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Commonwealth Day

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New Zealand, along with a number of other Commonwealth countries, issued stamps to mark Commonwealth Day in 1983. Consisting of four denominations, the issue reflected New Zealand's cultural, geographic and economic diversity. Each stamp featured the Commonwealth symbol.

Issue information

The Queen featured on the 24c stamp and a noteworthy feature of the portrait is that she was wearing the Sovereign's Badge of The Queen's Service Order. This order is exclusive to New Zealand but is also an integral part of the whole Royal Honours system ranking next to and immediately before Officers of the Order of the British Empire (OBE). The Queen's service order (QSO) was instituted by Her Majesty by Royal Warrant in 1975 and contains two sub divisions, the first for community service and the second for public services. Not more than 30 appointments may be made in any one year. The ribbon on the badge was based on the poutama, a Māori tukutuku design representing steps, while the badge consisted of five large and five small stylised mānuka flower petals. These were superimposed upon a medallion bearing the Crowned Effigy of The Queen, all within a circle of red enamel bearing an appropriate inscription and surmounted by St Edward's Crown.

An early example of Māori art featured on the 35c stamp. The original drawing, made in charcoal was found at the Dog's Head Rock Cave on the Te Ngawai river in South Canterbury. Archaeologists believe that rock drawings of this type were made over 500 years ago to adorn the walls and ceilings of caves that once formed comfortable dwellings. The drawings were first recorded by Europeans in the late nineteenth century when some similarities to art from Flinders Island, off Australia, were noted. There has been some discussion over the years about whether the drawings have meaning - were they a form of writing, mnemonics or maps? Did the drawings illustrate legends or were they just doodling? The answer to such questions may never be known. However viewed simply as art, the drawings suggest a very skilled people with a rich graphic culture. The Māori rock art on the stamp is a reproduction of a drawing from the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch.

Wool, one of the most important items of New Zealand's primary production, is represented in the design of the 40 cent stamp which featured the Woolmark symbol together with a mini-bowl, a machine developed in New Zealand for the wool scouring industry. Mini-bowls are drastically shortened bowls for scouring greasy wool. They allow space required by a scour to be reduced by about 40% with consequent savings in energy, materials of construction, water and detergent needed in washing. The scientists and engineers from the Wool Research Organisation of New Zealand who were responsible for developing mini-bowls, were the joint recipients of the B.P. Energy Award in 1979.

The New Zealand Coat of Arms featured on the 45c stamp. One quarter of the shield depicted four stars as representative of the Southern Cross while another quarter displayed a fleece representing the farming industry. The wheat sheaf in the third quarter represented the agricultural industry, whilst the crossed hammers in the fourth represented the mining industry. The three ships in the centre of the shield symbolised the importance of New Zealand's sea trade. The supporters on either side of the shield consisted of a Māori chieftain holding a taiaha and a European woman holding the New Zealand ensign. Surmounting the Arms is the St Edward's Crown which was used in the Coronation ceremony of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. The crown symbolised the fact that Her Majesty is Queen of New Zealand.

A presentation pack was also issued on 30 September 1983 and featured the four stamps.

Product Listing for Commonwealth Day

Image Title Description Price
  Single Stamp

Single 24c 'Portrait of Queen Elizabeth II' gummed stamp.

This stamp depicted a portrait of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II wearing the Sovereign's Badge of The Queen's Service Order. The Order is distinctive to New Zealand and was introduced by Her Majesty in 1975.

  Single Stamp

Single 35c 'Māori Rock Drawing' gummed stamp.

This example of early Maori art was found at Dog's Head Rock Cave on the Te Ngawai River, South Canterbury. Using charcoal, early Maori artists drew these figures on the limestone walls of the cave. A feature of these figures is their three-fingered and three-toed limbs.

  Single Stamp

Single 40c 'Woolmark - Wool Scouring' gummed stamp.

This design shows the distinctive woolmark logo superimposed on a stylised representation of a "mini-bowl". These bowls were a New Zealand invention used for scouring (washing) greasy wool. The level of technology in wool scouring in New Zealand was acknowledged to be the highest in the world.

  Single Stamp

Single 45c 'The New Zealand Coat of Arms' gummed stamp.

The New Zealand Coat of Arms was authorised by Royal Warrant in 1911 and revised in 1957. The design showed two figures facing each other, a European woman with a staff bearing the New Zealand flag, and a Māori Rangatira who carries a taiaha. Between them, a shield contained features symbolic of New Zealand life; three ships, the four stars of the Southern Cross, a wheat sheaf, two mining hammers and a sheep's fleece. Above is the crown of St Edward and below the motto, 'New Zealand'.

  First Day Cover First day cover with stamps affixed. Cancelled on the first day of issue. $1.52
  Presentation Pack Presentation pack containing four stamps from the issue and further information on the theme of the stamps. $2.30


Stamp Bulletin

This stamp issue first appeared in New Zealand Post Stamp Bulletin No. 29 in April 1983.

Acknowledgments: Bulletin scanned and provided by John Biddlecombe of the New Zealand Society of Great Britain. Their web site offers further information useful to those interested in the stamps and postal history of New Zealand. Link:

Technical information

Date of issue: 14 March 1983
Number of stamps: Four gummed stamps
Denominations: 24c, 35c, 40c and 45c
Stamps and first day cover designed by: P J Durrant, Christchurch, New Zealand
Printer and process: Harrison and Sons, England, Great Britain by lithography
Stamp size and format: 42mm x 28mm (horizontal)
Paper type: Unwatermarked
Number of stamps per sheet:  100 
Perforation Gauge: 13.75
Special blocks: Plate/imprint block or value block could be obtained by purchasing at least 6 stamps of each denomination
Period of sale: These stamps remained on sale until 30 April 1984. First day covers remained on sale until 23 March 1983. The presentation pack remained on sale until 30 September 1983.
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