Collecting the Omnibus Issues of the British Commonwealth From 1935 to Date - My Journey

Collecting the Omnibus Issues of the British Commonwealth From 1935 to Date - My Journey

For a long time now I have wanted to begin sharing my personal stamp collecting journey. Now, at last I have finally managed to make the time to begin organizing my stamps and sharing my collecting journey with all of you. As a professional dealer, it is always tricky to collect, because you have to avoid the temptation to collect the same thing you are trying to sell.

So, it has taken me a few years to figure out what I could collect economically and what could maintain my interest. I've always been a philatelist at heart - I love to solve puzzles. I like looking for the hidden details that others overlook, and I like getting to the bottom of the story behind the stamps: how they came to be, how they were produced, problems encountered in their production and how those problems were overcome. 

One day, I decided to start collecting one of my favourite sets, the 1935 Silver Jubilee, and just see what I could learn. I was completely unprepared for the way in which this interest would grow to encompass all of the onmibus sets. I've started this blog to show you the process by which one chooses a collecting area that is slightly off the beaten path and develops it into a specialized collection that can occupy an entire lifetime of collection and study. 

The Importance of Study to the Enjoyment of the Hobby

I liken stamp collecting to a very large extent to be similar to eating at your favourite restaurant. At one extreme you can choose to eat at a fine dining establishment, or at another you can go to an all-you-can-eat smorgasboard restaurant. The fine dining place involves much smaller portions that are savored carefully and enjoyed. Indeed the focus is not on the food alone, but the entire dining experience. You gain additional enjoyment from knowing that only the best ingredients were used and formed into this cullinary masterpiece by a talented chef, and from the ambience. 

So, it is with philately, I find. There will be times when money is running short, or you cannot locate additional items for your collection. It is at these times that you will be able, if you have studied your stamps and are engaged in constructing a story, to continue deriving great enjoyment from the hobby, despite the fact that you are not buying more stamps. As a matter of fact, you will very likely find that the more deeply you study your stamps, the more you will appreciate them, and the less scope you will require to hold your interest. Studying your stamps carefully, will pique your curiosity, and as a result you will very likely find yourself asking questions that only more detailed study can answer, because the answers are not to be found in any catalogue or handbook.

Why Omnibus Sets?

I have always liked a challenge and I have always derived more enjoyment from taking an area of philately that has not received much attention and making new discoveries. With the exception of the 1935 Silver Jubilee issue, the omnibus sets have been an area that has not received much attention from specialists. Most collectors acquire one of each set, mount them in their albums and move on. Yet, when you get into them you discover all kinds of varieties to collect. But the great thing is that because the window of production was relatively short for all these sets (generally under 1 year), the number of varieties is manageable. Except for the 1935 Silver Jubilee issue, they are not expensive to collect, with most being obtainable as complete sets for between $20 and $300 each, which is very good for sets containing over 100 stamps each in most cases. 

Another reason why they are attractive is that they provide a nice, controlled way to collect the entire British Commonwealth without going overboard. Generally, the sets use the same common design, though there are just enough instances in which a dominion or colony uses its own design, to make the sets more interesting. 

Still a third reason lies in the way the technology and printing methods evolve and change over time. The same 4 or 5 firms in the UK were generally responsible for printing all of these sets, which were distributed by the Crown Agents to the colonies and territories. In the beginning we have bicolour engraving and monocolour engraving, and the gradual introduction of photogravure with the low values of the 1948 Silver Wedding issue. Then, in the 1960's we have both early photogravure and lithography, until finally in the 1970's and 80's we have modern photogravure and lithography. The topics initially and towards the 80's are almost excusively Royal anniversaries or events, but there is a period in the 1960's where international events are featured instead. This subtle shift further enhances the interest. 

The main points of interest to be found in each set changes also with time and most of the sets have their own points of interest. I will discuss what these are in another post, but there are:

  1. Re-entries and plate flaws.
  2. Perforation varieties.
  3. Shade and colour varieties.
  4. Paper varieties.
  5. Watermark varieties.

Finally the omnibus sets are a manageable amount of scope that nonetheless are a challenge once you really get into them. I've always found that most collectors vastly underestimate the amount of complexity and therefore scope to be found in most collecting areas. Although they may appear too easy and straightforward to advanced collectors, there is more than enough  to keep a specialist busy hunting for a lifetime. One reason for this is that once you discover an error or variety on the stamps of one colony, this automatically opens up the possibility of this item existing on the stamps of every colony from that issue. Thus, the collecting scope of these issues can expand quite rapidly beyond the basic few to 300+ stamps in each set. 

So, now that I have answered the two most obvious questions, what and why, I am ready to begin outlining the basic scope of my collection and identifying where the points of interest are. 


Previous article The Different Omnibus Sets - A Quick Rundown of the Common Designs


Hélène Tremblay - May 30, 2020

Very informative article, it’s good to know the way of thinking and working of a seasoned collector.

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