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Stamp News    September 2008

                              Philately of Epic Proportions 

Gambia. Philatelic or Commercial?


Upon initial inspection, our subject item this month would appear to be Philatelic; ie contrived for Philatelic gain by the sender and/or recipient. Sceptics might argue the inclusion of six various stamps, and the neat arrangement, would indicate this to be Philatelic. The object of this column is to locate the highest franked, commercial covers from overseas to Australasia. Philatelic covers are not eligible for the exercise, as they may contain artificially high postage, which may have little or no relationship with official Post Office rates. Initially, I was sceptical, however, I'm now reasonably certain that our subject is commercial, and I'll endeavour to explain why. Let's analyse the patient.

The cover bears (on flap) the monogram "BANK OF WEST AFRICA LTD/BATHURST". It was posted from the capital city of Gambia on 31 October 1944, destined for Manly (NSW). Being a wartime posting, it was duly censored at the office of censorship, which was situated at Bathurst, where the octagonal "PASSED" handstamp was applied.

The aggregate postage rate is a whopping 32/-. To place such a sum in perspective, it is noteworthy that airmail rates from West Africa to Australasia generally were around 1/9d per Żoz. immediately prior to the war, reducing to 1/3d in the early war years. For Gambia, commencing 15 May 1943, a rather onerous rate of 3/6d per Żoz. was introduced (times were tough), and saw out the duration of the war. Airmail articles from British West Africa to Australasia prior to 1945 are very scarce; there was virtually no trade between the respective regions, and of course no Tourism. The small number of items I've noted from this region to Australasia, largely emanating from Gold Coast and Nigeria, have been at the single, Żoz. airmail rate.

I'm satisfied the item is commercial for the following reasons:

1.   At a rate of 3/6d per Żoz. the aggregate franking of 32/- computes as 3/6d x9 = 31/6d (ie 4-4Żoz. weight) + 3d registration fee + 3d "A.R." fee (P.O. advice of receipt by recipient) = 32/-.

2. The nice range of high values may appear philatelically convenient. However, 32/- was a great deal of money in 1944, and it makes no sense to wantonly include two of the 2/6d and 5/-, if this was to be a philatelically-contrived item. More likely, a Philatelist would be inclined to have included the other denominations of the set for his/her money.

3. The dimensions of the envelope are consistent with comfortably conveying contents weighing 4-4Żozs., which, emanating at a Bank, likely were commercial documents.

4. No tangible indication of "A.R." fee having been paid has been noted for other items from British West Africa. The use of this service would be quite laudable if, as I suggest in "3" above, the contents were of a commercial nature.

5. The article has been re-addressed to another location in Manly upon arrival at that P.O. If one is arranging a contrived item, one would provide a current address. The implication is the sender did not keep his West African Bank advised of a change of address.

6. The recipient, Thomas Byrne, is not a known Philatelist, at least not to me. I've not seen other items to this addressee, which one might expect if he were a Philatelic high-roller, which one would need to have been to play with such generous stakes. Further, the manner in opening the envelope is rougher than one would expect from someone attuned to such delicacies. Of course, if a reader can produce obvious Philatelic covers addressed to Mr Byrne, well, I'll just have to go and eat my hat.

My thanks to Geoff Kellow for assistance in deciphering this wonderful cover.

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