of 1949–51, have mostly followed a common design (e.g. 1957–62 pictorials, 1965 Orchids, 1971 Butterflies, 1985–86 Agri-horticulture and 2007 Garden Flowers). The limited exception to this rule is for the installation (coronation) of a Sultan and Silver Jubilees, etc., of their rule.

The heyday of Malayan Monarchy issues occurred between 1891 and 1961, and it is this period about which I write. Prior to 1891, the only monarch on Malayan stamps was Queen Victoria. Her portrait appeared on the Indian stamps used in the Straits from 1854 and then Straits Settlements stamps proper. Individual Malayan States bore the same stamps, but with a State overprint, up until 1891.



In 1891, Johore (always one of Malaya’s feistiest States) issued its own stamps with the portrait of Sultan Abubakar, printed by the Crown Agents, without watermark . HH The Sultan (ruled 1862–95) was a serious progressive: installing courts, the rule of law, a State police force, a merit-based civil service, a land registry, a written Constitution, and medical and marine departments. Sultan Abubakar chose to be the first constitutional monarch within the Malayan peninsula. He was a very far-seeing man.

His son, HH Sultan Sir Ibrahim (ruled 1895–1959), who succeeded him, had the longest reign in modern Malayan history to date. He was a decided character. He took the benefits his father had bequeathed to the state and added to them, to the benefit and modernisation of Johore; on balance, he was a ‘good Sultan’.

The stamps of much of his reign are known as ‘The Purple Haze’ from the dull purple ink used in the dollar values of the 1896 set and the cents values of the 1904–41 series. With the exception of the 1896 issue (where he is depicted with a moustache), the 1904, 1910, 1918 and  1922–41 issues all bear the same portrait of the Sultan .

Fig 1 - In 1891 Sultan Abubakar of Johore was the first Malayan ruler to appear on a stamp

Fig 1 – In 1891 Sultan Abubakar of Johore was the first Malayan ruler to appear on a stamp

For his fifth wife, Sultan Sir Ibrahim chose Mrs Helen Bartholomew Wilson. They married in 1930. She became Sultana and was the first woman (bar Queen Victoria) to appear on a Malayan stamp (Fig 3).

Sultan Sir Ibrahim and Sultana Helen of Johore appear together on a 1935 stamp issue

It is said that the Sultan chose the 1935 stamp, designed to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Britain’s relationship with Johore, as a fifth wedding-anniversary gift for Sultana Helen.

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