Ending the Rubber Export Coupon “B. L. & P.” Conundrum


For Malaysian and Singaporean collectors as well as numismatist, the rubber export coupons is all the rage these days. We have observed a significant uptick in interest and prices of these items in the past 18 months, most notably since the Spink Auction held in Singapore back in August 2015.

Fig 2. The infamous B. L. & P. rubber coupon
Fig 1. The infamous B. L. & P. rubber coupon, 25 katis.


For the uninitiated, the rubber export coupons were issued about 94 years ago, over two periods in Malaya i.e. 1922-1928 and 1934-1942. Printed by the Survey Department in Kuala Lumpur, they were used to control the sale and export of rubber for rubber estates that are less than 100 acres in size [Note 1,2]. This topic was covered in considerable detail in Saran Singh’s 1990 edition of “Malaya and Sarawak Rubber Export Coupons 1922-1942”.

Fig 1. Malaya and Sarawak Rubber Export Coupons 1922-1942 by Saran Singh
Fig 2. Malaya and Sarawak Rubber Export Coupons 1922-1942 by Saran Singh


The Conundrum

Each of the rubber coupons issued has the name of the territory for which it is to be used clearly inscribed on the obverse top left corner of the coupon. The quantity issued is based on the quota assigned for each territory and their denominations are base on the weight of the dry rubber transacted. These territories in Malaya include:



Territory
Period
1
British Malaya (First Series)
1922-28
2
British Malaya (Second Series by TDLR)
1922-28
3
Federated Malay States (F.M.S)
1935-42
4
Straits Settlements Mainland
1938-42
5
Kedah
1937-42
6
Penang Island
1941-42
7
Kelantan
1935-42
8
Terengganu
1938-42
9
Johore
1934-42
10
Singapore Island
1939-41
11
Singapore & Penang Island
1936
12
Sarawak
1938-42
13
North Borneo
1938
14
B.L. & P.
1941-42

Table 1 : List of Territories for Rubber Export Coupons (1922-1942)


The names of the listed territories leave absolutely no doubt as to where they are used …. and then there is this place being referred to as  "B.L. & P". It has remained quite a mystery to many a collector for the past decades because there is no such state, town or area named B.L.&P.; nor are there any place in Malaya at the time that match those three initials. 

To add to the difficulty, none of the official documents or government gazette ever mention what these three letters mean. As a result there has been no shortage of speculation over the years as to what they stood for. 

In this article we will first examine each of these "popular theories" and then put forth a stronger, viable alternative based on research and facts as opposed to speculations, rumors and hearsay, which we hope will put an end to this decades old conundrum! 


Borneo Theory

One of the “oldest” theory say that these seemingly incongruent initials stood for a place somewhere in Sabah, purportedly because the “B” could have stood for Borneo. However, back then it was known as North Borneo, then the initials should be N.B. instead. If you examine Table 1 above, there were coupons issued specifically for North Borneo in 1938. Moreover this theory seems to be silent on the "L" and "P"; as such the story ends here. 


Boustead Theory

Another popular theory was that B. L. & P. stood for “Boustead Land & Plantations”, which is entirely plausible … because Boustead & Co did introduce rubber trees into Malaya using seeds germinated at London’s Botanical Gardens in Kew in the late 1880’s.  It went on to be one of the leading rubber plantation manager and owner in Malaya, managing 49 plantations with a total planted area of 141,629 acres. So there must be coupons issued for their plantations because of its sheer size. 

Sounds perfect, except that the name “Boustead Land & Plantations” simply do not exist. 

Don't get us wrong, Boustead & Co as a company did exist and in fact it was into many commodities such a tapioca, sugar, pepper, nutmegs etc. They were also big in rubber, owning many plantations BUT they were under various different names such as Malakoff, Bertam, Gadek, Taiping and Kuala Sidim. None of which was ever called “Boustead Land & Plantation” simply because there are NO RECORDS of a company or subsidiary with this exact name. 

Now if you doubt this fact, then you must consider the next :

The plantations under Boustead & Co are all large estates, they are all  in excess of 100 acres. According to the rubber control scheme which states in detail on how it was implemented, large estates were issued certificates of standard production and licenses [Note 2] instead of rubber export coupons. The licenses include foolscap size forms for controllers and district officers to record and keep track of volumes and production dates which is entirely different from the coupons. We've included an example of the form below. The facts are very clear - the rubber export coupons were issued ONLY to small plantations that are less than 100 acres.

Either one or both of these two facts is more than sufficient put an end to the Boustead Theory.


Fig. 3  Quarterly License to Export Rubber for large estates
Fig. 3  Quarterly License to Export Rubber for large estates

East Malaysia Theory

The first two theories assume that the area at one location or under the control of one entity. The third theory has it that all three letters stood for different places. 

The trouble is - trying to guess each of these places individually can be rather tricky.

The logic goes like this - since quite a number of pieces of this B.L. & P. coupons surfaced in today's Sabah and Sarawak, it has to be meant for that area. The only large area under British control in that era that starts with a “B” was Borneo, which is obvious.  As for “L”, most would have guessed Labuan since it was ceded to the British in 1846, that's easy. But “P” was the missing piece; it cannot be Penang because it already has its own set of coupons. Proponents of this theory argue that since “B” and “L” are on what is today’s East Malaysia side, then “P” has to be somewhere over there rather than the Malay Peninsula – that is IF you follow the logic of grouping them under the same area. But to this day, no one could think of an area or a place over there that has a name starting with “P” that has rubber estates for which coupons are issued. The theory is incomplete. 

So it’s a dead end for the East Malaysia story ...... IF you follow the logic that these 3 places have to be in or around the same area. What IF we try a different reasoning .... 

Now imagine if you were in the business of producing these coupons, you’d be hard pressed for efficiency since they have expiry dates and had to be issued on a regular basis. It makes no sense to produce them just for areas that have very few small estates. Now instead of printing several sets in very low quantities, you would combine them and issue 1 set. Please keep in mind that these were done before the age computers and laser printers! Creating new sets will take a serious amount of effort and cost. 


Production Volume Theory

Armed with the assumption of issuing consolidated coupons for low production area, we then proceed to search the rubber statistics for the late 1930s for evidence to that effect. After many days of detailed and arduous search we finally come across this article - “Workings of Rubber Regulation in 1936”; published by The Straits Times on 26 August 1937 which lists the rubber producing areas ranked by volume of quota apportioned. At the very bottom of this table, we found three places :  Brunei Perlis and Labuan [Note 3]. A very interesting "coincidence" indeed. These 3 areas makes up only about 0.5% of the total rubber export apportionment for British Malaya.  Another very important clue here is that these 3 areas DO NOT have their own rubber coupons whereas all of the areas listed above them do.

Fig 4. Rubber quota apportionment by state/territory 1936.

Place wise, Perlis did come as a surprise. No one would have guessed Perlis, the smallest, often overlooked, northern most state of the Malay Peninsula. In addition, most would have already assume the "P" was in East Malaysia thus completely left Perlis out of the picture. Being the smallest state, it comes as no surprise that its rubber production volume would be low. 

At this point, we were trying very hard to control our excitement and yet we knew we must search for other sources to validate these facts, else this one incidence may well be just a coincidence. Sure enough, we found another report on "rubber estate holdings" for 1937 and 1938, again these 3 places are listed as the smallest areas of rubber production during that period.


Fig 5. Rubber plantation sizes by states/area 1937-1938

There was utter elation upon this confirmation. We believe we can finally put an end to decades of guess work and speculation.

But wait a minute .... there is ONE last thing. 

The "B" for Brunei instead of "Borneo" does seemed a bit out of place. All the areas listed were under British control at that time. Brunei on the other hand was NEVER part of Malaya nor was it a British colony, it was ONLY a British Protectorate, therefore the British no direct control over the country. So why should it be listed and rubber export coupons be issued for that area ? 

Now this is a potential show-stopper. If we cannot adequately explain it, it would mean that this theory will have to go out the window too. 

Well the good news is that we did further investigations and discovered that in the InternationalRubber Regulation Agreement of 1934, which was signed by the UK, India, the Netherlands, France and Thailand to control rubber production and prices, the term “Malaya” was defined to include both Brunei and Labuan [Note 4]; it follows then these two places were placed in British control as far as the regulating the rubber restriction is concerned.


Conclusion

From all the above analysis and reasoning, the Production Volume Theory proves to be the ONLY working theory thus far because all the supporting facts presented are consistent and coherent. In short everything does check out and the final result is this : 

B. L. & P.  =  Brunei. Labuan. & Perlis.



The End. 


---

References:
  1. The Straits Times, “Government of Johore: Rubber Restriction”, 31 Oct 1922, p.12 col 2
  2. The Straits Times, “Rubber Restriction”, 4 Oct 1929, p.10 
  3. The Straits Times, “Working of Rubber Regulation in 1936”, 26 Aug 1937, p.7
  4. The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, “Rubber Control During 1934”, 15 Nov 1935, p.15 
  5. Malaya Rubber Statistics Handbook 1935, Dept of Statistics S.S. & F.M.S. 
  6. Twentieth Century Impression of British Malaya, A. Wright, Llyod's Great Britain Publishing Co. Ltd. 1908 

P.S. This entire episode came about while I was assisting Mr. Saran Singh in researching for the upcoming edition of the book on rubber export coupons. This updated edition, due end of this year, will cover new grounds and present new information that was previously not known.









4 comments:

  1. Fantastic research!! I have done similar research for French Southeast Asia for over 40 years and I keep 'finding" answers to questions. Do not give up....ever! Please say hello to Saran for me.
    Howard A. Daniel III

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank for your encouragement Howard ! I will certainly say Hello to Saran on your behalf.

    ReplyDelete
  3. --- Posting this comment on behalf of from Mr. Tony James, Australia (thru email) ---

    I wanted to say congratulations on your work with Saran.

    I agree with your deductions and summation. Brunei was always a possibility,
    The style being similar to the Sarawak coupons. As is the same case with Labuan,

    I had searched the seas for an island beginning with P. However your tables for 1936/7/8 confirm to me that the last letter should be P=Perlis.

    The qualification regarding small holdings is very important to the issue of coupons, as opposed to the large plantations that used a ledger system.

    Well done to you both.

    Tony James,
    Numismatist
    Writer and former collector of Rubber coupons

    ReplyDelete