Geoff Kellow published this article
1909 20/- Green Postage Due with Stroke After Value
By Geoff Kellow, 'Australian Rarities' Australasian Stamps, June, 1998
This month's subject whose rarity was created through a combination of timing, availability and the general unpopularity of postage due stamps, is generally reckoned as the Commonwealth's rarest basic (i.e., face-different) stamp.
Although it took thirteen years after Federation for a uniform issue of postage stamps to eventuate, changes to the Postage Due stamps occurred more rapidly. At Federation, only New South Wales and Victoria used postage due stamps, and it was decided to extend their use to the other States. The New South Wales design was chosen, and postage due stamps printed in Sydney were supplied to Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia. Victoria continued to use its own design. At first the original New South Wales plates were used, suitably modified by the removal of the letters "NSW at base, but very quickly a new set of plates was introduced using a redrawn design.
The original New South Wales set of postage due stamps ranged from ½d. to 20/-, and the same set of denominations, with some additions, made up the Commonwealth series. The simple New South Wales design comprised the figures of value inside a central oval set in an ornamental frame, with "PENCE" or "SHILLINGS" below to indicate the value. All values were printed in green. This design remained in use until 1909, when as part of the centralisation of stamp printing in Melbourne, the Victorian design for postage due stamps was adopted for a nationwide issue inscribed "AUSTRALIA".
It is not surprising that complaints were received about the difficulty of distinguishing certain denominations of the New South Wales design, although nothing was done about it until 1908. The values which caused a problem were the 1d., 2d., 5d and 10d., and the corresponding 1/-, 2/-, 5/- and 10/-. Since all the stamps were printed in the same colour, the only means of distinguishing the pairs of stamps was the wording in the lower portion of the oval; mistaken identifications could and probably did occur. The solution was to prepare a new series of plates for the shilling values, which included a stroke and dash after the figures of values. The 20/- postage due stamp was included in this set, presumably for the sake of uniformity, since there were no actual clash of figures for this value.
Information on the timing of events in Sydney and Melbourne is lacking, but there seems a real chance that there was a lack of communication between postal officials in the two cities, since the appearance of the modified shilling values of the New South Wales design occurred a matter of a few months before the adoption of the Commonwealth-wide postage due series printed in Melbourne. The expense of the new plates alone should have dictated against the need for the new shilling designs which would be in use for such a short period.
The Post Office did not provide the philatelic journals of the day with any advance warning of the changes, and by their nature, these high value postage stamps did not appear on mail in the ordinary sense of things. The contemporary press records that the 5/- stamp was on issue by September, 1908, the 1/- followed in December, and it is noted that all values from 1/- to 20/- were on issue by March, 1909. The exact date of issue of the 20/- postage due stamp is therefore not certain, but it may have been current for only a matter of months.
The 10/- and 20/- postage due stamps, both of the original design and the modified design were only ever issued for use in New South Wales. Neither value was distributed to any other State. No archival records have been located to provide either the quantity of 20/- stamps printed, or the quantity issued for use. It has been stated in print on some occasions that only two sheets of 120 were issued. This may be so, and would agree with my estimate of the number of stamps now existing, but I know of no official sources for this information. These high value postage due stamps were never intended for the collection of deficient postage on ordinary mail. Their postal purpose seems to have been limited to the indication of the payment of bulk postage, but they may also have been used for various other internal post office accounting reasons. All genuinely used examples of these high value postage due stamps of this period bear Sydney Parcel Post postmarks.
The availability of postage due stamps to philatelists at this time was limited,. It is believed that the only way of purchasing mint postage due stamps was by application to the Deputy Postmaster-General at the GPO Sydney, possibly only by mail. The modified 1/- to 20/- postage due stamps were never sold to collectors cancelled-to-order, and were never overprinted SPECIMEN, either for sale to collectors or for distribution to U.P.U. member countries.
No information is available on what happened to the remaining stock of stamps following the issue of the Australian series in July, 1909. Available evidence suggests that the remaining stock was destroyed very soon after. This is supported by the fact that for New South Wales, the "green" postage due stamps appear to be quickly superseded by the bicoloured issue. The archival records for the Melbourne printings show that the first issue of 10/- and 20/- postage due stamps to New South Wales was in November 1909, if the existing stock of the earlier issue was intended to remain in use, it was hardly likely that any stock of the new stamps would be required so soon. The known used example of the 20/- is dated February 1910, so usage, which may represent the continuing use of the one sheet issued for use in the Parcel Post Branch.
Thus three factors conspired to create the rarity of the 20/- stamp – its very brief period of use, its non availability outside Sydney, and its difficulty of acquisition by collectors (coupled with a general apathy towards postage due stamps).
The 20/- postage due stamp with stroke after value is currently catalogued in the Australian Commonwealth Specialist's Catalogue (1999 edition) at $7,500 mint and $12,500 used, and by Stanley Gibbons at £5,000 mint and £6,000 used.
Of the used stamp, only one genuine example has been recorded. This has a Parcels Post Sydney postmark, and is illustrated nearby (on the front cover of this collection of articles). A very few other used stamps have been seen, but these all bear patently non-contemporary cancellations and must be assumed to be attempts to improve the value of unused stamps with defective gum.
It is difficult to estimate how many mint examples of the 20/- stamp exist. It is a stamp which appears regularly at auction, and it is a stamp which is frequently found in single stamp British Empire collections and collections formed to fill in spaces in old-time printed albums, formed by wealthy collectors. In particular, United States collectors have long had a fondness for the stamp and continue to be the major market for examples. I suspect that there are a number of examples in that country which have not been on the market for some time. My own estimate would be that there are perhaps 100 stamps in existence. Does anyone disagree violently with this figure? (It seems hard to believe that of an estimated 240 stamps issued, the survival rate would be 40%!).
The 20/- stroke after value postage due tends to have had its rarity lauded to the detriment of its fellow high value postage due stamps. Dealers I have spoken to seem to agree that it is indeed rarer than the 10/- stroke after value; this may be so, but the differential cannot be great. The real sleeper; even though it is well recognised as rare, is the 2/- of the same series. This may be of equal rarity to the 20/-. Remarkably a mint block of four of this stamp exists which must be regarded as one of the most important multiples of the Australian Commonwealth. The 10/- and 20/- of the earlier series without stroke are also very rare stamps. There are probably as few mint examples of these as there are of the later series, but supplementing these are used stamps. Genuine usage such as Parcel post date stamps are great rarities, but there is also a quantity (at least as numerous as the mint stamps) cancelled with "NSW" in three concentric ovals. I believe these are all cancelled to order stamps sold to collectors, though in what manner and at what price no information seems to be available. In addition, there are also "SPECIMEN" overprints, supplied by New South Wales to the U.P.U. The quantity required for this purpose at the time was 721 stamps, of which a proportion has been "liberated" and are now in collectors' hands.