Thursday, December 31, 2020

Bhutan's Earliest Postage Stamp Gives Joy to a Sikkimese

I have long been grumbling about the errors – perpetrated both intentionally and through carelessness – in the printing of our bank notes as well as our coins – both hammered and milled. But now that my attention has been drawn – willy-nilly – to the postage stamps, I find that here too we have blundered. Look at the following two earliest stamps:

1. Stamp depicting His Majesty Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck, issued in 1962

If you look at the stamp carefully, you will notice that the date of birth has been shown as 1867 – 1902. This is totally wrong. His Majesty’s birthdate should have been shown as 1862 – 1926. How could such a drastic mistake have been made?

But something that surprises me is: It cannot be that they pulled the years 1867 – 1902 out of some magician’s hat. Does these years of birth and death belong to someone? Who? But one thing that is heartwarming to know is that one subject of the erstwhile Kingdom of Sikkim is thrilled to bits that his annexed homeland is shown in the stamp as an independent Kingdom :)- He writes that this is the only stamp he knows in the whole world where his annexed homeland is depicted as an independent Kingdom.

Then consider the following stamp issued the same year – 1962. The postage stamp depicts a Bhutanese archer in traditional Gho. Look carefully – and you realize that the man has worn his Gho from the wrong side – the Gho’s Gong is facing left, and not right as it should be.

2. Stamp depicting a Bhutanese archer, issued in 1962

I cannot imagine how Burt Kerr Todd would have made such a terrible mistake. I mean he attended the Royal Wedding in 1951 during which time he is supposed to have spent 7 months in Bhutan. Then he came back to Bhutan with his brand new wife - in 1954 - for his honeymoon. Then he is known to have come back once again in 1959 – when it is said that an agreement was reached – for him to work at designing, printing and marketing of Bhutan’s postage stamps in the international market. This means he surely would have seen and known how we Bhutanese male wear our Gho.

I thought long and hard – how this could have happened. The only conclusion I could draw is that Todd must have photographed a Bhutanese man on a negative film, which was used those early days. However, when printing the photograph for artwork, the studio person must have printed from the wrong side of the negative – with the result that an inverted image was produced. When an image is captured on the negative film, it is actually captured in “negative” or inverse state. When they are printed on photographic paper, the positive image is reproduced. The following is what I mean.

The image on the right was flipped horizontally to produce an inverted image that shows the Gho's Gong facing to the left.

Since this is the last day of a year that tested us all, I am posting two articles today - in jubilation of a terrible year that we are now putting behind us. See you all next year.


  1. The wrong years is in fact a mistake. This could also be the reason the stamp was withdrawn from domestic usage. The artis paintings have different years. In general the set was based on a drawing competition

  2. Note that according to the map on the stamp depicting His Majesty Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck, the country north of Bhutan is Tibet, which was already taken over by China at the time of the release of this 1st stamp set in 1962. So there were also speculations that that was one more reason to withdraw this particular stamp from especially domestic usage.