Hong Kong Centenary Stamp 1941

One of my favourite stamps in my collection is this one. It was part of a set issued in February 1941 to mark 100 years since the establishment of Hong Kong as a British territory.

The main illustration is of The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation’s head office at number 1 Queens Road Central on Hong Kong island. The bank headquarters building was still relatively new at the time and when it was officially opened in 1935 it was the tallest building between Cairo and San Fransisco and the first fully air-conditioned building in Hong Kong. I spent a short time in this building before it was demolished in 1981.

It’s a pity the stamp’s designers didn’t spell the bank’s name correctly since the bank has always spelt Hong Kong as one word.

‘Hongkong’ was the more common spelling during the colony’s early years and stamps issued during Queen Victoria’s reign were spelt that way. The spelling switched to ‘Hong Kong’ on stamps issued from the start of King Edward VII’s reign onwards.

Why the bats in this stamp’s design? Bats are a symbol of good luck in Chinese culture since the Cantonese pronunciation of the word for bat is apparently the same as the word for fortune. (A bit ironic since bats are getting the blame for spreading coronavirus to humans!) Five bats represent the five blessings – long life, prosperity, health, love of virtue and a peaceful death. Unfortunately this stamp had only three bats and Hong Kong at that time certainly didn’t enjoy good luck and just ten months after the stamp was issued Japan invaded and occupied the territory.

The Chief Manager of HSBC, Sir Vandeleur Grayburn, was arrested by the Japanese and imprisoned in the Stanley internment camp where he subsequently died in 1943. Also in Stanley was the Postmaster Edward Irvine Wynne-Jones and Chief Draughtsman William Jones who spent their internment plotting revenge on the Japanese by designing a set of Victory stamps which was issued in 1946.

Bats on this stamp too, and a phoenix rising from the flames.