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 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 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.


  1. All I can say/think is... drooling ;)

    Not fully related to this particular review, but... How do you go on with 'learning' and utilizing what is inside all these new specialized catalogs. For example BW is about 1300 pages of highly specialized tidbits.

    Personally I've noted that I usually 'dip in' one stamp/series at time, so the process of learning for me with any specialized catalog takes usually years, maybe even decades.


    1. Hey K! Not sure what exactly you are talking about. If you mean the structure of the listings, they are fairly easy to figure out in most catalogues within a few hours. If you mean the contents, then of course it requires years of work with them to really -master- the listings. But the first step in mastery is of course having access to the information.

  2. Yes, it was learning the contents I was thinking about.

    Please do keep the reviews coming. I'm enjoying them very much.

  3. I think one can often get a quick grasp on how detailed a catalogue is, in general, with a short perusal. Not to pick on Y & T, but I would only use it for French related parts. I don't usually find more useful information -than Scott for instance- in the non French area.

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