The Malayalam Datestamps

I want this part of the website to be a resource for collectors of Travancore postmarks. 

Between the first issue of adhesive stamps in 1885 and closure in 1951 the Travancore post office cancelled its adhesives with three generations of datestamps. It also used undated obliterators, but that’s another story. It moved from Malayalam characters, through bilingual, and finally to names only in ’English’. 

The Malayalam datestamps pose a challenge to most collectors. Many place names are long, thus the font used is often tiny and only parts of the name are visible on single stamps. Many of the larger places have long been known by anglicised  names that are unrecognisable when expressed in Malayalam script. While the Malayalam script is now available in digital fonts, these do not include the full range of characters that were in use a century ago and were available to the typesetters who made these datestamps. 

I have thought long and hard over how to make this collection usable by viewers who may have just a part strike to identify. In the end I decided to order the pages - one for each place - by the alphabet but to head each page by the name in Malayalam script. This groups together names that begin with the same Malayalam character so helps anyone decipher a marking where the start of the name (left-hand end) is visible. But, there are several vowels in Malayalam that, as in other Indian scripts, are shown by characters both to the left and to the right of the consonant that they modify. They are still treated, in sequencing, as coming after that consonant. This can make the Malayalam ordering look puzzling at first. There are also vowels that are usually shown not as a separate letter but as a modification to the preceding consonant. And there are also many combinations of consonants that can be shown as distinct letters. These include a whole range of double consonants which survive into modern spellings because they indicate an emphatic pronunciation. Modern and digital font libraries do not include all these distinct letters but they can be seen on these old datestamps. 

The dates on these Malayalam datestamps are expressed as ’month, day(number)/ year(last two digits)’ in the Malayalam era. I have translated some of these dates into English and converted them to the Christian era. I may have made mistakes. It is worth checking the dates of the conch design stamps as few varieties had official dates of issue. Many of the shades and minor varieties have yet to be dated and given periods of use. It is quite hard to find used stamps with readable dates. 

Many of the examples I show are sub-standard and as I work through my collection and any images that kind folks such as you might send I shall try to improve them. While this site is always ’under construction’ I do not see that as a reason not to publish what I have scanned so far. 

I have linked the English place names with any information I can find in Wikipedia so that people can easily add some interest to their collections. Good luck!