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The Glen Stephens (monthly)
Stamp News Column" Page.

       July 2003



Cover Stories …


By Glen Stephens.


Vandal cancels  …  how to avoid them


It used to be that if taking a little care, fine used copies of all Australian stamps were possible to “obtain” pretty easily. 


Place a few stamps you required for your used collection carefully on an envelope,  ask your local post office politely to cancel them lightly,  and in 95% of cases they’d arrive through the mail in the same “CTO” condition to you or the addressee.


Sadly, that now appears to be ancient history in most cases.


I have written on this before, and it really bears repeating more now than ever.  We have all seen or received examples of stamps mutilated by marker pens, ball point pen or heavy machine cancels in transit.  A client recently sent me a mangled example.


The stamp was placed by this collector on an envelope for me to post him a nett price offers list,  something many clients do each month.  This stamp if nicely used is worth well over 50¢, thus negating the postage cost to the collector concerned.


He also gets the satisfaction of knowing the example in his album did in fact  pass legitimately through the mails, which is a much sought after and desirable situation with serious collectors.


I took the envelope up to Castlecrag PO,  who as always lightly corner cancelled it with the black circular cds they use on all my philatelic sendings - and for  which I am eternally grateful.  Those violet and pink “rubber” cancels many Australian Post Offices use look terribly ugly to me - and not a patch on a black cancel,  but sadly those are being phased out.


Mail Centre machines


From Castlecrag, the problem starts.  These days my postmaster advises that articles under 500 grams are simply bagged together,  whether cancelled or not, and sent to the St. Leonards Mail Centre and they are then fed into the massive “machine” there. 


Having arranged a stamp dealer visit to that mail centre one evening,  I can certainly vouch for the size of the machine involved.  Bagged mail is literally up-ended into one end, and out it comes at the other end, all neatly turned around, all facing up the correct way, and all neatly (well fairly neatly) cancelled.


This machine is literally far bigger in size than a government bus, and processes some mind-boggling number of articles an hour.  I seem to recall it 100,000 or something equally astounding.  There are banks of flashing lights, banks of lightning fast conveyor belts, and whirrings - it is like being in an amusement arcade! 

Massive machines like this now cancel your mail
 Click HERE for enlarged view.

 All major Australian mail exchanges now have one or more of these clever machines and more are coming.  It saves the PO a  fortune in labor costs - imagine how many unionised man hours it would take to cancel and then sort by postcode face upwards 100,000 pieces of mail!


Unfortunately for collectors, these machines do not really provide a neat cancel.   All they offer is a dated and often over-inked roller cancel and the ink jet single line strip across the centre,  on TOP of my circular cancel, making the stamp totally ruined for a collector.   Why there needs to be three different types of cancel sure beats me.  .


Beat The System


I have a practical solution, and suggest ALL readers and dealers who wish to protect the stamps on their mail from identical “vandalism” adopt this system.  When posting useful franking on standard size letters I suggest you do NOT place it at the conventional top right corner - or sure as eggs it might be a candidate for such vandalism.


Place the stamp half-way down the right hand side of the envelope.  I’ve tried a few test mailings to myself using this tactic, and it works perfectly.  If my envelope gets a light Castlecrag hand cancel, it also gets a “killer” applied at the mail centre.


However, the “killer” is designed to cancel the top RH corner, and on the covers I’ve sent – it always neatly misses the top of my philatelic franking.


It is a great system and it WORKS!  One colleague suggests doing the above AND also licking on a small piece of stamp selvedge and placing that at top right.  This seems to fool the machine into sensing the selvedge paper and cancelling it. 


Your stamp remains perfect “CTO” in the centre of envelope.  There must still be helecon type activators in the selvedge paper, and of course the machine can’t decipher if it is cancelling selvedge or a complete stamp.


Please note the problem area generally seems to be with “standard” size envelopes.  These monster machines in general cannot cope with material larger than “Post Office Preferred” standard size letters.  Small packets and parcels etc are handled separately to regular letters.


They are I understand manually handled and usually manually cancelled – but new German made machines are supposedly overcoming that problem.  Any item already neatly cancelled will probably be left alone by mail sorters in my experience.


Lots of collectors still keep a fine used collection on the go,  and if we all make the effort to use recent modern commemoratives on mail, there will continue to be a supply in the marketplace for future generations of collectors.


Lets face it, business houses no longer use stamps like the $2.45 Queen Elizabeth Jubilee,  or se-tenant pairs of 50¢ Lunar New Year mini sheets etc.  Indeed they almost use no real stamps at ALL.   Unless they are used by philatelists, few will exist in postally used condition in future years.


Please Use Stamps!!


I must comment here that I am mortified to observe what sort of franking is used on inward mail to me by many collectors AND dealers!  I receive many 100’s of Registered sendings each year containing stamps that readers wish to sell.  You would think that a stamp collector or dealer would always use nice stamps on a heavy parcel to a stamp dealer wouldn’t you??   Not on your life.  


 Well over 50% of what I receive has those dreary, worthless, white machine generated “supermarket labels” on them.  PO staff will ALWAYS use them in preference to stamps.   Many others have a block of near worthless $2 or $5 or $10 definitives.  


I received a heavy carton from Perth recently which incurred a postage charge of $48.  Postage was paid using a white “supermarket ticket” type frank.


Had that collector used some intelligence and franked the box with a block of high value $2.45 commemoratives or something similar - they are worth good money when lightly cancelled.  Using a block of 20  of these would have seen me add about $25 to the cheque for the goods sent for sale as in turn I’d place that nice block in my next ad for $40 or so.   

Use these on EVERY sending and you can then use stamps to cover the $2.35 Registered Fee 

For a white “supermarket ticket” or $5 definitive's I of course add absolutely nothing to the sum paid.  It doesn’t make sense for any collector to use such total junk postage but most dealers will confirm this is what happens, day in - day out.

Caption .....  Use these on EVERY sending and you can then use stamps to cover the $2.35 Registered Fee.


Nearly all the other 50% received are those pre-paid  stampless Australia Post “Registered Satchels”.   Please note that you are NOT, repeat NOT required to use these if you do not wish to for domestic use. 


Placing the correct postage, AND the $2.35 registered fee, (which buys you a big “R26” red, orange and white Registered label) in stamps on any internal ordinary letter, packet or parcel is perfectly acceptable and 100% legal.


You may affix any valid stamps to pay this $2.35 plus the postage free.  Anything with gum from Australia or AAT from the last 37 years is perfectly OK.   The problem is this creates “work” for the PO staff,  and I have heard them telling people at large offices it is ‘not permitted’ to post an item via Registered mail using stamps.  NOT so, and don’t let them fool you!

Overseas Registered


Overseas Registered Post is I am afraid limited to the bland pre-paid satchels, and despite frequently copping abuse from foreign clients I am afraid that IS the rule for some time now.  Stamps CANNOT be used for overseas Registered sendings. 


The large envelopes costs $15, for maximum weight 500g - stamps can NOT be used.  Anything valuable for overseas exceeding 500 grams needs to be sent insured mail.


 Worst of the lot are American auction houses - who if you do NOT specify otherwise will ordinarily use a frank stamp, even if airpost charges exceed $US150.  One annoying auction house in Chicago sent me a packet  with a handsome block of 10 of the $US3 Challenger jet,  and then deliberately and systematically defaced every stamp with the same wide nib black felt marker pen they had just used to write my address with! 


Real intelligent stuff, and they did not get paid one cent for the “shipping” they charged on the invoice - which I might add was invoiced at about double the value of the frankings anyway. I never bid there again as a silent protest, despite spending $US2000 on the initial material.


One of Australia’s leading auction house is not much better.  I received this week a flat 10” x12” envelope with a purchase I’d made.   It bore franking of $4.61 which got me peeved before I opened it, as nearly all were basically worthless letter rate stamps. 


My anger increased to read the invoice which was detailed as: “postage” - $3.82, “packing” - $4.40,  “Insurance” - $5.83 - totalling $14.05 for junk franking worth only cents to me.  My own marine transit insurance covers insurance which they would realise, and you can bet my next email will be to them asking for an adjustment.


“FREE” Postage


I have long believed that stamp collectors and dealers if they use a modicum of forethought and intelligence can effectively get ‘free postage’ even on heavy parcels. This works within Australian and even on mailings overseas.  Max Stern in Melbourne posted me 3 heavy cartons, which cost around $72 total for registered post.


I asked Max to frank the parcels with recent sheetlets (face value $72) and have them lightly cancelled.  Max has the luxury of possessing his own personal Flinders Lane canceller, so the sheets were as usual, beautifully cancelled - and arrived here superb used.


I paid Max the $72 freight, so he was happy.  I put the sheetlets into an ad as “VFU” for $75 and effectively MADE $3 for the privilege of having Australia Post lug three very heavy cartons all the way from Flinders Lane to my door at Castlecrag in the next state!  Everyone is a winner here. 


The PO got their $72.   Max gets paid his complete postage charge,  I make a few bucks on the deal,  and the end customer was overjoyed to gets scarce and now off sale sheetlets perfectly CTO’d - at virtually face value.  

Use this as postage and Registered Fee combined

 If you give it some thought, you can do the same thing yourself.  I use a lot of se-tenant strips of  5 on mail to clients, as these seem to never receive any commercial use. 

A $10 franking can be paid by several se-tenant strips of the various  36¢, 37¢, 39¢, 41¢, 43¢, 45¢ or 50¢ commems etc - all of which have a retail of around double face if lightly cancelled.  Using two $5 or a single $10 definitive has a true value of almost nothing.

There are numerous other things that you can use for the same purpose.   I used well over 1,000 of the 45¢ mini sheets depicting Koalas and Panda bears overprinted “Beijing 95” etc on regular letters to clients in recent years.  They cost me only 45¢ each to buy on new issue Half the world’s supply of postal used copies must now surely bear Castlecrag postmarks!   These retail for about $2 each, or over 4 times face value.  They clearly are the type of item to look out for,  buy up before they go off sale - and use in the future.  


Right now the Queen’s Golden Anniversary sheet is a beauty to use – especially for a domestic Registered letter, as the $2.95 sheet neatly covers the postage and fee.  Issued on June 2, the sheetlet will get NO commercial use at all of course.


Use 10 of them overlapped on a packet overseas or a heavy parcel interstate and voila – “free postage” if lightly cancelled and they arrive in good shape.  Buy a dozen or two extra from Australia Post is my suggestion and use them up in future.  They will always be highly sought after due to the subject theme.


Soaking Tips


One final word on all this saga of using sensible franking.  When you receive a large mini sheet, or a big block of se-tenant strips glued to a box or jiffy bag, what do you do with them?  My suggestion - based on 25 years of experience is to do the following.


If stamps are affixed to paper, I always trim off neatly with scissors, leaving only a few mm or so of the backing paper showing.  Don’t soak them. That way there is no damage.  Place in your album just like that.


If affixed to a box or padded bag I advise you NOT to float off these large pieces in water if you wish to keep intact.  When a large block of paper with a million holes punched in it gets saturated with water it is very tricky and fragile to handle.  It more often than not ends up in several soggy and mangled portions.


Throwing it into a “bath” of warm water - especially with detergent added is usually asking for disaster.  Use a proper wetting fluid and the built in applicator brush, as sold by firms like Lindner, who advertise in this magazine.  Lightly “paint” the face of the block still on piece - leave it a minute or two and peel off the block. 


Ease off as much gum as you can do with care.  Lay it gum side down on a smooth kitchen bench or glass surface or whatever with a book on top, and in 95% of case you’ll end up with a “CTO” looking block or mini sheet.


In the absence of the Lindner “stamp remover” bottle, I’d use a well moistened kitchen sponge placed on the stamps, whilst still on the parcel or packet. Repeat the directions above. All these methods are far preferable to tossing your snippings into a bowl of water if you wish to keep a sheetlet or se-tenant strip intact.  For single stamps and pairs etc soaking is perfectly OK. 


Use Hot Water


A final soaking tip. Use hot tap water or even boiling water on old stamps when soaking, with a pinch of salt thrown in with the oldies to help stop any colour run.  Add a little detergent as a “wetting agent”  if the colours are fast.  The boiling water loosens up the gunk, goo, and rock hard gum residue - that cold water will never assist with.


 The world’s most famous collector, Count Philipp von Ferrary never used to buy a valuable older stamp unless he boiled it in front of your eyes in a glass beaker on a Bunsen burner.  Unless the ink was fugitive (and only a tiny handful ever were) this causes no physical harm to the stamps. 


Boiling does however undo any repair, no matter how skillful.  Thins and tears often appeared, corners and added margins floated off and whole “rebackings” floated away etc - so the technique was effective.


If this happened, the good Count handed back your totally ruined and soggy mess and said (in French) “thank you for allowing me to examine this stamp but I have decided not to purchase it after all”!   


Max Stern Book



Well known Melbourne dealer Max Stern recently had a book with his life story published - “My Stamp On Life”.  Max kindly mailed me a copy and I will write a review of sorts in next month’s magazine, as I have not yet completed reading it!


They are on sale at Max’s premises or by mail order.  I doubt any other Australian dealer has had a book on their life published?



To order, click here. To read ordering instructions, click here.

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