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Stamp News    November  2010 

                              Woodchip-free Zone 

 

Regional Postal History: great subject for a sideline collection.

 

One of the few disappointments with Philately in Australia is the general lack of interest in Regional Postal History (RPH). I know of but a handful of philatelists who collect the Postal History of a given geographic area of Australia. Yet, such pursuit is huge in most other developed countries. Virtually every serious philatelist in the U.K. and U.S., for example, has a sideline collection of the Postal History of a given region, perhaps for family reasons, such as place of birth, perhaps a present or past place of residence, or just a place for any or no good reason.

A collection of the Postal History of a given place can include items of a social or ephemeral nature, thereby adding to general interest. One's RPH collection might be the only philatelic endeavour which has appeal to non philatelic friends or family! My RPH collection features Port Douglas (Qld) region, and I've been known to maintain non philatelic guest's after dinner interest in my collection for fully five minutes. That's an achievement. By way of an introduction to RPH, I've featured a selection of items from my collection. This type of material is usually very inexpensive, a lot of fun to search for, and with a little enthusiasm it's possible to end up with the best collection of your subject in the land.

                
                   Figure 1. Port Douglas, long before Christopher Skase sailed in

A good commencement page for one's RPH collection is an early photo; gets the nostalgia juices flowing. Figure 1 shows Port Douglas township c1950, taken from "The Mount". The famous Four Mile beach, at left, has not one soul walking upon it. Today's visitors would love to see that! Sir Charles Kingsford Smith landed a plane on this beach on 17 July 1932 (hopefully the beach was deserted that day). Older residents refer to "Port" in terms of pre-Skase and post-Skase, in reference to the late Christopher Skase, the developer who permanently transformed the character of the formerly sleepy Port Douglas.

          
                             Figure 2. A Tramway service in Port Douglas in 1905?

The Port Douglas and Mossman Tramway was established in 1900, as an extension from Mossman Sugar Mill to the Tramway wharf at Port Douglas, for transporting freight, sugar and passengers. Figure 2 is a Douglas Shire Council envelope, specifically inscribed for use by Tramway department, sent at 2d Letter rate 20 Oct 1905 to "Tattersalls" in Hobart. [Staff member having a "fling" on the tote?]. Note "7-45.P" (7.45pm) in Port Douglas datestamp dateline. The local Post Office, established in 1877, was still servicing mail well in to that balmy evening in 1905.

             
                            Figure 3. 1907, riveting news no doubt in "The Record"

The Port Douglas & Mossman Record was established in 1896, and Figure 3 is an inscribed cover ("THE ONLY PAPER IN THE DISTRICT") sent 15 Oct 1907 by registered mail (additional 3d franking), again to the ubiquitous "Tattersalls". Datestamp dateline shows a more civil "9- - A" (9.00am).

            
                                     Figure 4. Dream quality strikes for a cds buff

By 1932, the same datestamp shown in Figures 2 and 3 was still in service, and capable of producing crisp, clearly defined strikes, as seen in Figure 4. In fact, the datestamp was not replaced for another couple of decades; it did not experience enough use to wear out in the shorter term. Note the time slug in datestamp is now turned to "O" in this and the subsequent subject. One less tedious job to attend to for P.O. staff, who doubtless were way too busy enjoying those tropical breezes to be distracted by mundane office procedures.

               
                              Figure 5. Mrs Tully in 1933 had the best job in town

Pity the datestamp strikes in Figure 4 are not present in Figure 5, and the general condition is a bit ordinary, but Court House Hotel covers of this vintage are not as common as mangos are in Port Douglas. I'm sure many readers will have spent leisurely time at "The Courty", on the corner of Macrossan and Wharf Streets, where never-ending luncheons are a must. The Hotel was established in 1878, and by July of that year there were 21 licensed premises in the district; thirsty climate indeed. Note "E.G. Tully, Proprietress" and "Phone 10". Those were the days.

I hope this brief introduction to RPH inspires some readers to consider venturing in to this field of collecting, which can be fascinating. I'm happy to suggest relevant philatelic literature with which to make a start. Contact me at rod@rap.com.au, providing an indication of the City, Town or region for which you are interested to obtain philatelic information.

                   
                                 Figure 6. This 1d A.I.F. survived the postal battle

On another topic, the Status International auction of 26 August contained an interesting offering of covers/stationery, particularly Australian Colonial material, reflecting expanding enthusiasm for such material. Amongst the Australia, I noted Lot 1712, shown here as Figure 6, a 1940 parcel tag bearing the humble A.I.F. 1d. This paid the Merchandise, Patterns and Samples rate of 1d per 2ozs., in this instance apparently for a pharmaceutical product. This is an attractive example of a postal article which traditionally has a very low survival rate. Estimated at $70-150, it went on to realize a very healthy $230+ premium. Three collection categories spring to mind as worthy repositories for this item; as an exotic example of (a) usage of the subject stamp, (b) a scarce rate for Postal history, and (c) Tanunda S.A. region Postal/Social history.

Also catching my eye in the Status sale was Lot 1282, an unmounted mint Kangaroo £1, offered with a certificate. What I found notable was not the item per se, rather it was the brutally honest, indeed courageous description, and I quote: "Extremely rare in genuine MUH condition (most of those offered as "MUH" have altered gum or are regummed)". It is a well known fact in the Industry, or it should be, that a few very "talented" individuals have, during the past 30 or more years, skillfully altered Kangaroo stamps (and others) to enhance their value. A friend, rightly perplexed by such activity, would often in years gone by show me different auction catalogues offering "before and after" versions of the same stamp. "Before" as in when the stamp was classified as hinged, and "after" when reclassified as "unhinged". I commend Status for prominently, and bravely, alluding to the existence of such adulterated material in the marketplace.

There are few things in Philately which I fear; adulterated mint Kangaroos, and those with holes in them which weren't there originally, particularly of the pricey bicoloured stamps, are two. In fact, to me they are downright scary. Consider the following. In the 1970s and 1980s there was a big buyer of Kangaroos, a particularly wealthy businessman who was enamored with so-called "MUH". He later disappeared from the philatelic scene, and I didn't happen upon him again until the early 1990s. He explained that he had sold his stamps, and wouldn't be venturing back in, so disenchanted was he with the Industry. He elaborated: "When I sold, I learnt that everything I had was Re-gummed, Re-perfed, or Re-paired". Now that is scary, even if an exaggeration.

The message? If you are incurably inclined towards paying hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of dollars for Kangaroos stated to be unmounted mint, and/or punctured "OS", you would be wise to ensure you are getting what you think you are getting. To that end, buy only from APTA Trade members or Auction Houses who will stand by what they are presenting, and offer a certificate and/or other guarantee that you are receiving what you believe that item to be. Any lesser action on the part of a buyer is to throw caution to the wind.

To demonstrate what he thought of gum, the doyen of Australian Philately, the legendary late J.R.W. Purves, practiced its removal from Victoria Half-lengths. He argued, and I heartily agree, that the gum on most such stamps encountered was not original, and if it was original, there was a possibility that the gum would contract, impairing the very fabric of the stamp (surface-cracking being a worst possible outcome). Purves was bemused at the developing trend in the 1970s towards coveting unmounted mint Kangaroos. He spoke with some authority on the subject, it's fair to say; the Purves Kangaroos were bought directly from him by King George V, and today form the nucleus of The Royal Collection of those issues. A favourite expression of Purves, when asked his opinion on that emerging obsession, was "Ah, but is it gum original, or is it gum aboriginal". Some things you just never forget.

              
                                         Figure 7. Would you pay $6,325 for this?

Would you pay $6,000+ for Figure 7? I did. As Lot 114 in the Prestige Auction of 14 August 2010 it was described as:
"1942 (May 28) commercial cover to a soldier stationed on King Island (Bass Strait) with the stamp washed-off and two fine to very fine strikes of 'DAMAGED BY/WATER' handstamp in red, plain resealing label on the reverse tied by 'CURRIE/KING IS' cds. Attractive. [This incident not recorded by Brian Peace]".

Estimated value was $300, and the lot went on to realise a seemingly staggering $6,325 (including buyer's premium). Why so?

The Mercury, Hobart, Saturday 30 May 1942 provides the clue. Headlined "AIR LINER CRASHES / Pilot, Three Passengers / Lose Lives", the newspaper account explains that the Australian National Airways regular service from Essendon to Launceston crashed into the sea near the coast off Flinders Island. All four persons on board perished. On a seemingly insignificant note, in view of that dreadful circumstance, the newspaper continues that wreckage, including a mail bag, subsequently washed ashore.

The Mercury for Tuesday, 2 June 1942, in an article headed "MAILS SAVED / Flinders Island / Crash", reported "Mails and freight salvaged from the Australian National Airways De Havilland Rapide airliner, which crashed into the sea near Flinders Island on Friday, have been sent to Melbourne for treatment before despatch to Tasmania". Lot 114 was amongst the mail recovered. The mail must get through, indeed.

The auction catalogue comment "Attractive" may be puzzling to some. The use of that qualification is accurate, however, for collectors of postal articles involved in mail transmission major incidents prefer their subjects to exhibit clear indication of resultant trauma. To such collectors, Lot 114 indeed qualifies as "attractive".

This is the first recorded example of a surviving mail article from this disaster, and is believed to be a record price for an Australian Aerophilately "crash" cover. It would also be a star item in a Bass Strait RPH collection! This realization will certainly give cause for specialists to reflect on past prices achieved for rare items of this nature. Fair to say, the bar has been raised substantially.

 

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.