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Stamp News    October  2008

                              Woodchip-free Zone 

What's 'good'?

Philately is one of those wonderful pursuits to have evolved with a language all it's own. To the uninitiated, Philatelic Auction catalogues must often appear as if written in an alien language. Even to a battle-weary Philatelic pro, some terminologies are puzzling, to say the least. It tickles me that the term "copy" is used often in Philately, as in "nice copy". The late Roy Muller, of the now defunct Ashfield Stamp Company, relating details of a conversation with an investor, raised a few chuckles at a Trade meeting in the 1970s. The investor had received a tip that a mint 5/- Sydney Bridge would be a sound investment, and sought an example from Roy, who advised "Yes, I have an excellent copy", to which came back the reply "But Mr Muller, I want an original, not a copy!".

Similarly, I'm confused when I see "piece" used in conjunction with a cover, as in concluding the description with "Nice piece". Hey, it's an entire, not a piece!

Finally, the liberal use of the term "good", as in "good item", has long perplexed me. What constitutes "good" in Philately? Philatelic "tipster's" say "Buy only good material", as a broad investment guideline, while other commentators may tell us "Good material is doing well". I suspect the terms "good" and "expensive" are often inextricably intertwined in Philately. Even non-philatelic investment advisers try to get in on the act! I once sought advice from a leading Superannuation Fund expert, seeking legal solutions to satisfy "arms-length" provisions for my self-managed fund. One of the subjects for which advice was sought, consisted of a large number of covers, owned by a Family Company. These covers were in "the books" at an average entry price of a few Dollars per item. The adviser immediately responded with "If these covers are worth only a few Dollars each, they are not investment-grade, they can't be any good". We parted company amicably, me agreeing never to impart Superannuation advice, he agreeing never again to dispense Philatelic tips.

What do I describe as "good"? Well, probably not always what offers might so describe, but who cares anyway? However, this is my column, and you are going to receive six examples of what I regard as "good", assuming you keep reading! For concise explanations as to why I regard these items as "good", I've selected solo frankings only, from an exhibit I entered for the excellent SunStamp 2008, a Half National Exhibition conducted in glorious sunshine in Brisbane, 22-24 August. The exhibit was entitled "Australia King George VI : Stamp Usage", and I believe this was the first occasion on which an eight-frame (128-page) exhibit of this type has been exhibited at such a level in Australia. The exhibit received a Large Silver medal, which may not appear a particularly high award for what some have labelled a best-of-kind collection. However, I was particularly encouraged in that the Judges awarded 9 points out of a possible 10 for "Philatelic importance" and 18 : 20 for "Rarity".

A pure "Usage" exhibit is a fairly new innovation in exhibiting in Australia and, as the Judges kindly explained to me, does not readily "fit" in to either of Traditional or Postal History definitions. The time is probably arriving when a sub-category, located within one or other of these two distinct exhibiting disciplines, may be worthy of consideration by the Australian Philatelic Federation, and the Fédération Internationale de Philatélie. Certainly, "Usage" internationally is gaining such broad acceptance and appeal, that it would be a pity not to address this classification anomaly as it presently exists.

Now for my six "little unsung heroes":

                     Figure 1. McCracken printing of 1½d red-brown worth searching for

The McCracken printing of the 1½d red-brown (perf. 14.75 x 14 rather than 13.5 x 14 for "Ash") is common mint, uncommon used, and very scarce on commercial cover/card. It was issued "November 1941", according to ACSC, and when issued was primarily intended for the Postcard rate within Australia/British Empire, a usage which I've not yet seen. The stamp was replaced by the 1½d green on 10 December 1941, when a War tax of ½d was introduced, raising the Postcard rate from 1½d to 2d, and rendering obsolete the primary purpose for issue of the red-brown. Figure 1 is a rare solo use of the stamp for the Foreign printed matter rate, which the War tax increased from 1d to 1½d per 2ozs. I valued this stamp on commercial cover at $150 for ACSC King George VI (2006), but this use is special. Value : $300 (off cover $4).

                   Figure 2. Knowledge: turn the seemingly "common" in to "uncommon"

When the 1941 2d mauve was issued, the Printed matter rate within Australia was 1½d per 4ozs., making use of the 2d for that rate impossible, short of underpayment. The rate increased from 1½d to 2d 1 December 1950, by which time this 2d stamp had long since been replaced by the 2d "Gum tree" stamp (issued 4 December 1944). A 1941 2d used for Printed matter was therefore seemingly destined to be a "gap" in a usage collection. However, that would be to overlook the possibility of Government Dept. use of the stamp, well after natural depletion from Post Office stocks. Figure 2 is that very special use, of a perfin "VG" (Victoria Govt.) 2d on 30 January 1951, the only such use I've seen. Value : $200 (off cover 25c).

                     Figure 3. All the way from Double Bay to Shanghai Municipal Police

The 1/4d magenta is a striking stamp, and a delight to find solo on cover. I've seen just two. Figure 3 is the better of those two, a 31 Oct 1941 registered airmail from posh Double Bay to China. The rate was 1/- up to ½oz. + 3d registration fee + 1d late fee = 1/4d. The late fee for a registered article should have been 2d; I've noted this error in compilation previously. Value : $500 (off cover $1); perhaps too conservative.

                                             Figure 4. "Little unsung hero" indeed

The 1952 4½d red is a well-publicised, very scarce solo franking; examples of Foreign postcard solo use have sold at auction for over $700. I've seen about a dozen. Far rarer as a solo franking, which will surprise many, is a relative, the 2½d chocolate of 1951. Figure 4 is one of but three I've recorded. This is a rare rate in it's own right, the Permit mail rate, which was calculated at Printed matter rate (2d) + ½d Permit fee. The Post Office permit details were required to be inscribed on the front of articles approved for this service, our subject showing "P.M.G. P.S. 581" at lower left corner. It's not difficult to ascertain why a 2½d chocolate was destined to be a rarity for this usage. The stamp was issued 23 May 1951, and the Printed matter rate increased from 2d to 3d on 9 July 1951, providing a window of opportunity for Permit fee use (and remember this was a little used service) was 47 days only! Value : $750 (off cover 20c) - I'd love to see what this would really fetch at auction!

                                             Figure 5. Prize Bull - prize Philatelic item

The 1948 1/3d Hereford Bull was primarily intended for parcel use, and when found on cover (it's rather uncommon) is almost invariably as a make-up component in an overseas airmail franking. Solo usages on cover are rare; I've recorded three only. Figure 5 is one, a 2 Mar 1951 registered use from Barooga to DJ's in Sydney. This usage represents 3d Letter rate + 1/- Compensation fee (including 6d registration) up to £20. Clearly a well-healed Cocky paying cash off the DJ Account. Note the endorsement "Comp 1/-" (to left of stamp) explaining the postage rate. Value : $400 (off cover 50c).

                      Figure 6. Lonesome Kangaroo, from Brooklyn (NSW) to New York

Figure 6 is featured in the hope that the presence of a Kangaroo stamp (and another below) might persuade more readers to negotiate the column this month! This is a great use of the redrawn die for the 2/-, which appeared in 1945, midway through the King's reign. A 3 May 1946 airmail use of a postcard Brooklyn (NSW) to U.S. (which makes nostalgic reference to the Brooklyn Bridge) paid the 2/- Airmail postcard rate. This was a high rate compared to the surface rate, which was 2½d only. It's the only such use of this stamp I've seen; in fact it's the only solo use of any type noted. Items such as this are destined to realise surprising sums as a greater understanding of their rarity and Philatelic importance develops. And it's a Kangaroo! Value : $1000 (off cover $5).

                                      Figure 7. Found, lost, found, lost, found again!

Fellow columnist, Glen Stephens, featured Figure 7 in September Stamp News. I had planned to include this item in my column, and to refer to the various Traders who handled it as Traders A, B and C. Glen is more fearless than I, and didn't bother with such subtleties! I have a little more to add to the story, and for the sake of completeness of the record, in what is a rather extraordinary set of circumstances, here is my contribution. I first saw the item, in the flesh at least, in 1993 in the stock of legendary Trader, Ken Baker. It was priced as a normal punctured "OS" stamp, at $30. Why I recognised it, for it hardly jumps (pun unintended) out at one, was because I had only months earlier proof-read the ACSC Kangaroos, and the editor, Geoff Kellow, had conveniently illustrated this very stamp, as a "Double print". Therefore, it was previously known for what it is, which is how Geoff was able to correctly label it. Just how it came to be in Ken's stock as a normal, Ken could not be expected to recall; it may have been there for years. I pointed out what it was, and offered to sell it in my auction, on Ken's behalf. It was offered in September 1993 (Sale 158 Lot 83) where it realised $825, including buyer's premium. So far, all parties are happy! The purchaser of the item in my auction subsequently passed away, apparently not having made the requisite annotation. Glen details the rest of the story in his article, so I'll not repeat it here. Suffice to say, this is an instance of an item being found, lost, found again, lost again, and found again! Given the subtle nature of the variety, without adequate annotation, it's not difficult to see how even experienced professionals could overlook it. The final "finder", David Wood of Premier Postal Auctions, is to be commended upon his diligence. He didn't have the benefit of having a correctly labelled image fresh in his mind! This "Double print", and the companion 10/- Kangaroo which has received similar press dominance in recent months, are of course "kiss prints", rather than technical "double prints". The fascination with them escapes me. In the spirit of this month's theme, are they "good"? One cannot argue they are "expensive". However, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, which is fine if one is buying for pleasure alone. If the rationality for buying is purely investment potential, however, call me a sissy, but I'd be afraid. Very afraid. At the least, one would hope that this time around the items are prominently annotated.

                                    Figure 8. My enthusiasm tempered by the detail

The day I submitted this column, a rather remarkable price was achieved for a lot on eBay, where Figure 8 realised US$408.77! This 11 Feb 1953 airmail cover from Bondi Beach to U.S. bears both the 1953 Food + KGVI 4½d to make up the correct 2/- airmail rate. The Food strips are very scarce on commercial cover, and this is the first item I've seen with both denominations. I placed it in my watchlist to see the outcome, which I didn't expect to be so newsworthy. I know the purchaser, and the underbidder was Gary Watson, Director of Prestige Philately. Gary provided his permission to mention his involvement; he is a keen collector of Australian destination mail, and I look forward to seeing his evolving exhibit in due course. I liked this item, but didn't bid as the first day use for the strips slightly dampened my enthusiasm. There is no proof, however, that this is not a commercial usage.

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.