Located in the northern part of the island of Borneo, North Borneo was a British protectorate from 1888 and a British Crown colony after 1946. Before this period Western relations in North Borneo were fractious to say the least with the region passing hands between Austria, Germany, and the British over a period of great tumult, legal wrangling, and political meddling. It was only when one Alfred Dent, purveyor of eastern trading house Dent Brothers, obtained the Royal Charter for the British North Borneo Company that things dramatically cooled.
After the North Borneo Chartered Company was founded the administrators to the territory had total control. On the one hand piracy in the region reduced due to commercial strategies that also boosted the local economy. But absolute power came with perks too and the region’s first postage stamp, issued by the Company in 1883, featured a design of its garish coat of arms, printed in lithography by the little known Blades, East & Blades of Abchurch Lane in London. The company’s use of stamps as astute marketing didn’t end there.
In 1894, the Company approached Waterlow & Sons to commission a new series of adhesives and the design shifted to intricate bi-colour pictorials that gave a rather romanticised view of island life. Images of a Dyak chief, Mount Kinabalu, a Malay dhow, a sambar stag, and sago palm tree adorned these resplendent examples of intaglio printmaking and philatelic design.
Such stamps continued in production until the end of North Borneo in 1963, aside from a brief stay during World War II when during the occupation of Japanese forces, overprinted stamps of North Borneo and Japan were used instead. Following liberation, ‘BMA’ replaced the overprint, indicating the British Military Administration.
The Crown Colony of North Borneo issued stamps until 1963 when North Borneo joined Malaya, Sarawak and Singapore to form the Federation of Malaysia.