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Stamp News    November 2005

                              Woodchip-free Zone   

Big covers. More Bang for your buck.

I’ve been a fan of larger, highly franked covers of the world for many years, particularly when the franking includes the highest denominations then current. Few in the past have shared my enthusiasm for ‘oversized’ covers, citing page size limitations as the reason for excluding large covers from their collections. I’m pleased to note, most recently at Pacific Explorer 2005, that more and more exhibitors have stumbled upon the revelation that if you double the size of your page you can display covers which are, well, double the size of what was previously possible. I find it curious that in the past some of the most breathtaking covers in existence could not find a home owing to a mindset which had it that if the cover was too big for a standard page it therefore wasn’t collectable.


Imagine if the National Gallery of Victoria hadn’t purchased in 1933 Tiepolo’s The banquet of Cleopatra for the reason that it didn’t have a space large enough to hang it? Fortunately, Australia was not about to decline the opportunity to own one of the great art treasures of the world for any such flimsy reason. Necessity being the mother of all invention, of course it would build a dedicated wall to hang the picture.


High denomination stamps are seldom conveniently found on standard-sized covers. When they are so found it is usually (but not always) the arrangement of a Philatelist. To necessitate a high franking the weight of an article is a major factor (dimensions are another), particularly for airmail where rates are usually calculated at ½oz. intervals. To incur say ten times the standard ½oz. airmail rate an article would therefore need to weigh 4½-5oz., and that requires a much larger cover than standard.


I’ve selected four ‘oversize’ covers of Great Britain this month. These include some good examples of why a collector would be doing a collection a gross injustice not to include such items. These are generally more valuable items than I usually tend to feature in this column.


Figure 1.  Seldom is a PUC £1 seen used for the purpose for which it was intended


Although issued in 1929 as a commemorative stamp, the £1 Postal Union Congress remained on sale for several years thereafter, effectively in the role of a de facto definitive in the absence of  such a denomination in the range of stamps then current. Figure 1 shows a 9 Jan 1937 commercial use from Wilton Rd Hudson’s Place in London to Australia, accompanied by ‘Seahorse’ 2/6d (2) and 5/- pair, making up a total franking of 35/-, or 28 times the 1/3d ½oz. airmail rate. The article would therefore have weighed 13½-14ozs., providing a good example of why one is unlikely to see such a high franking on a more conveniently sized commercial cover. So unloved were such covers that very few intact items bearing the £1 have survived. Value : $4000 (stamps off cover $650).


Figure 2.  An indecent number of ten bob dark blues were required to transmit this large item by airmail from London to Melbourne


I have a colour photo of Figure 2 which once hung in a previous office. The late Peter Jaffé, one of Australia’s most famed collectors of classic material, noticed it on one occasion and remarked in his distinctive English accent ‘That must be the greatest 20th Century cover in the world’. This came as a surprise from Peter as I had not previously known him to have the time of day for ‘modern’ material. I certainly have no difficulty agreeing that it is a great cover. Sent on 18 Jul 1941 by a ‘Clipper’ Flying Boat on the Transpacific route established in emergency conditions during World War II when the traditional routes were by necessity closed, the rate was a sobering 4/6d per ½oz., which compared with the prewar rate of only 1/3d. The Figure 2 franking, a gob-smacking £17 6 6d sterling – or then about the price of a shack in Australia, represents 77 times that 4/6d rate. What’s it worth? Well, the owner doesn’t yet wish to part company with it, but I suspect that this item would breach the £5000 mark if offered at auction in London. The stamps off cover, if you wanted ’em, could be readily picked up for a couple of hundred Dollars or less. Incredibly, this cover was ‘found’ used as a liner in the bottom of a carton lot purchased from a major Australian stamp auction in the ’nineties. Admirers of ‘oversize’ covers can get their just desserts.


         Figure 3.  £1 Silver Wedding surprisingly rare on commercial cover


The £1 Silver Wedding is a readily available stamp mint or used (off cover) but the only example used on a commercial article I’ve seen is that in Figure 3. Here we have an improvised cover which, according to the Customs label affixed to reverse, once contained ‘Shoe wrappers’ and is further endorsed ‘Sample/12ozs.’. The rate of 33/9d is 27 times the postwar 1/3d ½oz. airmail rate, and equates to a weight of 13-13½ozs, rather than the 12 indicated in the Customs label. The London cancel is undated, but was probably sometime in 1948. Value : $500 (stamps off cover around $35).


           Figure 4.  Recent discovery includes first 1948 £1’s seen on cover


For almost 20 years I’ve been searching for a commercial cover bearing the short-lived £1 brown of 1948. I had expected to find one addressed to Australia but to no avail. At the very minimum such an article would have needed to weigh 7½-8ozs. (16 times 1/3d ½oz. airmail rate), and although I have seen higher frankings of the era they bore multiple examples of the companion 10/- ultramarine rather than the £1. The £1 is rather uncommon used even off cover, being one of the few definitive stamps to be more highly catalogued used than mint (£7 vs. £26). Well, recently I found Figure 4 in Australia, although addressed to Hong Kong. This is a Sep 1949 (datestamp has no day slug) use from Fenchurch St London of a pair of the £1 and various contemporaries for a total franking of 56/4d. The article appears to have once contained a book, and may have been sent at a printed matter rate (for which I don’t yet have readily available information) for the franking is not a convenient multiple of the 1/3d ½oz. rate. It was certainly very heavy – probably around 20ozs. or more. A rather handsome franking for my taste, I ‘found’ this in a carton of woodchipped on paper from the same correspondence offered in a major Australian stamp auction. Such is the disdain for such items amongst so many it did not so much as rate a mention in the auction catalogue description. Long live ‘the thrill of the chase’. Value : $750 (stamps off cover about $45).


          On a final note, I wish to congratulate Dr Geoff Kellow for receiving a Gold medal at the State Level Sydney Stamp Expo 2005, for his ‘Sierra Leone Postal Rates 1937-71’, entered in the Inaugural Judges’ Tournament. Geoff is an early participant in the growing movement towards forming collections where usage on commercial cover is a key ingredient of the subject composition. Further confirmation that a ‘Best of its kind’ collection can be formed without having to outlay daunting sums.

Rod Perry has been a philatelic trader since 1962 and a regular Stamp News advertiser since the 1960s. 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.