Stamp News January 2008
British empire KGVI. Great Subject for a Usage Collection.
Amongst my very favourite stamps are the various B.E. Pictorial series issued during the reign of King George VI. Similarly, I like the early Pictorials of QEII, some of which share a common design with their predecessors. Naturally, I prefer the stamps used on commercial covers. I reckon that's when they really come in to their own.
A few months ago, the staff of the U.K. Stamp Magazine provided their choice for the top 20 KGVI issues. Commenting on the exercise, the editor claimed "This was the golden age of stamps, and a lot of care went into their design. Most were beautifully engraved, and they ooze dignity". Many of the issues selected by the magazine staff suitably lend themselves as subjects for interesting usage collections. This month I feature the top ten KGVI issues selected, with comments on their potential for a usage collection. For serious collectors looking for a new challenge, I hope you find inspiration amongst this selection.
Figure 1. And the winner is . . .
The 1938-49 Ceylon series came up trumps in the magazine selection. This is a fine series, to be sure, although not all might agree it is the "best" of the reign. Most of the designs had been used for the preceding KGV series of 1935-36, and some might have preferred the highest denomination in the subject series to have featured a larger format pictorial scene, rather than the handsome profile of KGVI in smaller format. Nevertheless, a very worthy series for a one-frame (or more usage) collection. Figure 1 shows two of the 2r black and carmine on a 25 May 1946 registered airmail cover from Colombo to New Zealand, boldly displaying the contents as being "SHIPPING DOCUMENTS". Some of the perforation varieties in other denominations are very scarce on cover, otherwise this is a reasonably inexpensive series for a usage study, and suitably presented would look a treat. Highly recommended.
Figure 2. More famous for its classics, British Guiana
The 1850s stamps of British Guiana are reserved for a very few, very well-healed Philatelists. Coming in at number 2, the 1938-52 Pictorials, however, can be for anyone! Again, KGV stole some of the thunder in having pre-empted in 1934 most of the designs subsequently utilised for KGVI. Figure 2 has the 4c, 6c and 36c on a 5 March 1944 airmail cover from G.P.O. to U.S. A feature of the reign of KGVI can be the inclusion of censored mail during WWII, and our subject was intercepted by two separate Censors, one in the U.S. having affixed the less popular cellotape strip at right to seal envelope following inspection. One doesn't find many covers of this period from British Guiana to this part of the world, but adequate material to U.S. and U.K., particularly, can be found by the diligent. eBayers know what I mean.
Figure 3. India, emerging new force in Philately
Number 3 is the India rupee denominations from the 1937-40 series (again KGV got in first). Personally, I like also the horizontal format stamps from this series, and certainly would wish to include all in a usage collection. There is plenty of India of this period to be found, and an eight-frame exhibit is not too much to aspire to. However, the 10r denomination and above are difficult to find; I've not yet seen the 25r. Figure 3 shows the easy 1r, used with 1a on 31 August 1940 on registered airmail cover Churchgate Street Bombay to Brisbane. Again censored, and the ½a War Gifts Fund etiquette is an addition of a kind which delights exhibitors. India is becoming a hotspot for Philately, as those who have placed 1930s-1950s Philatelic covers for sale on eBay will readily attest!
Figure 4. A handsome portrait of the King, to be sure
Great Britain had to get a high mention in a U.K.-sponsored design competition, but a worthy one indeed for the number 4 rated 1939-48 2/6d to £1 series. These were stamps which were in abundance (used off-cover, that is) when I commenced collecting in the mid-1950s, so a nostalgic soft spot for them is mandatory. The 2/6d brown, 5/-, and 10/- dark blue can occasionally be found on "Clipper" airmail rate items to Australasia, that rather expensive 4/6d per ½oz. rate in the earlier years of WWII. The 2/6d green is easy, 10/- ultramarine fairly scarce, and £1 rare on cover or postal article of any kind in my experience. Nonetheless, a one-frame exhibit is possible in time. Figure 4 is a quite unusual 4 January 1942 registered use of a cotton bag from London to Sydney, bearing amongst other issues three of the 10/- dark blue. The original contents were platinum! For my taste, 10/- "dark blues" used off-cover somehow just cannot compare to items like this. I wouldn't exchange these three for a thousand of 'em.
Figure 5. Sadly, Mombasa appears to have been out of stock of £1's on 27 May 1954
Number 5 in the competition is the Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika 1938-54 Pictorials, which again shared most designs with their KGV predecessors of 1935-37. I really like this set, replete with shades, perforation changes, and the odd listed variety to seek out ("Infinite variety" according to the magazine). I've not yet seen the stunning £1 black and red on a commercial postal article, although I came close with Figure 5. This 27 May 1954 registered airmail cover from Mombasa to Perth bears 40c x2, 3/- x2, 1/-, and 10/- x2. So near, yet so far, and did the postal clerk have to affix the modest 1/- partly over the 10/-'s? Philatelic life has it's cruel moments. Like the Ceylon series, highly recommended.
Figure 6. A one-framer of '48 Weddings usage harder to achieve than one of bi-coloured 'Roo's
Calling it an "Omnibus gem", the magazine gives sixth place to the 1948 Silver Wedding series. I don't have a problem with that comment, or the placing, but I would never attempt a usage collection of this series. The high denominations are next to impossible to find on commercial postal articles! FDC's are out there, but I've seen but three high values on commercial cover. One of them is Figure 6, an absolute cracker of an item if ever there was one. This 14 June 1948 registered airmail from the Kuwait Oil Co., Kuwait, to the London Office, is franked at a whopping 42r 3a (!), including Kuwait overprints on G.B. £1 and 5/- x5 (Nº 4 series in the competition). This remarkable item must be a contender for the highest franked item of Kuwait in the British Agency period. Non-standard (read "large") covers are not everyone's Philatelic cup of tea. However, Figure 6 (and items of similar dimensions) sits very comfortably on a double-page in an exhibit. And doesn't it have the wow-factor! In a recent discussion with a friend, who shares my enthusiasm for highly franked (with high denominations) large covers, stated "Large covers aren't the problem in Philately; small minds are". A bit harsh, perhaps, but I wish I'd thought of that! To conclude, a usage collection of '48 Wedding low values is possible, but start praying for the high values.
Figure 7. A vibrant little set with usage potential
For those with more modest aspirations, the G.B. 1940 Stamp Centenary set, number 7 in the comp, is just the order. Striking colours, and commemorating the first postage stamp to boot. Figure 7 shows the "high value", the 3d x5 on 11 June 1940 airmail cover from Brighton to Lady Ezra, who no doubt was doing it tough in Calcutta. Censored on arrival in India. A one-framer of this little series ought to be compulsory for every Philatelist!
Figure 8. Swaziland. Don't believe I've ever met a specialist?
A highly individual design (magazine sited "Beautiful borders"), Swaziland's 1938-54 series comes in at number 8. Certainly a nice series, although hard to find material here. As for British Guiana (Nº 2), if you like this series and want to attempt a usage collection, I suggest type in "eBay.com", and Gentlemen (or Ladies), "start your search engines".
Figure 9. A touch of the exotic
Number 9 is the Sudan "Arab Postman" series (of 1948 in this particular instance). I find this a slightly odd choice, for the design of the KGVI series is but a slight modification of what was an issue which first appeared in 1898! And exotic indeed would those stamps have appeared to British collectors in the Victorian-era. I quite like Sudan, even post-Independence, but I'm undecided if I would attempt a usage collection of the magazine series. For illustration I've selected in Figure 9 an earlier printing of the "Arab Postman", a 10p, together with "Statue of General Gordon" Air Mail 5p and 15p on 8 December 1934 registered airmail Khartoum to Brisbane. I particularly like the Air Mail series and would readily contemplate a usage study of those. Nice Air Mail etiquette also, don't you think? Sudan's first.
Figure 10. Malta, charming set which is "doable"
Last but not least in the top ten is the Malta 1938-43 series, overprinted for Self-Government in 1948, and equally worthy as usage collection subjects. Some designs had been used as early as 1926-27. Figure 10 is a 6 July 1939 use of 3d, ½d and 1½d for airmail to London. The other ten series' in the "Top 20", in ascending order from 11 to 20, are Keyplates (for Bermuda, Nyasaland, Leeward Is), St.Helena, Hong Kong (1946 Victory), Ireland (2/6d - 10/-), Jersey (1943-44 "Pictorials"), Kelantan (1937 Sultan Ismail), Japanese Occupation (Malaya), Aden Dhows, India (1949 Independence) and Sarawak (1946 Centenary). Some of these I would recommend for a usage collection, but generally not. Some are just "too hard" (eg Keyplates, Japanese Occupation), or too limiting in scope (eg Hong Kong, Sarawak). The India series is excellent. In a list of but 20, omissions must be numerous, and many other KGVI series' are more suitable for a usage collection (which was probably not a criterion for the judges!). Amongst the omissions, I recommend for usage collection study the first KGVI pictorial sets of British Solomon Is, Cyprus, Fiji (a favourite!), Hong Kong (not pictorial but a ripper set - given a "distinction" by the magazine), Jamaica (because one needs a little Calypso in one's Philatelic life), Sarawak (the 1950 series), and Trinidad and Tobago. If you are contemplating commencing a usage collection of any of the above, or have a preference for other British Empire, or even Foreign series', of the 20th Century only, and would like my opinion on your choice, contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org, and I'll be happy to oblige. My best wishes to readers for '08, and may your Philatelic horizons expand exponentially.
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.