Transition to Australian Decimal Currency Stamps 1966

“Trans-currency Issues of Australia”

by Nigel Moriarty

( Published with kind permission of the author & The Informer, Journal of the Society of Australasian Specialists/Oceania)

The transition to Australian Decimal Currency Stamps from the issues with values denoted in Pounds, Shillings and Pence occurred in 1966. Many countries change their currencies during the course of their existence. This eventually requires adjustments by the post service to accommodate the purchase of services in the new currency. This can involve the issuance of stamps with the new currency, overprinting the current stamps in the new currency or issuing stamps with both the old and new currencies (dual currency stamps) as a learning tool for the populace. Some entities have demonetised the stamps in the old currency immediately and others have accepted both currencies for awhile, leading to some very interesting covers.

There are consequences for long running definitives such as British Machins issues. The issue continued using a similar design but changed the currency denoted on the stamp. This was relatively simple in this case.

Example of the changes made from a pre-decimal stamp design to the decimal currency equivalent
King £2
King $4
2pound-king 4Dollar-King

Australia changed from pounds (£), shillings and pence to the decimal dollar on 14 of February 1966. The exchange rate was set at $2 to the pound. Because there was 20 shillings to the pound, a shilling was equal to 10 cents. However, there were 12 pence in a shilling, which meant that a penny was equal to 5/6 of a cent or 0.8333 of a cent (the 3 is repeated indefinitely).

Decimal stamps were available at post offices for a week before the currency change, but they were not valid for postage until the date of the change.

The old stamps were withdrawn from sale on 14 February. The post office decided to issue several of the old stamps with the new currency being substituted for the old in the stamp design. Catalogues group all the stamps issued on (or near) 14 February in the same set. However, the pre-decimal stamps are grouped based on design theme and issuance date period. For the purposes of this article, the decimal stamps are grouped based on design theme that can correspond to a pre-decimal issue theme. The pre-decimal sets that were reissued with the new currency could be called trans-currency issues.

The postal rates were also overhauled to take effect from 14 of February. Not only was the currency changed, a five-zone destination system was introduced to replace the pre-decimal divisions which were simple for most classes of mail, but very elaborate for airmail. Furthermore, the postal periods were also much shorter. The first rate period after the currency change lasted less than two years while the previous period had lasted more than six years.

The Australian Navigator Stamps

The first and simplest example is the Navigators issues of 1963-65. The issue depicts early navigators and their vessels in Australian waters and was designed by Walter Jardine per Sevens Sea Stamps catalogue but Gibbons lists more. The pre-decimal stamps are the 4/- Tasman, 5/- Dampier, 7/6d. Cook, 10/- Flinders, £1 Bass, and £2 King. The paper used for all values was toned with the 4 shilling using thicker paper. Later released printings of the 10 shilling and £1 stamps were on white paper. The Tasman stamp is printed on paper without watermark while the rest are in “C of A” watermarked paper.

The decimal equivalents exactly replicate all the stamp designs with the substitution of the values and currency with 40c., 50c., 75c., $1, $2 and $4, respectively. An example of the transformation is shown in Figure 1 (previous page) with the King stamps. These stamps are also credited to Walter Jardine. The paper for the decimal stamps was Helecon while the pre-decimal stamps had neither Helecon ink or Helecon paper. The $1 value has some interesting varieties. The most common perforations are listed in a footnote in Gibbons as 14.25 x 13.95 that is called 14 in the section heading. A perforation variety (15 x 14) was issued in 1973. There is also a plate variety on one stamp per plate involving re-cut lines in the sky between Flinder’s eye and the sails of his ship, Investigator. The final form has a plate crack in the same area as the re-cut lines. Colour shades also exist and the papers have no watermark.

Another variety is the mis-perforated 40c. Tasman (below).

40c Tasman perf error

40c Tasman perf error

The Navigator stamp values were quite high and did not pay any simple postal rate during the first decimal period.

The Australian Bird Stamps

The second example of a trans-currency stamp issue, the 1964-65 birds, is more complicated. While some of the pre-decimal stamps were simply reissued with the new corresponding value and currency, some were dropped and some introduced. Figure 2 shows the correspondence between the pre-decimal and decimal stamp designs and currency values. Some values of the birds stamps are included in the cases for which no decimal stamp with the same design was issued.

The pre-decimal issue designed by H. Temple-Watts has seven stamp designs:  6d. Yellow-Tailed Thornbill, 9d. Black-Backed Magpie, 1/6d. Galah, 2/- Golden Whistler, 2/5d. Blue Wren, 2/6d. Scarlet Robin, and 3/- Straw-Necked Ibis. The 2/-, 2/6d. and 3/- stamps were only printed on Helecon paper and the 2/5d. stamps were never issued on Helecon paper.  In fact, the 2/5d. was issued with the same chalk-surfaced Harrison paper as the other denominations and also on Wiggins Teape paper. One of the easiest ways to tell the varieties apart is that the words “BLUE WREN” stands out very much more clearly in the latter variety. The Scott catalogue’s sole unique contribution is the mention of a vertical pair imperforate between for the 6d. Thornbill.

Naturally, these are typical Australian birds that most residents could identify. Two, however, stand out as very Australian. The Magpie is very territorial and is known to swoop down on unsuspecting intruders to its territory. This attack can cause injury to pedestrians and cyclists. This has spawned a number of defensive strategies including wearing sunglasses backwards to fool the bird into believing it is being watched or putting a large number of cable ties onto a bike helmet to emulate an echidna’s spines.

On the other hand, Galahs are comparatively tame and are known as excellent pets. However, if an Australia calls you a galah, they are calling your commonsense into question. Of course, the context ­— “stupid bloody galah” — will usually give you the drum.

Designs for the decimal stamps were also provided by Temple-Watts. The designs that remained similar to their exact currency conversions were the 5c. Thornbill, 15c. Galah, 20c. Whistler, 25c. Robin and 30c. Ibis. The one caveat is that the background on the Galah design was changed from a light-mauve to a pale dark-green that contrasts nicely with the Galah’s pink breast.

Both the Magpie and Wren designs were dropped from the decimal issue. Three designs were added to deal with the change in rates (See Table 1); 6c. Blue-Faced Honeyeater, 13c. Red-Necked Avocet and 24c. Azure Kingfisher. Interestingly, there is no direct pre-decimal equivalent for any of these stamps based on currency exchange. The 2/5d. Wren would have needed a 24.167c. stamp (approximately) whilst the 9d. stamp would correspond to a 7½ c. stamp. Australia never issued a ½ cent coin so it made sense to avoid a fractional stamp denomination once the currency changed. It also appears that the post office used the occasion to provide a clear example of correct currency relationships.

The colour varieties of the decimal birds are spectacular. Perhaps the most commonly known is the “red omitted” on the 25c. Scarlet Robin. This makes the image on the stamp appear to be a Willie Wagtail, a bird that has a range that covers almost the entire continent of Australia and most of Papua & New Guinea, unlike the robin which only ranges in the southern parts of the country. It is an insectivore and will often follow home gardeners to swoop in on the bugs they disturb. However, these small birds are highly territorial and will attack larger birds that stray into their domain.

Other “red omitted” varieties occur on the 13c. Red-Necked Acocet and 30c. Ibis. A “rose-carmine omitted” error on the 13c. Galah results in a striking white bird similar to the white cockatoo and the highest catalogue value according to Gibbons.

“Grey omitted” varieties exist for 13c. and 15c., and a “yellow omitted” variety on the 20c. Whistler is also listed.

The denominations of the birds issue paid some interesting rates in the pre-decimal era. An airmail postcard to parts of Asia was either 6d. or 9d. whilst an airmail letter to Hawaii was 1/6d. Registration was 2 shillings so a registered letter within Australia & British Empire was 2/5d. An airmail letter to South America was 2/6d and 3 shillings was required for a registered airmail letter to the South Pacific excluding New Zealand. Ron Perry states that the 2/6d. is a very difficult denomination to obtain on cover as a solo franking. In fact, the example he highlighted in his July 2013 column in Stamp News was an erroneous franking and he still valued the cover at $200.

Decimal rates are very complicated. Examples of possible single franked rates for the first rate period, 14 February 1966 to 1 October 1967, are given in Table 1(See below). The two unused denominations were possible single franking uses in subsequent rate periods.

The shorter rate periods after decimalisation and the increase in rate categories makes collecting postal history of the early decimal period a challenging endevour. One of the easier rates to obtain is a letter to zone 5. The clean cover shown in Figure 3 (previous page) was sent to Finland (zone 5) towards the end of the first rate period. The cover is clearly non-philatelic and has a very simple address.

As an example the more difficult solo frankings, Ron Perry mentions a number of interesting examples including a rare usage of 13c. Avocet paying the postcard rate to Germany fetching $80 at auction (Stamp News, July 2013). He calls it “a very respectable result” for a minimal value stamp.

Relationships between pre-decimal and decimal birds issues
6d-thornbill 5c-thornbill
No pre-decimal equivalent 6c-honeyeatered
Magpie-9d No decimal equivalent
No pre-decimal equivalent 13c-avocet
1and6-galah 15c-galah
2Shilling-whistler whistler-20c
No pre-decimal equivalent Kingfisher-24c
wren-2and5 No decimal equivalent
Robin-2and6 Robin-25c
Ibis-3Shilling Ibis-30c


As an exhibit idea, the trans-currency birds issue of Australia could be an entertaining and rewarding area. The inclusion of solo frankings of all the trans-currency birds stamps would be a challenge requiring that the exhibit embrace a few of the subsequent decimal rate periods as it is clear from Table 1 that not all denominations have a corresponding rate in the first period. Covers with both pre-decimal and decimal stamps are extant and would add to the collection. Inclusion of paper and printing varieties would be a plus whilst the colour errors of the decimal stamps are likely some of the key items.

Table 1: Listing of denominations of the decimal bird stamps and possible single franked rates.

ClassDestination Zone
5cPost Card or Greeting2
13cPost Card or Greeting Card5
30cPrinted Matter4