Australia Post, National Philatelic Collection help

The National Philatelic Collection is a unique repository of philately and artworks relating to the design of Australian postage stamps. The collection presents the background story to stamp issues through items such as source photographs and artwork illustrating the development stages of the stamp design to printed proofs of the finished stamp.

Well-known artists whose work is represented in the collection include JJ Hilder, Blamire Young, Brett Whiteley, Peter Powditch, Ken Done, Leonard French, James Coburn, Eileen Mayo, James Meldrum, Sidney Nolan, Mirka Mora, Sally Smart, Fiona Foley and Ginger Riley.

The collection is a source of information not only to philatelists, but also to those interested in the history of graphic design and printing in Australia. It tells the story of events and personalities that shaped contemporary Australia, reflecting and documenting the development of national identity.

The origins of the National Philatelic Collection extend back to the late 19th century, when Australian colonial postal administrations regularly received requests from dignitaries, collectors and overseas postal administrations for samples of Australian stamps. In order to meet such requests they began maintaining dedicated stocks of stamps.

In 1891, nine Australasian colonies (including New Zealand, British New Guinea and Fiji) joined the Universal Postal Union (UPU) as a single member called “Australasia”. This development obligated the colonial postal administrations to supply examples of their stamps, as they were issued, to the UPU Headquarters for distribution to other member countries.

Overseas countries’ stamps were received from the UPU and assembled into separate collections formed by the various state and headquarters administrations of the Postmaster-General’s Department. Australia’s receipt of stamps of other countries through the exchange program set up by the UPU has meant that the National Philatelic Collection includes a world-wide repository of international stamps dating back over a century.

Prior to the early 1950s, the Postmaster-Generals’ Department did not think it was their role to retain most items associated with stamp production, such as original artwork and die proofs. Once this material had served its purpose, it was generally destroyed (or in some instances it passed into the private possession of officials).

In 1951, the Postmaster-General’s Department appointed a Philatelic Officer for the first time. The occupant of this position was Phil Collas. One objective adopted by Collas was to assemble the National Philatelic Collection. This was intended to be a definitive collection of Australian stamps, artwork, proofs and associated material, providing a record of the development of stamp designs. Items of significance were retained for the National Philatelic Collection from 1951 and this has been followed as a matter of course ever since.

Collas gathered together the scattered holdings of stamps, proofs and artwork into a coherent collection. When he arrived at the Postmaster-General’s Department there was already in Melbourne a large stock of obsolete Commonwealth stamps stored in envelopes and folders. From the NSW state administration in Sydney, Collas acquired an album of NSW colonial stamps in full sheets, which had been put together by A.F. Basset Hull, working as an honorary philatelic curator for the NSW Post Office around the turn of the century. There were smaller holdings in the other state administrations, which were also transferred to Melbourne for inclusion in the National Philatelic Collection. In the years since 1951, the National Philatelic Collection has expanded greatly as new stamps, postal stationery and other products have been issued.

In December 1986, Australia Post purchased the Chapman Collection of Australian Commonwealth stamps (1913-1965). Assembled over a period of 40 years, by Ray Chapman AM MBE, the collection was the first of its kind to gain a Gold Medal at a World Philatelic Exhibition. The Chapman Collection was acquired to complement the impressive, but incomplete holdings of the National Philatelic Collection.

Another major acquisition was the philatelic holdings of Note Printing Australia, transferred to the National Philatelic Collection in 1996. This material comprises original steel dies of stamps from 1913 onwards and a comprehensive range of photogravure proof sheets. Australia Post has also purchased a limited number of individual items for the National Philatelic Collection through private transaction and auction sales.

Contact Details

GPO Box 1777 Melbourne Victoria 3000 Australia

+61 3 9106 9570

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