Figure 1. QE 1d green Die II Plate "- 1 -" (Lot 581)
Pericles knew more about the rarity of most Plate nos. than did his contemporaries, and was not averse to buying part numbers, particularly when he knew a given item was the only example extant. I won't go in to the aesthetics of such items, other than to admit I find them on the visually challenged side of Philately. Yes, I'm aware that unique is compelling, and Figure 1 is thought to be unique, but at $4,600 (auction prices quoted exclude premium) does this item represent value for money? Therein lays the nature of the debate.
Figure 2. Important usage item, discovered only in 2011
By way of cross-comparison with Figure 1 I tender Figure 2: the QE 1d green Die II, that same stamp issue, in a coil strip of three (uniformly large holes) used 18 Jun 1940 Perth to U.S., for 3d Foreign letter, censored at Perth. This is the only commercial use on cover of the coil 1d I've seen. What's it worth? ACSC prices used pairs of the coil issue at $150, so I expect this cover is a $500+ auction item. Interestingly, it actually turned up in an auction only last year, in a shoebox of mixed covers.
Figure 3. KGVI 2d red Die II Plate "14" (Lot 611)
Stated to be the only recorded example, it's unfortunate that a little more presence of the Plate no. in Figure 3 was not to be. It still achieved full ACSC catalogue value, $4,000.
Figure 4. 1/4d "magneto" solo rarity
I don't have a rare usage item for the KGVI 2d red Die II, other than a solo from coil vending machine which has been literally torn in half by the "gripper". A visually striking item, but not deployed here as this is not intended to be a coil-emphasis article. Instead, I've called upon a rare usage example of the 2d's "big brother", the 1/4d magenta. When I was starting in philately, an elderly gentleman in our street encouraged a few of the local kids including me to learn from his modest stamp collection. He showed us an imprint block of the 1/4d, which he referred to as "1/4d magneto". We kids laughed, thinking he was being humorous, only to feel a little embarrassed later when we realized he was serious about that definition. The 1/4d is rare as a solo franking; I've seen three. Figure 4 is one of the best, the only example of its kind amongst the trio. A 21 Mar 1939 registered cover from Coolangatta to Canade, it's discretely endorsed at left "By Australia - England/Air-Mail". The airmail rate to U.K. at the time was in accordance with the attractive Empire Air Mail Scheme, which provided for an "All-up" rate of 5d only for ½oz. Curiously, each additional ½oz. was 8d! A very unusual example of a postal rate rising by increment rather than decreasing. We therefore arrive at 1/4d: 5d 1st ½oz. + 8d additional ½oz. + 3d registration. A bottler, and not a visually challenged one. Auction estimate $200.
Figure 5. ½d Kangaroo No wmk. Plate No. "4" (Lot 682)
The ½d Kangaroo No watermark when it was current (up until intro of Decimal Currency) was a popular little stamp with budding specialists, such as Geoff Kellow and me. Why? It was one of the few stamps for which we could afford to buy a sheet. I sold my sheet, oh, 50 years ago. (I think Geoff still has his). Sadly, we didn't find a Plate no. on our sheets, such as the example in Figure 5, which fetched $2,700.
Figure 6. Rare usage of another member of Zoological family
I have a couple of solo frankings of the ½d No watermark, which are rare, but have decided to feature another member of the Zoological series, the 1941 5½d on 5d Ram surcharge. This is very scarce as a solo usage, and amongst the small number of examples in total that I've recorded, are no less than four distinct solo types:  Domestic combined letter + registration (2d + 3d + ½d War tax),  Domestic letter + airmail (2d + 3d air surcharge + ½d War tax),  N.Z. airmail (5d + ½d War tax), and  Foreign second weight step letter (3d 1st oz. + 2d additional oz. + ½d War tax). I've seen just one each of  and , and feature  as Figure 6. Incidentally, although over 3.8 million of the surcharges were printed, it was heavily speculated in at the time, rendering mint of course common. I recall when I was a wholesaler in the 1960s it was difficult to source quantities of commercially used of the stamp, which corroborates low consumption and why covers therefore are so scarce. The subject featured was used from Wahroonga 8 Jan 1942 to Christchurch, censored at Sydney. Auction estimate $250.
Figure 7. KGVI 2d purple No wmk. Plate No. "- 5 -" (Lot 687)
One of the more attractive examples of a Plate No., and a good example of the often "freakish" causes which produced them, is Figure 7. No visual challenge here; this realized $4,800.
Figure 8. Second example of its kind seen in 23 years
I've tendered an example of the watermarked issue of the KGVI 2d purple for cross-comparison with Figure 7. Last month I featured a similar item, and mentioned it was the first such usage I've countered. Remarkably, a second example (in 23 years I've been researching usage) has turned up. And a corker it is. Figure 8 is a 10 Dec 1947 solo use of a 2d by a member of the R.A.F. Mission to Australia/N.Z. which, as I mentioned last month, enjoyed a 2d airmail rate when members wrote back home. This example bears a quite different handstamp to the "MAIL OFFICE/R.A.F. MISSION/TO AUST./AND NEW ZLD./6 OCT 1947" shown on the other. It reads within double oval "U.K./INDIA ELEMENT/ON ACTIVE SERVICE/AIR MAIL CONCESSION RATE/JCOSA [Joint Chiefs of Staff Australia]". Can I over emphasize the importance of items such as this? Multi-country appeal (Australia/N.Z., India, G.B.), rare rate, Military significance, without even mentioning extremely rare stamp usage. Even an attractive "Christmas Greetings" adhesive tape for Thematic appeal! This item realized US$107.50 on eBay. Value for money? You bet.
Figure 9. 4d Koala No wmk. Plate No. "7 -" (Lot 693)
Part Plate no. Figure 9, realized $5,750. A lot of money for what you get? You be the judge.
Figure 10. Convergence of Usage/Postal history great for one's philatelic stimulation
Again, I can't provide a rare usage item for the subject stamp, the 4d Koala No watermark, so I'll move up to the next denomination, 4½d! You know, there are times when there's no justice in Philately. 20 years ago I alerted the market to the rarity as a solo franking of the KGVI 4½d (via a conduit kindly facilitated by fellow columnist, Glen Stephens). The 4½d was issued primarily for the Foreign postcard rate. Unwisely, I provided this information on rarity prior to obtaining an example for my own reference purposes. When a small number of examples gradually did turn up, I found I was constantly outbid by a newly empowered band of enthusiasts. I still do not have an example of this stamp solo on a postcard to a foreign destination!
What I do have, however, is a rather neat variant of that creature. A postcard to Germany bearing a 4½d, where it appears the sender subsequently decided surface mail was going to be too slow, and opted to uprate the postcard for aerial transmission. I make this claim as the 7½d Coronation, utilized to uprate the article for airmail, is affixed partly over the 4½d, and the positioning of the By Air Mail etiquette suggests sending by airmail was an afterthought. The card was posted at Melbourne 17 Jul 1953, where one would reasonably expect a 1/- stamp to have been available, if airmail was intended from the outset. This is a late use of a 4½d, the distribution of which to Post Offices ceased on 31 Jul 1953. Will make a lovely page with a solo franking postcard (when I eventually get one). Solos on postcards have generally realized around $300 at auction (highest $725). Figure 10 is the only example of its kind I've seen, but I accept it may be too esoteric for most usage aficionados. Let's then suggest a conservative auction estimate of $250?
Figure 11. QE 1½d green Plate No. "5" (Lot 700)
ACSC states of QE 1½d green Plate No. 5 (Figure 11) "several examples exist". This one realized $4,400.
Figure 12. Only example seen of QE 2d green solo for airmail to U.K.
No QE 1½d green nice usages to show, so I'll defer to its cousin, the 2d. Figure 12 is a solo use from the N.Z. Forces P.O. in Korea, used 25 Nov 1953 to U.K. (after war ceased). This would appear to be one of the concessions available to British, Australian and N.Z. Forces serving abroad (see Figure 8), when writing to home country. I don't have further details, but have no doubt this is a commercial use. I would think an auction estimate of, say, $200 would be readily achievable.
So ends this exercise in cross-comparisons. Do others agree with me in seeing real value for money comparatively in the alternatives selected?
I'd like to end this month's discussion with some not unrelated observations. The 1970s ushered in the Great Boom we had to have, but in reality it was a wonderful time for the informed to pick up bargains, such as Pericles with Plate nos. (and see below "Affordable covers don't necessarily remain that way"). The material which went "ballistic" in the 'seventies was the standard "glamour" material, probably because it lent itself more readily to plotting on graphs to predict future growth, however fanciful. That certainly was the case when a share broking firm was buying in my auctions in the 'seventies; keen they were to participate in the incredible philatelic market. I recommended to them such material as Essays, Proofs, covers, and other material which could find a place in an exhibit. Genuinely scarce material often being its own worst enemy, appearing on the market too infrequently to plot on a graph, my recommendations were deemed unsuitable in an "investment" environment where reassurance of positive growth was essential, if one was to maintain the froth.
An example of one of the "glamour" stamps of The Boom is the 1950 £2 Arms. The Pericles sale provides us with the opportunity to make a comparison of auction prices for £2 imprint blocks then, and now. My 1977 Rarity Sale had the six possible configurations of the Imprint/No imprint and Roller flaws/Retouches. The hammer-price realizations in the two sales are shown below; I haven't taken in to account the odd mounted unit, suffice to say most stamps were unmounted.
£2 Arms: 1977 2012
Imprint block $925 $300
- With flaws $925 $480
- With retouches $1050 $575
No imprint block $925 N/A
- With flaws $1050 $1050
- With retouches $975 $1250
It will be noted for 2012 that one configuration matched the 1977 result, and one exceeded it. Aggregate realizations for the five blocks present in Pericles are $4,925 (1977) and $3,655 (2012). Given the 35 years gap between the respective sales, it does provide an interesting insight in to the madness that was the Great Boom. (It also confirms the No imprint configurations are the more challenging.)
I can't help speculating "What would a commercial cover bearing a £2 Arms have fetched in The Boom, assuming one could be found?" Oh, probably a buck, buck-and-a-half. No one, including me, would have thought anything of such an item.
Affordable covers don't necessarily remain that way.
Finally, whilst I was scanning through my Harmer's of Sydney catalogues (reviewing prices Pericles paid for many of his Plate nos.), I stumbled across a couple of interesting lots, which I had long forgotten. In the 23 June 1972 sale, Lots 26 and 27 were described as being Victoria 1850 Half-length 1d 2nd State (SG 5/a) pairs on cover, estimated at $40-50 each. They were in fact Original State 1d's (SG 1 group), yet still managed $50 and $87 only, respectively (which, incidentally, would also have been a bargain were they 2nd State 1d's). Geoff Kellow in The Stamps of Victoria mentions of SG 1b (which Harmer's were) "At least five covers are known".
Lot 27 was acquired by me, and in the Barelli sale (Millennium No.29 - Lot 1005) realized $38,000 (+ premium).
Auctions still are a wonderful resource for picking up absolute bargains, particularly so for covers, such as those Harmer's Victoria lots. You just have to become amongst the best informed in your chosen field/s. If your ambition is to become a great collector in Philately, auctions are your best friend, ably aided by APTA member specialists in your interests.