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Stamp News    September  2007

                              Woodchip-free Zone 

'Seldom Seen Solo'

The series of seven Booklets produced by Australia between 1982 and 1992 for sales via vending machines were rather unusual. You paid your money and received stamps you didn't want! In part at least. Along with the letter rate stamps, which was what you did want, came various sub letter rate oddments which, well, were next to useless.

The purpose of the odd denomination stamps of course was to conveniently "round-up" the total face value of the stamp content. When these Booklets were issued the letter rate was 27c, 33c, 36c, 37c, 39c, 43c and 45c, none of which figures in small multiples readily facilitate the feeding of coins in to a vending machine. It was stated that the "odd" denominations were chosen as suitable make-up values to enable other frequently-used rates to be met. In practice, this is not readily evident from the source material I've seen. I'm not suggesting that Australia Post composed the Booklets in a manner which more likely than not saw the "odds" simply discarded, but . . .

A study of usage of the 'useless' stamps, when in fact they were used, can be quite interesting, and is the subject of the column this month. One observation will become very clear. These sub letter rate denominations are "seldom seen solo". Let's now take a look at the various vending machine-dispensed Booklets.

1982 Eucalyptus Flowers

The first of the series, Booklets were issued in 60c (comprising 27c x2, 2c x2 and 1c x2) and $1 (27c x3, 10c, 3c, 2c x2 and 1c x2) denominations. From the compositions, it's unsurprising that the 3c and 10c, in particular, would prove to be difficult to find used on any form of postal article during the period this series of stamps was current (1982-85). Even usage a year or two later could be quite acceptable, given that the opportunity to use-up such stamps might be very infrequent. I tend to look at each cover and determine on its merits, or otherwise, if I'm comfortable with inclusion in a collection of commercial usage. Incidentally, I've yet to see solo frankings of the 1c, 2c, 3c and 10c, which of course would be considerably underfranked for the then 27c letter rate.

               Figure 1.
Resourceful use of "Eucalyptus" 1c x6, 2c x6, along with a 27c

Some consumers of vending machine Booklet stamps went to considerable lengths to obtain maximum advantage. Figure 1 shows how to resourcefully extract value from the contents of no less than three 60c Booklets. Here the 2c x2 and 1c x2 portion of the panes, together with a solitary 27c, make up the 45c airmail postcard rate to U.K., sent from Sydney 9 Mar 1983. We know these stamps are from the 60c version of the Booklets because of the configuration of the 2c-1c blocks. A very scarce franking for a scarce rate. Value : $50 (stamps off 'cover' $5).
                 Figure 2.
Full marks for extracting maximum value from a $1 pane

One rarely sees complete panes of any Booklet issue, from any period, intact as a solo franking on a commercial postal article. Figure 2 is something of a modern rarity, the only instance I've seen of a "Eucalyptus" pane (from the $1 Booklet) used in period, for the correct postal rate, and most attractive as a bonus. This is a 13 Apr 1984 use of a pane, replete with 'X' for aesthetic balance, paying 30c letter rate plus 70c Priority paid fee, sent from Sydney International Airport (an uncommon time-clock cancellation), to Court of Petty Sessions, Sydney. Items such as this are worthy of single lot status in a public auction. Value : $200 (pane off cover $3.50).

1985 Cockatoos

                                            Figure 3
. Look carefully, it is tied

I think it fair to say that most consumers of $1 "Cockatoo" Booklets simply discarded the 1c stamp. The creator of Figure 3 did not. This appears to have been a "dare" by the sender, to use a 1c for the 33c letter rate to see what would "happen". Nothing, as it transpired. The article went through the post without being taxed, as it ought to have been. Posted from Melbourne 26 Jun 1986, to suburban Mooroolbark, the stamp is actually "tied" to cover by the machine cancellation, which transgresses across the margin attached to the otherwise uncancelled stamp. A novelty item, rather than commercial, although still useful in a usage collection. Value : $25 (off cover $1.20).

                                        Figure 4.
More typical use of 1c stamps

Figure 4 represents a more typical use of the "useless" 1c stamp. Here is a case of the sender having accumulated a few 1c's before utilising them to contribute the '3c' in '33c' letter rate, posted 20 Aug 1986 Campbelltown (N.S.W.) to Castle Hill. The Nutri-Metics company appears to have maintained a stock of postage in the respective offices throughout Australia, for I've noted some unusual "using-up" of odd denominations in the composition of postal rates on mail to Head Office. Value : $20 (stamps off cover $4).

1986 Alpine Wildflowers

                                  Figure 5.
Five years is a long time in Philately

Booklets issued in 80c (3c, 5c, and 36c x2) and $1 (3c, 25c, and 36c x2) denominations. The cover in Figure 5 was featured in the inaugural issue of this column, the June/July 2002 edition. This is the only solo franking of the "Alpine Flowers" 3c I've thus far seen. The stamp was used in Melbourne 2 Sep 1987 to pay what should have been 37c for the then current letter rate (which increased from 36c on 1 July 1987). It ought to have been taxed 79c, representing the 34c deficiency in postage, plus a 45c "fine" then in force. More often than not, insufficiently franked articles are overlooked by the Post Office.

Just why the sender came to use just the 3c on this occasion could be explained by (a) inadvertence; they simply didn't look closely enough to be aware that not all of the stamps in the Booklet were of the same denomination, (b) design - after all the article is addressed to a Government Dept., probably in payment of Water Rates, so the sender might well be unmoved as to the possibility the recipient may be fined, or (c) plain frustration that they had been sold a "useless" stamp! The same reasoning could be applied to the other sub letter rate solo frankings featured. Whatever the reason, we usage aficionados can be grateful that such an item was created. Five years ago I valued this item at $35. Today, I know of at least eight keen usage collectors who would bid for this item were it to be put to auction, compounded with which is the subject is a popular Theme. Value : $150 (off cover $1).

                                 Figure 6.
A little Postal history sleuthing required

The use of the "Alpine Flowers" 5c shown as Figure 6 is another solo franking for which I've seen but one example. In this instance the deficiency in postage paid was acted upon by the Post Office. The intercepting Postal officer did not bother to cancel the stamp, so how do we know it was used in contemporary times? Enter the world of forensic Philately! Firstly, the two handstamped markings are revealing. They tell us that tax for the deficiency was calculated at 76c. This must represent a postage shortfall of 31c, for the "fine" for underpaid articles was 45c, thereby totalling the 76c. In fact, on the reverse of the cover, in the same hand as the '76c', is the calculation "31 + 45 = 76". Therefore, the article must have been posted during the 36c letter rate regime, which ended 30 June 1987. A contemporaneous use. The rectangular "UNDERPAID/POSTAGE/COLLECTED FROM SENDER" handstamp suggests the sender (whose name fortuitously or not appears on reverse) was asked to pay the 76c. Often, in practice, it was the recipient who paid. Probably worth as much as the preceding 3c solo, but I'll discount it due to some collectors preferring to see their stamps on cover duly cancelled. Value : $100 (off cover $1 - unused or used!). One aspect for which most readers I'm sure would be in agreement: had this stamp been removed from its cover, we would have been left with a truly nondescript Philatelic item.

1987 Aboriginal Crafts

                   Figure 7.
Competition mail a rich source of unusual frankings

For many years, commencing about 1990, I actively bought large quantities of contemporary commercial mail from various charities. These sources of supply included "competitions" mail, most of which after the event is donated to Charity. When I was Publisher of The Australian Commonwealth Specialists' Catalogue I was compelled to research large quantities of modern mail to determine relative scarcity of stamp usage, in order to arrive at values for the "used on cover" column in the catalogue. It was also fun! Figure 7 is from a "competition" source (Figure 9 is another), and given that children are major participants in such events, strange frankings can and often do emerge. Here we have an 11 Aug 1988 untaxed use of the 3c (from the 80c Booklet) at Moruya (N.S.W.), significantly underpaying the then prevailing 37c letter rate. The source yielded three identical frankings, and I've seen no others. Value : $75 (off cover $1).

Associated with the period in which I sourced "charity" mail, once came a memorable moment of excitement of the non-philatelic kind. It transpired that a distributor for some of the charities from whom I purchased material was under surveillance by the Federal Police, suspected of cleaning postmarks from stamps and selling them for illegal re-use. On one occasion, as I loaded some 300kgs of covers from my supplier's garage in to my 4WD, I unknowingly became caught on film taken during the investigation. A few days later, eight Federal Police Officers stormed in to my office at around closing time, duly armed with a Search Warrant. They informed me they were looking for solvents capable of removing postmarks from stamps, and upon sighting the mountains of covers reposing in my office (approximately 17 tonnes in weight it was estimated!), were confident that they had entered a laboratory producing altered stamps on a massive commercial scale. The Officers took with them random boxes of covers, and curiously an unlabelled jar which contained Osmocote, used for our indoor plants. No action was ever taken against our supplier, and about three years later we received back our covers, and Osmocote. I reflected, what irony that a cover aficionado could be suspected of wood-chipping covers for illicit purposes!

                                    Figure 8.
"Stamp lost in transit"; but was it?

The "Aboriginal Crafts" 15c was the other "nowhere" denomination for this series (contained in the $2 Booklet). Figure 8 is a rare solo use of 15 Aug 1988 at Canberra, underpaying the 37c letter rate. A Postal officer has given the under-franking the benefit of the doubt, optimistically assuming that the article was originally adequately franked, but the additional stamp/s to make-up the correct rate had been lost en route. Hence, multiple application of the uncommon postal marking "STAMP LOST/IN TRANSIT". I can detect no evidence that there was ever more than just the 15c franking, and it would appear the Postal officer responsible was more than charitable. Irrespective, a very nice usage item has evolved from the incident. Value : $100 (off cover $1).

1988 Australian Crafts

                                                 Figure 9.
Almost got away with it

The 2c and 5c from the "Australian Crafts" Booklets are difficult to find on cover, even as make-up components, and solo frankings are rare. Figure 9 is a solo of the 2c, posted at Murwillumbah (N.S.W.) 23 Jan 1989, destined for a competition. The sender included their name and address on reverse, which was possibly a condition of entry to competition, and this made it easy for a diligent Postal officer to send an "Underpaid" card to the sender, requesting the underpayment (37c) plus a fine be remitted to the Post Office. Value : $100 (off cover $3).

                                                  Figure 10.
Got away with it!

Figure 10 shows the "Australian Crafts" 5c used as a solo franking on a 26 Feb 1990 cover Kingsford to Grace Bros. at Broadway. This underpays the 41c letter rate (increased from 39c on 29 Jan 1990), but was not noticed by the Post Office; the sender got away with it. Such instances of solo franking are rare, taxed or untaxed. Value : $100 (off cover $3).

1990 Heidelberg & Heritage

                        Figure 11.
Scarce franking, added Postal History interest

The 28c "Heidelberg & Heritage" stamp is not as scarce as a solo franking as are the lower denomination (1c to 5c) vending machine Booklet stamps. Perhaps because consumers were less inclined to want to waste 28c they went to greater lengths to "use-up" that denomination. Figure 11 is a solo use of 28 Sep 1990 from Mandurah (W.A.) to Melbourne, underpaying the 43c letter rate. The postage deficiency was detected at Mandurah where the circular "TAXED" marking was applied, appropriately with "95" inserted, indicating the 15c underpayment plus a fine of 80c. When the article arrived in Melbourne the "82c" handstamp was applied, which is an error. This particular pre-set handstamp was intended to be applied to articles franked at 41c, the letter rate until 2 Sep 1990, 82c representing that 2c underpayment plus the 80c fine. A pretty hefty penalty for 2c underpayment it could be added. Value : $30 (off cover $1.60).

                   Figure 12.
The dilemma confronting users of odd denominations

Figure 12 is a good example of the frustration that consumers of sub letter rate Booklet stamps were faced with. The sender of this 29 Nov 1990 cover from Toukley (N.S.W.) to Melbourne had accumulated at least two of the "Heidelberg & Heritage" 28c, and rather that go to the trouble of buying a 15c stamp as a make-up, resorted instead to affixing the two 28c's, thereby well and truly overpaying the 43c letter rate. Vending machine Booklets were good to Australia Post. Philately was also a winner on this occasion, for the stamps are the perf. 15.5 printing, which I've found quite elusive on cover. Value : $40 (stamps off cover $7).

1992 Wetlands & Waterways

                                  Figure 13.
Postage 45c? Ah, 20c is near enough

Another instance of "getting away with it" in Figure 13, where an Adelaide resident sent payment for SA Gas Co. account on 10 Jul 1992 at the discounted (unofficially, that is) postage rate of 20c, utilising "Wetlands & Waterways" 20c, rather than the correct 45c. Philately the winner, rather than Australia Post, on this occasion. Value : $35 (off cover $1).

Some readers will probably be surprised at the seemingly bullish valuations I have placed on some of the featured subjects, particular the solo frankings. Blame it on the old Supply and Demand principle. The fact is there are more collectors wanting such items nowadays, and supply is, well, virtually non-existent. "Seldom seen solo" it may be, but it's fun searching!

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.