Arago: Exhibits

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Australia & The Kangaroo

A set of postage labels had been in use across the whole of Australia since 1902, but each constituent state continued to issue its own stamps for a further decade. Only once uniform postal rates were introduced in 1911 was the path clear for the first definitive issue to be produced for use throughout the Commonwealth of Australia in 1913. However, the Kangaroo & Map series, often nicknamed the ‘Roos’, had a troubled gestation.

In 1911, the government announced a competition to find a suitable design for the stamps. More than 500 artists took part, producing over a thousand entries in all. A Melbourne man, Herbert Altmann, was awarded the first prize of £100 for his design, which had a portrait of King George V flanked by a kangaroo and an emu, and small shields bearing the arms of the six states.

However, the Postmaster General Charles Frazer refused to accept this. Instead he employed another local artist, Blamire Young, to design the stamps. Young's first 10 essays were also considered unsuitable, but then Frazer asked him for a design which combined ideas taken from his own submissions and some of the competition entries. The result was a design showing an outline map of the country with a kangaroo inside it.

Samuel Reading, an engraver working in Melbourne, prepared the die for the new series, which was typographed by J. B. Cooke. The 1-penny value was released in January 1913, and distribution of another 14 values, from ½-penny to £2, followed over the next three months. The stamps received less than favorable reviews from the press. One letter to a newspaper said ‘The design is delightfully truthful...an empty land with nothing but kangaroos in it.’ Others commented on the absence of any reference to the monarchy, despite Australia being a Dominion, and called the omission unpatriotic.

In June 1913, there was a change of government and a Conservative appointment, Agar Wynne, replaced Labour's Frazer as Postmaster General. One of Wynne’s first actions was to announce that a new 1-penny stamp would be issued, based upon Herbert Altmann’s competition-winning design. This appeared before the year was out, and further values followed in 1914. A Sydney newspaper reported that: ‘Mr Wynne has come to the conclusion that the present Kangaroo stamp is ridiculous, and that it has made Australia the laughing-stock of the civilised world.’

Even the London Philatelist, the primary publication of the Royal Philatelic Society, London, said: ‘Now that this issue is to be withdrawn, we do not hesitate to say that it was an insult to the civilization of the Australian Commonwealth, and that no more ill-fitting or undesirable advertisement could possibly have been devised.’

In reality, the stamps were not withdrawn. Certain values of the 'Roos' not only co-existed with the George V stamps but actually outlived them, a 2-shilling value was being printed until as late as 1945, in the reign of George VI.

2-pound deep rose & black Kangaroo and Map single

The 2-pound Kangaroo & Map stamp was issued in 1913.