Collector Datuk Anuar Bashah Mohd Sohore shares his passion for history through stamps.
Datuk Anuar Bashah Mohd Sohore is quite a character. He has a head of slicked back hair, spectacles and a long-ish face. He comes across as grounded, calm. You can picture the man focused – as a boy working on his collections of stamps and leaves for a Boy Scouts merit badge, and as a young man serving in the Royal Malaysian Police Force.
It seems he has excelled at both. By the time of his retirement 12 years ago, he’d made deputy director of Special Branch, and amassed a collection of 17,000 stamps – including some rare, early British Crown Colony gems and 5,000 mosque-themed and 5,000 orchid-themed pieces.
Incidentally, he’s also an orchid enthusiast and collects the actual flowers, not just the stamps.
King of hobbies. This is a title he has, in good humour, taken the liberty of printing on his name card, one of which he hands over to me when we meet for an interview last week.
Anuar, 66, had been approached by ex-Media Prima chairman Datuk Abdul Mutalib Razak about including his Merdeka-themed stamps in Abdul Mutalib’s coffee table book, Expressions Of Merdeka Malaysia. The book depicts how the country’s first national day, on Aug 31, 1957, and the formation of Malaysia, on Sept 16, 1963, were celebrated using photographs, stamps and first day covers. It was scheduled to have been launched yesterday.
The colours didn’t come out as vivid as they could have in the book, Anuar comments, a little disappointed.
He pulls out the originals, all mounted on white paper, thematically organised with other related stamps.
When you are a serious stamp collector, there are rules and regulations, and competitive philately exhibits require context, for a story to be developed.
It’s this aspect of the hobby that Anuar loves.
“You can read about history in words, but stamps show you the history.”
He takes me through a series of mounts, beginning the story of Malaysia – told through stamps– with a series issued for East India.
Little bits of history
“When the British came, they brought with them the usage of stamps,” explains Anuar.
He holds up a mount with a pyramid of stamps in a variety of slightly faded colours, their values denoted in rupees and anna.
“At the time, we didn’t use stamps, so the British used East Indian stamps overprinted with the crown, and the local currency in cents,” says Anuar.
It takes a moment to soak everything in: the Straits Settlements were established as Crown Colonies in 1857. That means these tiny squares of paper with perforated edges are over 150 years old.
Issued in – to quote a line from a philetalic journal – “the most dispassionate of circumstances” and laid out now, on the equally dispassionate laminate surface of a restaurant table, it’s moving to think that I am looking at such a definitive piece of Malaysia’s past.
And Anuar’s got more. The table is covered in a stack of mounts: a 3 cent Sarawak postage stamp from 1934, featuring the head of Sir Charles Vyner Brooke (the last of three “white rajahs” in the English dynastic monarchy that founded and ruled the Kingdom of Sarawak) is covered with a 1942 Japanese overprint; I can imagine that for people at the time, seeing the stamp with Japanese writing must have been chilling, as it marked the beginning of the Japanese occupation of Borneo during WWII.
The next mount Anuar shows me is a 12 cent Sarawak postage stamp, this time overprinted with the words “BMA”, an acronym for the British Military Administration. It marks the liberation of Malaya by British troops and the end of the Japanese occupation in 1945, another milestone in Malaysia’s historical journey to independence.
Next up is a particularly rare one: two 8-cent Malayan Union stamps, each worth about RM500, that have never been used.
“After the BMA, the British wanted to form a Malayan Union, so this is the stamp they printed,” explains Anuar.
“They issued stamps like this to all the British territories, having formed various unions in the other countries, including in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and Cyprus.”
In Malaya, however, Malays were against a Malayan Union. So the stamps were actually withdrawn from the post office and never issued. That’s the beauty of stamp collecting: the hidden intrigues, their ability to reveal history in its wider context.
Philately lives on
Anuar grew up in Ipoh, came to KL in 1969 and joined the Malaysian Philatelic Society. When he retired 12 years ago, he had a bit more free time on his hands, and joined the committee. Today, he’s the president.
It’s a peculiar habit of serious collectors that, on the day of issue of a new stamp, you gather at the post office, meet friends and chit chat, he says.
“It’s a way of socializing with like-minded people. If you sit waiting for your stamps at home, you don’t get to exchange ideas or views about the latest additions.”
Having said that, these days you can order new issues online and get them delivered straight to your doorstep, something Anuar confesses he’s been doing more of lately. Still, despite the Internet, e-mail, Twitter and other modern conveniences through which society now stays in touch, Anuar doesn’t think social stamp collecting is a dying hobby.
When the commemorative cover issued to mark US President Barack Obama’s visit to Malaysia came out in April, he points out, the queue at the General Post Office in Kuala Lumpur snaked about a kilometre long, running all the way out of the Dayabumi Complex within which it is situated. The commemorative cover for “40 Years of Diplomatic Relations Between Malaysia-China” issued in May attracted a similar crowd.
If you’re interested in finding out more about the hobby, the society has gatherings every three months.
“We put up a small exhibition and invite dealers at the Petaling Jaya library near Assunta Hospital. A lot of children come, for the stamp colouring competitions, and people can buy stamps and get their collections valued.”
The society also works with Pos Malaysia and the Education Ministry on a programme called OMG (Oh Memang Gempak) that takes philately to schools.
Before I met Anuar, I thought stamp collecting was boring. He changed my mind – and I can’t help but wonder what would happen when Anuar is let loose on schools....
To find out more about this fascinating hobby, keep an eye out for the Malaysian Philatelic Society’s World Youth Stamps Exhibition and the Inter-Asian Philatelic Federation Asia’s 29th Asian International Stamp Exhibition, both running from Dec 1 to 6 at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre; check out their websites at psmonline.org and asiaphilately.com respectively.
Datuk Abdul Mutalib Razak’s book, Expressions Of Merdeka Malaysia, is available at the Islamic Arts Museum (03-2274 2020; iamm.org.my), Kinokuniya Bookstore at Suria KLCC (03-2164-8133; www.kinokuniya.com/my) and MPH bookstores nationwide (1-300-888 674; mphonline.com).
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