Stamp News October 2003
Decimals: Fun for the more faint-hearted
We all like to read about high realisations for Australian rarities which Stamp News so effectively provides. Few however can ever hope to form a collection rich in famous, highly-priced rarities of Australian philately. Unless of course one specialises in Decimal varieties and commercial usages on cover. I jest not. Any reader who has been astute enough to invest in Brusden-White's Decimals I, II and III published last year will be aware that there are many hundreds of varieties (and of course the more upmarket category of errors) listed and detailed. Recuts, flaws and often associated retouches, weak entries, etc. Most are affordable and can often be found previously undetected amongst dealer's stocks, collector's duplicates, professional and club auctions, etc. There are many 'sleepers' amongst Decimal varieties, particularly for instance in positional blocks and amongst the recess-printed Booklet panes.
Combined with searching for varieties should be the seeking out of commercial usages of certain stamps on cover (not necessarily with varieties naturally although this is a worthy pursuit), many of which are surprisingly difficult to find. For the more faint-hearted one can aspire to form a very good collection of its kind for a not prohitive sum. A case of 'rarity' of the not necessarily 'highly-priced' kind.
This column of course is about commercial use of Australian stamps on cover, and for those interested in the fun of searching for Decimal 'rarities' on cover I provide this month a few seemingly unlikely candidates. The Post Office special services such as certified or registered mail, and the now defunct Priority Paid and Security Post provide a potentially rich source of unusual and scarcer stamp frankings, not to mention cancellations and ancillary markings and P.O. labels for the specialist. I have recently spent some time with my registered mail stock and this month's selection emanates from that endeavour.
Figure 1 shows the first of three popular reprints featured this month. This is the second perforation (14.4 x 14 rather than 12.8 x 12.7 for the original printing) for the 1979-83 10c Parrot, a make-up value only. This 20 Apr 1983 use of a pair contributes to an aggregate franking of $3.60 which represents intrastate 4th weight step (60c) and $3.00 registration fee, a nice uprate for the otherwise humble 27c PSE. When I priced the 10c stamp at $25 on commercial cover in Decimals II I thought I might be sticking my neck out a little. At that time I had seen only two usages of the stamp on cover and a determined search since has increased the census to but four, so it is fair to class the stamp as a 'rarity' on cover. It was in use for only about six months, and this is an attractive example of the issue's use. Value : $30 (stamps off cover $2).
The 45c and 60c of the 1978-84 Birds series are not easy to find on cover and Figure 2 has them both, the 45c in a pair, uprating another otherwise dreary PSE. Decimals II proffers six possible postal category uses for the 45c and five for the 60c, mostly involving weightier and/or non-standard articles. This $2.74 franking represents 24c letter rate plus $2.50 registration fee. Often mixed or combination franking items provide a more convenient form of displaying usage of a given stamp/s and this attractive example featuring five varieties of fauna is no exception, and few would argue that my valuation is discouraging. Value : $12 (stamps off cover $1.60).
Still on the 'Birds', Figure 3 shows the 80c Rainbow Pitta and a pair of the $1 Magpie on 27 May 1981 airmailed cover Sydney Airport to London, representing Zone 5 airmail rate (60c) plus registration fee ($2.20). I referred above to 'sleepers' amongst Decimals and the 80c on commercial cover is emerging as an example of that genre. In Decimals II I priced covers for these two stamps at $12 (for the 80c) and $10 (for the $1). The 80c was largely for 3rd and 4th weight step articles, generally of larger dimension and therefore in the low-survival rate category, and in light of subsequent research I believe I have under-rated this stamp on cover. Value : $30 (stamps off cover $1.30).
The second of the three reprint issues is the 1981-84 25c Bilby in Figure 4. Again the second perforation (described for the 10c Bird above), this 27 May 1984 uprate of a 30c PSE incorporates our subject stamp with others to provide an aggregate $3.85 franking, representing intrastate 3rd weight step (55c) and the becoming rather expensive registration fee ($3.30). The 25c was a make-up value only and has proven scarcer than when I priced it at $12 on cover in Decimals II. In fact, I can say I have found only three on commercial cover making it comparable to the 'rarity' of the 10c Bird above. Value : $30 (stamps off cover $2.20).
Taking a step back in time, Figure 5 shows the last of the reprints, but nonetheless a bespoke item of its time, the 30c Waratah of the 1968-71 Floral emblem series. Actually the fourth reprint in this series, this is in fact the only reprint which is readily identifiable from its predecessors in isolated used condition. It shows distinctively white tones (rather than pink) in the petals. This reprint was issued in July, 1971, and the stamp was replaced by the 30c Aboriginal Art on 29 September 1971. With only about two months in service it is not difficult to comprehend why this reprint is quite uncommon on cover. Our 22 July 1971 use from Australia Square to uprate a 6c Stationery envelope for registration, replete with Post Office informative embellishment lower left, is exemplary. Value : $30 (off cover $1).
The use of the term 'rarity' as applied to the above cover examples is of course charitable. I believe however that these items, and many other Decimal stamp issues will always prove hard-to-find commercially used on cover (in correct period of use don't forget), and will prove a worthy challenge for those readers who enjoy the thrill of the chase without necessarily blowing the philatelic budget.