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Stamp News    May  2008

                              Woodchip-free Zone 

Spotlight on Solos

Amongst the myriad configurations possible in a study of commercial usage of a given stamp, the single franking, or "solo" as buzzwords would have it, tends to be disproportionately popular. For the Traditional collector, who wishes to display one example of usage of a given stamp in what is otherwise a purely "stamp" study, it's understandable that a solo franking is a suitable subject. An explanation of the stamp's use in solo form is generally concise and unambiguous. In a pure Usage collection, preferences are more diverse. For example, I know of some usage collectors who endeavour to obtain frankings of a given stamp in formats which embrace solo, duo (ie double) and multiple (ie three or more of that same stamp). Others include combo (combination (or mixed) with another stamp/s) frankings in their pursuit of usage diversity. Whilst I like solo frankings, a usage collection wholly of solo's can tend to lack the diversity of a more varied usage collection. For that reason, I'm in the camp which prefers solo, duo (and greater multiples) and combo usages.

I'm often asked questions concerning stamp usage by inquisitive collectors, and I'm happy to share knowledge where I can provide it. I'm never asked questions about new issues in stamps, which is fortunate for I rarely know (or care) if a new issue has emerged until I see it on commercial cover! Which reminds me of the time in the 1960s when I was waiting to be served in Max Stern's shop. From within the crowd (there was such phenomena in those days) a cheery sort of chap bellowed "What do you think of the (such and such) new issues, Mr Stern?", to which Max instantly and famously replied "Just a moment, I'll go and check my sales figures.". Nothing whatsoever to do with solo frankings, but I thought I would share that recollection with readers!

Back then to the subject of this month's column. The Prestige auction of 29th March contained a number of scarcer solo frankings. Prestige Director, Gary Watson, is to be commended for offering these as individual lots; an apparent response to the groundswell of support developing for unusual usage material. Six of the scarcer solo frankings are featured; my thanks to Prestige for reproduction of images.

                        Figure 1.
5d on 5d Merino surcharge - Third Day Cover

Lot 235 in the auction (Figure 1) realised a startling $437 (including Buyer's premium), and not because it was used on the third day of issue, I hastily add. That means little, rather it was the purpose for this solo franking which brought the bucks. The 5d on 5d surcharge is quite scarce in any form on commercial cover. It was after all a provisional issue, necessitated by the introduction of a d War Tax on 10 December 1941. Popular with speculators (as are many surcharged stamps), a large proportion of the 3.8 million stamps issued must have been "bought-up", for the stamp is far more plentiful in mint condition than used. The small number of solo frankings I've noted have been for either the combined letter rate (2d) plus airmail or registration (both an additional 3d). Figure 1 is the first example of solo use for a 2nd weight step Foreign letter (3d 1st oz. + 2d 2nd oz. + d War Tax = 5d). Written just five days after the attack on Pearl Harbour, there are no prizes for guessing what subject is likely to have dominated the contents of this missive to the U.S. The sum realised at auction is more than 100 times the retail price for a humble used off cover 5d on 5d, and deservedly so.

             Figure 2.
Highly desirable P.O.W. use of otherwise very common stamp

Prisoner-of-War (WWII) mail from Australia is generally not particularly scarce. POW's were entitled to free postage for surface mail letters, and airmail to Europe was at a concessional rate of 1/-. One often sees the 1/- Lyrebird used to pay airmail. Rarely seen for that purpose, however, is the 1/- Mitchell. Given that stamp was not issued until October 1946, well after the conclusion of the war, the rarity factor becomes quite obvious. Figure 2 is a particularly attractive 10 Dec 1946 use of the 1/- Mitchell, from Tatura (Vic) Internment Camp to Germany (American Zone). The information present on the cover indicates the contents were approved for transmission by the Camp Commandant, and additionally by U.S. Civil Censor upon arrival in Germany. The Tatura Camp closed in 1947, making this a very late POW use. Lot 908 in the auction, it realised $172.50, which I regard as sound buying by the purchaser. The used stamp catalogues 60c; mint examples are, well, a dime a dozen.

                                        Figure 3.
$1 Flinders off to Luxembourg

Last November, when I featured the 1966 Decimal Navigator series, I mentioned "There was quite limited postal demand for these stamps [ie the $1, $2, $4] until the early 1970s, when inflation began to escalate". Figure 3 is a rather scarce 24 Apr 1968 pre-inflationary era use of the $1 Flinders, from Warracknabeal (Vic) to Luxembourg, an uncommon destination. The contents (note "POST CARDS" endorsement at left) necessitated four times the basic 25c per oz. airmail fee, therefore weighing in at 1-2ozs. This item realised a respectable $132 in the auction (as Lot 241). Used off cover the stamp of course is challengeless.

                              Figure 4. New record for solo '72 Christmas 35c

Lot 243 (Figure 4) was a nice 28 Dec 1972 solo use of the 1972 Christmas 35c, from Wollongong to U.K. A difficult stamp to find on commercial cover in any form, although the realisation of $195.50 I confess raised my eyebrows. How many solo frankings have I seen? Oh, perhaps four, which immediately suggests that I ought not to have been too surprised by this realisation! If only four examples were recorded of a given stamp error, what realisation for one would be forthcoming? A lot more than a couple of hundred bucks I'll wager. Similar to the earlier 5d on 5d subject, the high value commems of this era were bought-up speculatively; comparatively little commercial usage of such stamps took place. FDC's of this stamp are common, and worth little.

                      Figure 5.
Norfolk Island usage, also under the spotlight

Australia usage aficionados are conversant with how uncommon the 2/- commems of the 1950s are on commercial cover, particularly the 1956 2/- Cobb & Co and 1958 2/- QANTAS. Just how much more uncommon then would be the Norfolk Is. equivalent, the 1956 2/- Pitcairners? For "uncommon" read "rare". I've seen only Figure 5, a 7 Jan 1958 use for oz. airmail rate to U.S. The inquisitive amongst you might be thinking, highly commendably, "Hey, isn't this usage way out-of-period?". Well, ordinarily that might be the case; commemorative stamps are not usually on sale for a duration of 19 months, as is the gap between issue date (8 Jun 1956) and our date of posting. Norfolk Is. was, however, a little out of the ordinary. Stamps, even commems, tended to remain on sale for much longer time spans than was the case on the Mainland. In the case of our subject stamp, Official withdrawal from sale was not effected until 17 Aug 1959! The realisation was $253 (Lot 814), a vast premium over a mint, used (off cover) or on FDC example.

           Figure 6.
PNG 10/- Map commercial cover ex Lawson correspondence

Figure 6 is, of course, not a solo franking item. It does feature the PNG 10/- Map in a combo franking configuration, a total of 13/- for 6-6ozs. airmail to British Solomon Islands. This item was Lot 830, realising $483, a record for a 10/- Map on commercial postal article. My reason for including this item in a "solo" commentary is by way of comparison with the 10/- Map solo franking (same correspondence), which was featured in the May 2004 column, valued at $500. In light of a combo franking, which is still rare, realising nearly that amount, I would be inclined to suggest that the solo franking featured four years ago might today realise closer to $1000. The supply of such items can never be adequate to meet demand, which is steadily increasing. Serious specialists are tenaciously seeking items such as Figure 6 ; the same cannot be stated for mint/used, which are in gross over-supply (and, sadly, often quietly fading away unloved in stockbooks around the world).

                       Figure 7.
Not the solo franking which adds interest here

To complete this month's column, I've selected Lot 548, one of the more attractive pioneer Philatelic Trader covers I've seen. The old traders are a personal interest, not least perhaps because I've probably become one of 'em. Figure 7 is a 30 Mar 1901 sending from Perth to Austria of an ornately illustrated cover, which a little unfortunately has had a label affixed partly thereover. The label is for Hamilton, Macrae & Co., leading W.A. Philatelic Traders of their day. I cannot ascertain if the illustrated cover was for the firm, the label affixed perhaps for an address or other change to the original details? Has any reader an example of the illustration unobscured? The 1d rate was for Foreign printed matter (1d per 2oz.), the postal rules for which dictated that the flap was not to be sealed, as is the case in this instance. The portion of a cancellation at lower right might suggest that a stamp is missing. However, it is likely that the item was one of a number posted at the same time, probably containing advertising matter, and a common practise was for postal clerks to arrange a group of such material, slightly overlapping, for cancelling in rapid succession. Such activity can result in one cover receiving portion of a cancellation intended for another.

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.