Royal Reels: Gambling


Western Australia gold field memorabilia are not infrequent finds at auction sites, and the Coolgardie Cycle Express Service, Coolgardie, W.A., 1894 postcard reproduction is a reminder of the past. It was produced in 1964 to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of the service in 1964. The front shows reproductions of the blue 1/- and 2/6 “cinderellas” postmarked with a special cancellation (Figure 1).

The reverse of the postcard has a fine example of advertising details for a service that was greatly required, with the address of the company, the names of the cyclists, the gold mines covered, a day and night service, and ‘SPECIAL MESSAGES GUARANTEED’ (Figure 2).

Gold was found in the Coolgardie district in 1892, followed by scattered finds in a radius of 250 kms and this was followed by a population spurt from a few aborigines to over 20,000 Europeans by 1896. The nearest post office was 200 km away at Southern Cross. Private services by bicycles were organized in 1894, as the demand for postal services could not be met by the government. The philatelic press did not learn of the cycle mail until 28 May 1896 when in The Australian Philatelist an article appeared containing an extract of a letter sent by J.A. Healy, (mentioned on the above post card), to a Sydney stamp collector. It read: “As these mails will be discontinued in a few months, owing to the Government running camel and horse mails, (this enclosure) will serve as a souvenir of a service that has had no small share in the opening up of the field and bringing together the prospectors and capitalists”. The mines serviced and the costs of delivery were outlined. The original 1/- and 2/6 local stamps are seen in Figure 3.

There are at least 2 philatelic books that go into the history of these local stamps in great detail: Bill Hornage’s ‘Local Stamps of Australia’ 1982, pages 65-67 and Margaret Hamilton (editor) ‘Western Australia The Stamps and Postal History’ 1979, pages 237-244. A further 3 values , all of a new but identical design featuring a camel and rider (still designated Coolgardie Cycle Express Company) were issued to provide for a greater range of charges, and were available in June 1896, for Healy had substituted camel drivers on some of the longer runs. The central vignette of the rectangular design was brown in colour, and the frame was green for the 6 pence, yellow for the 2 shillings and violet for the 5 shillings (Figure 4).

Large quantities were remaindered and most of the copies seen used on covers were produced by philatelists. These were usually cancelled with a two line ‘COOLGARDIE CYCLE EXPRESS CO./ HUNT STREET’ and /or pen cancelled. Genuine examples postmarked by the Post Office probably occurred inadvertently or made as a favour to a philatelist (Figure 5).

By late 1896, the Post Office had extended its services to most parts of the goldfields enabling them to close James Healy’s camel post down. Late in 1896, two Lake Lefroy men decided to organize a local cycle post and they issued their own stamp. It was in a denomination of 6d, and was printed in red, the vignette showing a swan, with LAKE LEFROY / GOLDFIELD/ CYCLE MAIL in the surround. The stamps were used between Lake Lefroy and Coolgardie, with additional W.A. stamps added if the letter was to be sent onward. (Figure 6).

All of these local bicycle- and camel-carried stamps had a non philatelic use for 2 years until the Government of W.A. suppressed their use.

Addendum:  Browsing through old auction catalogues, I saw this cover which had an estimated cost of AUD 12,000, described as follows:   c. 1895 cover addressed to Captain Paul/ Mount Margaret Reward Claim/ Mount Margaret, bearing Coolgardie Cycle Express 2/6 local stamp tied by straight line ‘Per COOLGARDIE CYCLE EXPRESS CO./ HUNT STREET’ in violet.  One of the great W.A. local covers (Figure 7).

Addendum (August 2009):  A cover with the 1/- Coolgardie Cycle Express Company stamp hand-struck in purple with ‘Per COOLGARDIE CYCLE EXPRESS CO./ HUNT STREET’ has a grey ‘TWO PENCE’ Swan stamp of Western Australia postmarked with the duplex KALGOORLIE/ 9/ DE 2/ 1895/ W. A with the obliterator over the stamp.  It is addressed to Mr. Tom Williams, Condenser Proprietor, Widgiemoola, Lake Lefroy, Via Coolgardie (Figure 8).

A map of Western Australia shows that the town is spelt Widgiemooltha (and it is near Lake Lefroy), and the post office iname is spelt the same throughout its lifetime.  However THE WESTERN AUSTRALIA (Perth) in an entry headed “Mining News/ Coolgardie” and dated 2 July 1896, describes “The New Find At Widgiemoola” (Figure 9).

Categories: Mining, Postcards