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Stamp News    January  2007

                              Woodchip-free Zone 

The 'Arms' Series 1949-64 - When a Pound had real buying power

This month I'll feature commercial usage of the 'Arms' series, which was current during the reign of both King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II. Mint and used (off cover) the four denominations in the series have survived well, and even imprint blocks (and the equally collectable 'No imprint' equivalent) including the 2 are readily available for those with the 'readies'. Survival on cover, or other collectable 'entire', however, is another story, and even the 5/- is not easy to find in such form. Unsurprisingly, the 10/- is harder-to-find still, the 1 is very scarce (on cover more so than parcel tag/label), and the 2 is rare. I've recorded only four examples of usage of the highest denomination. To follow are examples of usage of the various denominations. But firstly, allow me to highlight two recent auction realisations which I found rather interesting. Both are from the Prestige sale of November 2006, and the images in Figures 1 and 2 are courtesy of that firm. Gary Watson, Prestige Director, shares some of my enthusiasm for uncommon usage of more modern stamps, and is to be commended for offering the subject items as single auction lots. Gary has been quick to recognise the latent demand for such material, and that to encourage further interest and development some items need to be offered on a single-lot basis. Ross Ewington, Tasmanian Stamp Auctions, similarly has fostered interest in more modern usage covers, and in so doing has developed a strong auction following for more affordable single-lot covers. The Prestige lots which caught my attention are:


Figure 1. 1972 Christmas 35c scarce usage. Someone's present for Christmas 2006?

Lot 369 in the Prestige sale was the item shown as Figure 1, a 3 Jan 1973 use of the QEII 2c, 20c Fruit and 1972 Christmas 35c for registered Letter rate (7c + 50c). The Prestige description mentioned "all scarce to rare on cover". I've seen very few usages of the Christmas 35c, and cannot disagree with "rare" being an accurate determination for this stamp on commercial cover. The item realised $195 (including buyer's premium). This sum (and that for Figure 2) will surprise many collectors and dealers, and is proof positive that there is real and expanding demand for genuine, commercial use on cover of otherwise quite common stamps.


                              Figure 2. 1954 solo franking to U.S. of Norfolk's 7d

In the December 2006 Stamp News ("Ten collecting suggestions for '07") I recommended collecting commercial use on cover of Australian Dependencies, including Norfolk Island. Figure 2 was Lot 1127 in the Prestige sale. This 3 Nov 1954 use of the 1953 7d for Foreign letter rate was described as "rare the first solo franking we have seen". Again, I fully agree with "rare". Until I saw this item, I'd seen only one solo franking of the stamp (and but one combination franking for that matter). The Prestige example sold for $310 inclusive. Sadly, I sold mine for $80 the week before the Prestige sale catalogue appeared on-line. I'm consoled by the knowledge that a friend bought it (yeah, sure Rod).

Here follows the 'Arms' usage selection, and I apologise for repeating a few images from my Stamp News Nov 2002 column. Covers bearing this series are so hard to come by that I've found little new material in the past four years. Anyone care to take up the challenge of assembling a one-frame (16-page) exhibit of usage of the series? Actually, that challenge is diminished slightly when one considers that most items bearing these stamps must by necessity be of larger dimensions, thereby fortuitously reducing the number of items required to inhabit an exhibit!


                              Figure 3. Convenient size, conveniently illustrated

The 'Arms' stamps are seldom found on standard-sized covers, particularly not illustrated ones! They were largely intended for higher airmail rates and parcel post articles, neither of which tend to yield more generally preferred 'standard' format subjects. Figure 3 is an uncommon example of the latter, a 24 Oct 1958 registered airmail advertising cover Chilwell (Vic) to U.S. The rate of 5/3d was for double 2/- airmail rate (for a -1oz. article) plus 1/3d registration fee. Value : $75 (stamps off cover 60c).


                          Figure 4. Aviation tragedy, birth of Philatelic collectable

The 13 Mar 1954 crash at Singapore of the BOAC Constellation RMA "Belfast" claimed the lives of 33 persons. Ironically, the mail on board fared better, and many of the purported 91,000 mail articles survived, albeit with varying degrees of charring. Figures 4, 7 and 8 are survivors of this incident, and probably 'survived' intact on cover owing to the handstamped marking 'SALVAGED MAIL/AIRCRAFT CRASH/SINGAPORE 13.3.1954'. Macabre, although sought-after Philatelic 'souvenirs'. Figure 4 at a rate of 14/- was for seven times the 2/- oz. airmail rate (ie for an article 3-3oz.) from Sydney to London. Covers of this dimension (265 x 110mm approx) and larger are more typical of what one must become accustomed to for high denomination stamp usage. Value : $250 (stamps off cover $3). My 2002 valuation was $125.


                               Figure 5. Neat item not without it's frustration's

Collecting usage items of high denomination stamps is seldom easy. Firstly, material is scarce, and often when found is less than optimal. For example, the larger covers or parcel-wrappings that one so occasionally encounters bearing such stamps are more often than not 'knocked-about'. Where articles are in the form of a parcel tag or label there is rarely enough information present to enable deciphering of the postal rate applicable to the article.

Figure 5 is an example of the dilemmas one can encounter. This 4 Sep 1951 parcel tag bears the 'Arms' 1, 9d Platypus and a bonus of the rather scarce (on postal article) 1/6d Federation in a pair, for a total franking of 23/9d. The Registered Perth datestamp tells us, conveniently, that the parcel in question was registered. That's the 9d, but despite the reverse side of tag telling us that the parcel was destined for Harvey in W.A., I can't tell you what the other 23/- paid. The article would have been at Parcels Scale 2 rate (ie within State but beyond 30 miles), but my available information lists the rate only up to 11lbs! (which was 4/8d). The sender was Millars' Timber & Trading Co Ltd, so it's not particularly surprising that this would have been a heavy sending, perhaps comprising a number of parcels for which the tag bore the aggregate postage involved? Value : $250 (stamps off cover $9).


                Figure 6. 1 solo franking, one of the higher degrees of difficulty

The c1960 (I can't decipher the details) cover in Figure 6 from Melbourne to U.S. pays ten times the 2/- oz. airmail rate (ie for an article 4-5oz.). Solo frankings of 'Arms' on cover are scarce to rare, the 10/- being the only denomination that I've seen more than a few of in that format. Value : $400 (off cover $7). My 2002 valuation was $200.


                    Figure 7. Another "Belfast" cover, this one looking more the part

Figure 7 probably appears little changed from the day over 52 years ago when it arrived, no doubt to some acclaim, at the Thomas Cook & Son office in London. Wisely, subsequent owners have not attempted to 'enhance' it, most Postal historians being in agreement that an article salvaged from an aircraft crash presents 'best' when it looks the part. The 36/- franking represents 18 times the 2/- oz. airmail rate to U.K. (ie for an article 8-9oz.). This item demonstrates that as postage rates rise generally so too do cover dimensions. Value : $500 (the stamps are probably worthless off cover in this condition). Doubtless many covers salvaged from the "Belfast" ultimately had the stamps floated-off, some of which would have been discarded as uncollectable, thereby rendering much of the surviving mail a total loss to Philately.


                                  Figure 8. 2 denomination on cover - a 'Holy Grail'

Figure 8 is the most dramatic of the four covers (one is a Parcel label) I've recorded bearing the 2. Yet another "Belfast" survivor, don't be mislead as to the rarity of 'Arms' stamps on cover from that source. Probably 95% of the small number of surviving covers I've seen from that incident have been franked at 2/- for the single oz. airmail rate, or less often have been 10d Aerogrammes. At 50/-, or 25 times the 2/- rate, Figure 8 is the highest franked survivor I've recorded. It would originally have weighed 12-12oz.

Remarkably, Figures 7 and 8 include the 'Arms' complete set of four carried on the same airmail flight; one which ended in catastrophe. Which begs the question "Anyone else out there got their 'Arms' set on crash covers?". An exclusive Club indeed would be that in which it was mandatory for members to own the 'Arms' set on 'Belfast' crash covers!

What then is Figure 8 worth? When I featured it in 2002 I suggested a valuation of $750. Just over four years later I believe that $1500 is a more accurate reflection of today's value, although I do know that the present owner would not sell it for that sum, or indeed a sum considerably greater. A good friend, with a well-rounded understanding of International attitudes towards valuing important Postal history has suggested that this cover could fetch $5000/10000 if auctioned. I would not have agreed with such optimism, but a development which I learned of just days before penning this column has served to cause me to rethink. One of the top three Australia KGVI/QEII (SD issues) usage collections has just changed hands. The buyer is a major traditional Philatelist, who has come to accept that when exhibiting he must pepper the exhibit with interesting examples of commercial use of the subject material. I know this collector well, he's very competitive and will be eager to add appropriate items when they present themselves for sale. Appropriate items such as Figure 8. He's also accustomed to having to pay five-figure sums for rare traditional material to add to his collection. That's coupled with a trained eye for undervalued Philatelic material, and as a newcomer to commercial covers, he probably can't believe the value for money that this field represents. Increasingly, he's not alone in sharing the knowledge of that fact. My best wishes for what promises to be a very interesting year for commercial cover aficionados.

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.