Sunday 4 March 2012

Are Tonga's Philatelic Floodgates About To Open?

I was very pleased to discover that Tonga was about to start issuing stamps again after a break of several years (see blog of 3 February 2012) but I am now less happy to discover that the firm which has masterminded this relaunch is Philatelic Incorporated which has produced huge numbers of stamps for The Cook Islands and its subsidiary philatelic entities (Aitutaki, Penrhyn and, now, Rarotonga) over the last couple of years. Not only have a large number been issued but many of them have had very high face values. The latest exploits by this agency on behalf of The Cook Islands postal service include the issuing of 8 stamps and 2 miniature sheets to commemorate the 22nd World Scout Jamboree in ..... Sweden (so not very close to The Cook Islands then) and this has presented the opportunity to use up old unsold stock by overprinting a set of 4 stamps and a miniature sheet issued a couple of years ago in two versions - a gold overprint and a silver overprint (why?). The total face value of that little lot was $20 and all produced at minimal cost by Philatelic Incorporated. Then in January, 2 stamps were issued in sheetlets of four (in that form enticing collectors to buy 2 sets instead of one) by The Cook Islands to commemorate the beatification of Pope John Paul II (a generous tribute since only 16.8% of the country's population is Catholic or perhaps it's just that papal issues are usually big sellers). Oh, and by the way, stamps of a similar nature were also issued for Penrhyn and Aitutaki making 6 different stamps in all or you could buy 12 if you bought the sheetlets. Remarkable restraint was shown by them not issuing a set for Rarotonga, or maybe that is to follow. The stamps show portraits of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI and appear to be by the stamp artist Derek Miller whose portraits of the popes are much better than the ones he produced last year of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to commemorate their wedding.
Gold & silver overprints on the same stamp.
So, does the same stamp issuing fate await Tonga and will the new issue floodgates open up from the country? Signs are not good. The agency took over in November 2011 and seemed to think that an emergency Christmas issue was necessary with two stamps being produced for Tonga and two more for Niuafo'ou although they were not issued until 24 December which was not very practical for the Tongan public to be able to use them on their Christmas mail. In January the agency rushed out a new definitive set for Tonga depicting native birds, 12 stamps in all with values up to $10 although if previous form with The Cook Islands is anything to go by, much higher face values will follow and the whole lot will be overprinted, perhaps in gold and silver(!), for use on official mail, which means for use on mail from the Tonga Philatelic Bureau. Niuafo'ou, meanwhile, has had 6 stamps and 2 miniature sheets produced for it which depict whales. All the designs are simple photographs manipulated with a computer to add the country name and value so we can be sure that not a lot of money was spent at the design stage. It is interesting to note that although the agency now represents the post offices of two countries it is now producing stamps for six philatelic entities. Let us hope they do not take over the issues of Tuvalu or else we may find stamps being issued for all their individual islands as notoriously happened in the 1980's. I am now giving up collecting the new issues of Cook Islands and its appendices unless the issue is strictly directly relevant to the territory and I hope that I do not feel the same about the issues of Tonga in the next few months. Time will tell.
The new definitive set was not only issued in ordinary sheets but also as a miniature sheet, as illustrated above, so collectors are faced with a double-sized bill with this issue as happened with The Cook Islands and its associated entities. Is this really the way to go about things in these times of financial difficulty?

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