2nd July 2012
All in the Name
The preparation of the lots for our specialised auction of Australasia, to be held on October 4th, is now at an advanced stage and, for those who might be unclear what this category of material encompasses, a few words of explanation might be appropriate.
Although sometimes used nowadays in a geopolitical sense to describe just Australia and New Zealand together, Australasia is here used geographically to embrace that part of the region of Oceania that includes Australia, New Zealand, the island of New Guinea and neighbouring islands in the Pacific Ocean; this term having been first coined by Charles de Brosses in 1756 in his Histoire des navigations aux terres australes to differentiate the area from Micronesia to the north-east, Polynesia to the east and Magellanica to the south-east
For our purposes, and to be specific in a philatelic sense, an Australasia auction may include the stamps and postal history of Australia, its original States, New Zealand, and those islands in the area that at some point fell under British, Australian or New Zealand administration (sometimes in combination with France or the U.S.A.) or trusteeship
This means that such countries as the Cook Islands, Fiji, Gilbert & Ellice Islands, New Guinea, Papua, Samoa, etc., may also feature in an Australasia auction. Volume IV of Robson Lowe's Encyclopedia of British Empire Postage Stamps, published in 1962, covers the basic possibilities rather well.
Another term that can cause confusion is N.W.P.I. (North West Pacific Islands) Overprints, an outstanding collection of which, formed by the late Patrick Williams FRPSL, features prominently in our October auction. These stamps were used principally in New Guinea - an island that can hardly be said to sit in the north-west of the Pacific Ocean.
The explanation is that, on the outbreak of the First World War, the Commonwealth Government had made extensive preparations to seize German-held territories in the Pacific including the overprinting of the King George V head and Kangaroo design stamps of Australia with the legend "N.W. PACIFIC ISLANDS" for immediate use by the invading forces. In the event the Caroline, Marshall and Marianne Islands further north were occupied by Japanese, rather than Australian, forces and these overprinted issues were not used as widely as first intended.
Whilst we are on the subject of names, it is interesting to note that Papua gained its name after Jorge de Meneses, first Portuguese governor of the Moluccas, referred to the island Ilhas dos Papuas from the Malay phrase Orang papuwah which means frizzy haired man.
Names can also be deceptive. Only last week it was pointed out to me by a professional numismatist, Charles Riley, that killer whales are not true whales at all but in fact dolphins, being the largest members of the family Delphinidae. Evidently this does not reflect well on the image of dolphins as friendly and clever but there is something even more worrying about this.
If coin dealers are going to start to become intelligent and well-informed, who will we stamp dealers have left to mock ?