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Stamp News    October  2007

                              Philately of Epic Proportions 

Belgium to Australia. Highest denomination always welcome on board.

High rate franking covers are, in my opinion, one of the most under-rated collecting categories in Philately. By their very nature, highly franked items usually involve larger dimension articles, which tend to be unloved by the majority of Philatelists. Yet despite size, larger Philatelic items still present as a compact collectable, comparing favourably in that regard to most other collectables, such as art and antiques; not to mention Classic cars! It's a strange fact that for many things in life, it is "biggest" which more often than not is what the majority of people desire. Ironically, in Philately, seldom does a desire for "biggest" extend to encompass large covers! Fortunately, savvy Exhibitors are increasingly embracing larger covers within their exhibits. Nowadays, double-pages utilised to display oversize (ie for a standard page) covers to their full potential are becoming a frequent feature at Exhibitions. The wise have come to accept they must accommodate what are often great items amongst larger covers, or otherwise virtually close the door on what are usually the highest franked, most impressive items available. 
        
This month we have two items emanating from Belgium, which as it so happens are not so much of "epic proportions" in terms of dimensions, but certainly are "epic" in terms of frankings. One is the highest franked wartime (ie WWII) Belgian article to Australasia I've recorded, the other features the highest denomination stamp of Belgium for that era.

           
                        
Figure 1. 50Fr Albert I x3 adds "grunt" to a high rate franking

The airmail rate from Belgium to Australasia in the period we are concerned with was 6.50Fr per 5gms, plus regular postage of 1.75Fr (for 20gms), thereby providing a minimum airmail rate of 8.25Fr. Figure 1, at 183.25Fr, is the highest franked article Belgium to Australasia I've thus far seen. It was sent from Brussels to Sydney 29 Nov 1939, and was censored upon arrival. The rate was for an article which would have weighed 135gms or less, and is calculated as follows:

Regular postage                    1.75Fr for first 20gms
                                                 6.00Fr for next 120gms (1.00Fr per 20gms)
Airmail                                     175.50Fr (6.50Fr per 5gms x 27)
Total                                        183.25Fr

The inclusion of three of the 50Fr stamp, the second highest denomination then available, and most uncommon on commercial cover, adds to the desirability. Certainly a preferred outcome over having a further 15 of the more common 10Fr Leopold III stamp to make up the 150Fr.

                 
                           
Figure 2. 100Fr Albert I a better outcome than 2 x 50Fr 

 It's always pleasing to have a postal article bearing the highest denomination stamp of the time. Just ask serious collectors of Australian covers what they would give to have a £2 Kangaroo on cover, or for QEII-era collectors a £2 King! I can tell you I would far prefer the latter to, say, a mint £2 Kangaroo. I've handled hundreds of that readily obtainable mint stamp, but I've not yet so much as seen a £2 King on commercial postal article.
      Figure 2 is a delight in that at 110.50Fr it is not only highly franked, but of just three stamps utilised in the composition of that rate, two are the most desirable then current stamps one could hope to have on commercial cover. The Albert I 10Fr brown (1927) and 100Fr carmine-red (1929) are very scarce stamps on cover, and the latter is the scarcer original perf. 14½. Sent by registered airmail from Antwerp again to Sydney, 26 Aug 1936, the rate comprised regular postage of 4.75Fr (for 80gms) + 104.00Fr for airmail + 1.75Fr for registration = 110.50Fr.
      My thanks to Michael Barden of Melbourne, whose article Belgium - Usage of High Value stamps issued 1929-1936 in Australian Journal of Philately, assisted me in deciphering the rates.

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 rap@rap.com.au.