Last weekend at STAMPSHOW in Columbus, Ohio, John Barwis, who had two exhibits entered in the World Series of Philately competition, won the championship with his The Half-Lengths of Victoria, 1850-59. Those interested in spending more time with the first stamp issue from Victoria will find his book, The Half-Lengths of Victoria: The Stamps and Postal History 1850-59, published in 2009 with Rod Moreton, in the several philatelic libraries.
This attractive, readable, and well-designed volume should interest collectors beyond Australia, or even British Empire, because it set a new standard for the research and publication of monographs on a single stamp issue. Additionally, John provides a model for researchers planning to undertake a cover census, or analyze existing census data in greater depth. The authors consider stamps and covers in relationship to their postal use and historical events, placing the Half-Lengths within the context of Victoria’s developing postal system and 1850s Australian gold rush. “By concentrating on the confluence of stamp collecting and postal history and by presenting previously unpublished census data on Half-Length covers, we hope to shed light into areas that cannot be illuminated by stamps or covers alone.”
The value of an extensive cover census to document the relative scarcity of various printings, color shades, frankings, rates paid, or destinations for covers franked with stamps from a particular issue has been shown many times. However, John Barwis, in his study of the Victoria Half-Lengths, has taken the cover census to the next level by offering an analysis of the survival rates for various groups of covers in his census. During a twelve-year examination of public, private, and archival collections, nearly 1400 surviving covers were found for the 26 printings of the first stamp issue from Victoria. While the mean on-cover survival rate was 2.7 stamps per 10,000 printed, survival rates for the different printings varied by more than an order of magnitude. John wrote, “It was no surprise to learn that, in general, the rarest covers bear stamps from the smallest printings. However, the smallest printings are characterized by some of the highest on-cover survival rates, whereas the lowest survival rates are from among the largest printings.” He addresses this apparent anomaly through an examination of potential factors effecting cover survival including collector bias towards the preservation of more attractive covers and the differences in survival rates for different types of mail service. His lucid writing style allows even those of us who did not take calculus to benefit from the application of statistics and logarithms to postal history research. Before the book was released, John published a shortened version of his census material as an article, “Interpreting On-Cover Survival Rates of Victoria Half-Lengths,” Collectors Club Philatelist, March-April 2008, pp. 107-111.