By Glen Stephens
In Australia, domestic letter rates increased heavily on Jan. 4. This created a stamp shortage, and one Australian state printed its own stamps. The market price of this “emergency” issue is going through the roof in Australia, because only about 150 mint sets are estimated to exist in collector hands nationally.
The huge prices for these stamps have generated stories across mainstream Australian media. Used examples have been found in kiloware, and commercial covers with single stamps already are selling for hundreds to postal history collectors.
In Australia, almost the entire country takes summer holiday from mid-December until mid-January, and the much delayed and debated postage rate increase was finally approved in late 2015, and deemed to take effect almost immediately on Monday, Jan. 4 — when the country was asleep!
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The Australia Post rate hike increased the amount paid to mail a domestic first-class letter more than 100 percent, from 70¢ to $1.50. At the same time, a new service, “standard letter” with a second-class delivery time frame was introduced, costing $1, a 30¢ hike from the 70¢ first-class rate of 2015.
The national supply of the 30¢ Crocodile definitive make-up stamps was not beefed up in the regional distribution centers, as normally would happen with an orderly price increase, due to the frantic pace under which the rate increases were implemented.
The Adelaide, South Australia, Distributor of Stamps Office for Australia Post ran out of 30¢ stamps almost immediately after the rate increase. To alleviate the shortfall, the Adelaide general post office hastily printed up a very small emergency issue of 30¢ counter-printed, peel-and-stick stamps, or CPS.
The post office used a slow, 22-year-old CPS machine that normally was only used once a year for stamp show souvenir stamps, etc. Adelaide is the only state general post office to have retained one of these machines. (All Australian states received one in 1994.)
Distribution of these emergency 30¢ stamps began Jan. 5 to a wide range of suburban Adelaide post offices urgently needing 30¢ make-up denominations, so the earliest potential sale date was Jan. 6, as offices received them and started selling their stock.
Supplies of 30¢ Crocodile stamps were back in the stocks of the Adelaide Distributor of Stamps by Friday, Jan. 8, and no more 30¢ counter-printed stamps were produced. This was confirmed by Australia Post on Jan. 27.
These counter-printed stamps were a first in many ways.
I understand that previously no CPS machine had been used for other than the current letter rate.
Also, this is the first time since the formation of the Australian Federation in 1901 that the Australian post pffice has printed an emergency postage stamp issue.
Many collectors and dealers strongly urged a reprint of these sets, but Australia Post declined.
There was zero advance notice given of these 30¢ emergency stamps, and no philatelic stocks were put aside or sold to collector outlets or placed in standing orders.
After a sharp-eyed Adelaide collector soon noticed one in kiloware, the hunt was on.
Stampboards.com, the large postage stamp chat board and stamp bulletin board forum, broke the story of these emergency issues to the stamp world on Jan. 18.
Well-known veteran Australian dealer Rodney Perry described this issue of six 30¢ stamps on Stampboards.com as a “modern rarity.”
These six stamps are self-adhesive, on waxed backing paper, with die-cut perforations. Three of the stamps depict kangaroos, and the other three show koala bears. All are inscribed “Adelaide 2016” at the bottom.
National mainstream Australian media began coverage of these stamps Jan. 28, with this story being the most-viewed news item on the website of the leading Melbourne daily newspaperThe Age. The Sydney Morning Herald also published a story about the stamps Jan. 28. National radio networks followed Jan. 29, with stamp dealer interviews nationally on the issue.
I was interviewed for more than 10 minutes on the highest-rated radio station in Australia. Seldom does a new stamp issue make the wide palate of mainstream media.
The Australia Post Collectible Facebook page added a link to these major news stories, adding to their official endorsement of the set — curious for a new issue that it was unable to sell to collectors.
The first eBay sale of a set of six of these was completed Jan. 24. After 49 bids, this set sold for $A1,051 (US $746). The high feedback bidder paid in full same night, the well-known collector seller advised me by email.
Numerous sets then reached more than a four-figure price on eBay, with the highest I have seen being a “buy it now” offer grabbed Jan. 31 at $2,800 (US $1,988). Only three weeks earlier, it cost $3 to buy the set at the post office, so this realization was almost 1,000 times face value.
The highest “buy it now” offer I have seen on eBay is for $2,500.
A genuine and attractive $1 commercial cover bearing an emergency issue mailed to a Lumo Energy company in Victoria and bearing a Jan. 11 machine cancel was sold on eBay after 67 bids, reaching $1,604 (US $1,202) on Jan. 31, likely a world record price for a modern issue stamp, without an error or variety, on cover.
That cover was found in a bag of business mail by the United Church stamp charity by a stampboards.com member, and the money it raised, less eBay fees, went to that charity. Another cover was found the same day and is being offered on eBay.
I had an order for a set of covers bearing these stamps to be airmailed to Russia to the commander of the orbiting MIR International Space Station. The commander is a stamp collector and exhibitor.
These stamps were 100-percent official, authorized by the manager of a main general post office in an operational emergency. They were sold for face value at many large post offices for a couple of days, and they were widely used on commercial mail. Many genuine covers, and some used examples already have been found in kiloware. These stamps will be listed and priced thus, mint and used, in many stamp catalogs.
Linn’s readers are urged to check recent kiloware and mail from Australia, for these emergency stamps, as even postally used examples are obtaining large sums in auctions and from dealers.
A registered cover bearing this issue, sent from Adelaide to Mildura, Victoria, canceled Jan. 25, is being offered on www.stampboards.com, to celebrate its reaching 15,000 global members. The contest is open through Feb. 17.
Who says that modern stamps are boring?
Glen Stephens is a dealer and stamp journalist in Castlecrag, Sydney, Australia.