Stamp News October 2007
1988 Panorama higher values. Where have all the covers gone?
As Spring unfolds in southern Australia, focus returns to the Great Australian Outdoors. Inspired by the new Season, I've selected Australia's 1988 "Panorama" set, an attractive and seasonally topical series to be sure, for a usage commentary. The 39c denomination was a Letter rate stamp, and accordingly is quite common on commercial article, so we'll exclude it. The 55c, 65c and 70c are another story entirely, and I'm quite surprised at the very low numbers of commercial postal articles noted in my recent census. The stamps are, of course, plentiful mint and on FDC. It's items used on "entire" in the normal course of providing postal service with which we are concerned. Just why the three higher denominations are so hard-to-find on cover actually is not so surprisingly when one considers the principal reasons for which they were issued. Let's make a study.
55c "The Top End" This stamp was primarily intended for (a) the intrastate surface rate for non-standard articles; and (b) the Zone 1 (e.g. Papua New Guinea and NZ) surface air lifted (SAL) rate. Unsurprising perhaps that such usages would be uncommon. I've not seen "(b)", and "(a)", more likely than not for larger articles, would have a lower than average survival rate. In reality, I've seen but nine commercial items in total bearing the 55c. This makes that denomination by my reckoning the scarcest of the set (the 65c and 70c, for the record, I've seen 18 and 14, respectively). These are very low numbers, particularly as the series was issued at about the time I commenced accumulating vast quantities of Australian commercial covers, in preparation for what subsequently for me has become a passionate area of study.
Figure 1. 55c solo for an unintended purpose
Figure 1 shows the 55c used for interstate airmail for a non-standard article. The correct rate for that service was 65c (55c, remember, was for intrastate surface rate for non-standard articles). This 3 Jan 1989 usage from Gold Coast to suburban Sydney is therefore underpaid, although untaxed. The 55c and 65c stamps in this series are not dissimilar in appearance, and the discrepancy likely went unnoticed. Incidentally, the article is standard-sized, so why would it be considered non-standard, well might you ask? In the absence of the original contents we must assume that the article weighed more than 20g (and less than 100g), which would relegate it to the non-standard mail category. A rare usage, the only such I've encountered. Value : $60 (off cover $1.20).
Figure 2. 55c stamp way scarcer on cover than the $5
An attractive franking combination we have in Figure 2, which includes a 55c and $5 Mentone to uprate a 39c standard letter rate franking for the incredibly expensive $5.55 Security Post service. The $5 stamp is not uncommon on cover; one sees many used on Security Post articles, despite the high cost. This is a 12 May 1989 usage from Sydney to Roseville. Value : $20 (stamps off cover $4).
65c "The Coast" Primary uses were (a) the airmail rate for non-standard letters within Australia; (b) the Zone 2 (e.g. some Pacific and S.E. Asia nations) airmail rate; and (c) the Zone 2 SAL rate. Again, these are seldom utilised usages.
Figure 3. Likely to prove a rarity as a solo franking for this purpose
Airmail rate postcards are very sought-after, delivering as they often do scarce solo frankings of certain stamps. Figure 3 is a good example, albeit a chance usage. This airmailed postcard from Pennant Hills to Switzerland, sent 17 Aug 1989, ought to have borne 80c in postage, the correct rate for Zone 5 airmail postcards. Again, it was allowed to travel untaxed. I like these chance solo franking items when they "just happen", as was the case in this instance. The sender, in erring, unwittingly created a highly desirable item for a stamp usage collection. Value : $75 (off cover $1.50). I don't doubt that this item would fetch more, possibly much more, if offered at public auction.
Figure 4. This pair of 65c good, if not as good as the solo 65c
The 2nd weight step (ie 20-50g) for Zone 4 airmail letters was $1.30, and fortuitously in Figure 4 we have a pair of 65c making up that rate. A 14 Feb 1989 use from Melbourne to New York, this is another usage item for which it will prove difficult to find another example. Value : $40 (stamps off cover $3).
70c "The Bush" Intended for (a) the 2nd weight step for non-standard intrastate articles by surface mail; (b) the Zone 3 (e.g. India and Japan) airmail rate; and (c) the Zone 3 SAL rate for non-standard articles (!). Increasingly, the answer to my question "Where have all the covers gone?" ought to be becoming rather obvious. The covers were seldom there from the outset! Aside from make-up use, largely for special postal services such as Security Post, Certified or Priority Paid mail, the 55c, 65c and 70c "Panorama" saw comparatively little postal use. I'm particularly fond of the 70c, which features that majestic giant of eucalypts, the mountain ash. This scene could easily have been taken in the grounds of my former home at Mt Dandenong, in Melbourne's Dandenong Ranges. There we looked out over stands of mountain ash towering more than 65 metres into the cool maintain air. A rare privilege indeed.
Figure 5. 70c, on a more typical "non-standard" article
Figure 5 is a good example of a solo franking of the 70c for the "(a)" usage above, the 2nd weight step (ie 50-100g) for non-standard intrastate articles by surface mail. In this instance the article was sent 12 Dec 1988 from Rosedale to Morwell (Vic). Value : $25 (off cover $1.80).
Figure 6. 70c pair stars in attractive franking composition for Certified article
It's always pleasing to find uncommon usage items in fine quality. So often, one has to lower one's expectations of quality when scarcer items present themselves. Figure 6 is not one of those instances, for here we have what should be for most tastes an attractive item. A 9 Nov 1988 use from Albany to Melbourne, where the 70c pair and 4c Living Together pay the 39c letter rate plus $1.05 for Certified mail fee. Perhaps the only unattractive aspect to this item might have been felt by the sender, who appears to have been paying an account with Target Stores. Value : $20 (stamps off cover $3.80).
Australia 1978-84 Birds update The "Birds" series was featured in the August column. Martin Walker of Adelaide, pioneer usage student, and fellow cover-aficionado, has sent a scan of a remarkable solo franking of the 10c Golden Shouldered Parrot. Shown as Figure 7, the 10c paid for a Category B publication of standard article size weighing under 50g posted in a town for delivery elsewhere by a registered newsagent! In order to be stamped (rather than metered or bulk postage paid) the quantity of such items in a single posting had to be 20 or less. Surely one of the more obscure usage items one is likely to encounter. Has any reader seen another of these? I'll be surprised if anyone has. What would such an item realise if auctioned publicly? It's tantalising to make a comparison with other rare items in the "Birds" series. Take the 5c "Grey-brown omitted", of which ten examples are recorded. This catalogues at $2500 in the current (2002) ACSC Decimals II. And the 28c "Pale blue omitted", of which one sheet (100) was discovered, catalogued at $400. In an Exhibit, such items are essential if one is to impress the Judges. Essential too are unusual and rare examples of stamp usage, such as Figure 7. I'll wager that this is rarer than the 5c error, but I'm not suggesting the 10c item would realise anywhere near what the 5c is worth, or even the price of the 28c error. But I do suggest that there is a sound argument that items such as the 10c should be worth similar sums to contemporary errors of comparable rarity. Further, I believe in the not too distant future we will experience some realisations of rare usage items at auction which will challenge the present status quo in that regard.
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.