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Stamp News    September  2009 

                              Woodchip-free Zone 

An even dozen usage results at auction.

"For me, there is little excitement to be had from filling the spaces in a hingeless album, or ticking off all the numbers in a Gibbons Catalogue. I prefer my stamps to be on their original envelopes: after all, this is what they were issued for. I want the whole story, not the frustration of a stamp displaced from its vehicle or, worse still, a stamp that never even got to fulfill its destiny!"

Me, waxing lyrical, yet again, over covers? Gary Watson, Director of Prestige Philately, actually, in the Prestige catalogue for the auction of 27 July, dedicated to Postal History. Gary, in his "Why I collect Postal History" introduction, provides the above, and many other reasons why he is passionate about collecting interesting covers. We certainly have something in common in that regard.

The Prestige auction, and Phoenix Auctions sale of the following day, contained many interesting Australian cover lots, a dozen of which provide the subject matter for this month's column. Images reproduced with kind permission of Prestige Philately and Phoenix Auctions; both firms are to be commended for providing excellent promotion of the concept of usage collecting, one of Philately's last great frontiers.

                             Figure 1. "Real" ones, unlike many of the mint in circulation

Lot 158 in the Prestige sale (the first ten subjects are from that source), Figure 1, is one of but two covers I've recorded bearing both the Kingsford Smith 2d and 3d "OS" overprint, which satisfy the definition of commercial usage. This 24 Sep 1931 registered use at Parliament House, Canberra, to Commissioner for Railways, Brisbane, has the 2d paying Letter rate and 3d the registration fee. Close to as sweet as one could ask for. The 2d has a small surface scuff, barely tempering my enthusiasm, otherwise I would have contributed to the auction action. Not that I was greatly needed; the lot went on to realize a solid $4000 (buyer's premium excluded, as for the other eleven subjects), against an estimated $1500. In very few years to come, this will be seen to have been an astute purchase.

                           Figure 2. For those who prefer rarity hand in hand with good value

Auctions, for me, are a thrilling arena in Philately. I have probably spent months of my life, in aggregate, sitting through auctions throughout Australia and the World. I've enjoyed every minute and, indeed, the material things I have today in life can be directly linked to my endeavors as a buyer and seller at Philatelic auctions. Figure 2 is an example of the intrigue auctions can provide. Combining rarity with attractiveness, this franking of 2 May 1933, Perth to Port Hedland, comprising a block of three (correct term) 3d Airmail punctured "OS", and pair of 6d Airmail overprinted "OS" (Lot 162), paid the 1/9d required for a 2-3ozs. airmail article (2d per oz. Letter rate x 3 (6d) + 3d per oz. airmail surcharge x 5 (1/3d) = 1/9d). This item had realized $750 at auction in 2002, yet, inexplicably, made only $460 (estimate $600) next time round. Another very astute purchase, in my opinion, for that time when the market matures to the extent that the desirability of such items becomes more broadly recognized.

                                          Figure 3. Uncommon use of the common stamp

A term which encapsulates the spirit of usage collecting: Uncommon use of the common stamp, for which Figure 3 is a very suitable example. This c1953 Melbourne usage (cancellation is unclear) of a newspaper wrapper to U.S. (Lot 188) bears the uber common KGVI 2d brown, in a pair, for the 5d 2-4ozs. Newspaper rate to Empire or Foreign countries (3d 1st 2ozs., 2d each additional 2ozs.). This is only the second such usage I've seen, both to same addressee. Stamped newspaper wrappers have a very low survival rate. Estimated at $100, it went on to realize $135. An item similar in nature to many I've featured in this column during the past seven years.

                                                     Figure 4. First Day Cover with attitude

Figure 4 is a good example of First Day use of stamps having a place in a commercial usage collection. There is, after all, no law against using stamps for postal purposes on the day of issue! Strips of the 1953 Food Produce are very scarce on commercial cover; the two denominations on one item is a rare incidence. The aggregate postal rate of 2/9d was for the 2/- airmail rate + 9d registration fee, and I'm satisfied that this 11 Feb 1953 City Road Melbourne to Canada (Lot 189) would rest comfortably in a usage collection. My general rule: if you can't swear on the Book of your Religion (me, uncharacteristically, being politically correct) that a usage is Philatelic, then the item ought to be given the benefit of the doubt, and accepted as Commercial. I priced "Food" 3d and 3d strips on individual commercial covers in ACSC at $100, and felt the estimate of $150 for our subject was about right. It sold for $115, good value for money.

          Figure 5. 1958 War Memorial difficult on cover; singles, pairs and blocks, alike

I find the 1958 War Memorial stamps very hard to find on commercial cover. In ACSC I priced even humble singles at $40, for combination franking with other stamps (for whatever rate), and pairs at $100. Pairs as a solo franking are rare, and would fetch more, perhaps $200+. Figure 5 has a block of four, with contemporary 1d x2 (Lot 199) for 26 Feb 1958 2/- airmail rate Booval (Q) to U.S. A scarce item, estimated at $150 (right for an estimate), it sold for $120, to me. Previously, about the only place in which I could find items such as this was on eBay, so the opportunity to buy in a public auction on my doorstep was refreshing.

                                           Figure 6. Lovely combination, and rare

The 2/3d ANZAC is the scarcest on cover of the six 2/3d commems. A more attractive example of its usage than that shown in Figure 6 would be hard to find, indeed. Lot 207 in the Prestige sale, this 18 May 1965 registered use from Zillmere North (Q) to Germany has the 2/3d paying airmail rate, and the 2/- the registration fee. Estimated at $200, it fetched a worthy $240.

                                       Figure 7. Booklet panes on cover, modern rarities

A complete collection of Decimal Booklet panes on commercial cover would be a challenge unlikely to be achieved by any one individual, in two lifetimes. Someone out there is apparently up to the challenge, judging from the price paid for Figure 7. At least, I'm assuming it was the 1969 Prime Ministers Booklet pane which raised the lion's share of the substantial realization of $420 (estimate $100) for Lot 215, rather than the novel accompanying "tabs" cover to Romania. These items paid 30c and 35c airmail rates, respectively, and appear "reasonably" commercial, although I would prefer not to have had a 1968 5c Booklet stamp on the former item. The result certainly confirms, yet again, that usage collecting is beginning to generate sparks.

 Figure 8. Regular stamps used for postage due purposes; challenge for a new collecting field?

I like regular stamps used for postage due purposes, post-1963, at which time Postage Due stamps per se were withdrawn. Figure 8 is an attractive example of such use, a 21 Dec 1971 arrival of underpaid Greek airmail cover at Brunswick (V), necessitating affixing of a 13c Flower (Lot 218). This is a rare solo use of that stamp; the lot, estimated at $100, made $140. Anyone up to the challenge to create a one-frame exhibit of such items? It's doable, in time.

                                             Figure 9. 80c Pioneer rare solo franking

It's very heartening, to me, to observe that modern usage rarities are beginning to be appreciated for what they are: rarities. One could wait many years to find an item such as Figure 9 (Lot 223). This 22 Apr 1975 solo use of the Pioneer 80c paid Letter rate (10c) + Certified mail fee (30c) + Acknowledgement of Delivery (A.R.) fee (40c), St.Kilda Road Melbourne to Footscray. A friend at the recent Melbourne Stampshow 2009 advised me that he was contemplating taking on the 1972 Pioneers as a usage study. I hope he won this little gem, which realized $105 against an estimate of $100.

                             Figure 10. Enough racehorses to field a Melbourne Cup

Readers of the Prestige catalogue could be excused for raising eyebrows at the sight of Figure 10 (Lot 224) occupying such luxuriant space on a single page. A couple of years ago, or less, such an item would have remained, unloved, in an auction cover carton lot. Yet, analyse the situation. This is a stunning, wow factor item, an example of Philately as Art, probably bearing the record franking of the 55c stamp, a popular thematic topic. Why shouldn't it be prominently featured in a lavish auction catalogue? Many arguably less worthy items, in my opinion, are regularly given airspace way beyond their Philatelic importance. I'd love to see an exhibit of Decimal era record frankings (ie the largest number of a given stamp present on the one postal article). SD era record frankings? Now, there's a challenge! Our subject item, 15 Oct 1979 registered airmail Stock Exchange Adelaide to U.K., paid $1.95 for 1st 50gms. + 35c x14 for additional 140gms. + $2 registration fee. A 100% commercial item, it realized a very respectable $260 (estimate $200), not too much for an item which would sit comfortably in a picture frame.

                              Figures 11 and 12. Excellent usage examples of their kind

The Phoenix Auction contained strong sections of KGV Heads usage material, which generally fared well. I featured that subject recently in this column, and the Phoenix lots contained many items which would have been worthy subjects for that exercise. Lots 286 and 287, shown as Figures 11 and 12, are worthy of particular mention. As superb examples of usage of the 1935 1/- ANZAC and 2/- Jubilee, they rate with the best I've seen, and I haven't seen many! The 1/- is in a pair with KGV 1d, for 2/1d airmail rate to Germany via France. An advertising cover adds a fuzzy finish to this top usage/Postal History item. It realized $260, against an estimate of $350.

The 2/- was used in combination with the 3d, for 2/3d airmail rate to Tanganyika via Egypt. This is a rare rate, destination, combined with rare franking and, again, would equally be at home in a usage or Postal History collection. A gem in my opinion. Estimated at $500 (the printed estimate of $50 was a typo), it fetched $380.

I suppose I've seen hundreds, perhaps a thousand or more, imprint blocks of the 1/- ANZAC and 2/- Jubilee, each one a virtual clone of the other. Yet, imprint blocks fetch sums not dissimilar to what these wonderful, highly exhibitable covers realized. To those who say there are few bargains at auction, I recommend take a look outside of the square, and focus on items such as Figures 11 and 12.

The next generation of collectors may well be less likely to see merit in collecting what everyone else has. Given the choice, will they take the pathway ordinary, or extraordinary? I think I have the answer. If Philately is in sync with Society in general, one can be assured that the tastes of successive generations of collectors will not mirror those of preceding generations. Those with kids, and grandkids, will know what I'm getting at.

I'm comfortable sticking my neck out in suggesting that material such as that featured this month will be high amongst priorities in Philately's future collecting pursuits.

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.