The first cover shows a stylised ‘ribbon’ advertising JOHN REA/ GUNMAKER/ MCCRAE STREET/ NEXT BLACK SWAN/ SANDHURST and the cover has the 2d lilac mauve stamp of Victoria, postmarked with the duplex SANDHURST/ A/ NO 20/ 80 plus the barred numeral ‘4' as the obliterator. The Australian Firearms Museum, in a listing of Colonial gunsmiths, gives the following information: ‘Rea, J McRae Street Bendigo (formerly Sandhurst) Vic. 1890', and a further listing under his name: ‘Little Scotland, via Geelong Vic. 1851'. There is no certainty that the two addresses are for the same man, and in fact Robert B. Shannon’s Colonial Australian Gunsmiths 1967, does not list a John Rea at all, but lists a G. Rae at Bendigo, Vic. c. 1890 and a Thomas Rea at Little Scotland, via Geelong, Vic. 1851, which is all very confusing.
The other point of considerable interest is that the cover is addressed to ‘The Very Rev. Dean (Hussey Burgh) McCartney (sic), (Anglican Dean of) Melbourne’ (Figure 1).
I am so unknowledgeable about guns, that I have been unable to trace the source of the next two covers that appeared at an auction, from the same vendor on the same day. I realise that the identical gun is not advertised on both covers, but there is a similarity which suggests that the same company may have sent both covers; or, at least the guns may have been made by the same company. The latter suggestion has a greater probability, for the first cover emanated from Melbourne and the second cover from Adelaide. Not withstanding the uncertainty of the covers’ provenance, both are fine examples of the art of advertising.
The earlier cover has Melbourne, 23 AUG 15 345 PM postmark on a pair of 1d red KGV Heads as well as a ½d green KGV Head, and there is a purple ‘PASSED’ by censor marking. It is addressed to a New Haven, Connecticut, U.S.A. , but the addressed Company’s name is not legible. The address of the Melbourne Company is largely obscured, but an educated guess is SMALL A(RMS COMPANY), 229 (----------------) Me(lbourne). A fine rendition of part of the gun is pictured, and we are informed that the company has "The Largest Stock of Guns and Cycle Materials in Australia" (Figure 2).
The later cover has 2 copies of the 2d red Harbour Bridge (the letterpress printing) which are cancelled with LATE FEE/ 615 P 12 AP 32/ ADELAIDE, and it is clearly addressed to the Savage Arms Corporation/ 100 E. 42nd Street, New York City, N.Y., U.S.A. There is no information concerning the sender, but a fine rendition of part of a gun is pictured (Figure 3).
All is not obscure, for the Savage Arms Corporation is well known and there is a definite but non-philatelic connection of the company’s founder and Australia. A native of Kingston, Jamaica where his father was Britain’s Special Commissioner to the West Indies, Arthur Savage was born in 1857 and he led an adventurous life, having been schooled in England and the United States. In his thirties, he explored the interior of Australia and was held captive for a year by Aborigines. Later he became the owner of the largest cattle ranch in Australia (so says the Savage Arms history site). Later he sold the Australian ranch, and returned to Jamaica where he bought a coffee plantation. He moved to America and became the superintendent of the Street Railway in Utica N.Y., where he organized the Savage Arms Company in 1894. He took on the big 3 gun manufacturers of the day (Winchester, Remington and Colt) with his now famous Model 99 rifle. The Savage firm made guns and other armaments in both World Wars.
Why did the Dean of Melbourne, the Reverend Doctor Hussey Burgh Macartney (1799 -1894), receive correspondence in 1880 from John Rea, gunmaker of Sandhurst, Victoria? It broaches an intriguing question, which may never be answered.
Another cover advertised the sale of guns, but that was not their main role. Holdsworth, MacPherson & Company were in business from at least 1886 until at least 1927, with a store in George Street Sydney, and they were ironmongers who distributed various commodities such as Doulton earthenware and as this cover shows, also guns. Their gun specialties are shown on the left side of the cover. This cover was posted in Sydney MR 17/ 1884 and the firm had 3 partners Alfred Hawley, Henry Holdsworth, mamager and John Macpherson, bookkeeper (Figure 4).
Addendum August 2007: Two additional gun illustrated covers were found, the first advertising Winchester rifles sent registered from Maryborough Queensland in 1904, with three blue 2d 'figures in the 4 corners' stamps and one orange 1d of the same series, sent to Tasmania in 1904 (Figure 5).
The next advertising Remington shotguns, was sent from Melbourne in 1922 to South Australia with a single orange 2d KGV head (Figure 6).