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.

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