Figure 1. Fit for a Museum collection
Millennium on 29 May offered some N.S.W. Postal history, which included an 18th century entire letter, which may have been offered publicly for the first time? Lot 318 in the sale, this remarkable 1794 letter was written by George Johnston at Sydney to Captain Cox in London, and is believed to be the earliest letter written in Australia still in private hands, "from one of the most important of the 'First Fleeters'" (catalogue quote). It's claimed that Johnston was the first man ashore at Port Jackson on 26 January 1788. The item realized a very respectable $57500 (excluding premium) against a pre-sale estimate of $25000. It may be destined for an institutional collection. It also may be that credible evidence, such as a diary entry, exists confirming the "first man ashore" claim, and if so it would suggest this item was a very astute purchase, indeed. I'm inclined to consider it a sound purchase irrespective of such outcome. My thanks to Millennium for use of the scan.
At Phoenix Auctions, on 9 June, an Australia KGV ½d green with Large Multiple watermark sideways, increasing to three the recorded examples of this variety, was auctioned. It made $52000 (excluding premium). Again an impressive result (pre-sale estimate was $25000); both "finder" and auctioneer were delighted, and so they should be. I haven't illustrated the item; fellow columnist, Glen Stephens, did that last month.
Both the Millennium and Phoenix items were "finds", and are a great stimulus for those who thrive upon the thrill of the philatelic chase. In terms of attracting newcomers to Philately, which of these items would be of greater potential interest to non-philatelists would make for a stimulating debate. But that's for another day!
I'll conclude as follows; the entire letter I rate as an item of National (arguably international) significance: philatelically, historically, and socially. The watermark variety? In my opinion, a quintessential example of obsessive philatelic pursuit, of the "it's in the catalogue, I must have it" genre. Auctioneers love buyers for whom filling gaps is an overwhelming motivation. Buyers for whom philatelic significance and value for money does not enter in to the equation, bless them. My long experience in commercial Philately indicates this variety of collector is seldom wedded to Philately for the long haul. My observation is that such collectors tend to burn out (read "become bored") in the relatively short term.
At the other end of the philatelic price spectrum, this month I present another in the ongoing series of "collecting suggestions" which, in my opinion, tick the boxes for "philatelic significance and value for money". Some out-of-leftfield suggestions here, to be sure.
Figure 2. Something cheerful about Priority Paid mail for my eye
The Priority Paid mail service may be a fading memory, but the legacy of attractive items the service spawned will long remain to please specialists. That outrageous magenta label, the multiple handstamps, often rare and exclusive to servicing of this class of mail, and use of stamp denominations which are seldom found on other forms of mail, aside from oversized articles, can make for some stunning examples of philatelic eye candy.
Figure 2 provides an indication of the activity one may encounter with the Priority class of mail. A 22c PSE for letter rate has been uprated with 35c Regent Bower, providing the fee for the overnight Priority service from Singleton on 31 Mar 1981 to Maitland, gathering the rather scarce two-line dated handstamps of the respective P.O.'s. On reverse is Newcastle Mail Centre dated timeclock; the "POSTED INCORRECTLY/OR TOO LATE" handstamp suggesting an irregularity in posting procedure which nevertheless did not affect the overnight delivery service between the respective points. A busy and attractive item, with uncommon markings, yet such items can often be obtained for just a few Dollars. Priority Paid mail is a personal favorite.
Figure 3. "Where's MURPH?" Probably best left to the imagination.
So very 'forties, Figure 3 was embellished by an Australian R.A.A.F. Serviceman at Port Moresby, clearly with way too much time on his hands. The "R.A.A.F./P.O.UNIT Nº6/25OC42" datestamp tells us where the artist was based. WWII material remains abundant, affordable, and often so very indicative of its time, such as this. A particularly attractive example, worth about $75. However, for around $10 and upwards one can find less "artistic" examples of wartime embellishment. Great Social/Postal history.
Figure 4. Truth in advertising no obstacle in 1930
I've previously extolled the virtues of collecting meter covers. They're an interesting microcosm of commerce and industry, institutions and organizations, and Government. One can specialize in meter development and types of apparatus, or select topical themes. Often encountered are superb works of advertising design art, particularly from German-produced machines. The excellent The International Postage Meter Stamp Catalog (Hawkins & Stambaugh) I've mentioned previously, or for an introduction to the concept visit http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/International_Postage_Meter_Stamp_Catalog. Figure 4 is a "specimen" strike from Australia meter registration "88", struck 14 Oct 1930 at Mackay. It reads "Always smoke/Craven "A" Cigarettes/Won't harm the throat:" Very reassuring that must have been 80 years ago. Uncommon items like this sell for around $20 and less. Meters form an important aspect of development of mechanization in Postal history, and the advertising component can be a wonderful stroll down memory lane.
Figure 5. Usage studies, one of my favourite philatelic pursuits
I love studying the way stamps serve postal use. It took me decades to actually comprehend this concept. Like most in Philately, until enlightenment befell me, I thought stamps were produced, well, primarily for collectors. That of course is true to some extent, but the fact is that collectors consume but a tiny proportion of the stamps produced by all but those almost wholly "philatelic" stamp issuing countries. Common stamps can become rarities when the manner in which they are used is factored in. Figure 5 is a good example. The 9d Kangaroos of the Australia 1959-66 Zoological series, becoming a popular usage study, is the most elusive as a solo frankings of the six denominations. "AR" card use, although scarce, is the most likely postal article to be encountered for a solo 9d. The solo usage item illustrated is the first I've noted for conventional postal use: 9d airmail postcard rate (27 Mar 1960 from Hobart) to "Other Asian countries", South Vietnam in this instance. It will be obvious why this is a rare destination in the White Australia era. This recently realized US$108 on eBay, which is inexpensive for such a rare usage item.
Figure 6. "Who loves ya"
Australian Framas (indeed those of most issuing countries) were once "hot". Button sets, zero-denominateds, and other buzz phrase varieties were all the rage in the 1980s/1990s. Framas in more recent times, however, have joined that long list of burnt-out subjects, more often than not destined for postage-churn. This of course is referring to mint; FDCs have not fared much better. Framas on commercial covers? Well, count me in, I'm a fan. Here one can find more rarities going for a song than in almost any other field in Australian (and probably World) Philately. The Australian numbered cliché types, dedicated as they are to specific P.O.'s, are effectively a form of "personalized", or "localized" stamp.
I arrange my reference collection of commercially used Frama covers as closely as one is able to the specific P.O. from where the "stamp" originated. Even before the appearance of the numbered cliché, it's often possible by postmark to tell where a given Frama was dispensed. Essentially this is applying Postal history elements to the traditional. I like also where a Frama has been employed for uprate purposes, such as when there has been a postal rate increase, or more particularly where sub base rate stamps, such as the low denominations in the 1980s/1990s Booklets, are being used up.
Figure 6 is an unusual commercial use of two Frama issues at Perth. It would appear the P.O. in question had more than one dispensing machine, one with Barred Edge Frama (in the 33c letter rate period), which apparently "coughed-up" a 17c denominated stamp (many Frama machines were unreliable, as those who have used them will attest) rather than a 33c, and the sender has reverted to use of another machine, which it so happens had by then received the new "Kangaroo" design Frama, issued a month before this letter was posted (24 Nov 1985). The sender has dialed in "16c" to complete the required 33c postage. The latter is untied (it was placed too low to receive the machine cancellation), but this is a commercial item, from a well known source.
Commercial use of Framas is a big study, and a very colourful one; the attractive last designs are particularly difficult to find, as are many of the earlier numbered clichés. The general market price for this material does not begin to recognize just how scarce to rare many issues are on commercial cover. Highly recommended field for those who love an inexpensive challenge, one that will receive its just recognition in times to come.
Figure 7. When only exotics will do
One of my favourite collections is mail by air (partially or wholly) destined for The Antipodes, that part of the world more generally known as Australasia. Such common denominator provides me with a reasonably coherent excuse for collecting the world. Of course, one can apply the origin/destination formula to any part of the world. Figure 7 is a particularly exotic origin item to be destined for Australia. A 12 Aug 1941 airmailed cover from Curaçao to Melbourne, censored locally and upon arrival at Melbourne. (Note The Brewer Racket (sic) Company addressee). Probably the most "valuable" item shown this month, at around $250 auction estimate. Items such as this have a very bright future as philatelic tastes mature.
Figure 8. "Paid" slogans, one of the least loved, but rarest of cancellation types
I don't collect circular datestamp cancellations (cds); there is enough froth and bubble associated with that field already to need me to dive in. With cancellations, I prefer other worthy fields which have largely been overlooked in the rush: such as "Paid" slogans (usually the ones in "red"). "Paid" as the article had its postage paid in cash (or on account) at the Post Office prior to posting; generally utilized when large quantities of mail are lodged at the one point in time.
Figure 8 is a very early use (15 Dec 1927) at Sydney of the "POST XMAS/MAIL EARLY" slogan (earliest date recorded in the excellent Australian Slogan Cancellations 1917-1990 (2 vols), by Robin Occleshaw, is 6 Dec 1927). The date slug section of cancellation is denominated at "1D", the Commercial Papers rate, so a fine example also of rate study, particulary as cover is from Traffic Branch, Police department. The "I am Turning to Right" illustration, with driver's arm extended horizontally to extreme will bring back memories to senior motorists of that leap of faith we took in less enlightened times! Themes abound in slogan cancellations. Recommended field only for those who appreciate rarities for a song.
Figure 9. Early "Tourism" covers, great for a sideline collection
We're all familiar with the multicoloured envelopes available at tourist destinations, to enclose postcards, etc, which for Australia became popular from the 1950s onwards (some will have seen the bikini-clad sun lover on Surfer's Paradise covers of that era). Less often encountered are the earlier tourism advertising envelopes, such as that in Figure 9. Produced for the Tamborine Mountain (Qld) Chamber of Commerce, this example was used at North Tamborine 10 Dec 1931. Elusive material, but when found seldom more than a few tens of dollars. A lot of interest for such paltry sums.
Figure 10. Personalised "stamps" appeared well before most thought
I recall queuing up at the Australia 99 venue where Australia Post was doing a roaring trade servicing the introduction of Personalised stamps. With me was Mrs "Woodchip", and the l'le chippies, all eager to get our heads on a postage stamp. Next time you go to page 1310 of ACSC Decimals III you will see two of those four resultant issues. "P" stamps have since become passé, and a collection of commercial covers bearing such stamps would be a slim volume, indeed.
Much more interesting, and suitable for serious study. is the "personalized" stationery, popularly referred to as Indicias, seen printed on much commercial mail. I've hoarded these ever since a renowned Stationery specialist suggested that one day this material will be eligible for exhibiting in more than just Social class. Firms/institutions and other users must obtain a permit for the Indicia design selected for "Postage Paid" mail, thereby providing Official Post Office sanctioning. I agree that it's just a matter of time before we see serious exhibits of such material.
In selecting the items shown as Figure 10, I noted another item dated 1939; the 1930s may have been when permits were first issued? The two items shown are 1950s, the user being Reader's Digest. Great items for a Mythology theme exhibit. Striking, unusual and interesting designs abound in this field, many of which can be found in Trader's $1 boxes. I wonder how long will that remain the case?
Summing up the theme this month, it's fair to say in my philatelic world an item doesn't have to be expensive to be "good", just as being expensive is no guarantee something is "good". Potential is in the eye of the beholder. I have a quiet chuckle when I recall the advice given me by a prominent financial adviser, who has a weekly column in an establishment newspaper. I was seeking professional advice on a suitable vehicle in which to park a large holding of covers, which I had selected for their potential for capital growth outperformance. In the interview I was asked what was the average entry price per item, which I replied was approximately $3.00. The adviser responded "But at $3 per item this material is not investment grade". I struggled, but remained composed.
Do readers have suggestions for subjects for future columns? Contact me at email@example.com and I'll be happy to consider your requests.