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Stamp News    August 2006

                              Woodchip-free Zone    

Philatelic or Commercial?

Most of the covers I feature in this column are those used in the regular, everyday manner in which the vast majority of mail launched via the postal system is used. The popular international term for such mail is 'commercial mail'. 'Philatelic mail' is that contrived by one or more parties in order to derive a benefit for one of the parties. Contrived actions include the use of stamps well after they are obsolete in order to pay for a legitimate postal service, a practise with which most readers will be familiar. Although providing a 'benefit' for the user, out-of-period use of stamps is unlikely to provide a valued collectable, beyond perhaps the yield of the used stamp/s involved (even then purists prefer off-cover stamps used in the appropriate period of issue).

How then does one determine with a reasonable degree of certainty if a cover is commercial or contrived (ie Philatelic)? Such determination is not a perfect science, but with a little knowledge and plenty of practice one can generally make an acceptably accurate assessment of the finer points which separate the two classes. The subjects which follow may provide an insight in to the reasoning which can assist with determination.


                 Figure 1. 1931 1st Experimental Australia-England airmail - typical 

                                   garden variety cover example


First flight covers are generally accepted as being contrived for Philatelic benefit. However, it would be erroneous to accept that classification as being without exception. The advent of an inaugural airmail flight was a special event in the 'twenties and 'thirties, and was usually well publicised in the media. The 1931 first Australia to England experimental airmail flight carried 32,000 items of mail for example. Every article carried had applied to it a 'First Official Air mail Flight' handstamp. Many of the articles carried were intended as Philatelic keepsakes, and Figure 1 shows one; a souvenir envelope specially produced for the occasion, still readily available nowadays for around $20. There is little doubt this item is Philatelically contrived as the envelope remains sealed. Other contrived items from this and other inaugural flight events include the use of Colonial-era or other out-of-period stamps, and frankings beyond the required 1/11d per ½oz. However, there is no doubt that many mail contributors to inaugural flights took advantage of the novel airmail service to simply write to family or friends, whilst others may have been attracted by the speedier transmission afforded for general or business communications. For most intents and purposes I regard these categories of use of inaugural airmail flights as commercial, so long as cover is not a specially inscribed type, and is franked with currently available stamps and at the correct rate for the relevant airmail service. An outstanding example of what I consider commercial use of the 1931 Australia-England flight appears next.


                          Figure 2. The 1931 Australia-England airmail. A 'goodie'.


This item appeared on eBay recently, and provides the first example of the KGV 1/4d Small Multiple wmk., perf. 14, punctured 'O S' on cover I've recorded. The article was sent from Parliament House Canberra, utilising Official stationery, and the franking includes 'O S' 6d and 1d to complete the required 1/11d rate. The item realised US$1080, which will be seen to be an absolute 'snip' in no time. Specialist collectors of KGV Heads ought to be enthusiastically searching for items such as Figure 2, particularly if they want to impress exhibition judges.


              Figure 3. Thin paper £1 Robes solo franking Still on First flight covers,


Figure 3 is a suitable subject both for the monthly topic and the general spirit of this column. In the May 2006 issue I wrote of the Robes stamp "The 'Thin' £1 on commercial article is going to be a rarity (if in fact any exist!)". The same month the item shown as Figure 3 appeared in an auction catalogue, described as "A scarce franking, though philatelic". I'm comfortable that this item is 'commercial' rather than 'philatelic' for the following reasons:

1. The rate for articles carried on this Australia to Canada inaugural airmail service was 1/6d per ½oz. £1 was a lot of money in 1949, and was not likely to be thrown away lightly when 1/6d would suffice if the objective was solely to obtain a Philatelic keepsake.

2. There are indications that the envelope contained somewhat expansive contents. If the article weighed between 6-6½oz, and a dozen or so foolscap sheets of paper would both approximate to that weight and be capable of being housed within the envelope, then we have 1/6d per ½oz x 13 = 19/6d, plus 6d registration, to arrive at the £1 franking.

3. The envelope is inscribed for Canadian Pacific Railway Co. and is addressed to a Manager at the Montreal office, endorsed 'Personal'. Therefore, it's reasonable to assume that the contents were of a business-related nature. The delivery time from Sydney to Montreal took only four days; most expedient commercially when seamail took eight weeks or more. A company might consider £1 money well spent for such a time-effective service.

4. Foolscap-sized envelopes were (then and often now) less preferred by Philatelists than the more compact standard envelope, and scissor-opening (as at left in subject item) is very non-philatelic. The typewritten 'FIRST OFFICIAL CANADIAN AIR MAIL' at upper left was a Post Office requirement for articles destined for this airmail service, every article carried receiving the 'Official' handstamp applied below.

 In light of the above supporting comments, and in the absence of compelling evidence to the contrary, I'm happy to classify Figure 3 as commercial rather than Philatelic. For the record, it realised $506 at auction (stamp off cover $80). This will in the near future be seen to have been a very sound buy.


                 Figure 4. 1970 30c Cook solo, collectable if not optimal example


Fast forward a couple of decades to Decimal period, I'm occasionally asked what is the definition of 'in-period use'. Let's analyse Figure 4, a 17 July 1970 use of the 30c Cook, conveniently for the primary purpose of issue - combined Letter rate (5c) plus registration fee (25c). The stamp was issued 20 Apr 1970, and use within its first three months is comfortably 'in-period use' for me. It was withdrawn from Philatelic Sales Sections on 31 Mar 1971, so arguably use up until that date is 'in-period'. I prefer the Figure 4 earlier use, but would not preclude use around withdrawal date from a usage collection. The next point to consider is the sender/addressee. 'Box 32 Haberfield N.S.W.' was the box for the Ashfield Stamp Co., and D.W. Cameron was a Philatelist. I don't have a problem with these facts given the postage rate is correct and the use of the stamp is 'in-period'. However, that is not to say I wouldn't prefer a non-philatelic sender and/or addressee. However, so uncommon are higher denomination Decimal commems on commercial cover that one just often has to be content with a reasonable, collectable example rather than the optimum, which may prove unobtainable. I value our subject cover at $25, and would increase that to $40 for a cover with no obvious Philatelic participants. Use of this particular stamp nowadays is often seen, as the ravages of time render poorly stored stamps uncollectable (eg toning, hinged) and good only for their postage value. I rate non-contemporary use on cover of such stamps as next to worthless.


    Figure 5. For the hopelessly eclectic there's commercially used special cancels


We're all familiar with the ubiquitous commem/souvenir covers produced by Australia Post, often packaged with a dedicated (usually pictorial design) cancellation. One can usually be assured that such items are Philatelic, but there are exceptions. For example, special cancels were produced by the Post Office for Scout Jamborees from as early as the 'thirties. These events would often run for weeks over the Christmas/New Year holiday period, and were of course frequented by large numbers of Scouts. One usually finds the first day use of the special cancels was obtained by the Philatelic market, but later dates are occasionally seen where we have an instance of a Scout writing home to the family in a purely 'everyday' manner of correspondence. An instance of non-philatelic use of another Post Office special cancel is shown in Figure 5. This is an extraordinary commercial registered use of the pictorial cancel (two clearer strikes are on reverse) produced for the 1960 12th International Congress of Scientific Management, Melbourne. A Post Office Philatelic Bulletin of the era tells us that 2,077 covers were serviced at the Congress, of which 31 were registered articles. Figure 5 is one of the latter, indeed the 31st or final article registered, for which purpose a dedicated provisional registration label had been prepared in advance. We know this is a commercial use as the addressee is H.B.A. (Hospital Benefits Association), and the envelope has been opened three sides, which is a typical function in mailrooms which receive payments by post. One can only speculate that a visitor to the Congress took some time out to pay a bill (during a lapse in festivities?). A remarkable 'chance' survival for such an item, and very sought after by specialists in such esoterica. Value : $250 (stamps off cover zero). Incidentally, for those interested in Australia Post special cancels, we are indeed fortunate to have the excellent two-volume Australian PictorMarks to make us all experts on this interesting and rewarding subject. Contact DC Desktoppers at (or PO Box 300, Diamond Creek 3089).


On a topic unrelated to this month's column, I was pleased to see some feedback in Editor's mailbag in July Stamp News, in what I recall being only the second instance that this column has received comment in it's four years' duration. Thanks to Michael O'Halloran for taking the time to respond to my April 2006 column. On that occasion I referred to the extraordinary prices being achieved for Australian Kangaroo and KGV Head watermark errors, and how I find this puzzling given the visual constraints that such items pose, particularly in an exhibit. Given that my column is devoted virtually exclusively to the potential of covers, and stamps per se seldom are mentioned, it's perhaps ironical that Michael's comments are directed solely to stamps. Michael quite rightly states watermark errors are rare, and therefore should be highly priced. A reasonable contention, but the mission of this column is to bring to the attention of open-minded readers a whole range of material which is often rare but not highly priced (yet).


               Figure 6. 6c blue-faced honeyeater fly's from RAAF Base, Richmond


Figure 6 provides a seemingly unlikely example of the 'rare but not highly priced', but firstly an update on the subject of the April watermark errors column. I mentioned back then that when Geoff Kellow conducted a census of the number recorded of the KGV 2d orange inverted watermark, for publication in 2001 of the ACSC King George V, there were four. By April 2006 that had increased to 13. Simon Dunkerley now advises the tally has increased to 17! This error has in the past fetched five-figure sums, a lot by world standards for an error of this type for which this number is recorded. In the past few months two examples, with reserves well under five-figures, have failed to sell at auction in Sydney and Melbourne. The KGV 1d red single-line perf. inverted watermark sold in Sydney in July 2004 for $39,610. An arguably finer example sold at a Melbourne auction in April 2006 for $21,850. Only the very rich, or very brave, are equipped to cope with the volatility of the watermark errors market.


Personally, I want pleasure and profit from my Philatelic holdings. Let's call it having one's Philatelic cake and eating it too. Accordingly, I'll stick with the rare and affordable, where I can revel in my Philatelic ideals. Which brings us back to Figure 6. What's so good about this? Well, firstly the reader's mode needs to be switched to the concept of USAGE, the least understood element in Philately, and that with perhaps the greatest potential. In this instance we have the 1966 6c blue-faced honeyeater, a common stamp mint or used (off cover), but surprisingly difficult to find used on commercial cover. Under 'Usage' in ACSC Decimals I (1966-1975) it is stated 'Make-up use', and indeed the small number of examples I've seen on commercial covers have mostly provided make-up for airmail and/or registration purposes. Very rarely one encounters a solo franking for the increased 6c Letter rate, from 1 Oct 1970. The 6c 'bird' had been replaced by the 6c 'flower' on 10 Jul 1968, but this was a minimal demand denomination prior to the rate rise, and residual stocks of the 'bird' languished in some Post Offices for years. I regard use of the 6c 'bird' for Letter rate in 1970-71 as legitimate 'commercial' use, in the absence of 'philatelic' elements proving otherwise. Figure 6 however is altogether something different and very special. In an arrangement which must have had it's precedents in Colonial times, some categories of mail posted by U.K. Forces stationed in, or visiting Australia, were entitled to generous Concessional rates of postage. Such mail had to be posted to the U.K. to qualify, and Figure 6 is an example of the 6c per 1oz. airmail rate available under this scheme (the regular airmail rate was 25c per ½oz.). From reverse of envelope we can learn it was posted by Flt Lt Warsap R.A.F., stationed at R.A.A.F. Richmond, from where this article was posted 20 Oct 1967 to London. At lower left (a clearer strike is on reverse) is the informative Official handstamp 'FORCES AIR MAIL/RAF/AT RICHMOND/NSW/ON ACTIVE SERVICE'. A steadily growing band of enthusiasts have warmed to the challenge of finding unusual usages of our Australian stamps. Those Philatelists who enjoy getting in on the ground floor for the next big 'thing' in Philately. I've engaged in such a pursuit since the 'eighties and Figure 6 is the first example of its' kind I've seen, or indeed heard. Which begs the question "What should this item be worth?". Rarities such as this are recognised, as yet, by but a relatively tiny number of enthusiasts. Therefore, such items are rarely, if ever, tested at public auction (again, yet). For the sake of the exercise I'll volunteer a value of $200 (off cover the stamp is virtually valueless). I'll wager, however, that when rare usages such as this do begin to appear at auction, and it's a question of 'when' rather than 'if', some highly newsworthy auction realisations will emerge. If you are a follower rather than a leader be forewarned.

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.