King George VI - when common becomes uncommon
The stamps of Australia issued from 1937-1952, during the reign of King George VI, present a worthy field of challenge for specialists, particularly if the unwatermarked 4d, 6d and 1/- of the Zoologicals (issued during the early reign of Queen Elizabeth II) are included. There are for example many flaws, some with associated retouches, re-entries, weak entries and recuts, and although most presently are not highly priced in Brusden-White's King George VI this will not remain the case, for the relative scarcity of many of these varieties has become apparent since 1995 when the first edition of the catalogue was issued.
Geoff Kellow, editor of the catalogue series, recently advised that a new edition of King George VI, to be combined with the present QEII - 1952 - 1966 section, is presently under preparation. In readiness for pricing the 'Used on cover' column in the catalogue I spent some time during the holidays sorting some 15 containers (each containing 800/1000 items) of KGVI-era covers. It was time to 'brush up' on my research and I was pleased that I had accumulated a reasonable sampling of material during the decade since I first conducted an overview of the relative scarcity of KGVI issues commercially used on cover.
The basic stamps of the KGVI-era are readily available mint or used, and every one of those issues can be bought in large quantity - just produce your Platinum credit card. Even the most expensive mint stamp of the period, the £2 Arms, can be had in large quantity. I had over 400 in stock at the one time in the 'seventies for instance. The £2 Arms on commercial cover or other postal article? Now there's a real challenge. Just as the desirability and value of basic stamps can be greatly enhanced when with a variety, such as those mentioned above, so too can the attributes of a used stamp when on cover (or other postal article), and this is particularly so when the usage is unusual. From my recent research (I've completed only 1937-1941 thus far) some examples of when 'common becomes uncommon' are provided next, with comments on why I have chosen them.
Figure 1. A 9d N.S.W. Sesqui for Christmas, 1937
The 9d of the 1937 N.S.W. Sesquicentenary is quite scarce on commercial cover and the half dozen or so which I have accumulated are mostly to overseas destinations (it was primarily intended for the 9d 1/2oz airmail rate to parts of S.E. Asia). Figure 1 is unusual in being an internal use of the stamp to pay airmail for what was almost certainly a belated posting (23 Dec 1937) of a Christmas card. The article by regular Printed matter rate required only 1d (up to 4oz), making the late posting by airmail at an extra 9d (which paid for 1-1 1/2oz) an expensive oversight by the sender. Value : $150 (stamps off cover $12).
Figure 2. Nice strip of Die Ia's headed for old country, and nicely centred they are too
I had previously found the Die Ia printing of the 1937 3d blue to be harder to get on cover than Die I (the normal printing - not the ink-stripped 'White wattles' which is very scarce indeed on cover). My recent census reverses the position with Die I emerging the new victor. As an example of Die Ia usage, however, that shown in Figure 2 is quite striking. Here a strip of three, plus a pair of the 6d Kookaburra (two of the triplets issued the same day the previous month; the third being the 1/- Lyrebird) combine to make up the 1/6d airmail rate to U.K. plus registration fee (3d). Value : $150 (stamps off cover $47).
Figure 3. One more good reason why stamps and cover shouldn't divorce
Airmail to the U.S. in the early 'forties could be an expensive luxury, the cost of a 1/2oz article via the 'Clipper' flying boat service for example setting a user back by 4/-. A much more economical alternative, albeit not much faster than surface mail, was to use the U.S. internal airmail service once the article had arrived stateside. The cost thereby reduced to 9d per 1/2oz. Figure 3 is an article sent via the latter service on 1 May 1945 (note 'Transcontinental A.M. [Air Mail]' typed at top), and although underpaid at 8d only was untaxed. Confusion may have arisen in that the rate for this service reduces to 8d for each additional 1/2oz. I have seen very few examples of the use of this service, and this provides a good example of 'when common becomes uncommon'. Value : $75 (stamps off cover 80c).
Figure 4. A very appropriate 'big tick' for this 'little' lyrebird
The first issue 1/- Lyrebird, issued in 1932, is parochially referred to as the 'large' lyrebird. Why this should be, rather than the 1937 issue which replaced it being referred to as the 'little' lyrebird, I guess we shall never know. Nevertheless, the 'little' lyrebird use shown in Figure 4 is a 'cracker'. This is not an easy stamp to find on cover (most were used on parcels) and the relatively small number I have seen are largely represented as a component in the franking of the airmail rates to U.K. and Europe. A solo franking as we have in this 16 Jun 1938 use to Japan is quite exceptional and represents the fully paid airmail service to destination (1/- for 1/2oz) rather than the 10d if Australia/U.K. service only was used. I presume the Japanese 'chop' refers to the fully paid status, with the giant 'tick' to further draw attention to ensure that the correct procedures are dutifully complied with in quintessential Japanese manner! This cover would be highly sought after by airmail rate specialists (of Japan also), hence my seemingly high valuation. Sadly, the used stamp off cover would not enjoy such demand. Value : $200 (off cover $2).
Figure 5. Post Office confusion = philatelic collectable
The 1/4d magenta is an attractive and uncommon stamp on cover. Surprisingly, however, I found more than I expected; perhaps due to targeting this issue more than most when I was accumulating material. Figure 5 shows the only solo franking I found, and it's existence is owed to apparent confusion at Casino (N.S.W.) P.O. This 21 Aug 1940 use for airmail to a Serviceman in Palestine required only 9d, the concessional rate for letters (under 1/2oz) sent to Military in the Middle East. The regular airmail rate to Palestine was 1/6d and it would appear that the P.O. clerk has commenced to frank up the cover with a 1/4d, with a 2d to follow to complete 1/6d (the two stamps are often seen together for the 1/6d rate), but has aborted the exercise when the impending error was realised. The article is therefore overpaid by 7d, and I presume that this sum forthwith would have been refunded to the sender (in the form of current postage stamps). Value : $100 (off cover $1.00).
Figure 6. In 1948 stamp trader's usually bought postage at the P.O.
The 5/- Robes on the thinner paper, introduced in early 1948 - only fourteen months before replacement by the 5/- Arms - is a very scarce issue on cover. I had only two (the other the 'tinted' paper first printing). These, and the 10/- and £1 on this paper, will be amongst the 'giants' to emerge on commercially used articles (I have yet to see the two higher denominations so used) as more and more smart collector's recognise the potential of this collecting field. The Figure 6 10 Dec 1948 use of a thin paper 5/- on 5 1/2d Registered envelope, together with supporting franking cast, equates to the quadruple 1/6d airmail rate to U.S. plus 3d registration fee (aggregate 6/3d). The U.S. contributed some handstamps relating to Customs regulations and charges (accommodated by the 10c Postage due stamp) to 'round-off' a very desirable item. The added interest to me is that the article was sent by Ken Baker, a friend and the Doyen of Philatelic traders in Australasia, and that he seemingly bought stamps current at the Post Office for franking this article. Traders in 1948 did not have the vast reservoir of discounted obsolete postage stamps to utilise that subsequent generations of traders have enjoyed. Value : $150 (stamps off stationery item $4.50).
Figure 7. 3d A.I.F. - more usually used abroad
The 1940 A.I.F. 3d is most often found used for the Foreign letter rate (notably to the U.S.) and even so is rather uncommon. Occasionally one sees it added to an internal article to pay the 3d airmail surcharge. Rarely does one find an internal solo franking. Figure 7 shows such a rarity, a 25 Oct 1940 use to pay Letter rate plus 1d Late fee (for an article posted after regular closing time for that day's mail). Being an advertising cover makes a good item even better. Value : $100 (off cover $3).
Figure 8. 5 1/2d Surcharge - one of many KGVI-era 'sleepers'
Being a provisional issue, pending the preparation of a dedicated stamp to embrace the 1/2d War tax introduced for postal articles from 10 Dec 1941, the 5 1/2d on 5d Surcharge was destined to be short-lived and little used. It's principal use was for combined Letter rate plus airmail or registration (both 2 1/2d + 3d). I have found very few of either and rate this as one of the more difficult KGVI issues to find on commercial cover or postal article of any kind. Fair to rate it a 'sleeper'. Figure 8 shows an attractive 21 Jan 1942 use for the combined Letter rate plus registration fee. Value : $125 (off cover $3).
I will complete the observation of KGVI-era stamps on commercial cover in a future issue of this column.