Stamp News October 2012
Survival by design, or by chance? Some observations.
It was recently put to me "Which is better, the item which survives by design, or that which survives by chance?" Before continuing, an abridged explanation of the broad difference between "by design" and "by chance" in this context might be relevant.
Generally, philatelic items which survive by design are those which owe their existence to a deliberate act to preserve them for future benefit. Buying material directly from the Post Office for one's collection, or from a New Issue Service are prime examples of by design survival.
Before continuing, and whilst on new issues, it may surprise some readers to learn that as far back as 1862-63 New Issue Services were beginning to develop in key philatelic centres, such as U.K., Europe and the U.S. These services sought material directly from Post Offices worldwide, even in the most remote of places, and the vast majority of surviving mint stamp issues of these early days and beyond owe their existence to the emergence of these services. 150 years on, many collectors of course still obtain their new issues this way.
Chance survival essentially comprises that material for which no deliberate attempt at preservation was initially intended. Commercial mail generally falls within the definition of by chance survival.
This month I'm featuring a solitary item which survives by design, and three for which survival in collector's hands today was less likely.
By the conclusion of the final paragraph, most readers will have deduced my likely response to the question raised in the initial paragraph.
Figure 1. Seemingly unlikely entrant for this column
I've primarily selected items from Australia's 1949-66 Arms issue for this "by design vs by chance" comparison, for the Prestige sale of August just past conveniently presented a range of suitable subjects. My thanks to Prestige for the Arms scans (and Millennium for Figure 2). Figure 1 is the solitary survival by design example. By their very nature, such items seldom have a place in a cover-centric column, but please read on. The subject is the £2 "SPECIMEN" overprint sub-type (3mm high rather than standard 2.5mm). Lot 176 in the sale, it realized $7187 (including premium), and the catalogue mentions this precise sum was achieved for a similar example in the sale of December 2009.
Firstly, an historical reference to this variety. Back in 1973, Alf Campe, of the venerable Sydney firm, A.C. Campe, first drew my attention to this then unchronicled overprint variety. Alf requested that I see if any examples could be located in Melbourne. The old Melbourne firm of F.H. Feibes, which was managed by Mike Zitron following the passing of Fred, had four "Specimen" packs in stock, which Mike stated had been bought at the Melbourne Philatelic Bureau back in the 'sixties. Upon inspection, two of the four £2's were revealed to be the 3mm high sub-type. In a less than scholarly piece of research, I duly reported back to Alf that the census in Melbourne suggested 50/50 between the two types of the £2 overprint.
The ACSC (2006) states: "It is estimated that perhaps 15 examples [of the 3mm overprint] are currently recorded". A number of specialists, and I, have suggested this estimate of survivors is very conservative. I believe an exhaustive review of illustrated examples in auction catalogues and direct sale publications of the past almost 40 years since the variety was first recognized will disclose a significantly higher number of identifiably different examples of the 3mm type . . . and new finds still occur fairly regularly. ACSC states 180 stamps were overprinted in this type, and most if not all were included in sold Specimen sets, the survival rate will be very high.
A fair argument could be mounted that $7000 is an incomprehensible sum for an item of this nature, produced as it was as a P.O. revenue raiser, rather than a postally valid issue. I've expressed the opinion in this column previously, and I repeat it is just an opinion, that Australia appears to lead the world in bestowing a degree of importance, and a commensurate market value, for collector-targeted Specimen material, the likes of which has no equal elsewhere.
Are items such as this likely to inspire non-philatelists to consider Philately as a fertile pursuit for inquiring, intelligent minds? I'll defer to others to be the judge of that. What I will do is put the challenge out there to see if someone is prepared to attempt a census of this overprint variety, perhaps utilizing the highly resourceful Stampboards.com site, where a census is presently underway for two other Commonwealth items, the KGV ½d single-line perf., and the 1d "Eosin" shade group.
Figure 2. Sentimental entrant
Still on the subject of "Specimens", and just to prove that I'm not universally disenchanted with such material, I give you Figure 2. Whereas the collector-targeted Specimens are an example of survival by design, this Specimen survives in private hands purely by chance. A Victoria 1852 so-called Queen-on-Throne 2d, from an early printing, this was once part of the Victorian Post Office reference collection, overprinted "SPECIMEN" in 1870 to discourage staff pilferage. It's a particularly historic little hero, probably destined for destruction following Federation, which was extracted from the Post Office collection in the early 1900s by the apparently persuasive, well connected, and doubtless svelte English gentleman, and eminent collector, L.L.R. Hausburg. There must have remained two examples of the 2d Queen-on-Throne (amongst various other contemporary issues) in the collection when Hausburg visited Victoria. Subsequently, his collection was sold to The Duke of Cornwall and York (later King George V), and the other example presently resides as part of The Royal Collection. The subject example (Figure 2) made its way in to the Henry Harvey Victoria collection, probably in the early 1900s, and I bought it at the Harvey sale in London in 1976, for my personal collection (the Harvey collection had remained in a bank vault from 1932). At the Bill McCredie sale in June 2011 by Millennium, this item (Lot 265) realised $1495 (including premium).
A chance survivor of a famous world classic, of which a solitary example exists in private hands, sells for around $1500 (estimate was $750, so a good result in that regard), versus $7000 for a survivor by design, an item of questionable philatelic significance at that, for which an indeterminate number (but considerably more than the published 15) exist.
Not difficult to deduce why I find the psychology of philatelists so enthralling?
Figure 3. More in keeping with the established charter of this column
The second of the by chance survivors may be a philatelic sibling of the £2 above, but there any similarity ends. Figure 3 is a rare solo franking of the £1 denomination in the Arms series, further enhanced by its unusual destination: Venezuela. Sent from Elsternwick by registered airmail on 13 Nov 1957, when the South America airmail rate was the most expensive in the Post Office guide book; 3/- per ½oz. £1 franking therefore computes as 3/- x6 (i.e. for 2½-3ozs.) + 1/3d registration fee + 9d acknowledgement of receipt fee ("A.R.", the "Registered Special Mail" endorsement alludes to this). This most impressive of solo frankings is to be offered in the Status International October auction.
Figure 4. Heroic by chance survivor
A text book (unintended pun) example of a by chance survivor is Figure 4. A complete parcel wrapping with typewritten "BOOK ONLY", this remarkable item was sent by registered airmail from Sydney to Los Angeles 8 Feb 1952, where it is backstamped 10 Feb! Not bad for 60 years ago. The whopping postage rate of £5.8.9d represents 1/6d ½oz. airmail rate to U.S. x72 + 9d registration fee. It's noteworthy that a block of five of the £1 was utilized, suggesting either Sydney G.P.O or the sender (assuming they were a Bookseller) did not have the £2 denomination available in stock. Whilst I think this is a fabulous item (possibly a record franking for the £1?), wouldn't I have loved to have seen two of the £2 incorporated in the franking composition!
The vast majority of philatelic items which survive by design are readily available to those who seek them. Unsurprising, perhaps, given that was the intention from the outset. I find such material, for my taste, generally lacking in inspiration. Commercially unsound in the present market, even I would agree, but I would take Figure 4 over Figure 1 above every time. Enlightenment in Philately is inescapable.
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.