Stamp News April 2011
Usage. Is this the next big 'thing' in Philately? (Revisited)
This article originally appeared in the May 2006 edition of Stamp News. Matt Hancock, who many readers will know as the eBay Trader, stampsulike, suggested it be rerun. Given virtually five years have since elapsed; the suggestion may be timely, with updates where deemed appropriate. Any significant change to the original article is shown in italicized squared-brackets, including revised valuations for the featured subjects, as at date the present version was submitted (March 2011).
Philatelists, both amateur and professional, love to speculate amongst themselves as to what might be the next 'thing' to go ballistic in Philately. This can be harmless and inexpensive entertainment, and I confess I'm often a willing participant in the preoccupation. I've considered the A to Z of possibilities in Philately during over four decades of trading, and have from time to time made recommendations befitting a given era. Regular readers of this column, during its almost four year's lifespan, ought to be abundantly aware of what I presently can't see past for potential. That of course is the outstanding value for money, and glowingly bright future of 'usage' in comparison with any other aspect of Philately. For the uninitiated, I'll shortly explain 'usage', together with some insight as to why my present prediction is so inclined.
Backtracking, in the early 'seventies, when I first visited the U.K., eminent Postal Historian and author, E.W. ('Ted') Proud, provided my first lesson in the noble pursuit of Postal History - the study of aspects of the journey of a postal article from point A to B (via points 'C' to 'Z' as the case may be), replete with any deducible 'story' encountered along the way (note Figures 3 and 5 below). Ted has done more for cover collecting during the past 25 years than any other Philatelist. His series of publications on the Postal History of a wide selection of British Empire countries is a must have for enthusiasts of those respective countries. It was Ted who introduced the guide to pricing used on commercial cover in Stanley Gibbons' B.E. ("Part I") catalogue in 1980.
When I met him, Ted explained his reasoning that the more intelligent amongst Philatelists would soon tire of more traditional elements of Philately (in particular the mind-numbing practice of filling 'gaps' in a printed album), and seek greater individuality within their collecting horizons. The varied manner in which one's favourite stamps could be used, particularly on cover or other postal article, provides a logical and diversified expansion model for a collection which otherwise might consist of the bare basics only. 'Usage' has become the popular term for the study of the myriad possible uses for the humble postage stamp, on the original article of conveyance, meeting genuine postal requirements. After all, stamps were intended to facilitate provision of a postal service, rather than to lodge in a stockbook or album, as many in Philately have fallaciously come to accept!
I readily warmed to Ted's philosophy, and from as early as 1974 introduced 'Postal History' sections to my auction catalogues. The response was less than overwhelming, and I decided rather to focus the development of my fledgling auction business more in the direction of traditional specialised Australia and Colonies. "Colonials" were then decidedly unpopular, and few collectors, even of Australia, bothered to include such esoterica as Essays, Proofs and Postal History. As a consequence, the best value for money field in which a then fearless young auctioneer could frolic lay in the more esoteric elements of Philately. Much of course has changed in the 30 years since Ted Proud dispensed such wisdom, and intelligent Philatelists now, more than ever, seek out unusual, esoteric and other generally best-of-kind material to distinguish their collections from all others. The 'ordinary' has never looked more passé.
Fastforward to the late 'eighties, when worldwide economic conditions were conducive to a recovery from the 1981 speculative bust in Philately, I sought to invest in an area of the Industry which I considered least likely to suffer from any future fallout. Ted Proud's introduction to Postal History, a decade and a half earlier, encouraged a revisitation and gravitation in that direction. This provided an aspect of Philately which satisfied my prime criterion - which always has been, always will be value for money. In fact, notably for 20th Century material, for too long a 'Cinderella' in comparison with 19th Century, I then couldn't believe the value for money. I still can't, particularly compared with many much more highly priced, yet far more readily available 'high-flying' traditional items. Aggressively, like a Philatelic vortex, I set about accumulating as much cover material as I could find within Australia. How else would one satisfy the hunger to learn more about a newly chosen speciality? It didn't take long for me to deduce that here was the last great frontier in Philately, literally strewn with unrecognised scarce to rare usages, for even the most common of stamps. I have endeavoured to share some of my 'finds' with readers [of my monthly Stamp News column], and continue that tradition forthwith! This month's selection comprises a pot pourri of 'usages', typical of the almost limitless number of such items just waiting to be recognised and savoured by enlightened Philatelists.
Figure 1. Fiji KGVI £1 on commercial cover. Worth blowing your bugle about.
In the March 2005 issue of the column, I mentioned that I had not seen the 10/- or £1 of the attractive Fijian KGVI pictorial series on a commercial postal article of any type, and posed the question "Has any reader?" Typically, I received no response, but have since located two covers bearing the 10/-, and finally have found the £1 - in a smaller Sydney auction [and a second £1 usage item has since been located]. Figure 1 is this item, a solo franking for airmail between Thomas Cook offices in Suva and Sydney, departing 18 Feb 1954. The airmail rate was 1/- per ½oz, indicating this article originally weighed 9½-10ozs. For my taste, this is a 'cracker' item; aside from the rarity factor the quality is agreeable (particularly for a larger, heavier article), enhanced by scarce use of a Canadian Pacific Airlines air mail etiquette, and even the bold handwriting appeals. I must say I could never be convinced that such an item has anything but the brightest future. What's it worth? The public record will show at the auction it realised $240 (plus buyer's premium). I flew Melbourne to Sydney especially to buy this item (amongst other material from the same correspondence), and let's just say that I wasn't coming home without it. The stamp off cover is probably worth around $40 (to some, not me) and fortunately had not been removed from the cover, which was the sad fate suffered by many other high denomination frankings on offer from this correspondence. Often I'm asked, "How is it that a stamp can be worth so much more on intact postal article?" Well, obviously it is the 'efficiency' of past generations of stamp collectors in removing stamps from entire articles that has rendered such articles the 'endangered species' in Philately. Stamps on commercial entire article will always be infinitely more desirable to Philatelists, at least the enlightened amongst them: if nothing else, the 'entire' tells a story that the off-cover stamp can seldom do, and Supply and Demand sees to the rest in determining the premium attached. Incidentally, I have no hesitation in predicting that the 'gap' between used on or off cover will continue to broaden, exponentially in many instances. [Mar 2011 valuation: $2500]
Figure 2. Solo frankings of 7½d Coronation not 'freguently' seen
Figure 2 is a late solo use of the Australia 1953 7½d Coronation, paying the Foreign letter rate. Used from Melbourne 24 Oct 1955, to the curiously titled 'International Freguency [sic] Registration Board' in Switzerland, I would normally rate this as too far outside of 'period of issue' to be a commercial use for a commemorative stamp issued in May, 1953. However, this use is by a Government Dept., where stamps often remained in stock for years, particularly those for which there was limited demand, such as a 7½d, and I have no problem accepting this item in a commercial 'usage' collection. I have seen very few of any 1950s 7½d commems used solo for this rate; understandable perhaps for most external mails at the time were to the British Empire, where the rate was 3½d only. Value : $75 [Mar 2011: $150] (off cover 75c).
Figure 3. N.Z.'s 7/6d 'Arms' not easy to find on cover. Degree of Difficulty on a 'crash' cover doubtless rather high.
I will feature New Zealand 20th Century usage in this column in the near future [sorry, I've been a bit slow to fulfill that promise, but it will happen]. Perhaps even more than for Australia, that country is a 'goldmine' of potential for usage aficionados. I don't know anyone who indulges in N.Z. usage (other than myself) and would be pleased to correspond via email with any reader/s that do. [Two serious NZ "usage" enthusiasts have since become known to me]. I like the 'Arms' series on commercial items, and the 7/6d solo usage in Figure 3 is the only example I've noted. Sent from Wellington to U.K. by airmail on 11 Mar 1954, it had the dubious distinction of having been loaded on board the ill-fated BOAC Constellation RMA 'Belfast', which crashed at Singapore two days later. Tragically, 33 lives were lost. Ironically, the mail on board fared better and 91,000 items were salvaged, this subject amongst them. It appears trivial under those circumstances to note that 7/6d was for the 2½-3ozs airmail rate (1/3d per ½oz x 6). Value : $500 [Mar 2011: $1000] (off cover $40).
Figure 4. 1962: Expensive cost of keeping up with the news in Solomons.
Papua New Guinea is a great country for which to commence a usage collection. Once home to many expats (and what Philatelic spenders they were in the 'seventies!) PNG has progressively, since Independence in 1975, become more akin to a foreign country on our immediate doorstep. Just that much more mysterious and exotic. I like the often vibrant designs and colours, particularly for modern issues (on commercial cover only, of course). I'll feature some in a future column, but for this month it's an £SD issue in the form of Figure 4. A solo use of the 1962 3/- Policeman, a difficult stamp on cover (or wrapper as in this instance), from Port Moresby to Government House, Honiara, (then 'British') Solomon Islands on 2 Nov 1962; it paid the 2½-3ozs Printed matter (or '2nd Class') rate for airmail (6d per ½oz x 6). This rather high cost no doubt would have been a small price to pay to be kept up to speed for the news afforded by the latest edition of Newsweek. The only solo franking I've noted for this stamp.Value : $100 [Mar 2011: $250] (off cover $1.25).
Figure 5. QEII Booklet pane cover tenderly repaired by HRHs' own Royal Mail.
Booklet panes are, unsurprisingly, quite scarce intact on commercial mail articles. Booklets were usually the domain of domestic users of the mail system, and the individual stamps were usually denominated at the letter rate, thereby affording little opportunity to necessitate the use of the entire pane. I have, however, on rare occasions seen an intact Booklet pane used as a component in the make-up of an internal registered item, or for an overweight article. Figure 5 sees the 1957 QEII 4d Booklet pane used 25 Apr 1958 from Whitemark (Tas) to U.K., conveniently paying the 2/- ½oz airmail rate. The article appears to have originally contained a card (which would have rendered it eligible for the 1/- Greetings card rate) and did not fare well in the postal system, necessitating the liberal affixing of the U.K. 'Found open or damaged/and officially secured' tape. Value : $125 [Mar 2011: $250] (pane off cover $15).
Figure 6. 10/- Robes 'Thin' paper. Seek and ye shall find.
The 'Thin' paper (ACSC more appropriately uses the term 'Unsurfaced' paper - and 'Chalk-surfaced' for the 'Thick' paper) printings of the 1938-49 Coronation Robes I have found very scarce on commercial postal articles. In fact, until recently I had seen only the 5/- in this form (and even then only four items); hence my omitting prices for the 10/- and £1 in the 'on cover' column in the latest (2006) ACSC King George VI. The scarcity is understandable as the 'Thin' 5/-, 10/- and £1 were on sale for only 15, 11 and 7 months, respectively, before being replaced by the Coat-of-Arms series. The 'Thin' £1 on commercial article is going to be a rarity (if in fact any exist!) [I have since seen one example, on a cover], but just before penning this column a 10/- was discovered, on a 1950 'tag' from Perth to Harvey (W.A.) (Figure 6). The total rate is 19/6½d (nearly enough to facilitate a £1!) [The rate deduction made in May 2006 was incorrect: 19/6½d paid Letter rate 2½d 1st oz + 2d per oz x113 + 6d registration fee. Post Office rules dictated that articles bearing gold, silver and precious metals (the sender was a trader), being ineligible for parcel rates, had to be sent at Letter rates, and could be registered only when paid at Letter rates.]. An important 'find', and one which demonstrates that the search for elusive 'usage' items is yet in its infancy. [A 10/- 'Thin' paper on a cover has since been located]. Value : $1000 [Mar 2011: $2500] (stamps off cover $45).
Figure 7. Modern 'rarity', modest price.
Occasionally readers of this column ask "If it's so rare, why then is it so affordable?" My answer invariably includes one particular word; 'opportunity'. If you can't recognise opportunity when it greets you, it's probably time to do a crash course on the subject of 'usage' (reading the entire series of my past Stamp News columns at www.rap.com.au - under 'Rod's Columns' - would be a useful start), or otherwise accept that entering the next 'thing', before the thundering herd appears, may not be your Philatelic vocation. Figure 7 is a good example of 'rare', yet 'affordable'. Norfolk Island commercial mail is surprisingly difficult to accumulate, particularly pre-1980s. This 8 Nov 1974 commercial cover by airmail to U.S. includes the QEII 5c coil - the first example I've seen on a commercial cover! The rate should have been 30c (it increased from 25c from 1 Oct 1974), but was tolerated (or simply overlooked) without taxing. Items such as this are essential in a collection of N.I.; unless one is content to own a mint/used/FDC collection which is a clone of a thousand other such collections. N.I. stamps largely were intended for the collector market; comparatively few ever saw genuine postal use. Value : $75 [Mar 2011: $125] (stamps off cover, well, nice packet material).
The first major opportunity to gauge how the market for Australian covers has fared since May 2006 was afforded at auction on 27 November 2010, when Prestige Philately brought down the hammer on the Kevin Nelson Collection of Commonwealth of Australia Postal History 1901-1941. An overview and specific commentary on that sale can be accessed in my Stamp News column, January 2011, or via the above-mentioned website.
Figure 8. 4½d KGVI particularly rare solo usage item
I've snuck Figure 8 in at the last moment, a not related item to the above article, although very much in the spirit of the subject matter. This was Lot 1478 in the Phoenix Auction of February 25, and realized $575+ premium. It's the first example I've noted of the 4½d as a solo franking for the Foreign second class matter (unsealed) rate. The cover, sent from Horsham (Vic) to U.S. on 6 Jun 1952, contained a QSL "Ham" Radio card. Solo frankings of any kind for this stamp are rare, the Foreign surface postcard rate being more typical. A very respectable realization for a stamp worth only cents used off cover.
Next month I'll provide an overview of the Lord Cornwallis auction of Australian Commonwealth stamps, containing an interesting cover or two, due to have taken place on March 17.
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.