Distribution of TPO Cancels on Cover

Some months ago, I forwarded a questionnaire to several of the major collectors of Victoria’s Travelling Post Offices asking for their feedback, as part of my effort to gain a better understanding of the subject.  The generous feedback I received from those surveyed has enabled me to develop a spreadsheet showing the distribution of the various TPO cancellations that have been confirmed to date. 


The aggregate inventory of the collections now included in the survey includes more than 6500 TPO strikes on loose stamps and more than 850 covers with TPO strikes.  While this is not a complete census, it is sufficient to develop a tentative statistical model, and some very interesting patterns are emerging.


Of the 132 different TPO strikes listed on the table, fully 37 of them are not found on any of the 850 covers I currently record.  Surely some of them are yet to turn up, but it is obvious from the data that a large percentage of the strikes are very rare to non-existent on cover.  A further 28 of the cancellations in my tabulation are recorded on only 1 or 2 covers.  In other words, about half of all the 132 TPO cancellations in my spreadsheet have 2 or fewer covers recorded within the 850 cover inventory.  One must also take into account that this data is derived from some of the most important TPO collections, and one might expect there has been a serious effort on the part of those collectors to find examples of these rarities.


 The flip side of the story is that a mere dozen of those 132 TPO strikes account for almost 45% of the 850 covers.   Thirty types have 10 covers or more in the table.  In other words, with some effort, one might reasonably expect to find about one-quarter of the types on cover but the remaining three-quarters of the list will range from difficult to impossible to acquire.


 Another surprising observation is the apparent rarity of many of the twentieth-century strikes on cover – in many instances they are more rare than the first-types that are held in such high regard.  Thirty-seven new cancellation types were introduced in 1908 or later.  Of these, 16 are not found on cover in my list, and another 10 have just a single cover listed.  Only one of these later types has 10 covers listed in the inventory, and the total inventory of these 37 TPO types on cover totals just 55 covers of that 850 inventory. Are there additional covers buried in post-colonial Australian collections, or are they as rare as they appear to be?   These are questions that need further study.


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