Sunday, January 01, 2006

Brazil: Categories of "used"

In the earliest period of stamp collecting, small labels were issued to be attached to envelopes or letter sheets or postal forms denoting prepayment of postal fees or collection of postal fees for transporting items through the mail from a sender to a recipient. As stamp collecting became more and more popular in the late 19th Century, many countries perceived the potential revenue available from selling stamps, unused or canceled, to collectors who would not use them for postage. So unnecessary issues attractive to collectors proliferated, "microcountries and "microcolonies" with no need for their own stamps issued stamps, stamps canceled by the postal authorities and invalid for postage were sold to collectors below the nominal face value, and so on. For every country I collect, I like to know that the stamps I acquire were in fact available to postal patrons in that country for payment of postage or postal fees charged for sending things through the mail. This can get quite complicated because of all the ingenious gambits invented by postal administrations, philatelic agencies and private groups to produce "stamps" that were not, and were never intended to be, created for postal use in the alleged country of origin. So I try, as best I can, to learn which issues were actually sold by the post office to postal patrons for prepayment of postage or postal fees for transmission of items through the mail, or collection of postage or postal fees a posteriori for items that require additional payment for sch tramission from originator to recipient. Figuring this out depends on the country and the time period, and in some cases the specific issue. As I discuss this in connection with Brazil, I shall divide "used" into categories, some of which I'll ilustrate by comparing them to what other countries do.

First off, Brazil has never issued what are usually thught of as "CTOs", stamps canceled by the printer and then sold to dealers and the public at less than face value. However, like France, the USA, and other countries, Brazil has produced numerous "favor cancels" (like the ones applied to unaddressed US FDC's sent in after the actual date of issue), which are canceled to make them "used", but which do not pay postage from a sender to a recipient, and which are charged for by the postal authorities at or above the denomination of the stamp. For some Brazil issues, such "favor cancels" are far more common than copies that were postally used on commercial or philatelic covers. In Brazil they appear not only on first day covers, but on stamps or blocks of stamps canceled at a post office counter by a clerk without being affixed to a mail item; on unaddressed handback covers; on maximum cards; in the "editals" that announce new stamp issues; in official or unofficial "folinhas" (folders) cebrating events, and so on. This practice began on a large scale with the issue of Scott Brazil 162-165, Brazil's first commemoratives, issued to subsidize a national exposition, in the expectation that few would be used for postage, and indeed few of them were; most have a characteristic Rio 5th Section or 7th Section cancel that was applied to stamps or handback covers at the exhibition, and in some cases were even sold by the printer already canceled with this cancle. Postally used copies are scarce, and tend to bring considerably more than Scott catalog value.

Subsequent commemoratives were also favor canceled in many cases; most of these can be distinguished from postally used copies by the sharpness and neatness of cancellations, but for some this is difficult. By some time in the 1920s, special cancels were applied as favor cancels in some locations, and this practice spread rapidly. These special cancels, of course, invalidated the canceled stamps for payment of postage or postal fees.

It became enough of a burden on postal clerks to apply these special cancels so that in 1972 the postal authorities started experimenting with applying special cancels to a quantity of some commemoratives and souvenir sheets before distributing them to the philatelic windows of post offices. But did these pre-applied special cancels invalidate the stams for postal use? For years I was uncertain about this, because of conficting evidence; I have recently satisfied myself that these pre-applied special cancels in some cases functioned as precancels, and the stamps or souvenir sheets bearing them could be bought at special postal counters and used to prepay postage, receiving a CDS dated as much as 18 months after the printed date on the special cancel. FDC cancels in addition to the special cancels are extremely common, but these later uses are scarce.

Because of problems of difficult separation, and faults that occur in postal use, most commemoratives and souvenir sheets since about 1985 are a lot easier to find VF without faults favor canceled than postally used, so building a collection of postally used modern Brazi stamps and sovenir sheets can be a real challenge. VF used copies without defects ordered from many dealers in the USA and other countries are mostly favor cancels, although sufficient persistence can turn up postally used copies, with a few exceptions. My personal rule of thumb is that I expect to pay 2 to 5 times Scott catalog value for every Brazil commem or souvenir sheet issued since 1985 that I succeed in finding VF without faults that can be clearly shown to be postally used.

A very few Brazil stamps that were valid for postage seem to be almost imossible to locate postally used. But conversely, a few items that were supposed to be invalid for postage were accepted to frank letters by postal clerks wh knew what they were doing; my rule of thumb on these is that if I can locate two or more international registered covers mailed from the main Rio de Janeiro post office that got to their destinations without any Brazilian or other country markings questioning the validity of the "stamps", I consider those stamps to have been de facto valid for postage, no matter what the fine print of the official rules said.

There are a few other twists and quirks in this subject, and at some point in the near future I'll fil in the gaps, but this is enough for now.

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