The high-value elephant stamps of Perak, Selangor and Federated Malay States are highly sought after in Malaya philately not only because of their scarcity and high values, but also because of a unique design originated from a scene in Perak.
In December 1893, the Crown agents of Malaya needed a set of new stamps for postage and revenue purposes. Following a lengthy and often confusing discussion between the Crown Agents and De La Rue, twelve initial designs were submitted for evaluation.
After inspection by the Residents of Perak and Selangor, and further correspondence with De La Rue, it was decided that the elephant design being reserved for dollar values while the tiger head design for the lower value stamps. Perak and Selangor issued the elephant stamps in 1895; and when these states became Federated Malay States (FMS), the stamp design persisted.
The vignette for the elephant stamp was inspired by an engraving from a book called “Perak and the Malays. Sarong & Kris” by Major JFA McNair. The book was published in 1878 by Tinsley Bros on account of the state of Perak – the people, its customs, history and so on.
The title page of the book states: “Illustrated with 13 engravings by R. Knight, from photographs taken by the author“. You may read the digitised form of the book here.
Similar to the original engraving plate from the book, the stamp vignette depicts the baby elephant’s rear – something uncommon and might be missed by many collectors.
Major JFA McNair
Major JFA McNair, the author of the book first served in Malacca and Labuan before becoming an executive Engineer and Superintendent of Convicts in Singapore. He was responsible for the building of Government House and St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Singapore. The McNair Road in Singapore and McNair Street in Penang were named in his honour.