Royal Reels: Gambling


There was something about this cover that suggested to me that there was a good philatelic story attached. It was not definitely philatelically contrived but the careful placement of the stamps, the stamps involved and the clear postmarks x3 on the front suggested that the sender knew that the recipient had more than a passing fancy with philately. The sender could not influence the transit and reception postmarks on the cover’s reverse, but he should have been pleased with the results. I had no knowledge beforehand of Walton I. Mitchell MD and his place in the philatelic world.

This registered cover has a Tooraweenah N.S.W. registration label and 3 nicely applied TOORAWEENAH/ 18 AU 30/ N.S.W postmarks on 2 copies of the dull scarlet 1½d Black Swan stamp celebrating the centenary of Western Australia plus a single violet ‘Five Pence’ surcharge on the 4½d KGV head which was issued on 2 August 1930 (issued for the postal increase on 4 August 1930), making a total of 8 pence, which included the registration fee of 3d. Little did the sender know, that a cover with this stamp catalogued at AU$ 120 in 2001. (Figure 1)

The reverse had 2 transit marks of GULARGAMBONE/ 19 AU 30 of the Type 2B with double arcs (in long use from 1917 – 75), a SYDNEY/ REGISTERED transit, a purple double circle SEATTLE ( ) WASH/ SEP/ 11/ 1930/ REGISTERED, plus a purple double circle reception of BERKELEY CALIF/ SEP/ 14/ 1930/ REGISTERED. (Figure 2)

Some additional information concerning the 2 small towns in N.S.W. and their postmarks is in order for Tooraweenah had a recorded population between 75 and 100, so that it is not surprising that this Type 2A postmark was in use for 56 years from 1924 to 1980. Gulargambone town had a population of ca. 500 and its Type 2B probably saw little use over a long period. The aboriginal meaning of Tooraweenah is ‘plenty of brown snakes’ and of Gulargambone is ‘plenty of galah birds’ (brightly coloured birds). I don’t know why the cover went via the latter town as there is a more direct route to the larger Coonabarabran (town population of 3003) which has an aboriginal meaning of ‘an inquisitive person’. The meaning of aboriginal names is not an exact science, for 2 other renditions are also given, of which the most acceptable is a ‘peculiar odour’. Tooraweenah is approximately 500 km north-west of Sydney.(Figure 3)

Information on the web about W.I. Mitchell did in fact reveal that Mitchell was a philatelist of some note with particular emphasis on his long time involvement in defining US Bureau precancels. His publications on this subject went back as far as 1927, and in 1929 his Mitchell Hoover Catalog of Bureau Precancelled stamps was published yearly from 1929 to 1956. There was one other reference to probably the same man that was in relation to a 1919 entry: “On 2 January 1919, Major W.I. Mitchell, the surgeon for 805th Pioneer Infantry Regiment stationed at Chatel-Chehery, France, complained to the Chief Surgeon of the American Expeditionary Forces that his regiment had never been assigned a dental officer since its organization.” A request to the American Philatelic Research Library (A.P.R.L.) confirmed that the Mitchell at the address on the cover, the surgeon in France and the editor of the catalogs, were one and the same man.

Dr. Walton I. Mitchell was born in St. Paul, Minnesota on December 25, 1877 the son of a Swedenborgian pastor. He received his MD degree from the Hahnemann Medical College of Philadelphia in 1903, and he practiced in several States prior to serving for 2 years in the U.S. Army Medical Corps in France. He moved to Berkeley, California in 1928, where he remained for the rest of his life. When he died on March 22, 1960 at the age of 82, he was survived by his wife and 4 children.

His philatelic interests were protean over a period of more than 60 distinguished years of activity in many fields of philately, and he was the “dean of postal stationery collectors” with a passion that started in 1897 and lasted a lifetime. He ‘discovered’ the U.S. Bureau precancels, amassed the finest collection, exhibited his collections, won many awards and published many articles on various aspects of philately. He joined the American Philatelic Association at 20 and he was the APS life member #13. His photo was shown on the Oakland Philatelic Society Special Edition of the Southern Philatelist, October 1930, Volume 6, Number 12 (Figure 4).

So, what was behind the cover sent from the ‘village’ of Tooraweenah, N.S.W. to a world famous philatelist in 1930. Ellen S. Peachey of the A.P.R.L. who provided so much research material (to which I have not done justice) suggested that the sender and Major Mitchell may have met in France during WW I.

Addenda: An additional cover addressed to Dr. W.I. Mitchell has been found with the KGVI embossed red 1½d cover overprinted TWO PENCE, together with two orange KGV heads stamps postmarked NEWTOWN/ 2P 18 SE 30/ N.S.W., at the same address in Berkeley per R.M.S. Sonoma has a notation of “No 58″ which may apply to the number of covers sent to this avid collector (Figure 5).

Almost a year later, 2 more covers to Dr. Mitchell were seen on Ebay, one registered at Bondi Beach N.S.W with 3 different stamps postmarked 11 DE 34 to Dr. Walton I. Mitchell at his usual address, and the other registered at Tooraweenah N.S.W. and it was postmarked incorrectly in red TOORAWEENAH/ 27 JY 32/ N.S.W. The reverse again was fortuitously clearly postmarked and with a different transit at Gilgandra N.S.W. (Figures 6 , 7 & 8).

The Gilgandra postmark may have been used incorrectly for on all other occasions that I have seen this format in purple was on stamps: it is the double circle POST OFFICE/ 27/JUL/ 1932/ GILGANDRA (Figure 9).