Stamp News April 2008
Philately of Epic Proportions
Henry B. Smith achieves philatelic immortality.
Exciting, voluminous "finds" of philatelically important correspondence occur all too infrequently in Australia. I doubt that I have witnessed a dozen such finds during over 40 years in mainstream philatelic trading. One of the more memorable finds during my career emerged as recently as the 1990s, when the "Henry B. Smith" correspondence, which had been stored in some mysterious repository since the 1930s, came up for oxygen in Melbourne. I believe the firm were woolbrokers, trading internationally. A Public company, Henry B Smith Ltd, existed in Melbourne from 1945 to 1996, when a name change (to Omni Group Ltd) took place. This may have involved a management change, for 1996 corresponds with the appearance in the marketplace of the philatelic material. If the material had been stored at a Melbourne Company facility, it would explain why the covers which have emerged are so wonderfully fresh. That they survived "woodchipping" is a wonder in itself, particularly as many of the covers in this hoard are well and truly of non-standard dimensions.
One of the "Henry B. Smith" large covers from Germany is our subject this month. At 81.10 Reichsmarks (or 8,110 Pfennig), this is the highest franked philatelic article of Third Reich-era Germany (1933-1945) to Australia I have recorded. I know, at the height of the hyper-inflation period in 1923 it cost billions of Marks to send a basic letter to Australia, but that era needs to be considered wholly separately, perhaps in a future column.
The subject has 20 3Rm Count Zeppelin stamps on the front, and a further seven on reverse, together with a solitary (and humble in the circumstances) 10pf von Hindenburg. The article left Bremen by registered airmail on 12 November 1937, at the required 81Rm10pf franking for 752 grams weight (conveniently expressed at lower left corner). The rate computes as:
1st 5gms 75pf 50pf per 5gms thereafter x160 8000pf Registration fee 35pf Total 8110pf (81.10 Reichsmarks)
This was a substantial sum for postage in 1937. For an approximate contemporary equivalent in Australian postal terms, we would need to consider that the most economical airmail rate to Germany was then 1/9d per ½ ounce (approximately 15 grams). At 752 grams, the subject is near enough to 50 times the basic 1/9d airmail rate, or £4/7/6d. Adequate to require two £2 Kangaroos in the franking composition! It is tantalising to speculate if Henry B. Smith posted equally large articles to this customer in Germany, and if so does that correspondence still exist?
Rod Perry's other column, Woodchip-free Zone, appears in Stamp News. Rod invites owners of highly franked covers of the world to send scans of their items to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.