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Stamp News  January 2012 

                              Woodchip-free Zone 


Covers that tell a story


The internet is a marvelous medium for research, and postal history is a major beneficiary of its introduction. IT opens up whole new fields of interest and discovery for cover collectors wanting more from their Philately than basic stamps can deliver; from learning about the sender and/or recipient of an article, through to adventures or misadventures which may have been visited upon the article in its journey from A to B. Traditional stamp collecting can participate in this exciting new world of discovery to a limited extent only, if at all.

Examples of how broad access to IT can add interest, and even assist in building an exhibition collection, are provided this month. Figures 1 to 8 are original finds involving significant transit incidents, all destined for Australia, which owe their discovery to modern research, including via the internet. They also provide an insight in to the kind of philatelic material which inspires this columnist. Figure 9, on the other hand, is the very antithesis of such aspirations, and is included by way of contrast, as much as it is a plea for sanity to prevail.

                      Figure 1. Singapore to Perth with beach stopover near Darwin

Now that details of flight schedules for most Airlines which carried mail are accessible, at least to around 1945, it's possible to determine in many instances if a cover you have was involved in a misadventure of some nature. So it is with Figure 1, where from the date posted at Singapore (11 Jan 1935), we can ascertain that this item would have been loaded to Imperial Airways Flight IE303, which departed Singapore 15 Jan 1935. A day behind schedule, the Pilot of Athena flew through the night and from Koepang (now in West Timor) across the Timor Sea to Darwin. A violent storm was encountered en route, and unable to locate Darwin Airport, the Pilot chose to make a forced landing, on a beach near Point Stuart, about 95 kilometres east of Darwin, on 16 Jan. QANTAS Pilot, Capt Hussey, flew from Darwin to the rescue, but in departing the scene struck a bog at high speed, the propeller hitting mud and disintegrating. Athena was able to take-off the following day, and the subject item reached Perth 19 Jan. Athena would not be so fortunate in a later incident (see Figure 5).

                  Figure 2. Perth again the destination for an incident-related article

The individual sending the postcard (Figure 2) from Essen Germany to Perth on 21 Feb 1935 would probably be bemused to learn he was participating in creating a highly collectable item of postal history. The postcard has typed inscription "via Italien (Brindisi) -/ Singapore-Port Darwin", and was loaded aboard Imperial Flight IE317. Hanno, which flew the leg from Brindisi, suffered a damaged undercarriage upon landing at Rutbah (Iraq), on 27 Feb. The mail load and passengers were transferred to Horsa, which resumed the service 1 Mar, arriving Darwin 8 Mar. Airmail postcards to Australia in the 1930s are scarce, particularly from foreign origins.

                          Figure 3. Air France stationery, but Imperial the carrier

Imperial Airways, and its partner QANTAS, carried the lion's share of air mail to Australia in the 1930s. Figure 3 utilizes an Air France envelope, but from Greece to Australia it was the British and Australian airlines which performed the service, aboard Imperial Flight IE393. The long journey commenced in Yugoslavia on 15 Nov 1935, and when at Hua Hin (Thailand), Arethusa was delayed 24-26 Nov due to waterlogged airfield. To avoid further delay, the mail was sent by rail to Bangkok, from where it was loaded aboard Sydney, which resumed the service to Australia 27 Nov, arriving three days later.

                                        Figure 4. No blue skies for Flight IE415

Adverse weather was the bane of Pilots in the 1930s. Imperial Flight IE415 was delayed by storms for two days 4-6 Feb 1936 at Corfu and Athens, where Figure 4 joined the service, destined for Australia. Worse was to come, for on 7 Feb Helena force-landed at Felujah (Iraq), where it remained for two days due to continuing storms.

                            Figure 5. Unusual participant in the Athena loss

Most surviving mail from the Athena fire on 29 Sep 1936 is from Great Britain and Europe. The airliner caught fire and was destroyed at New Delhi, while the engines were being started, using oxygen bottles rather than compressed air. Figure 5 is the only cover present at the incident which I've noted from U.S. Originating at Knoxville, Tennessee, on 12 Sep 1936, it's endorsed "Via/New York/&/London Eng", a long journey to arrive in Melbourne. It arrived in London by 23 Sep, in time for Imperial Flight IE482. By 7 Oct it had reached Melbourne. Some evidence of its misadventure is evident; 35 mail bags out of 113 were salvaged largely intact.

                              Figure 6. Flight IE617 not for the faint hearted

Multiple incidents involving one airmail service are rare occurrences. Imperial Flight IE617 was one such hapless service. Coolangatta force-landed at Corfu (Greece) 10 Jan 1938, due to inclement weather, resuming the flight the following day. Relieved at Karachi by Aurora, that plane was unable to land at Delhi due to fog, and force-landed 50 kilometres northwest, slightly damaged. The mail load and passengers were removed to Delhi by car, and Arethusa assumed the load, arriving in Australia 20 Jan. Surviving mail from this dual incident is rare, Figure 6, from Poland, being the only item from that country I'm aware of.

                          Figure 7. Unusual origins always welcome in exhibits

In my airborne mail incidents exhibit I've made it a point to seek out and include items which are from unusual origins, destined for Australia. Figure 7 certainly fulfills that criterion, Latvia being a particularly exotic origin. This item was on board Imperial Flight IE660, Ceres, having been caught in heavy monsoonal rain 12 Aug 1938, made a forced-landing in Lake Dugari (Central India). The aircraft was unable to continue, being stuck in soft mud in the shallow lake. The mail was carried by bullock cart for 32 kilometres, and by car for a further 16 kilometres, to join the railway to Lake Gwalior. There the relief plane Capella was waiting on the day of the incident.

                        Figure 8. Art deco ram advertising cover from Bulgaria

Maintaining the tradition of unusual origins, Figure 8, from Bulgaria, found itself on board Imperial Flight IE670, where on 16 Jul 1938 at Sharjah Corio was involved in a collision with Cooee, both QANTAS planes. Circe took over the load the following day. And so ends this foray in to the world of air mail incidents. Now for something completely different.

                               Figure 9. Too much capital with nowhere to go?

Figure 9 was Lot 178 in Prestige Philately Sale 169 (my thanks to Prestige for use of the scan). A variant of a "SPECIMEN" overprint, itself a variant type, where the "S" is shaved, and the "C" hooked, it realized $18400 (including premium). This same item had been Lot 712 in the Gray collection, then realizing US$5500 (approximately AU$8100 with premium). As an aside, one of the handful of Gray non cover/tag items which have sold for more than was realized in the 2007 sale. The ACSC catalogue value (2004) for this item is $4500.

Now, ironically, I have to accept much of the blame for the creation of this philatelic aberration. It was during my watch that the "variants" were first introduced to ACSC. I thought at the time "mmm, crummy excuses for a listing, but what the heck, I'll go along with it, after all the price differentials between "variety" and normal are not that great." Fast-forward and the present differential between variants and normal overprint provides an excellent example of how catalogue recognition can create a mountain out of a molehill. British Empire equivalents of that phenomenon are the "scroll" varieties of Bermuda, Leewards, Nyasaland Protectorate, amongst which surely are some of the lousiest excuses for "varieties" ever to be catalogued.

There can be only 12 of this particular Specimen variant, and such low numbers in philately potentially can engender a cargo cult like following. Never mind, however, that there are spectacular colour-omission and other eye candy contender errors of Australia of which less than 12 examples are recorded, and which realize far less than 18 grand. And remember, that sum is for an item from a series produced wholly for collectors, with absolutely zero postal significance (or philatelic importance), brilliantly conceived by a canny Post Office person, solely for revenue raising purposes. Philatelic confections in nature, philatelic trivial pursuit in practice, the variants are text book examples of contrived rarity, and too much capital with nowhere else to go, hotly in pursuit.

What do I expect for 18 grand? At a minimum, a best-of-kind, indeed "unbeatable", one-frame exhibit, capable of delighting and inspiring those who cast eyes upon it. The eight items featured above (Figures 1 to 8), some of which are unique origin/destination items, would repose comfortably in an international standard Aerophilately collection. Yet, by way of comparison, presently would probably realize about one third of what the 10/- Specimen made, on a sunny day that is.

Unapologetically, the subject Specimen wins my "Burn your fingers recipe par excellence" philatelic award for 2011. The title of the movie in the advertising meter (Figure 10) which follows I found irresistible to slot in here.

Figures 10 and 11. Plenty of fun in a sideline meter collection

Now that's off my chest (well, almost), let's finish up on a lighter note! For my philatelic taste, I find attractive meter cancellations very collectable. They can be rare, and when one finds them the price can belie that rarity, and desirability. Take Figure 11, for example. What a riot, one which probably would struggle to achieve double digits on eBay! Fun collections of meter subjects can be assembled for very modest sums, and the introduction and application of the meter franking system is of significant worldwide philatelic importance. Which cannot be said of the aforementioned Specimen.

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.