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Stamp News    April 2006

                              Woodchip-free Zone    

'A Million Bucks and Nothing to Show for it'

Watermark errors have long been sought-after by Australian Commonwealth enthusiasts. This is understandable as there are many stamps in the Kangaroo and KGV Heads series’ (there are also a few affected KGVI issues) for which inverted or sideways watermark is very rare to extremely rare (say less than six examples recorded). In a complete ‘collection’ of watermark errors there are 11 separate issues amongst Kangaroos, and 23 amongst KGV Heads. Unsurprisingly, the thrill of finding one of these rarities is on most collectors’ ‘wishlist’.


The record price paid for a watermark error was the $39,610 (including buyer’s premium) for an inverted KGV 1d red single-line perf. achieved at a Sydney auction in July, 2004. Firstly, let me mention here that watermark errors (of the inverted or sideways type) from the rest of the world fetch but a fraction of the value we place on our Australian subjects. Nevertheless, this remarkable record has recently been well and truly breached in a private transaction for one of the Kangaroo inverted watermarks. I’ll leave it to others to be more specific concerning precise details, but for the $45/50,000 price range, in which the new record falls, one could purchase a high quality work by leading Australian artists Gary Shead, Charles Blackman, Arthur Boyd, Robert Dickerson, et al. Such comparison begs the question ‘Are we losing the plot?’. I could also add, shamelessly, that for around the lower end of that price range one could obtain from us one of the top five collections of Northern Territory Postal history – comprising fully 1600 covers.


Given the very nature of a watermark error, surely it is logical to argue that on a scale of 1 to 10 for visibility, in what after all is a Visual Hobby, a watermark error can barely rate a ‘1’? Another sobering point is that the current unbelievably high prices are regularly ‘flushing’ out new discoveries of watermark errors. Fellow columnist Glen Stephens has made reference to new finds of the highly priced KGV 2d orange inverted watermark error in recent Stamp News issues. When I published the ACSC series ‘King George V’ in 2001 editor Geoff Kellow had recorded four examples of this item. Simon Dunkerley informs me that the current census is now 13 examples!


Why then this peculiarly Australian fetish for inverted and sideways watermarks? I suspect to a large extent it is the lure of seemingly endless rises in value for such items, particularly during the past five years. It’s only one man’s opinion, but I can’t help thinking that the present price levels for this material defy Philatelic gravity. It could be said that the participants are playing a Philatelic version of musical chairs.


Recently, when discussing the above-mentioned 34 separate watermark errors found in Kangaroo and KGV Heads, I remarked to a friend that it would cost fully a million dollars to put together a complete ‘collection’. He came back immediately with ‘Yeh, a million bucks and nothin’ to show for it’. Well may it be stated that watermark errors are the great Australian Philatelic Aberration.


Let’s now consider some unrelated subjects which certainly won’t cost a ‘million bucks’ and will provide an owner something ‘to show’.


Figure 1. Scarcer Kangaroo than most unmounted mint bicoloured ’Roos!


The 12c, 18c and 24c denominations in the 1971 Animals series are uncommon on commercial cover/card. They were on sale for 13 months only, having been replaced by the corresponding denominations in the 1972 Rehabilitation series, added to which their postal use was largely confined to the low-surviving 2nd to 4th weight steps for articles within Australia and to Foreign countries. Figure 1 is the first example I’ve seen of the 18c used for the Zone 5 airmail postcard rate. This solo franking from Outer Harbor (S.A.) to West Germany on 16 Feb 1972 is a little ‘gem’. This 18c rate was introduced 1 Oct 1971, providing only ten months for the ‘Kangaroo’ stamp to be used for that purpose before being replaced by the 18c Rehabilitation. A more well-known Zone 5 airmail postcard rate is the earlier 1/2d rate, where the 1/2d Tasmanian Tiger so used has fetched up to $125 at auction. Figure 1 is somewhat scarcer but probably would fetch less than $100, for the present that is.


                       Figure 2.   Unusual commercial use of se-tenant strip


Still on the subject of Decimals, which are one of my favourite subjects for a usage collection. What a challenge to obtain commercially used on cover, card or other eligible ‘entire’ for each and every Decimal stamp of Australia from 1966 to the present. I’ve been at it for 17 years and still cannot boast completeness. Recent years issues in particular are proving difficult, as I no longer pursue the large quantities of commercial office mail which were supplied by various charities when I owned Brusden-White Publishing and needed to ‘keep up’ with usage of New Issues. I highly recommend the pursuit of collecting Decimal stamps on commercial cover, etc, as an alternative, real challenge rather than the popular but mind-numbing, profitless ‘collecting’ of mint New Issues. Figure 2 is one of the more difficult-to-find usages of Decimal stamps which one would encounter in accepting my recommended challenge. This 1 May 1970 cover to West Germany shows a valid and legitimate use of a se-tenant strip of the 1969 5c Flight Anniversary for the Zone 5 15c airmail Greetings card rate. This and two similar usages appeared on eBay recently and are the first examples I’ve seen. Value : $100 (strip off cover $3).


           Figure 3.   Mr Sturgess’s ‘Famous Stamp Packet’ going to a famous Philatelist


One of my favourite of our many Reference collections is Early Commercial Philately in Australasia. It features covers and related printed matter to or from pioneer Philatelic Traders, such as that shown in Figure 3. This is a 25 Jul 1903 registered use to U.S. of the E.R. Sturgess   of Williamstown (Vic) ‘Importer of Foreign Stamps’ advertising envelope at 5½d combined Foreign letter rate (2½d) plus registration fee (3d). The franking of the ‘bantam’ ½d x 11 is novel, but I particularly like the fact that the addressee was none other than Charles Lathrop Pack, one of the great early Philatelists. Pack was particularly fond of the stamps of Victoria (he published Victoria: The Half-length Portraits and the Twopence Queen Enthroned in 1923) and I at one time owned most of his great Victoria items. It is irresistible for me to speculate just what Mr Sturgess had to offer Pack in this missive. A new find of ‘Half-lengths’ perhaps? I can’t imagine that Mr Sturgess’s ‘Famous Stamp Packet’ would otherwise have held any appeal for a Philatelic giant such as Pack then was. Value : $150 (stamps off cover $11).


            Figure 4.   1900: Pioneer international Philatelic entrepreneur targets Australia


From the same collection as the preceding subject, Figure 4 is another recent eBay win. Diverging for a moment, while on the subject of eBay, I am enjoying Simon Dunkerley’s excellent ongoing series in Stamp News on the trials, tribulations and elation’s of bidding on eBay. Fortunately for we ‘cover lovers’, covers appear to be less prone, or to lend themselves less readily to some of the scams which are being attempted on eBay for stamps as distinct from covers. Back to Figure 4, this 24 May 1900 use from Karachi (now Pakistan) of the India 1 anna on 1½ annas stationery Postal card ‘To The Agent of the old Stamps Dealer’ in ‘S Australia at Adelaide’ really tickles me. The sender is offering current used Afghanistan stamps per 100 in ‘quite genuine & good condition’. The insufficient address was overcome by the South Australian Colonial Post Office directing the item to F. Krichauff, a noted Adelaide Philatelist. If my great grandfather was a Philatelist in those days I would like to think that he would have intervened to request of this early entrepreneur that the Afghani stamps be left on cover! Value : $100.

Rod Perry has been a philatelic trader since 1962 and a regular Stamp News advertiser since the 1960s. 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.