Stamp News August 2005
Woodchip-free Zone Norfolk Island commercial usage. Try finding these in a hurry
Norfolk Island was once a ‘Top of the Pops’ country amongst collectors in Australia. During the late ’seventies, early ’eighties boom its stamps reached heady levels indeed. Of course the stamps were never scarce, just heavily in demand by speculators intent on playing philatelic musical chairs. Prices for such ‘flavour of the month’ stamps eventually followed the law of gravity and came crashing back to earth, never to recover.
Ironically, what was scarce then (and is scarce to this time), but was totally overlooked by the less than enlightened buyers of that era (and indeed remains largely overlooked by today’s buyers), was the stamps commercially used on cover. Norfolk has a tiny resident population, moderately swollen by seasonal tourists, and the demand for stamps for postal purposes has always been modest, unlike the philatelic demand for mint, cancelled-to-order, and First Day Covers, which at various times since 1947 (when stamps were first issued) has been substantial. Assembling a complete collection 1947 to date in mint, CTO or on FDC is not a challenge. However, try collecting an example of every stamp issued but on commercial covers. Now there is a challenge!
But why would one bother to rise to such a challenge? Well, contrary to what many readers might believe, stamps are issued not only for collectors to diligently buy them from the Post Office and place in a stockbook or album; stamps do have another legitimate purpose to serve. That purpose is to pay for a postal service. Informed philatelists are coming to realise that to show examples of usage of the stamps they collect for the various ways in which they could be postally used is a very logical pursuit, and fun given ‘the thrill of the chase’ aspect which it entails.
This month I have featured some £SD issues of Norfolk on commercial cover. Most of these represent the only examples I have seen commercially used. This compares with sometimes thousands of the equivalent stamps in mint condition that I have handled during my philatelic career. The difference between my valuations for these covers and CTO or mint stamps will surprise many. I suggest that any doubters first try finding similar covers, following which I am confident they will become believers! Incidentally, I would love to hear from any reader who has, or has seen, the 1960 2/8d Local Government or 1961 10/- Bird commercially used on any postal article (email me on firstname.lastname@example.org ). Obviously I have not.
Figure 1. 2/- Landing, cleared for landing in U.S.
2/- was the airmail rate to U.S. when the item shown in Figure 1 was sent on 7 Jan 1958. The stamp (along with a companion 3d) had been issued on 8 Jun 1956 but, indicative of low local demand for stamps for postal purposes, had remained available at Norfolk Post Office for some time after. I had learnt of low local demand for stamps as early as 1965. Around the end of that year the Norfolk 10/- Bird had become exhausted at Australian philatelic bureaux, and the philatelic trade began to offer significantly above face value to obtain stock. A Post Office friend suggested I write to the Norfolk P.O. to enquire if they still had stock. So simple an initiative could never bear fruit thought I, but to my surprise back came a letter from the Norfolk Postmaster advising that indeed a complete sheet of the 10/- was available, and it would be reserved for a week pending my payment. Forty quid was a fair mouthful for a teenager but I was able to raise it and in due course I had the sheet. My elation turned to despair when I saw that the sheet’s gum was distinctly brown. Clearly it had been in stock on Norfolk for quite some time. I couldn’t afford to have so much money tied up in ‘dead’ stock and noted that dealers were paying as much for fine used of the 10/- as for mint. Back to Norfolk went the sheet with a plea to the Postmaster to neatly perform the old cancelled-to-order trick. Shortly after arriving in Melbourne for a second time, now duly neatly cancelled, the sheet was holding its breath under water, with the offending discoloured gum rapidly muddying that water. It was now early 1966, post-Decimal currency era, and the ten bob Norfolk Bird was ‘hot’. I had no trouble selling off my 80 superb used examples for between $4 and $4.50 each, thereby pocketing a nice little earner, and impressing upon my doubting parents that there just might be a future for me in stamp dealing. Back to Figure 1, the only example of commercial use on cover seen by me. Value : $400 (off cover $6).
Figure 2. Ball Bay 2/- blue, took over 30 years to find
The cover shown in Figure 2, a commercial use of the Ball Bay 1959 2/- blue, is also the only example I have seen. It was acquired just last year, over 30 years since I started looking for such items! Norfolk Island is notorious for the often poor quality of the application of its postmarks, and this very light strike does not provide us with a date of use, so we will say circa 1960s, at which time the airmail rate to U.S. remained at 2/- (as in Figure 1). Value : $500 (off cover $16).
Figure 3. PNG an unusual destination from Norfolk
I have seen two commercial uses of the 1958 8d on 8½d Surcharge, both from the correspondence in Figure 3. The airmail rate within Australia and Territories was 7d until 1 Oct 1959 when it reduced to 5d (8d for non-standard articles). Again, I can’t get a full date for this item other than it is 1959. It’s not a non-standard article, which would have required 8d, so is probably pre-1 Oct 1959 when the rate should have been 7d only. I believe it is commercial; stamp collectors seldom use scissors to trim open a cover at the side which is the case here. One can only speculate why 8d was used, and an incomplete inventory of stamp denominations at Norfolk P.O. would be amongst the possibilities. Value : $250 (off cover $2).
Figure 4. 1964. Covers/stationery items don’t have to be old to be rare
Figure 4 is an extremely rare use at Norfolk of the Australian (and Territories) formular Aerogramme. A few formular types of Aerogramme are known used from Norfolk, two of which (not including this type) were in the ‘Bradford’ collection, realising $950 and $700 at auction. The 1d and 9d stamps from the 1960-62 definitive series for a combined 10d correctly frank the Aerogramme for this 25 May 1964 commercial use to U.S. A modern rarity which is equally sought after by Postal Stationery aficionados. Value : $800 (stamps used off cover $1).
Figure 5. A more ‘joyous’ colour than Australia’s equivalent stamp?
Figure 5 comprises the only example of the 1960 5d Christmas I have encountered commercially used. This was a ‘find’ at Pacific Explorer 2005. Unusually clear strike of the Norfolk datestamp leaves no doubt on this occasion of a 5 Apr 1961 use to Australia at standard airmail rate. Some, me included, will find it extraordinary that such a commercial use should be so very scarce. Value : $125 (off cover $6).
Figure 6. Not much Christmas interchange of mail between Norfolk and Mainland
Similar to the 1960 Christmas stamp (Figure 5) which was not used at Christmas time, the 1961 Christmas stamp in Figure 6 was used after Christmas, suggesting that not a lot of mail was exchanged between Norfolk and the Mainland at that momentous time of year. I can only get 1962 out of the again frustrating Norfolk datestamp, which at least confirms the use as contemporary, which is important. My valuations in this column are always for stamps used contemporaneously. Out-of-period usage of stamps, such as we see so often on our incoming mail nowadays, do not qualify for the valuations I provide. Stamps which are clearly used out-of-period are worth at best no more than the equivalent stamp used off cover. Unless such covers have something else to recommend them, such as a less common cancellation or other noteworthy postal marking, even I don’t mind seeing such items ‘woodchipped’. I’ve seen only two of the 1961 Christmas stamp commercially used on cover. Value : $75 (off cover $2).
Figure 7. These Fish travelled above sea level
The franking of 1/- on the cover in Figure 7 I can’t reasonably explain, other than to add that I’m certain it’s a commercial cover (Winns Ltd produced a huge incoming mail from which I have seen hundreds of items, such as that in Figure 6). The airmail rate on 16 Nov 1962 was still 5d, although if the article was over ½oz. and non-standard (which it doesn’t appear to be) it would have attracted 11d, close enough perhaps to our 1/- franking. This is the only commercial cover from the 1962-63 Fishes series I have seen. Quite remarkable I think, particularly as I’ve been looking for such things for a long time. Value : $90 (stamps off cover $1).
Figure 8. Little used Second class airmail service to U.S.
Figure 8 comprises the only second class airmail item from Norfolk I can recall having seen. This 24 Oct 1965 cover is unsealed (a requirement for eligibility for this concessional rate) which was available for printed matter, greetings cards and also postcards. The item also boasts the only commercial franking of the 1965 ANZAC stamp I have seen. Value : $150 (stamps off cover $2.50).
Figure 9. Definitely not what it seems
To end on an unrelated but I trust interesting note, in the April 2005 column I featured a U.S. postcard bearing the Presidential series 11c as a solo franking on a postcard which realised a seemingly remarkable US$415 on eBay. This for a stamp barely worth 20c used off cover/card. Just as I penned these notes the 22c denomination of that same series (the Americans call them ‘Prexies’), worth all of 40c used, has fetched US$764 (bidding started at US$9.99) for a solo franking on 1941 registered cover. This was of course a commercial cover (FDC’s are common), 22c stated to represent letter rate (3c), registration fee (18c for $5-$25 indemnity), and fee for undeclared indemnity under $50 (1c), the last mentioned something unknown in Australian postal charges of that era. Take a look at Figure 9 and you will be forgiven for otherwise guessing that this cover could be in the ‘buck, buck-and-a-half’ range.
Who is buying this material and paying such seemingly high prices? Philatelic ‘nutters’? Well, actually no. I put the question to two American friends who I had the pleasure of catching up with at Pacific Explorer 2005 in Sydney recently. Both are very experienced international Philatelists, one a dealer/exhibitor and the other an exhibitor. They had no hesitation in informing me that amongst the leading enthusiasts for usage on cover of the ‘Prexie’ series are leading collectors of Classic U.S. material. In other words, the Smart Money. They recognise that rarities of usage are not confined only to the 19th century, but exist equally for 20th century issues. The sums involved may be vastly different, but rarity levels are comparable. Simply put, the Smart Money is getting in early before the masses learn what they already know. And we know what happens when everyman and his dog jumps on the bandwagon. Don’t we? 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.