Saturday, January 21, 2006

Brazil high-denomination officials of 1913

In the early years of the 20th Century several countries issued postage stamps of very high denominations; Rhodesia, British East Africa, and Brazil come to mind. What such countries shared was a lack of secure transportation methods other than the postal system for shipment of valuables.

It is not unusual to see covers mailed in those times by banks in Brazil plastered with large numbers of the 10,000 reis stamps that were the top denomination definitives of the time; these were most often registered international mail transmitting high-value material from Brazil to Great Britain. But in addition, in 1913 Brazil issued a set of official stamps with denominations up to 1,000,000 reis. At that time, 1,000,000 reis had roughly the purchasing power of US $200.00 then: the equivalent in today's purchasing power of perhaps US $4000.00. That's a lot of money for a postage stamp. So why were these extremely high denomination stamps issued?

The government itself used the postal system for mailing such things as currency and packages of revenue stamps from one city to another. And, until the use of official stamps was abolished at the beginning of 1920, such packages were franked with official stamps. Furthermore, when currency or other fungible valuables were mailed, postal regulations required the contents to be insured, at a postal fee of 2% of the value of the contents. So a 1,000,000 reis official stamp would pay the Correio's insurance fee for a package of 50,000,000 reis in currency, an extremely large amount, to be sure, but the sort of package that occasionally had to be sent by the treasury from Rio to, say, Sao Paulo or Recife. That was the only purpose of those very high denomination officials. 25,000 of each of the top 3 denominations (Scott # O27 to O29) were printed by the American Bank Note Company and introduced into use in Brazil in 1913, but by 1920, when the use of official stamps ceased, only slightly more than 5000 out of the 25,000 of each of these denominations had been distributed to or used by government agencies, and not returned to the central vaults when not needed. The other nearly 20,000 of each of these denominations were all surcharged as airmail stamps in 1927.

Not surprisingly, these high-denomination officials are scarce both unused and used.
Used copies are scarcer than unused copies, and a complete used set of this issue is hard to locate or assemble. But they're not as expensive as one might expect from their scarcity; like many back-of-the-book stamps from many countries, including the US, they get less collector interest than do regular postage stamps. A complete set really dresses up a collection of Brazil, and is well worth acquiring, if one can.

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