Learn basics from Australian States stamps

Apr 27, 2021, 8 AM

By Janet Klug

Australia has an interesting postal history.

The country's foundation, much like that of the United States, is based on states, six British colonies that federated on Jan. 1, 1901. The date is not philatelically significant because postage stamps inscribed "Australia," were not issued until 1913.

Until those first stamps for Australia came on the scene, each state had its own stamps.

New South Wales and Victoria were the first of the Australian colonies to issue stamps, doing so in 1850. They were followed by Van Diemens Land (later called Tasmania) in 1853, Western Australia in 1854, South Australia in 1855 and Queensland in 1860.

Northern Territory did not have its own stamps. It used South Australian stamps, which meant that Darwin, the Northern Territory's largest and northernmost city, had a postmark that read "South Australia."

Collecting the stamps from Australia's colonies can be devilishly complex and expensive, but collectors who are not insistent upon completion can form a representative collection of Australian colonial stamps for surprisingly little money.

The first stamps issued by New South Wales are called "Sydney Views," based on the central design, the Seal of the Colony, which shows a view of Sydney. A 1-penny red Seal of the Colony stamp, Scott 1, is shown in Figure 1.

Following the Sydney Views are several different series of stamps with portraits of Queen Victoria.

The early stamps are both costly and complicated to collect, with different plates and plate varieties, watermarks and shades.

Budget-minded collectors can find New South Wales stamps that are plentiful and affordable if they fast-forward to the Queen Victoria issues that were released beginning in 1871.

A 1d red Queen Victoria stamp, Scott 52, and a 6d lilac Queen Victoria stamp, Scott 57, are shown in Figure 2.

These stamps have so much going for them that once one is enmeshed in the search for stamps from this issue, it is difficult to imagine collecting anything else. There are shade varieties, numerous perforation varieties, watermarks, plate varieties and surcharges. Many of the used stamps are valued at the catalog minimum of 20¢, and finding them used bearing interesting postmarks adds to the joy of collecting.

Another New South Wales series worth a closer look by budget-conscious collectors is the Centennial series issued in 1888 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the colony of New South Wales.

Figure 3 shows a 1d violet View of Sydney stamp, Scott 77; a 2d blue Emu stamp, Scott 78; a 4d brown Captain Cook stamp, Scott 79; and a

1-shilling maroon Kangaroo stamp, Scott 82.

The set is attractive, featuring wildlife, people and places important to the colony.

Even today, the stamps are surprisingly plentiful and cheap, excluding the 5sh Map of Australia stamp, Scott 85, and the 20sh Governors Capt. Arthur Phillip and Lord Carrington stamp, Scott 86.

Like the earlier set, the 1888 set has numerous perforation varieties. The best way to begin is just to try to get one of each value. Once that has been accomplished, a collector is free to pursue the various permutations of paper, perforation and shade. The varieties are out there awaiting discovery by the patient and tenacious collector.

Die varieties are fun to collect. A die is a piece of metal upon which the original design of the stamp is applied, either in recess or in relief. The die is used to create multiples that form the printing plate from which the stamps are printed.

When more than one die is used for any particular issue, die varieties can occur. Sometimes they are subtle. Other times they are far more noticeable and achieve catalog status. One common New South Wales stamp with die varieties is the 1d Coat of Arms of 1897, Scott 98. In Figure 4, a die I stamp is shown on the left and a die II stamp is shown on the right.

In die I, the pearl on the far left of the crown is merged with the arch of the crown. In die II, the pearl is separate and distinct.

These are not rare or valuable varieties, but adding them to your collection will take some observational skill and will teach you how to look for aspects of stamps that are not always obvious. Varieties exist for many of the Australian colonial stamps. Consult a specialized catalog to find out more about them.

The stamps of Victoria are also within the grasp of those who wish to collect on a shoestring budget. Once again, your willingness to forego completion in the interest of affordability eases the way.

Although the stamps Victoria issued from 1850 to about 1870 are not as pricey as those of New South Wales, the real bargains can be found among the post-1873 issues, most of which are graced with portraits of Queen Victoria, the colony's namesake.

One of the most interesting stamps of Victoria is the diminutive ½d blue-green Queen Victoria stamp, Scott 193, shown in Figure 5. True to its name, it is actually half the size of a 1d stamp. The late-Victorian Victorias are so colorful and attractive that collecting them is a pleasure, even if proper identification takes some time and effort.

Tasmania's first stamps were issued under the name Van Dieman's Land. In 1858 the name was changed to Tasmania. In 1899, a pictorial series of stamps was issued, arguably the most attractive of all the Australian colony stamps.

The series affords collectors the opportunity to learn the difference between line-engraved, lithographic and typographic printing because some of the values exist in all three.

Figure 6 shows three 1d carmine Mount Wellington stamps. The 1d stamp on the left, Scott 87, is line-engraved, printed from a metal plate that has the design of the stamp in recess (below the surface of the plate).

The detailed process of how a design went from a master die to the printing plate is thoroughly covered in the introduction to the Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue, which every stamp collector should read.

The resulting line-engraved stamp is finely detailed, and the ink is slightly raised from the paper because the paper was pressed into the plate recesses to pick up the ink.

The 1d stamp shown in Figure 6, middle, Scott 95, is the same design, but it was printed by a process known as lithography. Lithography uses a base that is essentially flat. Stone lithography is a process that transfers the stamp designs from a porous stone directly to paper. When dampened, specific areas of the treated stone will either repel or receive the greasy printing ink. Printed lithographic images are flat, unlike line-engraved images where the ink is slightly raised. In lithography, the fine line detail of engraving is usually not present. Modern offset lithography uses metal plates that transfer the design to a secondary surface, which then prints it on paper.

The 1d stamp shown in Figure 6, right, Scott 103, was printed by typography, more properly known as relief printing. It is done the opposite way of line-engraving.

Relief or typographic plates have the design raised as opposed to recessed.

Think of the keys on an old-fashioned typewriter, and you can quickly grasp the idea.

Stamps printed by typography will bear some of the same characteristics as a typewritten page of text. That is, the plate is impressed into the paper, so the resulting stamp design is slightly sunk into the paper.

Learning the differences in printing takes some time and work, but once you are familiar with them, having inexpensive examples available will aid in quick identification in the future. The Tasmanian stamps can be a big help and the start of a basic reference collection.

Western Australia was the next colony in line to issue postage stamps, primarily settling on the black swan, Western Australia's emblem, as the chief design element in most of the stamps. A 1d carmine-rose Black Swan stamp, Scott 62, and a 2d slate Black Swan stamp, Scott 63, are shown in Figure 7.

There are some extraordinary rarities within the earliest issues, including an inverted frame variety, but later issues are common, affordable and challenging enough to make them interesting to collect.

South Australia also issued pint-size ½d stamps, but additionally it issued oversize stamps called "longs" for the higher values. A 1sh brown Queen Victoria stamp, Scott 155, is shown in Figure 8.

The longs were also used for revenue purposes to pay required taxes on various documents. Revenue-canceled stamps generally sell for substantially less money than stamps that were postally used. They are still collectible, but you should be aware of the difference if you are offered examples without known postal cancels.

Queensland was the last of the Australian colonies to issue postage stamps, and like the other colonies, its stamps issued in the late 1880s and 1890s are available and affordable. A ½d blue-green Queen Victoria stamp, Scott 124, and a 1d red Queen Victoria stamp, Scott 131, are shown in Figure 9.

Some denominations have different types, and there are many perforation and watermark varieties to collect.

If collecting the stamps is not challenging enough, try finding them used on cover. There are some fascinating postal markings to be collected, perhaps not easily, but as you develop a keen appreciation for the stamps, you will begin to see them.

Railway postal markings, late-fee cancels, numeral cancels and more are all waiting to be found.

Collecting the stamps issued during Australia's colonial past need not be expensive, but it will certainly be challenging. The time and effort you expend will teach you important stamp collecting skills, and you will end up with a collection you can be proud of.

For more information on Australia and Australian colonies stamps and postal history, contact the Society of Australasian Specialists/Oceania, Stuart H. Leven, Box 24764, San Jose, CA 95154-4764 or visit the web site located at: stampsho/saso.html.