Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Specialized Catalogue Review for PAKISTAN, BANGLADESH, BURMA & SRI LANKA

Region : South Asia (ex-modern India)
Catalogue Title : Stanley Gibbons Commonwealth Stamp Catalogue : Bangladesh, Burma, Pakistan & Sri Lanka, 3th ed
Publisher : Stanley Gibbons LTD, Ringwood, UK (2015)
Format : Soft Cover, 234 pages, 170mmx240mm, color illustrations
Breakdown of Page Length By Nation
  • Bangladesh – 44 pages
  • Burma – 7 pages
  • Pakistan – 76 pages
  • Sri Lanka/Ceylon – 99 pages
Language of Text : English

For collectors of South Asia, Gibbons remains the authority of record for most. This extends not only to the issues of the colonial era, but also to the post-colonial states that came into being after the withdrawal of British hegemony in the region in 1947-1948. This catalog represent the philatelic issues of those regions of South Asia that were either neither part of the British Raj (Ceylon, colonial Burma after 1937) or the successor states to the Raj other than India that remained in the Commonwealth of Nations (Pakistan, Bangladesh and post-colonial Ceylon/Sri Lanka, which was NEVER part of the Raj administration during the philatelic era). I will deal with the volume covering Raj and post-Raj India in a future post.

As good as the SG catalogue is for this region, the catalogue does have a couple weakenesses, part of which are due to editorial decisions made by Gibbons, others due more to the interest of Western
philatelists as a whole.

Review Of The Catalogue and Comparison with Scott

While not the largest of catalogues, as with all other volumes in the Commonwealth series the amount of information crammed into this catalogue is immense. For purposes of this review, I am going to split the discussion along national lines


Created in wake of the Pakistani civil war of 1971, the philatelic issues of Bangladesh are fairly straight-forward and presented as such in the Gibbons catalogue. Not a huge amount of difference with the coverage in the Scott general stamp catalogue, just a few additional varieties here and there.

One issue that neither Gibbons nor Scott deal with are the numerous provisional overprints that were produced in liberated areas of Bangladesh during the course of and immediate aftermath of the civil war and Indian military intervention. I find this area fascinating as a record of the dramatic political upheaval of the time and had hoped that Gibbons at least would provide a bit of information as to what was produced, but alas the only mention in Gibbons, as in Scott, is an introductory note.

Note in Gibbons regarding Bangladesh provisionals

One can argue that given the provisional nature of these overprints it would be very challenging for a catalogue like Gibbons to sort out legitimate versus philatelic-inspired productions. In the end though, I think this really represents a degree of myopia among collectors overall, who tend to focus more towards the issues of the classical era at the expense of further study of varieties and special issues of the post-1945 era. This is an issue I will return to shortly, but I think it bears keeping in mind that especially for non-Western nations, coverage of varieties within modern (post-1945) issues tends to be somewhat less thorough that the coverage of pre-1945 issues. And this, in large part, is due to what has been a lack of research on these issues by dedicated philatelists outside a small number within the nation concerned. Hopefully as philately becomes more popular in non-Western societies as economic conditions create a new class that has the resources to engage in hobbies, this dearth of information can be rectified.


Gibbons coverage of Burma in this catalogue illustrates one of my issues with how Gibbons organizes its catalogues. I understand very well that the catalogues are dedicated to the issues of the Commonwealth and their imperial colonial predecessors. However, I really do not like the fact that for those nations, such as Burma, which decided NOT to remain in the Commonwealth after independence was granted, coverage in the Commonwealth catalogues is halted and the post-independence issues are placed in a separate catalogue. Thus, for collectors of Burma, one will need to purchase TWO catalogues in the Gibbons line rather than one to have complete coverage (**or at least that is my belief, it may be that the colonial era issues are covered in Gibbons Southeast Asia volume to the same degree they are in the Commonwealth series of catalogues.)

Having said that, one has to say that when it comes to the colonial era, no catalogue holds a catalogue to the degree of listings that Gibbons has for Burma. Even the Scott Specialized 1840-1940 catalogue is less than thorough.

Gibbons listings for Burma at end of colonial era

And this thoroughness extends to the issues of the Japanese occupation of Burma during the Second World War, where the listings in the Scott Speciailized catalogue seem very basic in comparison.


Gibbons vs Scott Specialized listings for Burma under Japanese occupation

If you restrict your interest to the colonial era, then the coverage of Burma in this catalogue is EXCELLENT. However, those who want information on the post-colonial era will need to source the Gibbons Southeast Asia catalogue.


Much like its coverage of Bangladesh, Gibbons coverage of the issues of Pakistan tend to be, to a degree, uneven. Much like what would happen in Bangladesh in 1971, at the time of Partition in 1947 postal official in those areas which would become Pakistan produced numerous provisional overprints, many of which were on an ad-hoc basis as supplies of the centrally-produced Pakistan overprints either ran out or were delayed in transit or lost in the social upheaval that would tear much of the Pakistan-India border apart. Again though, Gibbons (as well as Scott) only provide a note, with Gibbons noting that while the issues are “of philatelic interest,” they “lay beyond the scope of the catalogue”.

With the establishment of a more stable situation in Pakistan, the early years would see the production of some gorgeous issues, including definitive issues with a good number of varieties of perforations and shades. Gibbons does a great job listing these, providing yet again more depth than what Scott provides in its general catalogue.

Gibbons vs Scott listings of the early issues of Pakistan.

Unfortunately, this deeper coverage of varieties that starts off well in Gibbons with the issues of the 1950s and 1960s is not maintained in terms of coverage for later definitive issues. This is really not a fault of Gibbons per-se. Western collectors have in general not focused much philatelic research on printing varieties of series, especially definitive series, produced by developing nations after the late 1960s. In part this is due to a lack of information from the Post Offices themselves, which were trying to gain the ability to produce their own postage stamps locally and learning to master the new technolgies that Western postal administrations spent much of the 1960s trying to master.

Another factor that has limited our understanding of printing varieties in modern issues from developing nations has been the reality that the philatelic communities in these nations post-independence have tended to be small, and to a degree more interested in the philately of the colonial era rather than the present day. This trend has been changing since the early 1990s, however. Increased wealth in some nations has created new middle classes with an income to spare on hobbies and an interest in the philatelic history of their nations post-colonial era.

Gibbons listing of the 1980s fort definitives vs Siddiqui's specialized online listing

One can see the difference when one compares Gibbons to the listings in a catalogue from the nation in question. For example, the Pakistan Fort definitives in the late 1980s in Gibbons and from the online philatelic catalgoue pakistanphilately.com (an online version of a catalogue produced by AI Siddiqui and previously published in hard copy in Pakistan). Siddiqui also provides information regarding print runs, value of First Day Cover (in Pakistani Rupees) and more. 

My hope is that with the greater interconnection of collectors around the world possible via the internet, more research into the printing varieties of series produced by developing nations will become available and, in the course of time, receive listings in the main Western catalogues such as the Gibbons Commonwealth Specialized.

Ceylon-Sri Lanka

Of the four nations covered in this catalogue, the best coverage is provided for Ceylon (renamed Sri Lanka in 1972). Having remained a member of the Commonwealth, all of its issues to the present are listed, and the coverage of colonial era Ceylon is very, very in-depth. Comparing the listings in Gibbons for the later George V definitives with Scott's coverage of the same issues in the Classic Specialized is to a degree akin to comparing apples and oranges. Scott clearly has some catching-up to do in regards to Ceylon if it wants its Classic Specialized to be a true rival to Gibbons.

Gibbons vs Scott Specialized coverage of Ceylon George V issues, advantage Gibbons

Gibbons and Scott are to a degree more comparable when it comes to the the post-independence issues of Ceylon and, later Sri Lanka. Gibbons does list some varieties in the 1950s definitives that Scott does not, but overall the two catalogues compare well. Sri Lanka after 1972 seems not to have produced as much in the way of varieties on different series, in particular definitive series, that can be seen in Pakistan. In part this may be due to most of Sri Lanka's stamps being produced in other nations, but I do have a bit of a suspicion that again there may not have been a lot of research done on these definitive issues to create a full picture of the printing changes many of the longer-running definitive series quite likely had.

Ceylon and Sri Lanka back of the book stamps in Gibbons, nowhere to be seen in Scott (as of 2015).

And to serve as the exclamation point in terms of the depth of coverage Gibbons does provide for Ceylon/Sri Lanka, it includes back of the book material for both eras that are not included in either the 2012 Scott General catalogue or the 2015 Scott Specialized. From colonial Ceylon telegraph stamps to Sri Lanka postal-fiscals from the 1980s and 1990s, the Gibbons catalogue listings provide an additional element for the collector to add to their collections of this fascinating island that collectors dependent on the Scott catalogues would not really know existed.


For many collectors, interest in South Asian philately has for a long time been focused on the colonial era, with independence in 1947-1948 usually seen as the end point and the issues post-1948 as more the realm of topical collectors and the packet trade. Yet over the past couple decades that view has changed as South Asia has gone through an economic growth spurt. Most are familiar with India's transformation, and already this is having an impact on the value of post-colonial issues, especially those of the immediate post-independence years. Similar economic transformations have been ocurring in the other areas of South Asia, from Islamabad to Dacca and down to Colombo. To me, South Asia represents a very interesting philatelic frontier, with much philatelic research still possible in understanding some of the longer-running definitive issues and the challenges of adapting new printing technologies to keep up with demand for postage stamps from consumers.

To a degree then the Gibbons catalogue represents a good introduction point to these issues. But it must be kept in mind that in some respects, Gibbons is still not the complete authority all eras of philately in this region, the post-colonial era in particular. Pakistan and India both have locally produced specialized catalogues, and as the research of AI Siddiqui and others on the pakistanphilately.com website illustrates, there is a growing body of philatelic research coming from the region regarding not just contemporary postal issues, but new interpretations regarding colonial-era postal issues.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Specialized Catalogue Review for the ARABIAN PENINSULA

Region : ARABIA (includes past and present philatelc entities in what are now Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrein, the United Arab Emirates and Oman)
Catalogue Title : Stanley Gibbons Stamp Catalogue : Arabia, 1st ed
Publisher : Stanley Gibbons LTD, Ringwood, UK (2016)
Format : Soft Cover, 344 pages, 170mmx240mm, color illustrations
Language of Text : English
Price : UK£29.95

While the retail branch of Stanley Gibbons has gone through a period of financial turmoil, the catalogue branch under Hugh Jeffries has maintained its high standards and moved the brand forward. Revisiting the nature of the division of its specialized global catalogues, Gibbons has not only provided new editions of some major non-British sphere regions (such as China, a new edition being released in 2015) but has also created new titles to further refine some regions (and no doubt reduce the size of some of the older volumes that would be unwieldly in a new edition.) It is in this vein that Gibbons released a new Arabia specialized catalogue in the early part of 2016.

The release of the Arabia catalogue fills a bit of a gap in the more specialized catalogue literature that exists. For the collector of the British Empire, Arabia of course is one region that is collected, as the British maintained an interest in the Eastern and Southern coasts of the peninsula, from Kuwait to Aden, resulting in several philatelic entities that are integral parts of the British Empire. These areas were seen as vital defense and trade zones on the periphery of the British Raj in the Indian Subcontinent, and the British worked to ensure their hegemony along the coasts was secured via treaties with local rulers.

More important, however, is the coverage of the majority of the Arabian Peninsula that was not under direct British influence, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Both areas were under the influence of the Ottoman Empire in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century (much to the chagrin of the local populations, Yemen in particular became known as the Graveyard of the Ottomans at the turn of the twentieth century as the Turks attempted to maintain control over the often rebellious tribal people in the Yemeni interior). Following the Ottoman collapse in 1918, the British were content with working with local powers to ensure that no outside power lodged itself in Western Arabia, thus allowing the consolidation of a Yemeni state under the Shi'i tribes around Sana'a and the rise of the Saudi state to dominate the majority of the peninsula.

Finally, one can not mention Arabia without a passing word regarding the infamous “Sand Dune” issues. These were stamp issues printed by various agents in the name of an assorted gaggle of political entities on the Arabian peninsula. Most of these issues were not sold in the lands they purported to come from, but their topical designs made them popular as packet fare in the 1960s and 1970s, before political changes resulted in the creation of new political units with much more conservative philatelic outputs. And there are collectors today who find a charm in these issues. We will return to these issues in the catalogue review.

To my knowledge, there exists no single recent specialized treatment of the stamps of Saudi Arabia (and its precursors) or Yemen in English (although I think there are works in Arabic for Saudi Arabian philately). Thus the Gibbons Arabia catalogue fills a vital gap to introduce collectors in the West to the complex philately of the region beyond the basic level.

Review Of The Catalogue and Comparison with Scott

The first point to deal with in any discussion of this catalogue is that it covers a fairly large number of postal administrations. To summarize, included are : 
  • Kuwait
  • Bahrein
  • the British PO in Eastern Arabia (the general issues used in what are now Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman after 1948 and Indian independence. Before 1948 the Posts were managed by the Indian post office)
  • Oman
  • United Arab Emirates – Includes issues for the Trucial States and each of the seven component sheikhdoms – Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujeira, Ras al-Khaima, Sharjah and Umm al-Qiwain as well as the issues of some of the sheikhdoms' dependencies, such as Manama)
  • Qatar
  • Yemen – Includes both North Yemen (Royal, then Republic, with coverage of the Yemeni civil war issues from both sides in the 1960s as well) and the British-dominated zone of Southern Yemen, including Aden, Seiyun and Hadramaut. Also includes the Federation of South Arabia and the issues of several component members, independent South Yemen, and the Unified Yemen since 1990.
  • Saudi Arabia – including the independent issues of Hejaz and Nejd before the conquest of Hejaz by Ibn Saud in 1925 and the creation of the unified Saudi state.
A large number of different postal administrations are thus covered in the catalogue.

One important thing to remember is that until the twentieth century there were no local postal adminstrations. The Ottomans established a large number of post offices in Hejaz and Yemen, while the areas the British would come to dominate on the Eastern and Southern coasts of the Peninsula would gradually come under the Indian Post Office. One area of specialization popular among collectors of this region is cancels issued by the Indian and Ottoman post offices for branches in the area. The Gibbons catalog provides a lot of pricing information regarding cancels used on Indian postal issues in the region from Kuwait around to Aden.

Unfortunately Gibbons does not provided any coverage of the Ottoman precursor issues used in Hejaz, Yemen, and parts of Eastern Arabia before the establishment of British hegemony. I know there is some very specialist literature coving Ottoman posts in Arabia (and other areas of the Empire that did not become part of the successor Turkish Republic in 1923) but as of now this is an area that is lacking in terms of coverage in popular specialized Western catalogues of the region.

For clarity in discussion of the catalogue I am going to start with the British sphere of influence then move on to the Western Arabian peninsula states of Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

A) The British sphere of influence in Eastern and Southern Arabia

One of the nice things about Gibbons is its coverage of Indian postal issues used in the Eastern part of the peninsula. Listings of prices for cancels from Bahrein and Muscat are provided, as shown below for Bahrein.

Listings for Bahrein cancels on the stamps of British India, (p. 3 of listings)

For the British sphere of influence Gibbons does its usual amazing job parsing out varieties such as watermark errors, shades and othe varieities, including items not covered by the Scott Classic Specialized. For example, here is the first page of Kuwait's issues starting with the 1923 overprints.

First page of listings for Kuwait

This specialization continues beyond the classical era, as shown here for the varieties that exist for the Elizabeth II definitive issue for Aden in the 1950s.

Varieties on the Elizabeth II definitives for Aden from the 1950s

And for those states that did not have postal services of their own, the British would take over administration of the post offices from India (or in a couple cases Pakistan) after the end of the Raj in 1947 and created their own postal surcharges that were used in Qatar, the Trucial States and Muscat.

Listings for the British Post Office in Arabia issues (note no info on cancellation values)

One thing NOT included though, which is a bit of a miss, is valuation of different cancels on these British issues. I would imagine usage from Qatar would have been more rare than from Muscat, and that legible Doha cancels would be worth more than Muscat or Dubai.

By the 1960s changes were coming into play in the eastern part of the Arabian peninsula. Kuwait became independent in 1961, and the other Arab sheikhdoms would assume local control over their postal services, producing stamps for their needs. This would of course lead to the rise of the “Sand Dune” issues as some of the poorer states, like Ajman and Fujeira, would sign contracts with agencies to produce stamps with topical appeal in their name.

Appendix listing for the "Sand Dune" issues of Ras al-Kheima in the 1960s

Gibbons does NOT price most sand dunes, instead listing the majority issued after 1967 in “appendixes” at the end of each nation, as the above for Ras al-Kheima shows.

But this is not true for all states. Dubai, which while not issuing as many questionable issues as the other smaller state, still had some very topical issues, is listed in full, and this includes issues NOT included in the Scott Standard Catalogue listings for Dubai.

When is a "Sand Dune" not a "Sand Dune?"  Full listings for all Dubai issues, 
in spite of their "Sand Dune"-like nature

Further south, an anti-British, anti-sheikh revolt in the British dominated regions of Southern Arabia would lead eventually to the withdrawl of the British from Aden in 1967. Some of the Easten Yemeni sheikhdoms would joint the Sand Dune bandwagon, issuing stamps until the radical nationalist rebels seized power. This included a new state, Mahra, which is not included in the Scott Catalogue.

The stamps of Mahra given full listing in Gibbons (not in Scott, however)

By the early 1970s, though, the flood of “wallpaper” coming from the former British sphere in Eastern Arabia would be rapidly shut down as the seven Trucial states federated into the United Arab Emirates in 1971, Qatar became independent (as did Muscat, as the Sultanate of Oman, though the Muscat government did not join the “Sand Dune” ranks) and an anti-Western regime came to power in South Yemen. All of these states would pursue much more conservative philatelic regimes in the 1970s and 1980s, and today these early independence-era issues have become quite valuable, cataloging many times their original catalogue value when first listed in the 1970s. The just goes to show that a nation may tart its philatelic reputation with Wallpaper for a period, but can rehabilitate that reputation with a more conservative stamp issuing policy afterward.

Today there is even a dedicated group of collectors of the “Sand Dune” stamps issued during the free-wheeling late 1960s, although Gibbons does not value most of these issues, they at least make mention of them (something the Scott Standards as of 2012 still did not do). For a full treatment of these issues however, one must turn to the Michel and it's “Gulf States” regional catalogue, where each issue is listed in full with valuations.

B) Saudi Arabia and Yemen

Moving to the non-British influenced are of the Arabian peninsula, the Gibbons catalogue does an excellent job dealing with the often complex issues surrounding the rise of the Saudi Arabian state in the 1920s.

The complex philatelic wonderland of varieties and errors of Saudi Arabian precursor issues 
from Hejaz and the Nejdi conquest after 1925. 

It should be noted that Scott, in its 2015 Classic Specialized, does a very comparable job with the listing of the regular stamp varieties, overprint complexities and varieties that exist, both for the issues of independent Hejaz (1916-1925) and for the Nejdi supremacy after 1925. Decades of involvement in the Saudi oil industry by Americans means that Saudi Arabian philately is actually a bit more popular in the USA than other areas of the Islamic World, and Scott responds well to that interest in its coverage of the Classical era stamps of the Kingdom and its precursors.

After the proclamation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932, Saudi issues become a bit less complex for a period, though there are still plenty of shade and perforation varieties, as the listings below show.

Saudi Arabia listings from the 1930s, note the full listing of perf-varieties for the definitive issue starting in 1934 (not fully covered in Scott 2015 Classic Specialized)

Moving into the post-oil boom era of Saudi history, Gibbons does a wondeful job listing varieties of color, perforation and design type that exist on the various Saudi definitive issues from the 1960s to the 1990s, providing illustrations where Scott might only list a footnote, as with the varieties of the al-Khafji Oil Rig issue of 1977-1978.

Gibbons (top) and Scott (bottom) listing for Saudi issues of the late-1970s, 
showing Gibbons full listing of the inscription varieties on the al-Khafji oil rig definitives, 
which are merely footnoted in Scott.

Finally, coverage of Yemen in Gibbons starts with the Kingdom issues first released in 1926. Fairly comparable to coverage in Scott until the outbreak of the Civil War in 1962. For the Civil War issues, Gibbons catalogs not only the majority of the Republican issues in full (there is a small appendix for issues in the period 1967-1972, and the listings are fuller than what is in the Scott catalog for the entire period of the Civil War for the Republic, with notes up to early 1967 then no information on later issues) but also the majority of the Royalist issues for the same period. This is an area that Scott's 2012 Standard Catalogue does not cover at all, not even in notes.

Royalist Yemen "issues" during the 1960s Yemeni Civil War, listed in Gibbons, 
but not even mentioned in passing in Scott.

By 1971 the Civil War had ended and a single North Yemen Republican regime was issuing stamps, and Gibbons covers contemporary Yemeni issues in a straight-forward manner, similar to what Scott covers.


A philatelically complex region, the Arabian Peninsula is covered quite nicely in this new Gibbons catalog. More specialized than the Scott Standard, and even for some states more specialized than the Scott Classic Specialized, the Gibbons Arabia is a great introduction to the philately of this part of the world, in all its nuances and forms.

Comments? Questions? Ask away and let me know people are reading this :)

Friday, August 5, 2016

Specialized Catalogue Review for AUSTRALIA (II)

Catalogue Title : Stanley Gibbons Commonwealth Stamp Catalogue : Australia, 9th ed
Publisher : Stanley Gibbons LTD, Ringwood, UK (2014)
Format : Soft Cover, 338 pages, 170mmx240mm, color illustrations
Language of Text : English
Price : UK£29.95 (Note this price and review is based on the 9th edition published in 2014. The brand new 10th edition has just been published in 2016.)

One of the grand names in philately, and one of the “Big Four” catalogue publishers that publish worldwide catalogues (the other three being Scott, Michel and Yvert et Tellier), the catalogues of Stanley Gibbons are considered by most collectors of the the United Kingdom, the British Empire and modern Commonwealth as the catalogues of record for that sphere of the philatelic world.

What many collectors may not realize is that in addition to the top-notch Commonwealth catalogue 1840-1970 that Gibbons updates yearly and is the first place of reference for most collectors and dealers in the British sphere, Gibbons also publishes an EXCELLENT line of regional catalogues that cover all aspects of philately to the present day. With the exception of the old Dominons of Canada, Australia and New Zealand which have developed their own catalogues of record due to the existence of highly active collector communities, Gibbons Commonwealth Stamp Catalogues are the catalogue of record for these issues.

Australia is to some degrees in the middle between having its own Catalogue of Record and the primacy of Gibbons. As noted in my previous reviewe, the Australian Commonwealth Specialists' Catalogue (aka the Brusden-Whites) is THE primary catalogue of record for Australian issues from the first Federal issue in 1913 to the introduction of decimalization in 1966. However, there are a few things the Brusden-Whites either do not cover, or only cover in editions that are over ten years old.
  1. Pre-Federation Colonial Australian Issues for the six colonies
  2. Contemporary pricing of decimal-era issues and varieties
  3. Most of the Australian External Territories issues (it does cover the Cocos Islands and Australian Antarctic Territory issues up to decimalization, but for some reason neither Norfolk Island nor Christmas Island's pre-decimal issues).
  4. Australian colonies in the South Pacific (Papua, Northwest Pacific Islands, Mandate New Guinea, Papua New Guinea and Nauru)
For collectors looking for a specialized treatment of these four areas of Australian philately, the Australia volume of Gibbons Commonwealth Stamp Catalogue remains the catalogue of record.

As this is the first of what will be several reviews of Gibbons catalogues, a couple of comments about Gibbons catalogues in general. First, the text in the catalogues is SMALL, very SMALL. Gibbons crams a ton of information in each page, and if like me you have less than stellar eyesight, you might find yourself reaching for reading glasses or a magnifying glass.

Second, the organization of minor listings has a logic to it, but like looking for the right key on a keychain to open a door, it takes a bit of trial and error to figure things out. Watermark varieties are usually marked with a minor listing w, and if the watertmark variety is tied to another variety within the issue, a second minor letter is added, so a bw minor listing would be for a watermark variety on the b variety of the main stamp. Again with a bit of practice you soon become accustomed to how Gibbons lists varieties, but to those used to Scott's system of using just one minor letter for each variety (most of the time) this will take a bit of accustomization.

Review Of The Catalogue and Comparison with Scott (and Brusden-White)

For most classical-era collectors, the lack of coverage of the pre-Federation Australian colonies postal issues (the stamps of New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, Western Australia and Queensland) in the Brusden-White catalogues is a major gap in their otherwise excellent coverage of Australian philately. To be fair to the publishers of Brusden-White, the many complexities of Australian colonial issues would make such a tome (or tomes) would require would be another lifetime of work, and perhaps it is best that they have chosen to focus on the post-Federation era (though as we have seen they DO cover the Postage Dues of New South Wales and Victoria, so a precedent of sorts has been set. But I digress...)

As noted, Gibbons does cover the Australian colonial issues in this volume – they occupy the first fifty-five pages of the catalogue. And the amount of information provided in the catalogue listings is a specialists delight. As can be seen in the first page of the catalogue's Queensland listing.

The first pages of listings for Queensland in Gibbons Australia 9th Ed.

Compare this to the listings in the Scott Classic Specialized Catalogue 2015, and one can clearly see the greater degree of depth that Gibbons dives when covering the colonial issues. Scott does a good job as an introduction, but Gibbons clearly adds many more varieties, especially perforation varieites and plate flaws.

The first page of listings for Queensland in the 2015 Scott Classic Specialized

When it comes to the early Federal period pre-decimalization, however, Gibbons pales in comparison compared to the intricate parsing of varieties, plate types and errors that the Brusden-Whites provide, as the comparison below shows.

Coverage of the George V Sidefaces in Gibbons (first issues)

Coverage of the 1/2d George V Sideface first issue in Brusden-White

For many collectors, the level of detail that Brusden-White provides, especially in terms of plate flaws on specific plates, may seem like flyspecking overkill. For these collectors who want something a bit more detailed than what the Scott Classic provides, but not to the Brusden-White extreme, the Gibbons Australia provides a happy medium between the two.

Moving into the modern era, the comparisons between Scott, which only lists modern Australia in its Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue, are much more clear. Compare the listings of the 1981-1984 Australian Wildlife Definitives between the two catalogues

Coverage of the 1981-1984 Wildlife Definitives in Scott (top) and Gibbons (bottom)

While Scott's listing is quite good, Gibbons provides a few more variety listings and a clearer illustration of the difference between the photogravure and lithographic centers on the 27c Tasmanian devil. One thing that Scott does better in this set is parse out the perforation varieties issued in 1983-1984 as a separate minor number set rather than mesh them together with the main listing. Given the popularity of Australia among North American collectors, Scott does a pretty good job with varieties on Australian definitives compared to other nations.

Se-tenant listings in Gibbons are minor-numbered beginning with the first stamp in the set!

One common point about Gibbons catalogues that will drive Scott-based collectors a bit crazy at first is how se-tenant issues are listed. Gibbons lists unseparated pairs/blocks etc as a minor variety after the first stamp in the set in the catalogue. Scott is the exact opposite, making the unseparated versions a minor number after the last stamp in the set in a catalogue. Something very important to keep in mind when looking online to purchase these setenant issues from dealers that use Gibbons.

One area that Gibbons covers in the Australia catalog that is not covered in Scott (either standard or Classic specialized) and for which Brusden-White's coverage was last printed in 2002 is full Booklets. Gibbons prices them, and given the plethora of booklets that have been released since the early 1990s, such pricing information is quite useful as there is at times a small markup for full booklets, especially for se-tenant issues that contain more than one set per full booklet. Many of these have been sacrificed to create single sets, and as a result full booklets are often given a large markup (much as was the case with USA booklets containing setenant panes of five designs that were popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s.)

Gibbons listings of Australian complete booklets in the mid-late pre-decimal Federal period

Finally for the collectors of the Australian external territories and Australian colonies in the South Pacific, Gibbons provides specialized coverage to the same degree as their main Australia listings for Norfolk Island, Christmas Island, Cocos Islands and the Australian Antarctic Territory.

Also included are listings for Australian ruled Papua, the Mandate of New Guinea, Papua New Guinea and Nauru. Listings are also provided for the Australian occupation of German New Guinea and various German islands in the South Pacific in 1914, which would result in the issues for the North West Pacific Islands, with all its varieties in both base stamps and overprint.  The one limit is that Gibbons coverage of Nauru and Papua New Guinea only extend until independence. Post-independence issues are covered in the Western Pacific catalogue, which also duplicate the listings in the Australia catalogue for these entities.

For an example of coverage, compare below the listing for Nauru's first issues in Gibbons and the Scott Classic Specialized shows again how much deeper into varieties the Gibbons Australia catalogue goes in comparison.

Listings for Nauru in Scott Classic Specialized (top) and Gibbons Australia (bottom)

Finally also include for the first time in the 9th edition are listings for the German colonial issues of New Guinea, which of course would be the basis for the GRI overprints when German New Guinea was seized by the Australians in 1914. The listings are rather basic though, and probably the best catalogue for the German issues would be in volume one of the yearly updated Michel Deutschland-Spezial catalogue, which includes German colonial issues and all aspects of German philately up to the Zero Hour of April 1945.


This review is based on the 9th edition of Gibbons Australia, published in 2014. Gibbons has just released in July 2016 the 10th edition of this catalogue, and while there are no new major categories of stamps added to the catalogue, it does apparently list more varieities in the Colonial issues as well as expand listing on the pre-Decimal Federal era. Gibbons will never be a comprehensive as the Brusden-Whites when it comes to the pre-decimal Federal era, but for those who want to go beyond Scott's listings (and as I said before Scott is not a bad first reference point, especially the Classic Specialized, given the popularity of Australia in North America) the Gibbons represent a happy middle ground for those looking to specialize in Australia further.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Specialist Catalogue Review for AUSTRALIA (I)

Catalogue Title : The Australian Commonwealth Specialists' Catalog
Publisher : Brusden-White, Broadway, New South Wales, Australia
Editions In Latest Revision :

  • Kangaroos, 5th ed., 2013 (covers the Kangaroo & Map Definitives from 1913 to 1948 and essays for first Australian federal stamps)
  • George V, 4th ed., 2014 (covers the George V Profile Definitives, followed by commemoratives and airmail stamps released during the reign of George V).
  • George VI, 3rd ed, 2015 (covers definitives and commemoratives of this reign)
  • Elizabeth II 1952-1966, 3rd ed, 2015 (covers the imperial currency era before decimalization)
  • Postage Dues, 2nd ed, 2014 (covers both Federal Dues and the Colonial Dues of Victoria and New South Wales).

Covers of the Five volumes released to date in the latest revision of the Brusden-Whites begun in 2013.

Format : Soft Cover, pages 170mmx215mm, black & white illustrations
Language of Text : English
Pages :
  • Kangaroos, 214
  • George V, 452
  • George VI, 268
  • Elizabeth II 1952-1966, 364
  • Postage Dues, 216
Price (per publisher's website http://www.brusden-white.com.au/ dealers often sell at lower prices) :
  • Kangaroos, Au$95.00
  • George V, Au$125.00
  • George VI, Au$95.00
  • Elizabeth II 1952-1966, Au$105.00
  • Postage Dues, Au$95.00
Reviewer's Note : Other volumes covering other aspects of Australian Philately of the Federal Era were last published in the period 2001-2003 and are still available. In particular, the Decimal Issues since 1966 are covered in a three-volume set (1966-1975, 1976-1991 and 1992-2001) which Brusden-White sells for Au$150.00 for the set of three. There are also volumes covering booklets and pre-decimalization postal stationery. See publisher website for more details. No information as to potential new editions of these volumes have been released as of present.

Introduction & Historical Background

With one of the most active collector communities on the planet, and amazing web resources such as the excellent stampboards.com stamp forum providing an excellent platform for exchanging information on research, Australia is one of the most popular philatelic areas of the world to collect. For collectors of Australia after the introduction of common stamps for the entire Federation in 1913, the Brusden-White Catalogues are the clear catalogue of record and a gold mine of information for collectors interested in the finer details of Australian stamps, from shades to plate varieties and much, much more.

There is one caveat to all this. With the exception of the Postage Due stamps of Victoria and New South Wales the Brusden-White catalogues do NOT include coverage of the stamps of the separate Australian colonies before the establishment of a common set of definitives for all of Australia in 1913. Collectors interested in this vast area of Australian philately have alternatives, but nothing of the depth of coverage that Brusden-White provides for the Federal Era.

The evolution of Australia into the modern nation it would become in the twentieth century is an amazing story in and of itself. Although Aboriginal peoples have lived in Australia for tens of thousands of years, the continent itself would remain, with a couple exception, outside the growing network of international trade and commerce, with the continent being seen as a land of few resources and often hostile native communities.

All that would change in 1788 with the arrival of a party of British convicts sentenced to transport to the other side of the world. Until the 1770s, the transport of convicts had tended to focus on North America, but with the establishment of an independent United States in 1783 that option was no longer viable to the British justice system. At the same time, a series of British explorers, including the great Captain James Cook, visited the eastern coast of Australia and noted the fecundity of the area and its climate. Hence the decision to send convicts to Australia in 1787, arriving at what would eventually become the city of Sydney in January 1788.

Over the next fifty years a combination of convict settlement and free immigration would lead to the establishment of six British colonies on the continent. While at first the economy would be dominated by pastorial sheep raising, the discovery of gold in the colony of Victoria in 1851, in wake of the great California rush, led to a massive influx of immigrants and a realization of the great natural resource wealth of the continent. Rapid population growth in the second half of the nineteenth century due to immigration and high birth rates among new settlers would rapidly transform the continent into a new Western settler society. The native Aboriginal population was, for the most part, treated with contempt with no rights to the land their ancestors had inhabited for centuries, and would soon either be pushed deep into the Australian outback or become wards of the colonial states.

Politically, the rapid growth of the nineteenth century would lead to self government for most of the colonies by 1860, with major political reforms expanding the right to vote for most Australian males of European descent by the end of the century. By the 1880s there were also many political voices in Australia calling for the separate colonies to unite to form a new single Australian dominion within the British Empire. But not all colonial leaders were keen on ceding powers to a new central government, and the debate over Federation would last for over two decades before finally becoming a reality in 1899. Royal assent to the creation of an Australian federation came in 1900, and on 1 January 1901 the Commonwealth of Australia was born.

By the time of Federation in 1900 Australia was one of the wealthiest nations on the planet. But that wealth always rested on the shaky foundations of the export of raw materials in exchange for imports of consumer goods from Britain and other advanced industrial nations. Economic downturns in the 1870s and 1890s illustrated the weakness, but while the growth of Australian population would lead to some industrial development in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the dependence on raw material production remained the basis of Australian economic growth. The Great Depression, and the collapse of global trade which resulted from the tariff wars among the major advanced industrial nations would hit Australia very hard, and it was only with the outbreak of World War II and the sudden increased demand for Australian resources that would return a degree of prosperity to Australia.

Today Australia still remains highly dependent on the export of raw materials, especially minerals, to fuel its economic growth. Its industrial base remains small, and while most Australians today work in the service sectors of the economy, Australians still remain captive to world markets for their goods. A period of high demand in the 1990s and 2000s would fuel a great boom in Australia, but this would end in the mid-2010s as developing economies, China in particular, experienced economic turbulence that reduced demand for Australian resource. The great challenge for Australia in the twenty-first century will be to find a way to maintain economic growth without being so heavily dependent on raw material exports.

Review Of The Catalogue and Comparison with Scott

Comparing the Brusden-White catalogues with Scott's Classic Specialized 1840-1940 catalogue, never mind the main Standard Catalogue, is not really fair. Scott's Classic specialized does a fairly good job with basic differences between stamps as regards shades, perforation varieties and watermark varieties (though this depends on the issue). Where Scott really can not compete is with all the plate varieties, constant flaws and deep specialized material that Brusden-White provides.

Scott 2015 Classic Specialized Catalogue listings for Australia, first full page.

For the Elizabeth II era however, Scott only has the basic listings in the Standard Catalogue, so anyone seeking specialist information will need to turn elsewhere.

The Brusden-White Catalogues are all structured in a similar manner. The one major exception is that the Kangaroo and George V sideface definitive series are organized by face value, then by release date of the variety. This is not necessarily a bad thing, in that it helps new collectors of these issues with all the information on a face value stamps in one neat block rather than across several sections. The George V commemorative and Airmail issues, as well as all the issues of the George VI and pre-Decimal Elizabeth II era, are organized chronologically by release date.

Structurally the listings in Brusden-White all follow a similar layout. For the purpose of this blog post, I've chosen to use the listings for the 1/2d Kangaroo issue of 1913-1915 as the example.

Page One of the listings in Brusden-White for the 1/2 d Kangaroo Stamp

First part of all listings provides technical information regarding printer, paper and watermark used, number of plates, typical usage of the stamp, quantities printed and info as to what replaced it (or for commemoratives, quantity sold).

Following this is the listing for varieties of the base stamp, varieties that are not specific to any single plate printed of the issue. This includes color shades, watermark varieties, perforation variteties, printing method varieties, and information regarding things such as perforated officials and the various cancelled-to-order varieties produced.

Second page of listings for varieties on the 1/2d Kangaroo in Brusden-White, focusing on plate flaws and varieties

Following the listing for varieties of the base stamp common across different plates are listings for plate flaws and varieties specific to individual plates. Australian philately has been greatly enriched by the massive amount of research done by collectors, especially of the Kangaroos and George V sidefaces, in identifying constant plate flaws. Many collectors may find such information as flyspecking overkill, but for many collectors the hunt for plate varieties adds a whole new dimension to their collections.

Graphic depiction of thevarious plate flaws listed in the cataloge for the 1/2d Kangaroo

Numerous black and white illustrations of the plate flaws accompany the listings for each value, greatly aiding the new collector who is interested in this aspect of Australian philately.

Endnotes providing various nuggets of information regarding the various listings for the 1/2d Kangaroo

Finally, a section of notes and further details are provided as endnotes, and often contain a wealth of information regarding issues.

And that is basically how each stamp issue is listed in the catalogues, making the Brusden-Whites fairly easy to use for even the novice collector to the field of specialized Australian philately.  The only thing to remember is that the Kangaroo and Geroge V sideface listings are arranged by face value first, while the remainder of the catalogue is generally chronological by release date.

Conclusion :

For many collectors, the level of detail and heavy focus on plate varieties that Brusden-White provides in its catalogues may be overkill and perhaps not worth the high price that each volume tends to run. However, the Brusden-Whites really have become the catalogue of record for Australian issues from 1913 to 1966. Hopefully new editions of the Decimal era catalogues will be forthcoming.

The other issue that many collectors may find problematic is the lack of coverage for the Australian colonies in the nineteenth century. The Brusden-Whites are clearly a labor of love by the contributors and editors of the catalogues, and given the sheer number and complexity of pre-Federation colonial Australian issues, may just end up being beyond the scope of what the catalogue will eventually provide.

However, Brusden-White is not the only specialized Australian catalogue one can refer to, as I will elaborate further in my next post.