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Stamp News    November 2006

                              Woodchip-free Zone 

A Review of the Past Four Years

This month I've opted to revisit past columns, for something of an overview of what has transpired during the four years since the column commenced. Collecting stamps used on commercial cover, the principal topic embraced in the column, is a major growth area in World Philately. I'm pleased to report that interest in the subject amongst some readers of this magazine has grown in line with the general trend worldwide. Increased interest and demand have placed upward pressure on prices, and the review will broach upon that aspect. I've received feedback from an encouraging number of budding enthusiasts during the past four years, and this month's column is largely the work of one of the more enthusiastic amongst these 'recruits', Ron Casey of Brisbane. Ron has thoroughly immersed himself in this particular field of philately during the past few years, specialising primarily in solo usage of Australia's stamps on commercial cover. He has kindly agreed to select the subjects for the review, adding well-researched comments where appropriate, often seen from a fresh perspective. Besides keeping a watchful eye on the domestic market, Ron regularly monitors over a dozen auction and dealer postal history websites in the U.S., Germany, U.K., N.Z., Canada, Belgium, Italy and China. His continual vigilance has not only enabled him to acquire many choice items for his own collection, but also to build up a thorough appreciation of the comparative rarity and market values of solo uses of Australian stamps, especially those paying overseas postal rates. Accordingly, this review concentrates on solo uses previously featured in the column.


                Figure 1. KGV 1/4d solo franking. Change of ownership since featured in 2003.

The KGV 1/4d was issued for the principal purpose of paying the interstate telegram rate, and is uncommon on cover (irrespective of watermark), not only due to its limited use while in circulation, but also from subsequent 'woodchipping' to provide used examples for stamp collectors. As a solo franking it is very scarce indeed. In the early years of the stamp's currency, any such solo uses could only be achieved by a combination of two or more different postal rates. One such example is Figure 1, an attractive use of the CofA watermark printing on airmail cover of 26 Feb 1936 from Sydney to Hobart. In this instance it meets the combined surface (4d) and airmail (1/-) rates for an article weighing 1-2oz. This cover was featured in the September 2003 column when I valued it at $350. It has since changed hands in a private transaction for $825. I've recorded only six solo usages of a KGV 1/4d, suggesting that such items will not long remain at this price level. Consider this. KGV inverted watermarks of which six examples are known have fetched five-figure sums in the past. In an exhibit, which of the two classes of item, given they are of equal rarity, will most impress a judge? In terms of value for money in an exhibit I know which of the two would receive my vote of approval.


                                  Figure 2. One lonely ram, many Philatelists in pursuit

From the commencement of regular overseas airmail services in December 1934, 9d paid two very rare and distinct postal rates. These were the airmail letter rate to Malaya/Singapore (and other regional parts), and the airmail postcard rate to the U.K. Eventually, the 9d Platypus (issued 1 Sep 1938) was utilised for these rates, but until that time solo uses could be achieved only by the application of one or other of the three '9d purples'. These were the definitive 9d Kangaroo, and the 9d Macarthur Centenary (issued 1 Nov 1934) and 9d N.S.W. Sesquicentenary (1 Oct 1937) commemoratives. Although the 9d Kangaroo is a far more common stamp used than the two commemoratives, its usage on an airmail postcard to England, featured in the May 2003 column, is one of but a few solo usages of the stamp for this rate I've seen (I've yet to see either of the 9d commemoratives). In those days the majority of overseas postcard traffic was generated between postcard collectors, and it's doubtful that many of them would have chosen the luxury of an air service at six times the 1d surface rate, or nine times the 1d Printed matter rate often used. A solo use of the 9d N.S.W. Sesqui for the slightly more often seen, but still quite rare airmail letter rate to Malaya/Singapore, appeared in the September/October 2002 column. A 9d Macarthur solo use for this same rate is illustrated in Figure 2, a 3 Jul 1935 cover sent from New Norfolk (Tas) to Johore. Ron Casey is the fortunate owner of this cover, which I regard as a 'cracker'. Due to the disparity in the scarcity of these two categories of 9d rate, separate values have been assigned for each, rather than just one value for 'any solo use'.

Original values                                          Today's values

UK postcard (9d Kangaroo) $300                $300

                         (9d commems) N/A                 $500           

Malaya letter (9d Kangaroo) N/A                  $120

                         (9d commems) $85                 $250                        

         Figure 3. 5d on 5d Surcharge. Proving more elusive on cover than first thought

A rather enigmatic stamp that featured as a solo use in the September/October 2002 column is the 5d surcharge on 5d Ram. This stamp was introduced on 10 Dec 1941 to incorporate the d War Tax on a number of relatively common existing 5d postal rates. These included the combined airmail/letter rate within Australia and to N.Z., the combined registration/letter rate within Australia and British Empire, and the 2nd weight letter rate (1-2oz) to Foreign countries. Figure 3 reproduces the example illustrated in the earlier column, showing an attractive use of the combined airmail/letter rate on Official cover of 23 Apr 1942 from Tennant Creek (N.T.) to Canberra. Although intended only as an interim solution to pay the War Tax before the 5d Emu stamp was issued on 12 Feb 1942, it could be assumed that a large number of the 5d surcharges would have been used in that 3-month period, and even beyond the 5d Emu issue date, to pay these frequently used postal rates. However, surviving examples of solo uses are quite rare, less than ten having so far been seen by Ron and I combined. On the other hand, many examples of 5d Ram and d Kangaroo combinations have been seen to pay the aforementioned rates. This evidence suggests that postmasters were intent on exhausting their supplies of 5d stamps before ordering the 5d surcharges, by which time the 5d Emu stamps were in circulation. Original value (Sep/Oct 2002) $50. Today's value $125


                                 Figure 4. No bull about this Hereford. Rare indeed on cover

The primary purpose for the issue of the 1/3d Hereford Bull stamp in 1948 was to pay the up-to-1lb interstate parcel rate to other than an adjoining State (Scale 4), and to PNG. 1/3d also paid the 2-3lb parcel rate within State but beyond 30 miles (Scale 2), and the 3-5lb parcel rate within 30 miles of posting (Scale 1). An example of Scale 2, from a parcel containing a hat sent from Melbourne on 24 Oct 1950 to Echuca, was illustrated in the December 2005 column. Surviving fragments of parcel-wrappings, which incorporate sufficient information such as addressee details to authenticate the application of the correct postage, are not easy to find, and solo uses such as the 'hat parcel' are rare indeed. For more conventional mail use, 1/3d was much higher than the standard letter rates, and lower than practically all of the overseas airmail rates, for which the 1/3d Hereford Bull is mostly found (on cover) used as a make-up denomination. However, from 1 Aug 1952 until its withdrawal from sale on 14 Nov 1953, this stamp paid the unique 1/3d airmail letter rate to 'Other Asian Countries'. An example of this rare solo use on a 7 Nov 1952 cover Sydney to Hong Kong is illustrated in Figure 4. Another 'cracker' item from Ron. Original value (on parcel) $50. Today's value (on parcel or cover) $200

                         Figure 5. 1/2d Tassie Tiger solo. Losing a bit of its allure?

A solo use for which previous conceptions of prevalence have recently been challenged is the 1/2d Tasmanian Tiger issued 21 Mar 1962 to pay the airmail postcard rate to Europe. The December 2002 column illustrated an example of one such postcard (reproduced in Figure 5) and valued it at $125+, based on a recent auction realisation. However, since the emergence of Internet auction sites like eBay, more of these postcards have entered the market, mostly sold by private individuals in the U.K. and Germany. Sometimes these are listed in philatelic categories, but more often than not under 'postcards', with seemingly no interest by the seller in (or value attributed to!) the stamp attached. The fact that more of these solo uses should survive than previously thought is not difficult to understand. From the date of its issue, this definitive paid a not uncommon postal rate for four years (until the introduction of decimal currency), and during that time no other 1/2d stamp was issued to be a potential 'competitor'. Another example of a 1/2d solo franking postcard sold at auction for $76 in July 2006. I expect that the increase in supply will largely be counterbalanced by the increase in collectors of solo usages. Original value $125+. Today's value $75

                                    Figure 6. A more alluring solo franking emerges

In contrast to the 'glamour' which has surrounded the 1/2d Tasmanian Tiger as a solo use on airmail postcards to Europe, two 1/- denomination stamps paying the airmail postcard rate to North America in the 1960s have gone largely unnoticed. Admittedly, their primary intended purpose was to pay the airmail letter rate to Malaya/Singapore and the South Pacific, but these are not high volume usages. In addition, the large influx of post-WWII European immigrants to Australia would suggest that far more postcards were sent to Europe than North America in the early 1960s. The numbers seen of existing 1/- solo frankings support the expected lower usage, and are somewhat less than have been encountered for the 1/2d. The two stamps in question are the 1959 1/- Platypus and 1961 1/- Colombo Plan. The March 2004 column illustrated a solo use of 1/- Platypus on an airmail letter to the South Pacific, while the 1/- Colombo Plan, a stamp not previously discussed in this column, appears in Figure 6, on a 6 Mar 1962 airmail postcard to the U.S.

Original values                    Today's values

1/- Platypus    $20                         $90

1/- Colombo Plan N/A                  $90

            Figure 7. Proving easily the most elusive amongst the six 2/3d's on cover

The six 2/3d commemorative stamps issued between 1962 and 1965 formed the subject of the January 2005 column, where it was noted that only a small number were ever used on commercial mail for their intended purpose, to pay the airmail letter rate to Europe. This was due to the Philatelic community speculatively buying the majority in mint condition or for use on FDC's. Unlike the aforementioned 1/2d Tasmanian Tiger on postcard, the scarcity of 2/3d covers has not diminished since the advent of Internet auction and dealer websites. Ron and I have sighted only 2-4 of each of five of the six issues over the last three years, corroborating the earlier valuations. The exception is the 1965 2/3d ANZAC, for which we have yet to find a solo example on the websites monitored. By the time of its issue in 1965, the earlier 2/3d's had increased in market value, and the relatively small number issued (995,440) were quickly snaffled by speculators. An additional factor attracting these mint stamp 'investors' was the enticement to purchase an omnibus series (with the same design) for stamps issued by the Australian Territories. A nice example of a rare 2/3d ANZAC solo use, on a 6 May 1965 cover to London, accompanied the January 2005 column and is reproduced in Figure 7.

Original values                              Today's values

1965 2/3d ANZAC $100                         $160

other 2/3d commems $75-90               $75-90

                             Figure 8. Popular stamp amongst usage aficionados

Stamps issued with denominations many times the basic postal rate are typically issued for higher postage and parcel rates. Consequently, solo uses on cover are possible only as a combination of two or more postal rates, or a multiple of a specific rate. The 1966 75c Cook has provided at least three different examples of such solo usages. The July 2004 column featured a late usage (12 Dec 1974) of this stamp combining the domestic 10c letter rate and the 65c Messenger Delivery service fee. An earlier column (November 2003) portrayed a triple weight (20-30g) 25 Jan 1974 airmail letter to the U.S., at a time when the base airmail rate to that Zone (4) was 25c per 10g. A third combination is illustrated in Figure 8, this time a 23 Aug 1969 registered 2nd weight step (-1oz) airmail letter to the U.S. At that time, the Zone 4 airmail rate was 25c per oz, and the registration fee also 25c. The 75c Cook enjoyed a long period of currency until replaced by the 75c Feather-tailed Glider in Feb 1974. During this period there were numerous rate changes and additional postal services introduced, thus increasing the possibility that other rate combinations may exist for solo use. Despite its long period of valid use, the 75c Cook is rarely found as a solo franking on cover, and the small number of known examples indicate a market value slightly higher than previously suggested. The 'Cook' thematic appeal serves to further intensify demand. Original values (Nov 2003) $60, (Jul 2004) $60. Today's value $85


                                        Figure 9. Modern, but well worth the search

At present it seems too early to realistically gauge the prevalence of the 1987 63c Technology stamp as a solo use. Its intended primary uses were to pay the airmail rate for a non-standard item within Australia, and the airmail postcard/greetings card rate to a Zone 5 (predominantly Europe) country. An example of this latter use, a postcard mailed to Germany on 22 March 1988, appeared in the June 2003 column and is reproduced in Figure 9. Proponents for its scarcity cite the relative under-use of its intended rates, their short period of validity (July 1987 to February 1989), and the small numbers of Zone 5 postcards franked with this stamp currently found in Australia. One counter-argument is that although issued as a commemorative, it was the first stamp issued with a 63c denomination for the new rates, seven months before the Living Together definitive was released, thus prolonging its currency. In addition, Australia celebrated its bicentenary in 1988 as well as hosting EXPO 88, both of which attracted unprecedented numbers of European tourists, with a resultant increase in postcards sent back home. There has been a steady trickle of these solo use postcards back to Australia in the last few years, but who knows how many may still be in the possession of the original addressees, or languishing unnoticed in the stocks of European postcard dealers? Although it may take some time to establish a realistic market value, the sale of an example on eBay in April 2006 for US$26.50 (A$36) provides a good indication of current perceptions.            Original value $35. Today's value $35


                               Figure 10. Good service. Airmail to U.K. for a humble 3d

One seldom-seen rate, included on three previous occasions in this column, is the Concessional airmail letter rate for U.K. Forces in Australia. Commencing in World War II, it applied only to mail addressed to the U.K., and remained operational until the mid-1970s. The rate was 3d for most of the period prior to the introduction of decimal currency in 1966, by which time it had risen to 6c, and remained at that level until discontinued. The relative scarcity of solo uses of individual stamps paying this rate depends on a number of factors, including the currency of the stamp, period of the valid rate, and the size of U.K. Forces in Australia at the time. With a currency of just over two years, the 6c Honeyeater usage to pay this rate, illustrated in the August 2006 column is very rare, and until that time was the only example identified. In response to that article, Roy Summers of the U.K. kindly sent me a photocopy of another example, in his collection. The 1951 KGVI 3d green (December 2005 column) also had a short period of currency, but at a time when significantly higher numbers of U.K. troops were stationed in Australia, while the 1959 QEII 3d blue-green (December 2002) had a longer relative currency. Nevertheless, both these usages (for just this particular postal rate) are much scarcer than their previous valuations suggested. Another example of the QEII 3d blue-green, from a Major at Australian Staff College, Queenscliff (Vic), sent 24 Feb 1965 to Surrey, U.K., is shown at Figure 10.

Original values                     Today's values

1951 3d KGVI   $60                      $120

1959 3d QEII     $35                      $100

6c Honeyeater $200                    $200

My thanks to Ron Casey for his valuable contributions to this month's column, which I hope readers will have enjoyed.

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.