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Stamp News    August  2007

                              Woodchip-free Zone 

Australia 1978-84 Birds. An overview of their usage.

As this issue of the magazine has a thematic flavour, I thought it may be appropriate to feature that most popular of themes, birds. The series of 'birds' which formed the definitive series for Australia from 1978 to 1984 are one of my three Decimal definitive favourites for a usage study. The other two are the 1966 inaugural Decimal and the 1988 'Living Together' series'. I plan to feature both in this column during the next 12 months.

The 'birds' comprise no less than 22 separate issues, including a perforation change for the 10c and 45c. They were issued during a period of higher than average inflation, with associated volatility in postal rates. The letter rate, for example, increased from 20c to 30c during the period under review, and some of the Special Services, for example Registered Post, which was hiked from $2.00 to $3.30, increased by an even greater percentage. For usage aficionados, this makes for very fertile research. It is fair to say that amongst this series lurk usage variants which in rarity rival some far better known 'rarities', except that the market value of the latter might be in the thousands of Dollars, whereas even the rarest of usage items from the humble series under review are more likely to be valued in the tens of Dollars! Such is the price of relative anonymity. Let's then take a look at our individual subjects. I've included the increasingly popular tables of usage variants at conclusion of this article.

1c Zebra Finch and 2c Crimson Finch

Intended as make-up values only, of course (along with the 5c and 10c), and most often seen used together to uprate 24c Letter rate stamps/stationery following the rate rise to 27c on 21 Apr 1982. I've yet to see a solo franking of the 1c, which naturally would be for an underpaid article. The 2c has been seen solo, so it's worth looking out for the 1c in that form, which will be sought-after by specialists.

5c Hooded Dotterel

                                                           Figure 1

Most often seen usage is as an uprate for 22c Letter rate stamps/stationery to comply with the 21 Apr 1982 rate rise. Less often seen is the uprate of 20c PSE's for surface mail non-standard articles within Australia, the rate for which was 25c to 31 Mar 1980. Figure 1 is a particularly scarce solo franking, locally posted at Canberra 27 Feb 1979, underpaying the 20c Letter rate. Such items ought to have been returned to sender for additional postage, or the recipient taxed upon delivery. Just as often, such items receive no attention from Post Office staff, through inadvertence or by design, and are delivered in the regular manner. A (1) usage in the tables, valued at $50.

10c Golden Shouldered Parrot

                                                        Figure 2

The last of the denominations which were for make-up purposes only, from their outset. The majority of the usages I've noted were as a component in the composition of registered Letter rate items. Figure 2 is one such, a 22 Mar 1983 registered PSE Wentworthville to Canberra, at a total franking of $3.50, representing 50c for 2nd weight step surface mail intrastate non-standard article plus $3 registration fee. In this instance the pair of 10c is the perforation change, which was issued late 1982. This is quite scarce on cover; only 11% (approx) of the total number of 10c covers in my census were this issue. In fact, the perforation change 45c and 10c in that order are in my experience the scarcest of the entire 'birds' series on commercial postal articles. Valued at $35.

15c Forest Kingfisher

Mostly seen for make-up use, particularly as a component in registered mail. Solo frankings seen, rather infrequently, for 15c Greetings card rate for 1979 and 1980 Christmas seasons.

18c Spotted Catbird

                                                             Figure 3

Almost a nowhere stamp, the 18c was primarily intended for 'Bulk pre-sorted letter rate for direct bundle standard articles' (!), a usage which was current for eight months only, and which I've yet to see. There was a brief window of opportunity in 1981 to utilise this stamp solo for the 18c Greetings card rate, although I've seen but two such usages, for Christmas cards in that year. This is destined to become one of the more sought-after items of the series. Actually, the 18c is the most difficult denomination of the 'birds' to find on commercial article, and is third overall (behind the aforementioned perforation change 45c and 10c) in the scarcity stakes, by my reckoning. Figure 3 is one of the two 'Card only' covers I've seen, a 3 Dec 1981 use from Caboolture (Qld) to Bundoora (Vic), the (1) usage, valued at $100.

20c Little Grebe, 20c Eastern Yellow Robin and 22c White-tailed Kingfisher

Very interesting issues from the 'stamp' perspective, but as primarily Letter rate stamps there is not much joy in these three issues for the 'usage' specialist.

25c Spur-wing Plover

                                                         Figure 4

Fifth in the 'scarcity stakes' (just nudging out the 28c which follows), the 25c and most of the higher denomination stamps in this series were often utilised for non-standard articles; generally larger items which tend not to have a particularly high survival rate. A comprehensive usage collection of this series would be very imbalanced without the inclusion of non-standard material. The solution for exhibitors is simple. Use double-sized pages, which are capable of accommodating 99% of the items one is likely to encounter. Figure 4 is a non-standard item which 'fits' conveniently on a standard exhibition page. A 7 Mar 1980 use from Lindfield to Potts Point, apparently originally containing a 'get well' card, 25c was for surface mail non-standard items within Australia, at a time when the basic Letter rate was 20c. A (1) usage valued at $20.

28c Rainbow Bird

                                                      Figure 5

From 31 Mar 1980 the surface mail non-standard article rate increased from 25c to 28c, leading to the 'birth' of the 28c denomination on that date. Figure 5 is a 27 Mar 1981 use for that purpose from Beaconsfield (scene of the recent dramatic mine rescue) to Launceston. Another (1) usage valued at $12.

30c Pied Oystercatcher

Prior to 31 Mar 1980 30c was the Priority Paid fee, and more than 40% of the usage examples in my census of this stamp have the 30c uprating regular 20c Letter rate articles for the faster service. This use provides one of those instances where the postmark component can considerably outweigh a usage valuation; some of the Priority Paid timeclock datestamps are rare and sought-after by cancellation specialists.

35c Regent Bower Bird

                                                         Figure 6

Most often seen used as a solo franking for surface mail intrastate non-standard articles, the rate for which increased to 35c (from 30c) on 21 Apr 1982. Almost as prolific was the use of this stamp to uprate 22c Letter rate articles for Priority Paid fee, which had increased from 30c to 35c on 31 Mar 1980. Figure 6 is an example of the latter use, a 20 Jan 1981 uprate of a 22c PSE, from Parkville (Vic) to Adelaide. Parkville was not issued with a timeclock datestamp, and therefore time of receipt of the article ('2.30p') was noted on the Priority Paid label by the P.O. clerk at Parkville. Postal Stationery specialists also seek items such as this, for their brand of usage variants. A (11) usage, valued at $10.

40c Lovely Wren

                                                                     Figure 7

This is a stamp for which I've seen no less than six solo usage variants (see tables below - and note there are nine 'solos' for 35c!). I emphasise seen, for if one were to exhaustively study rate charts it would almost certainly be possible to identify other usage possibilities for this, and indeed most stamps I feature in this column. Eventually the complete picture will unfold; the research is still in its embryonic stage. Rather than select a solo example to illustrate, I've opted instead to feature a scarce duo usage. Figure 7 is an 80c 2nd weight step Zone 4 airmail item, 30 Nov 1979 Chester Hill (NSW) to Canada. That 80c rate was current 17 Sep 1979 to 30 Mar 1980 only, and obviously examples will be very hard to find. A (10) usage valued at $60.

45c Masked Woodswallow

                                                     Figure 8

This denomination served for many and varied postal uses, yet is rather difficult to find on anything but non-standard articles. I don't consider this stamp utilised for the 45c Letter rate from 1992-onwards as worthy of inclusion in a serious usage collection; the stamp had been replaced in 1983 (by the 45c 'butterfly'). I've already mentioned that the perforation change in the 45c is the scarcest issue for usage in the 'birds'. Less than 5% of the 45c items in my census were this perforation. I priced these on commercial cover, etc, at $25 for the ACSC (2002), but admit that figure now looks very conservative. Incidentally, the new perforation issue date is given as 'during 1983', but I have seen a cover dated 20 Dec 1982.

 In Figure 8 I've featured a modern rarity involving the perforation change. This is a solo franking of 3 Feb 1983 on an 'Under Paid' card, adjusting for the deficiency of 25c in the postage paid on an airmail article to U.S., plus a 'service fee' of 20c, equalling the 45c franking on the card. These cards are seldom seen in the market place (they were intended to ultimately be destroyed by the Post Office), and provide fertile hunting grounds for usage specialists. A (2) usage valued at $150. If this appears high, consider the better known but far more readily available 1962 1/2d Tasmanian Tiger on postcard, which has fetched up to $125 at auction.

50c Flame Robin

This was for a time the Zone 4 airmail rate, and approximately 25% of the items surveyed were used for that purpose. A more sought-after solo franking will be the 50c combined Priority Paid uprate (30c) of 20c Letter rate articles ((2) in the tables).

55c Lotus-bird

                                                                    Figure 9

Zones 4 and 5 airmail rates in their respective time regimes have ensured that the 55c is not scarce as a solo franking. Figure 9 has the 55c as an uprate for Certified mail fee during the 22c Letter rate regime, an 11 Nov 1980 use from Fitzroy North to Canberra. An attractive although not particularly uncommon use of two issues from the 'birds' series, an (8) usage in the tables valued at $12.

60c King Parrot

                                                      Figure 10

From a non-philatelic point of view, a stunning animal for those who have been privileged to have seen one in the wild, and indeed this entire stamp series is a joy to behold in that sense. For my taste, particularly from the fun viewpoint, a study of the usage on cover of attractive stamp series', like our 'birds', hands-down beats certain obsessive Philatelic pursuits. Such as the study of the back only of a stamp for the 'MUH cult', or conversely the study of the front for mathematically gifted centring to satisfy that current phobia 'Graded Stamps', which, mercifully, is confined largely to the U.S. The latter fascination is reminiscent of the 'Graded Diamonds' fiasco of the late 1970s.

Again, there is no shortage of solo franking possibilities for the 60c. However, I'll select a subject from 'left field' and go with Figure 10, an unusual and scarce duo franking for $1.20 combined Priority Paid fee (75c) and airmail non-standard letter rate (35c). This 24 Sep 1982 use from Queanbeyan to Burwood (NSW) has the characteristic handstamped 'Priority Paid' details handstamp of the departure P.O. An (8) use valued at $75.

80c Rainbow Pitta

                                                       Figure 11

The second scarcest of the 'birds' on a purely denominational basis (behind the 18c), and fourth overall. Solo frankings are scarce; approximately two-thirds of the subjects in my census were utilised as franking components in either Registered or Certified, and to a lesser extent for Priority Paid mail. I've selected an example of the last, shown as Figure 11, for two reasons. Firstly, this 22 Mar 1982 Priority Paid use Armidale (NSW) to Melbourne provides an attractive combination of issues from our subject series, unusually cancelled by a Priority Paid timeclock. Secondly, it is proof positive that I have been retaining my incoming mail intact for at least 25 years! "But doesn't that make it a Philatelic cover?", I hear you say. Well, even Philatelists are entitled to receive mail, and if the stamps used on a given postal article are contemporary for the relevant period, and pay the correct rate of postage, most usage collectors (including me) would classify that item as 'commercial' rather than 'philatelic'. In the subject under review, the contents were a bid form for a stamp auction, sent Priority Paid to ensure the bids arrived on time for the auction. Commercial in every sense of that word. A (3) use (with a premium for the timeclock cancel) valued at $20 (or a good deal more than if the cover had been 'woodchipped').

$1 Western Magpie

                                                    Figure 12

Another scarce solo franking, but the highest denomination is in fact readily available in other forms on commercial articles, as a major component in the franking of Registered mail in particular, and Certified mail to a lesser extent. During the 27c Letter rate regime the registration fee was $3, and one often encounters three of this $1 stamp utilised for that purpose. Figure 12 is one such, a 1 Feb 1983 uprate of a 27c PSE from Prospect (S.A.) to British Passport Office, Canberra. Correspondence to that destination yielded a high proportion of the Registered, Certified and Priority Paid mail in my census (see also Figure 2). A (5) usage valued at $12.

On now to the tables for the above. Figures in bold represent current Brusden-White (BW) value on commercial cover in ACSC Decimals II. The values in that catalogue, which I provided, relate to the most often seen (ie 'garden-variety') usage of the given stamps. Remember, the usage variants listed are not intended to be exhaustive. They are actual usages which I have recorded, and are provided as an indication of what a usage collector might be on the 'hunt' for. 'Solo' refers to a solitary use of the given stamp (ie no other stamps are present on the cover, etc), 'Duo' where two of the same stamp only are present, and 'Combo' where the given stamp is in combination with one or more entirely different stamp issue/s. These are suggested retail prices only, and generally are conservative. Usage collecting is a 'sunrise' field in Philately, recruiting fresh enthusiasts month by month, according to my monitoring of the marketplace. As actual realisations filter through to me, I'll endeavour to reflect those via updates to the tables, which appear on my website ( following publication in this journal.

Rod Perry has been a philatelic trader since 1962. He founded Rodney A Perry Auction Galleries (now Millennium Philatelic Auctions) in 1971. As a collector he has exhibited    nationally and internationally. Rod prefers his used stamps on cover and likens taking a stamp off its original cover to converting a tree to woodchips.