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Australia’s first commemoratives.

1d KGV Recess    

This failed 1913 issue is the probably the most overlooked and under rated series of all Australian Commonwealth postage stamps. After it’s aborted introduction it took nearly two decades for recess issues to re-appear. The poor understanding of this issue could be explained by the fact that there are only two designs in circulation which have no apparent relationship to each other. Specifically, the 1d recess KGV, and the 6d Recess Kookaburra. Although there is some justification, the 6d kooka is mistakenly collected and grouped with the subsequent 3d mini-sheet and later 6d typographed telegraph stamp. The 1d Recess KGV is begrudgingly added to most collections of KGV. It doesn't fit well, but doesn't seem to go anywhere else either.

   

The 2d and 1/- of the series existed only as proof sheets. Only a couple of examples of each stamp exist today. The 2d in green, the 1/- both in olive black, and indigo. The 2d die however, was subsequently modified and put to use as a war savings series during the Great War.

Genesis of the recess issue.

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Prior to federation in 1901, each colony produced, or had produced for them, distinctive postage stamps for use only for that colony. Over and above all other messengers, stamps were the ambassadors of any country in the 19th century. It was in a colony’s interests to produce the best and most stunning designs. After federation, it was in no colonies’ personal interest to spend capital on stamps, and most certainly, the newly formed Commonwealth could ill afford to. As a result, and as described in the introduction to this handbook, all stamp production was concentrated in Australia and printed in the most economical fashion possible. Thus the first pictorials in the world, the beautiful engraved Tasmanian Pictorials, became surface printed ugly ducklings. In fact, all previous engraved issues were converted to surface printing in Melbourne.

Competitions abounded in 1902, 1905, 1906, 1909 and, 1911 to design Australia’s first postage series. By 1911, a common postage could no longer be delayed. It is overlooked, that two competing interests were at stake. The Commonwealth needed cheap production. The public wanted what they had before Federation. Beautiful postage. The Kangaroo series was born in this climate.

In the same year that the Kangaroos went on sale, moves were made to also introduce a recess issue of postage stamps. Ie ones more attractive to the general public. In point of fact, the kangaroos went on to become a stunning series, lasting forty years. Innovative, attractive and akin to the decimal currency notes of a later era. Most handbooks translate the public anger at not having recess issues (in effect), with a dislike or hatred of the Kangaroo series. It was never so.

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THE prize winning entries from the 1911 Stamp Design Competition. The Kangaroo and the coat of arms shared equal second place.

The Kangaroo (Baldy's Roo) became the basis of the Kangaroo issues.

Herbert Altmann's first prize winning entry was resurrected under Postmaster General Agar Wynne.

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The two designs on left were from 'biot' (Possibly Herbert Altmann). Altman was commissioned by Agar Wynne in late 1913 to modify his prize winning design to the one above (using the sideface portraits from 'biot'). This became the basis of the KGV engraved 1d.wpe31.jpg (28031 bytes)

To confuse matters, the Roo series was used as a political football. (why not). Three successive governments rapidly came and went, partly over election platforms of getting rid of, or maintaining, the roo series. In the 1913 General Election, the newly elected Fisher Government intended that the entire kangaroo series would be replaced with a more traditional monarch’s head (or so they stated). Agar Wynn was the postmaster at that time. It so happened that a commemorative recess series was being designed at that time. In addition to any moves to replace the kangaroos, the Fisher Government bit the bullet, so to speak, and approved Australia’s first expensive-to-produce postage. One of the designs for this series was a KGV head. It was in fact resurrected from Herbert Altman's winning entry of the 1911 competition to select Australia’s first national postage stamp. The same competition in fact, that produced the Kangaroo. The Fisher Government selected this design as a matter of fortunate happenstance, to be the basis of its promised surface printed replacement to the Kangaroo series.

Philately has suffered humbug ever since. Namely,

bulletthat the Kangaroo was unpopular unloved and rejected. It was not. It was inspirational.
bulletThat the recess issue was the Kangaroo replacement. It was never intended to be, and never could be. From the outset, it could never produce the 2 million stamps / day required.

The reader is advised to never treat the Kangaroo or KGV definitives in isolation from each other. The surface printed Kangaroos, the recess printed KGV’s, and the surface printed KGV’s are intertwined. For clarity, this chapter must repeat information related previously, and introduce KGV material explored in later chapters. Much that subsequently occurred in Australian stamp design and plate makeup begins with this issue.

Although detailed in the following chapter, proofs (in black) of the recess KGV arrived in London in November 1913, before this series was issued to post offices. The intention was there all along, to produce a recess commemorative series, and a surface printed Kangaroo replacement. The focus and priority was to expedite standard letter rate postage, and the plates to do so, were commenced in London in March 1913. This was the conclusion of the political promise to ‘replace’ the Kangaroo. As it happened, the recess KGV design proved popular with the public. Questions were asked in parliament why this issue could not become the promised Roo replacement. The answer was that it took 4 men ten days to print 1 million stamps, and was thus impossible. Successive generations of philatelists have mistaken this reply to mean that it was the reason for then changing to surface printing. The intention was there all along.

As stated, the political promise to replace the kangaroo series, began and ended with the 1d red Kangaroo. The public were given what they wanted, disguised as a recess issue. But, because of the public approval of the resulting KGV 1d recess, the Government was encouraged to approve, in April 1914, subsequent blank ‘working’ dies derived from the pending 1d surface KGV. These dies were intended for, and did replace, as yet unspecified kangaroo denominations. This was not unreasonable. Cooke was hard pressed to keep up with demand for standard letter rate postage. The Kangaroo die was wearing out (it was to eventually do 5000+ impressions), and the idea of a flat steel quad 1d plate was very attractive. It would last much longer than any electrotype. (see next chapter).

On defeat of the Fisher government, no further attempts ever occurred to replace the Kangaroo series. The train of events during a fateful 1913/14 were completed, some kangaroos being replaced as a result. The common, unified, Kgv/kangaroo definitives were replaced in toto in 1936/7 on introduction of rotary presses and the zoological series. Ironically, the mythically unloved Kangaroo outlasted KGV by a decade. The 2/- was reprinted by McCracken in 1945. In the meantime, the Great War intervened, and this recess series was abandoned. During it’s brief existence, it

bulletcreated Australia’s two greatest rarities in postage stamps.
bulletindirectly introduced surface printed KGV
bulletbecame the major feature of the 1928 philatelic exhibition in which the popular kookaburra was reprinted as a mini-sheet.
bulletbrought TS Harrison into the stamp printing branch of the Commonwealth Treasury.
bulletsaw two successive governments fall within the year
bulletre-introduced flat plate recess printing
bulletbecame the base from which all subsequent recess issues derived until 1937.
bulletbecame the fundamental cause of all subsequent zoological themes.
bulletCaused the no watermark Kgv variety ("war savings paper")
 

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