Auction Roundup — By Matthew Healey, New York Correspondent
In Melbourne, Australia, Mossgreen offered Australian and worldwide rarities on Feb. 27-28. The marquee lot was a rare 20-shilling postage due stamp.
Australia’s early postage dues all follow the same basic design, with a figure of value in an ornate, banknote-style oval. The words “Postage Due” curve around the top, and the currency is given in words beneath. All denominations were printed in the same pastel emerald shade.
Interestingly, the postage dues were the very first stamps issued by Australia as a unified country, in 1902, a decade before any of the six colonies making up the new nation — New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, and Western Australia — scotched their individual postage issues.
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There is no country name in the design, although a miniscule kangaroo and emu in the frame help sharp-eyed collectors make the identification.
The design was lifted from the one used by New South Wales for its own postage dues in 1891-92.
The first Australian issue has a blank area at the base of the design where the initials “N.S.W.” were scrubbed, and this type was followed shortly thereafter by an amended design with the frame drawn in.
The design of the high denominations was modified yet again in 1908, with the addition of a prominent slash-hyphen (/-) after the numeral, the traditional notation for a shilling.
This presumably was done to prevent confusion between the 1-shilling and 1-penny stamps, 2sh and 2d, and so on, which were otherwise extremely similar.
Mossgreen cited a standard Australian specialized catalog stating that the 20sh with a stroke after the numeral (Scott J38) saw “extremely limited” use, restricted to Sydney, and that unlike other Australian issues, none was canceled-to-order or included in presentation sets for collectors.
The stamp is so scarce that the Scott Classic Specialized catalog does not even value it in used condition, indicating it does not change hands often enough to provide a reliable value.
Only two used examples were believed known, until the one in the Mossgreen sale surfaced recently in a third-generation collection in New South Wales.
Like the others, the new discovery is lightly canceled in violet with a partial “Parcels Branch Sydney” handstamp.
With the 20 percent buyer’s premium added by Mossgreen to all lots, it sold for the equivalent of US$29,600.
A canceled-to-order example of the prior type, without the slash (Scott J22), also was offered. It brought $1,200.