Saturday, July 9, 2011

Life Insurance First Day Cover 3.3.1973

What is an insurance business doing with its own stamps? A philosophy held by New Zealand Governments until the late 20th Century was that it was a good idea for government to be involved in many fields of commerce - so as to keep the others honest. Insurance was one of those fields. The Government started a Government Life Insurance Department in 1869. It did not restrict itself to life insurance and late in its existence sold other sorts of policies. A lighthouse was used as its corporate symbol. When sea travel was the only way New Zealand was linked to the rest of the world and a common experience of many, the symbolism of safety aligned with a lighthouse must have been more powerful than perhaps it is today. As a government insurance business, it gained the right to use its own stamps after disagreements with the Post Office about how much postage it owed. Of course it chose to use lighthouses on its stamps. The stamps were available to collectors through the post office but were never authorised for general use. First day covers were available to general purchasers. Only the business could use them for general postage though there was an exception applying only on the first day of issue of the 1947 series.
The words New Zealand do not appear on any of the stamps - only the common abbreviation, N.Z. Nor did the monarch's portrait ever appear in the series. These are both indications of how the series was kept separate from the normal issues of the Post Office.
Customers and agents of the business who were also philatelists then collected a small bonus in postally used stamps. Postally used stamps of the 1947 onwards issues are not that common and some catalogues even show them at a premium over mint. Few were used internationally. The name of the business changed from "Department" to "Office" and this shows on the later stamps.In reality the insurance operation which went under the Government's name was a mutual insurance company with a relatively light Government involvement. In 1989 the Government stepped back from any involvement leaving it entirely in the hands of the policy holders. Consistent with this the "government" part of the name was dropped and it became Tower Insurance. It de-mutualised in 1999 and is now Tower Corporation. The use of the name Tower and the ongoing use of a lighthouse as a corporate symbol reflects its history. Inflation was rampant in the 70's and new values were needed. Two new values were issued (1976). They were John Berry's last stamp designs. The 2½c was also overprinted as a 25c stamp (1978). 08 March 1978 New Zealand Life Insurance First Day Cover, 25c on 2½c Puysegur Point Lighthouse, with Government Life Insurance Office cover. Postmarked at Wanganui. Maria sent me this cover.


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