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Stamp News    June  2007

                              Woodchip-free Zone 

PNG 1994 Emergency Overprints and their usage

The series of eleven Papua New Guinea stamps overprinted in late 1994 caused a deal of controversy around the time they were issued. And not purely Philatelically. The Australian Federal Police during the months following this stamp issue conducted an investigation in to purported claims of impropriety surrounding the issue. Sighs of relief could be heard from a great distance when it was decided by the Feds that no prosecutions would proceed.

Not that such an investigation was likely to stymie Philatelic demand. In that parallel world that is Philately, demand for these overprints was phrenetic. Prices rapidly soared to $250 for a mint set, compared to a face value of just 4.81 kina (say A$5). The 'talk' was that the set was rapidly heading for a $1000 price tag. The 'talk' however could not prevent the market running out of puff, and the price levelled out at around $350 within a couple of years of the set's appearance. I note that 12 years after issue one can buy a set at auction for around $140. Yet another of the countless examples of irrational exuberance for which New Issues appear perpetually inclined?

So much for the introductory tale. But did the 'emergency' overprints ever see real postal use in PNG? The answer is a certain yes, if not a lot of use. Of the purported 45,000 sets overprinted, I suggest the vast majority went in to the hands of speculators, thereby significantly diminishing the available supply for everyday postal use. Remember the face value of around A$5? Even in the mid-'nineties a couple of hundred thousand dollars was not an insurmountable sum for entrepreneurs to outlay for such a 'killing'. And such a sum could have cornered the entire issue of sets.

From 1995 onwards, I resolved to set about accumulating these overprinted stamps on commercial covers, purely to satisfy my curiosity as to the potential for their usage. Those who know me are only too aware of my tenacity is such endeavours, yet I can report that it took me fully 12 years to obtain an example of each of the eleven stamps correctly used on commercial covers. I completed my set only in April of this year. During my quest I saw two sets on cover appear at auction, but chose not to buy them (they realised $380 a set) as condition was too varied for my taste. In that same 12 years I could have bought 'unlimited' numbers of mint, or cancelled 'per favour' used sets. But why on earth would I want what every other person has? Let's now take a look at the subjects in my set, which I rate in their way as little gems!

5t on 35t Musical Instruments

          Figure 1. Tribal artifacts, which so often feature in PNG stamp designs

My hunting and gathering quest (over 12 years, remember) netted me but two examples of usage of the 5t on 35t Musical Bow. Figure 1 is a 3 Oct 1995 use from Kiunga to the dreaded Chief Collector of Taxes, Port Moresby. The 5t in combination with 20t Head Mask completes the composition for 25t internal airmail rate. Value : $80 (stamps off cover retail $22).

5t on 35t Traditional Dancers

                                        Figure 2. This 5t 'scarcish' at best

One of the more readily available overprints of the series on commercial cover, I have 'amassed' 15 examples of usage of the 5t on 35t Baining ENB. That would be better than one per year, not allowing for the fact that my former auction business had a client at Mount Hagen in 1995 who wrote to us on six separate occasions using this 5t on 35t as a component in the franking of his mail! Figure 2 is also from Mount Hagen (but not our client), again to that Fiscal Fiend at Port Moresby, sent on 11 Dec 1995, also at the 25t internal airmail rate. Value : $20 (stamps off cover retail $5).

10t on 35t "New Zealand 1990"

                    Figure 3.
PNG to UK, a great distance to participate in a game

Figure 3 shows an example of the 10t on 35t Masks, originally issued for World Stamp Exhibition NZ 1990. As for the 5t on 35t Musical Instruments, I've been able to acquire only two of the 10t on 35t during this prolonged exercise. Combined with 90t Christopher Columbus, the overprinted stamp completes the franking for 1k airmail rate to UK, sent from Lorengau on 23 Mar 1995. The addressee is 'Spot the Differences (sic) Game'. At a tender age, upon noting my close inspection of a pile of covers, my daughter inquired 'Are you playing spot the difference, dad?'. A coincidence is that my daughter as a toddler attended NZ 1990. Value (of cover - memory priceless) : $80 (stamps off cover retail $21).

10t on 35t Treaty of Waitangi

        Figure 4. Sport and Birds. PNG knows how to pitch to Thematic collectors

Four covers bearing the 10t on 35t Cassowary and Kiwi have come my way. Figure 4 contains two singles and 80t Rugby Union (also rather scarce on cover) for 1k airmail rate to Cambridge Tutorial College, UK. The vast majority of overprinted stamps I have tracked down are addressed to correspondence schools in the UK and US. This example originated at Wewak and was posted 20 Feb 1995. The distribution of the overprinted stamps was nationwide, as will be indicated from the sampling selected for this article. Value : $50 (stamps off cover retail $17).

21t on 80t Land Shells

                         Figure 5.
Can't add up but sender appears keen to improve

21t was the local letter rate at this time, but apparently supplies of stamps of that denomination were sufficiently low to necessitate an 'emergency' overprint of 21t on 80t Land Shells. Figure 5 contains five examples, slightly overpaying (by 5t) the 1k airmail rate to College of Professional Management, UK, sent from Kiunga 21 Feb 1996. Again, four covers bearing this overprint are in my census, although I haven't yet seen a solo franking for local mail. Value : $30 (stamps off cover retail $10).

50t on Gogodala Dance Mask

              Figure 6.
One of a small number of overprints I've noted to Australia

The 50t on 35t Tauga paiyale apparently had the lowest issue number (at 45,000) for the series, and at $60 has the highest used retail price. Covers, unsurprisingly, are amongst the scarcest for the series; I've garnered just three. Figure 6 is one of the small number of overprints coming to Australia that I've noted. An 18 Jan 1995 solo use from Goroka to the venerable David Jones in 'Syndey'. This I've valued at $100, perhaps corroborated by a recent realisation of US$72 on eBay for a combo franking including this stamp.

50t on 35t Waterfalls

                               Figure 7.
The only 'waterfalls' to fall in to my clutch

I obtained Figures 7 and 8 just two weeks before I prepared this article, thereby completing 'my set', and it's that milestone which prompted me to feature the overprints this month. Figure 7 is a pair of the 50t on 35t Rouna Falls used at Mount Hagen 24 Jan 1995 for the 1k airmail rate to UK. Value : $100 (stamps off cover retail $40).

65t on 70t National Census

          Figure 8.
May turn out to be scarcest of the overprints on commercial cover

Figure 8 is a nice solo franking of the 65t on 70t National Census for second class airmail to UK, sent from Kimbe on 29 May 1995. The only example of this stamp I've been able to obtain on cover, I suspect that in such form it may evolve to be the scarcest of all eleven in the series. Value : $100 (off cover retail $7 appears light on).

65t on 70t Anemonefish

                                                  Figure 9.
Nemo found

I've found only four of the 65t on 70t Spine-cheeked A(nemo)nefish ("Nemo"), most as components in 1k airmail franking to ubiquitous correspondence schools in UK. Figure 9 is one, in combination with 35t Waterfalls, used from Lae on 3 Nov 1995. Value : $40 (this overprint is unpriced in retail list I'm using).

1k on 70t Waterfalls

     Figure 10.
This 'Net Shop' presumably for catching fish or excluding mosquitoes?

The two 1k overprints I've found the most readily available of the series on cover. I'll qualify that statement by adding that almost every 1k seen is addressed to a correspondence school. Were it not for the merciful diligence of certain individuals in those establishments preserving covers intact, the survival of 1k's in that form would be very small indeed. A major retailer of the overprints during the initial euphoria in the 'nineties, once advised me that the source of most of his used stock of the series emanated from suppliers at overseas correspondence schools. The 'woodchipping' rate was therefore significant. Of 23 1k on 70t Wawoi Falls in my census Figure 10 is the only local use. A rather attractive Mar 1995 registered use (no day present in cancellation), together with two 21t Historical Cars, from Balimo to Boroko for 21t local letter rate plus 1k 20t registration. Overpaid 1t and one of many franking anomalies one encounters with modern PNG. One presumes in Boroko in1995 the addressee, the 'Net Shop', was a supplier of fishing or mosquito nets rather than internet-related material! Value : $35 (stamps off cover retail $9.50). A solo franking of this 1k on 70t, the form in which it most often occurs, I value at $20 (as for Figure 11).

1k on 70t Gogodala Dance Mask

                          Figure 11.
Attractive example of the 'easy' overprint on cover

With 38 accumulated of the 1k on 70t Owala, virtually all for 1k airmail rate to UK correspondence schools, this is the most readily available overprint of the eleven in the series. Figure 11 is an attractive example for my taste, the airmail envelope pattern adding to the riotous combination of colours in the stamp, sent from Alotau 6 Mar 1995. Value : $20 (off cover retail $12).

In conclusion, after 12 years of enthusiastic hunting and gathering, I have just enough material to present a rather nice one-frame (16 pages) exhibit of this series. The total cost in dollars has been comparable to the $350 price tag of a mint set a decade ago. However, I'll wager that this little gem of an exhibit offers somewhat more to stimulate a demanding Philatelist than does that mint set, forlornly housed as it may be in mounts on a page in an illustrated album.

An old friend, accustomed to buying and selling five and six-figure Classic items, called in to my office as I was preparing this article. 'What's the subject for the next column', he remarked. 'Nothing that would interest you' replied I. Persuaded otherwise, I found myself placing the subject material before him and delivering a one minute introduction to the topic. Not one to mince words on matters Philatelic, I was pleasantly surprised when he responded 'This is real Philately'.

Actually, PNG I find a terrific country for the study of usage of stamps on commercial articles. Unlike Christmas and Cocos Islands, Nauru and Norfolk Island, PNG has a large population and its stamps generally saw enough use to make a usage study a practical pursuit. For example, in the £SD-period only the 1963 10/- Rabaul and QEII £1 have not been seen used on postal article (by me at least). From 1966-on I should think most if not all stamps are obtainable in that form, albeit not unless one is prepared to make a sustained effort. But what fun! The stamp designs as a bonus can be a delight, often vibrant, and with unique tribal art a consistent motif amongst other original designs. Many collect the Post Office cancellations, a worthy field in itself, but I know of only two collectors who have risen to the usage challenge. Frankly, I'm amazed that more have not ventured in.

I highly recommend that existing PNG stamp-only collectors do themselves a favour and include PNG usage on commercial postal articles alongside the equivalent mint and/or used material. Doing so will add a new dimension and individuality to your collection, provide far more fun than merely filling spaces in an album could ever do, and will prove to be a far more sound financial investment than mint and used off-cover stamps will ever be.

Next month marks the fifth anniversary of this column, and I'll mark that occasion by making a review of developments in the cover market over that duration.

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.