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Stamp News    March  2009

                              Woodchip-free Zone 

Looking for 'sleepers'? Try Usage of 'seventies above base rate Commems of Australia.

Last month I featured a range of Australia's 1970s stamps, used as solo frankings on overseas airmail postcards. In preparing that article, I simultaneously analysed contemporary material used on commercial covers, again as solo frankings. This group forms the subject for this month.

I've purposely selected above base rate stamp issues (ie greater than the then current letter rate) post-1973 Christmas issue, for this was once considered the last of the "better than face" Decimals. At least, that was the case the last time I bought sub-face postage, c2001. I note, however, that some earlier "good" Decimal issues nowadays regularly grace my incoming philatelic mail. Perhaps the number of "good" Decimal stamps has dwindled?

I've often mentioned in this column that many Australian Decimal stamps, all of which are overly plentiful in mint condition, can be very, very difficult to find commercially used on postal articles, in their period of issue. During the booming philatelic market of the 'seventies, speculators were the dominant buyers of new stamp issues, which were then considered too "precious" for postal use. Do not confuse out-of-period stamp use, such as 1970s stamps used in the 2000s, for these are useless to a Usage specialist. Ironically, it was the speculators of the 'seventies (and later) who we can thank for the almost inexhaustible supply of discount postage enjoyed today. I

f you prefer modern stamps (every Decimal stamp is "modern"), but find you are increasingly whingeing over incessant New Issues, here is a solution. Substitute collecting modern stamps mint for those used on intact commercial covers, postcards, etc. In so doing, you will be entering a refreshingly challenging, and rewarding new Philatelic world. You will go on to form a collection with individuality, and a high degree of desirability, rather than supplementing the supply of discount postage for others for future consumption.

Here follows the 14 above base rate Commems issued 1974-79 (ie post-1973 Christmas). These are the "pure" Commem issues; the so-called "Short-term Defins" (eg 1974 Education) and Special Issues (eg 1979 Locomotives) are an equally worthy group, but require analysis on another occasion.

                          
                                     Figure 1. 30c UPU optimum solo use for a specialist

The 1974 UPU 30c is a scarce stamp commercially used on any type of postal article. It's most likely solo use was for Zone 4 (eg North America) airmail, although I've seen no more than three for even that use. And that's in 20 years of searching. Figure 1 is a bottler of a solo use, 30c in this instance representing Letter rate + airmail + Priority Paid fee = 30c. It was posted 14 Nov 1974 at Perth Mail Exchange, destined for suburban Melbourne. The handstamped "IRREGULARLY POSTED" indicates it was dropped in a street letter box (perhaps in Rivervale area), rather than being handed in over a Post Office counter, a requirement for Priority mail. Nevertheless, a timeclock cancel on reverse confirms it arrived in Melbourne the day after posting, duly as the Priority service promised. In the ACSC Decimals I (2002) I priced this stamp on cover at $30 (off cover 80c), but would think $50 is nearer the mark today. Catalogue prices here, and in subsequent items, refer to a combination franking including the subject stamp. A solo franking of the 30c UPU would realise more in the $75/100 range. Figure 1 might realise $200/250 at auction, I believe.

                        
                                Figure 2. 35c '74 Christmas solo - a "sleeper" indeed

The 1974 Christmas 35c is proving surprisingly scarce on any form of commercial postal article. 35c was for the Zone 5 (eg U.K., Europe) airmail rate, and Figure 2 is the only usage for this purpose I've noted. This will come as a surprise to some readers. It certainly did for me. It's a 12 Dec 1974 use from Adelaide to U.K. Catalogue price of $25 (off cover 70c) needs revision to $60. This solo franking would realise around $100.

                             
                                 Figure 3. An "Aussie Kangaroo". Is there any other type?

Figure 3 is a postcard, rather than a cover, which I indicated above was to be the focus of this months' column. It's featured as this was the only commercial postal article of any type I could locate bearing the 1975 PNG Independence 25c, solo franking or otherwise! This 14 Oct 1975 solo use, from "Nana" in Newtown (NSW) to little Samantha in California, was for 25c Zone 4 airmail postcard rate. ACSC Decimals II (2002) cover price of $25 (off cover 50c) clearly needs attention. Figure 3 is likely to be a $100/150 item at auction. A good indication of just how challenging the concept of Usage is, in comparison with traditional mint/used off cover "collecting".

                 
                                         Figure 4.
A 'seventies "high-flyer" flies again

T he 1975 Christmas 45c sold out prematurely at Post Offices. Speculators had been particularly active. One of them, legendary Philatelic Auctioneer, P.J. ("Phil") Downie, was a monumental player in this stamp issue. I recall quenching my thirst with Phil one occasion, following our attendance at a Harmer's of Sydney auction, when a "punter" approached us and asked did we have any 45c Christmas for sale. He wanted thousands. Phil responded, almost reluctantly, "I'll let you have a thousand, for $3,000, but you can't have any more". The visitor promptly pounced. Phil shouted the next round. The 45c in Figure 4 has fared better than the stamps bought by that hapless "punter". This neat 15 Dec 1975 use from Fisher (ACT) to Switzerland, is a good example of the Zone 5 airmail rate, for which the stamp was primarily issued. I've seen around half a dozen such usages, which is less seen than for most 2/3d Commems of the 'sixties, that sum being the "Zone 5" equivalent in those times. The on cover price of $15 (off cover $1) probably needs to be $35/45.

                       
                          Figure 5. Plenty of 25c Munich's issued, but try finding one like this

The 1976 Munich Olympic 25c and 40c had huge quantities issued; over 20 million of each. Consequently, neither stamp is particularly difficult to find commercially used on postal articles, contrasting with most other stamps featured this month. The 25c as a solo franking, however, is scarce. One such possibility was Zone 1 airmail, and N.Z. is where these might turn up, although they will take some finding. Figure 5 is a very scarce solo use indeed. It's a 15 Apr 1977 use for Zone 5 Greetings card rate (unsealed), from Mosman (NSW) to U.K. Some would be forgiven for labelling this an out-of-period use, given the stamp was issued in July 1976. However, the Olympic stamps remained on sale for 12 months after issue; they were literally Definitives. On cover catalogue values of $15 for the 25c and 40c (off cover 40c, 60c) are probably not far off the present day mark. Figure 5, however, is more a $100/150 item.

     
                                   Figure 6. 40c Munich solo for airmail to Canada

Figure 6 is a fairly typical Zone 4 airmail use for a 40c Munich, from Double Bay to Canada. I've noted eight such usages, which although hardly an easy to find item, a scarcer solo use was for the 3rd weight step for non-standard articles within Australia, of which I've noted but two examples.

                            
                   Figure 7. Prof and Mrs Derham (later Sir and Lady) on Le Grande Tour

The 1976 Christmas 45c was another Zone 5 airmail rate stamp. I've seen half a dozen or so, mostly to U.K. Figure 7 is more unusual, being to Greece, from Melbourne on 10 Jun 1977. Similar to the 1975 Christmas issue above, the on cover price of $15 (off cover 60c) for this stamp needs to be raised.

                         
                                  Figure 8. 45c Jubilee to unlikely destination of Norway

As previously mentioned, most Zone 5 mail from Australia was destined for U.K., so it's a bit of a novelty to find items to more unusual Zone 5 countries, such as Norway. Figure 8 is one such, featuring solo franking of the 1977 Silver Jubilee 45c, sent from Blackburn Mail Centre on 27 Jul 1977. With only five frankings of this stamp noted in my census, $15 on cover price (off cover 70c) is again a bit light on.

                   
Figure 9. Cricket in 1877. Hopefully we fared better than during the South Africa Team Tour.

Figure 9 is yet another Zone 5 use, from Moe (Vic) 10 Jun 1977, this is one of three covers to Isle of Man amongst the tally of four only covers noted bearing this stamp. The sender's doubtless were ordering I.O.M. new issues. Interestingly, the stamp has been cancelled by the Moe circular datestamp, and later has been fed through the machine-canceller, probably inadvertently. Catalogued on cover at $15 (off cover 70c), this ought to be $40/50, particularly for a solo franking of a popular sporting theme stamp.

                    
                          Figure 10. Another unusual Zone 5 destination, this time Kenya

For some reason, I've been able to locate around twice as many usage items of the 1977 Christmas 45c stamp than for the preceding two years' issues. Still, eleven usage examples hardly renders this a plentiful item! Interestingly, Figure 10 is to Ngobit Estate Ltd, Kenya, sent 19 Dec 1977 from Brisbane. When I googled the address, I found that soon after this item was posted, the addressee and the Company were embroiled in a landmark court case, Ngobit Estate Ltd v Carnegie. Covers have it all over stamps off cover when it comes to adding interest, and value in Philately. This particular stamp on cover is probably not too far wide of the mark with it's catalogue of $15 (off cover 70c); although perhaps $20/25 would better reflect it's worth nowadays.

                    
                  Figure 11. Stamps were issued not only to raise revenue from collectors

The 1978 Christmas 25c is most often encountered used for 1st weight step for non-standard articles within Australia. Figure 11 is a less likely use, for "Printed Papers, Books and Greetings Cards" surface mail, "All countries" (up to 50gms), to quote specifically from the Post Office guide, for which the rate was 25c. By 1978 the overseas airmail services had largely superseded surface mail, and this is the only usage for this rate I've noted for this stamp. It's from Boyup Brook (WA) to Canada on 18 Oct 1978. Although an airmail envelope was utilised, the sender scored through the "AIR MAIL" inscription, in order to signify that surface mail rate only had been met. I would leave the on cover price for this stamp at $15 (off cover 40c), but this rare use would fetch $100/150 at auction.

                       
             Figure 12. '78 Christmas 55c cashed in on then current Art on Stamps demand

Another Zone 5 usage, Figure 12 features solo use of the 1978 Christmas 55c, to our friends in Kenya, this time from Cremorne Junction (NSW), on 20 Dec 1978. My census for usage of this stamp was nine, and as it's a rather large stamp, it's more prone to damage. Probably should catalogue $25/30 on cover (off cover 75c), rather than present $15.

 
                           Figure 13. 1979: Early Australia Post "Padded Post Bag"

A rare survivor in itself, the useful Australia Post product shown as Figure 13 is enhanced by the scarce solo franking of 1979 Christmas 25c. This 23 Oct 1979 use from Launceston to Georgetown paid 1st weight step for non-standard articles within Australia. I've noted only four such usages. Catalogue value of $10 on cover (off cover 40c) should be revised to $15/20, this solo franking $30/40.

                        
                  Figure 14. The Great Boom ensured new issues seldom saw postal use

Another surprise to me when conducting the census, which gave birth to this months' column, was the scarcity of usage items bearing the 1979 Christmas 55c. The total was eight; six combination frankings, and but two solo. Figure 14 is one of the two solos, a 19 Dec 1979 use from Elizabeth (SA), to the unusual Zone 5 destination of East Germany. The scarcity of this stamp may be put down to the Great Boom being well underway by the close of 1979. Decimal stamps were simply deemed too good an investment at that time to squander as postage. Catalogue value for on cover at $12 (off cover 75c) probably should be raised to $30/40, with a solo in the $50+ range. More will turn up in U.K./Europe, although I don't see them on eBay after nine years of searching.

Don't you agree these stamps take on an entirely new character when seen used in the manner for which they were originally intended? In my opinion they possess a certain integrity, which sadly cannot be said for their sterile mint cousins, which largely are fated to be used up to post off today's and tomorrow's bills.

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.