Stamp News April 2007
The 'Gray' Kangaroos, of Course!
A collection of mostly mint Kangaroos does not readily fit the profile of a column largely devoted to stamp usage on cover. However, not to feature the remarkable collection of Kangaroos formed by Arthur Gray, which was auctioned by Shreves Philatelic Galleries in New York on 22-23 February, would be to guarantee readership of the column this month would plumb new depths. Such omission would also be remiss of me for three better reasons. For starters, Arthur Gray is an exemplary example of a Philatelist, and to not devote this month's column to his auction would be unpardonable. In his collecting pursuits, Arthur is absolutely focused, committed, inquisitive and acquisitive, strategic, and a masterful networker with auctioneers and traders. (In fact, his relationship with the Trade, I'm sure Arthur would agree, is a major force in his Philatelic success). With such an abundance of attributes how could he not have succeeded? And few collectors would be more deserving of such great success. One cannot help but be in awe of the Kangaroo section alone, but remember the other sections of his Australia are equally incomparable! Secondly, Arthur is an old mate, metaphorically speaking of course. We first met in the early 'seventies, when it is probably not unfair to say I was the dominant buyer at auction of Kangaroos (they were then better value for money!). Years later, reflecting on my earlier, surprisingly feebly challenged plundering of Kangaroos, he confided 'I hated you in those days, Perry'. Arthur can be rather endearing. And finally, it was Arthur who led the consortium which acquired my former Philatelic auction and publishing (Brusden-White) businesses! I'll not begin to comment on more than a handful of the many outstanding results achieved in the auction. Fellow columnists, Simon Dunkerley and Glen Stephens, will provide their usual informed and excellent commentaries in that vein. For no better reason than to demonstrate that even in a superbly promoted, professionally conducted auction of a World-class collection, one can buy items which represent comparatively good value for money, I'll approach the results from a different angle. The pursuit of Value for Money in Philately is one of the cornerstones of this column, and it may be more constructive for me to encourage readers to 'have a go', and dare to be great in their collecting. Like Arthur Gray. Let's then sub-title this month's column 'The 'Gray' Kangaroos: Top 10 Good Buys?'. Scans are from the fabulous catalogue of the collection produced by Shreves Philatelic Galleries, with my grateful acknowledgment. Realisations include 15% buyer's premium; exchange rate is calculated on basis of US 79c = A$1.
Figure 1. Dearer than when I had one in 1971, but still reasonable value at A$6551
One was hard pressed to get a couple of hundred dollars for a Vaughan Essay when I had a 'set' of 12 thirty-six years ago. True, that's a while ago, but with probably only two examples available of Figure 1 (the 'Gray' collection also had the other example), Lot #18, I regard US$5175 (A$6551) for this handsome £1, which is of similar rarity to other denominations in the series but arguably of greater appeal, as not expensive. Inverted or sideways watermark errors of Kangaroos for which but two or so examples are recorded realise a lot more than this. In visual terms, in what after all is first and foremost a visual hobby, this Essay in my opinion wins hands down in comparison with often ugly watermark varieties, both as an exhibit and in terms of value for money. (If you're not already conversant with of my apparent lack of enthusiasm for watermark varieties, you ought to be by the time you complete reading this month's column. Call me old-fashioned, but I find it a paradox (dare I say 'folly' - and I suppose I just did) to pay very large sums of money for a variety which in an Exhibit (or a stockbook for that matter) can't be seen.)
Figure 2. Rather nice to have a set more complete than Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
Lot #80 was the set of First watermark ½d to 5/- on separate covers posted at Sydney, believed on first day of issue for the 2d, 2½d, 3d, 4d and 2/-, and on earliest known date of use for most of the other denominations. Figure 2, the 5/- from the set, is the only known on cover of this denomination, period. The Royal Collection contains an incomplete set to the 4d denomination only, similarly prepared by dealer Fred Hagen. It's always nice to have something better in Philately than Her Majesty. There are no other FDC's or 'Hagen' early date covers other than for a small number of 1d's. Estimated at US$40000/50000, the lot fetched a respectable US$60375 (A$76424), although I'm not alone in expecting it might have achieved more. Put this way, of the 12 covers ten are either unique, or at most there is one other example - in The Royal Collection! Therefore, the ten covers unique in private hands realised an individual average of A$7642. What would a unique Kangaroo Monogram, imprint, or watermark variety realise? Well, the 'Gray' collection provides the answer to that question, and the answer is a lot more than $7642. And, further, I would not be alone in arguing that from the point of view of importance in an Exhibit, these covers are as relevant as a Monogram, imprint, or watermark variety.
Figure 3. Lovely Kangaroo frankings such as this have a very bright future
Covers in the 'Gray' collection were a little sparse, although the small number on offer did include two of the very best Kangaroo covers extant! Figure 10 is one of these, and Lot #587 - the remarkable and unique Plate proof pair of the 2/- on a 1941 commercial cover (!) - is the other. The latter realised US$19550 (A$24747). Arthur was typical of the Traditional Philatelists of the past in that he tended not to be attracted to covers unless the franking was considered significant in a 'traditional' sense. That can be clearly said for Figure 10 (who wouldn't be motivated to acquire a cover bearing the £2 Kangaroo) and the uniquely franked Lot #587. Exhibitors in 'Traditional' are nowadays under pressure from Judges to show representative usage on commercial cover in their exhibits. Arthur Gray is amongst those exhibitors who have 'warmed' to including examples of usage in their exhibits. Recently, tongue-in-cheek, I suggested to Arthur that his new-found interest in acquiring commercial covers for some of his collections had elevated him, in my mind at least, from being a cover-recalcitrant to an emerging cover-aficionado. Arthur's reply, delivered endearingly, resounded back 'Now don't get carried away, Perry'. Figure 3 is a lovely tri-colour franking of ½d, 1d and 4d on 20 Aug 1913 cover from Oxford Street (N.S.W.) to Germany, paying 2½d Foreign letter rate plus 3d registration fee. Attractive covers bearing the 4d are very uncommon, and Lot #185 at US$402.50 (A$509) was not expensive.
Figure 4. State/Kangaroo combination which missed by millimetres
I liked Figure 4 a lot from the time I first laid eyes on it, coincidentally on the first occasion that Arthur exhibited his Kangaroos, at Stampshow 1998 in Canberra (where they were awarded the Grand Prix). I resolved to buy it at the auction (Lot #210), but had not detected upon that initial inspection that the cover was considerably reduced at left side, probably by an earlier collector who preferred his covers 'standard' size. I don't mind covers reduced by a couple of millimetres where scissors have been employed in opening, provided no essential elements are removed, but just too much was missing and reluctantly I chose not to bid. It could be said I missed this item by millimetres. The realisation was US$488.75 (A$619) which was not dear, and no doubt someone will derive much pleasure from possessing this item. Perhaps I shouldn't be so demanding in my standards. What's so good about this item? There are at least three factors making it desirable. Firstly, combination State and Kangaroo frankings are sought-after by those in the know, representing as they do a combination use of the stamps of two philatelically separate 'countries'. Next, 24 Jan 1913, the day the article was serviced at Stock Exchange P.O. (Melbourne) is the earliest recorded commercial use on cover of a 6d Kangaroo; the 'Philatelic' cover for the 6d in the aforementioned Lot #80 is a day earlier. Finally, the 2½d Victoria was added subsequently to meet the Late fee required for posting a letter to a foreign destination after the advertised closing time for that day's mail. The use of a Victoria stamp was necessarily reverted to as a 2½d denomination in the Kangaroo series would not be issued until a few days later in January 1913. Is regret at not buying this item beginning to become apparent?
Figure 5. Sperati Forgery. Not all Kangaroo 'stamps' go up in value?
The extraordinarily clever forgeries by that master of the 'art', Jean de Sperati, are highly sought after by Forgery collectors worldwide. Many stamp issues and proof items of the world received Sperati's attention, and his versions of the £2 Kangaroo (First watermark) are no exception to the 'quality' of his reproductions found for overseas material. Many an unsuspecting expert has been deceived by Sperati's work, and his £2 Kangaroo is certainly very capable of deception. Figure 5 (Lot #290) is one of two such forgeries in the 'Gray' collection (the other was #291 which realised US$3335), and I was surprised to note that it fetched only US$2300 (A$2911). These forgeries were selling for more well before the 'explosion' in Kangaroo values from around 2000 onwards. The 2004 ACSC catalogue value of $5000 would appear to corroborate my opinion that this lot was a 'good buy'. The catalogue states 'about two dozen 'used' examples' exist. The cancelled-to-order £2 First watermark, which is far more plentiful, catalogues $4000. The 'Gray' collection contained three examples in c.t.o. grade, which realised an average of US$3488 (A$4415), further supporting my contention that the Forgery was not dear. Even a garden-variety used £2 First watermark catalogues $3500, suggesting Lot #290 might have fared better if it had never been determined from the outset to be a Sperati forgery!
Figures 6 & 7. Two reasons why I find Philately so fascinating
Rarity in Philately, it's often stated, can be it's own worst enemy. If an item is so rare that it comes on the market, say, once in a generation, it may well suffer from a lack of publicity when it does appear, with the consequence that it achieves a realisation which is no way reflects its true rarity status. Figure 6 is in this category. Lot #306 in the sale, it totally fell through the cracks. A 16 Sep 1914 use of a largely complete P.O. Parcel label bearing First watermark 9d punctured Large OS in a strip of four, and 4d Small OS in a pair. Used off 'cover' even, the 9d strip would be considered a rare item. Previously, I'd not seen even a single of the 9d OS (Large or Small punctures) on a postal article, and accordingly did not attempt a price for such in the 2004 ACSC. Lot #306 realised US$310 (A$392), and when one considers that a used single of the 9d Large OS catalogues $75, and the 4d Small OS $125, or a total of $550 for the multiples present (allowing no premium for the fact that these in themselves are rare multiples), one might readily agree with me that this lot is a contender for 'Best Buy' in the auction. For the record, the high total franking of 3/8d would have been for an interstate parcel weighing between 6 and 7lbs. I like this item a lot, and for my money it is a far superior exhibit and, for those who cherish rarity, rarer than Figure 7. The latter is another First watermark 9d punctured Large OS, this time with watermark inverted, Lot #307 in the sale, realising US$14950 (A$18924). Lot #308 was a virtual clone and made a slightly more modest US$13800. The ACSC states of this watermark variety 'about half a dozen … known, all punctured Large OS'. It is by making comparisons between the seemingly inexplicable disparity in realisations for items such as Lots #306 and #307/308, and responding pro-actively, that often distinguishes informed collectors (and investors) from the pack. I understand a Trader bought most of the cover lots in the auction. If those purchases include this item he is fortunate indeed.
Figure 8. Used blocks high on Degree of Difficulty scale
The 2/- brown in a block of four in Lot #405, which comprised used blocks of the Third watermark 2d to 2/- (two printings of the 1/-), is probably rarer than a mint block of the same stamp, but don't expect it to fetch anywhere near as much any day soon. Used blocks appear to be very unloved at present, but would make for a very unusual and impressive sideline collection, if one is patient enough to withstand the long periods of lack of material which would have to be endured. The lot sold for US$575 (A$728) which would appear very good value for such scarce material. The 9d block had the bonus of a Thursday Island cancel, and the 2/- block as can be determined from Figure 8 was attractive.
Figure 9. Not a lot per pound for these 'Roo's
Lot #586 in the sale was an P.O. Interstate Parcel Post label bearing the Third watermark 2/- brown in a strip of three, and 3d single and pair, used from Duaringa (Qld) 11 Jan 1921. Shown as Figure 9, it apparently paid 6/6d for a 5 to 8lbs. parcel to other than an adjoining State, plus 3d registration, although one cannot be certain of that determination; more details were needed to be conclusive. The 2/- brown is rare on any type of postal article, and a strip of three is the largest multiple so used that I've recorded. Small, tolerable faults, yet presenting strikingly for an Exhibit, I felt it deserved a little more than the US$1207.50 (A$1528) it realised. Time I believe will confirm this to have been a 'Good buy'.
Figure 10. Most respectable realisation - for the present at least!
Lot #822 is one of two recorded covers bearing a £2 Kangaroo. Figure 10, it was offered to me at New Zealand 1990 for $750, and I rejected it as being too dear. Take heart, we all make mistakes (Yes, Rod, but this big?). On this latest occasion it realised US$15525 (A$19652). A good result, to be sure, but an item such as this has a very bright future, and the buyer may rest assured that time will vindicate his courage in securing this great showpiece. This cover fulfils my idea of Philately as Art, and frankly, I regard the comparison of this Aristocrat of Philately with the higher realising watermark varieties in the 'Gray' collection as totally perplexing. But enough of watermark varieties (well, almost). On more than one occasion in this column I've recommended Kangaroo covers as being rightfully more deserving of attention from specialists (and dare I add, investors). As recently as December 2006, on the subject of collecting Kangaroo covers, I put forth 'I'm tempted to rise to this particular challenge, and would were it not for the mandatory PRC (Philatelic Reality Check) which I undertake daily.'. At present, I know of only one serious Kangaroo covers collection, and there is room for more. This would be particularly so if the focus were on just one or the other of 'Traditional' (featuring usage of the stamps) or 'Postal history' (to feature rates, routes, destinations, instructional/informative markings, etc). Of course, many covers slot conveniently in to either of these broad categories. For example, Figure 10 would be equally at home in 'Traditional' as one of only two recorded usages of a £2 on cover, or in 'Postal history' as a striking example of eleven times the 5/10d Clipper airmail rate to U.K. (for an article weighing 5-5½ozs.).
Figure 11. For those who prefer their High value 'set' only on postal entire
The 'Gray' collection contained not one but two parcel tags bearing a 'set' of 5/-, 10/- £1 (grey of course - the bicolour is not known used on commercial postal entire), and £2. Lots #823 and 824, they each realised US$2875 (A$3639). I've featured #823 as Figure 11, a 1939 use of a gold bullion tag from Perth to U.S.A. Mint in San Francisco. These are of course very rare, and very attractive. Given that the stamps are comparatively common used off cover, in which state they catalogue $1075, I would not have thought the premium paid for the stamps on 'entire' adequately reflects rarity. Make no mistake. The gap between stamps used off cover and used on cover (or other postal 'entire') will continue to broaden, exponentially in many cases. Why? Simply put, serious collectors want the best possible items to exhibit in their collections, and comparing stamps on cover to their equivalent off cover is like comparing a tree to woodchips! The stamp on cover is likely to provide a more complete historical record (call it a time capsule) than is possible for that stamp once removed from its cover. Let's say not unlike the relationship between a book and its dustjacket. One wouldn't buy a book, retain the dustjacket, and discard the body of the book. Would one? Most used Kangaroos are readily available off cover, but attractive, exhibitable covers are hard-to-find, and will become increasingly so as the finite supply is subjected to greater demand. And virtually no two covers are identical, therefore tempting the acquisitive to absorb even more without fear of duplication, and in so doing placing even greater pressure on supply. So concludes my suggested 'The 'Gray' Kangaroos: Top 10 Good Buys?'. However, as I studied the prices realised in order to arrive at the above, I couldn't help but notice some realisations which, in my opinion, were the very antithesis of the Value for Money mission sought for this article. Figures 12, 13 and 14 represent my selection of contenders for the opposite to 'Good buys', from which I'll arrive at my suggested winner of the 'Wooden Spoon'. Remember, these are my suggestions, provided in the spirit of encouraging healthy debate in Philately, and doubtless others may agree to disagree with my suggestions.
Figures 12, 13 and 14. Kangaroos for the very brave
Figure 12 was Lot #319 in the sale, a used £2 punctured Large OS. Catalogued in ACSC at $10000, it realised US$46000 (A$58228), a staggering sum by any measure. This item, and indeed the two other subjects which follow, are testimony to the pulling power of the Stanley Gibbons 'Part I' catalogue, which listed punctured OS and inverted watermark stamps of Australia for the first time in recent years only. Collectors obsessed with completeness by catalogue listing have long been pin-ups of Auctioneers and the Trade, and doubtless the increased demand for punctured stamps, ensuing from the Gibbons listing, will be willingly serviced by the unscrupulous in perpetuity. The wise will insist on recognised Expert Certificates for punctured stamps.
Figures 13 and 14 (predictably) are watermark varieties. Figure 13 was Lot #335, a used Second watermark 2d inverted. It has lower right corner perforation added, and fairly could not be described as one of the finer of 'approximately ten used examples' as recorded by ACSC. Arthur probably had the opportunity to improve on this example, but wisely had effectively exited the market for inverted watermarks by the time they commenced to fetch more than 'a few hundred bucks', as he was once known to mutter. This one fetched US$23000 (A$29114). What would the best example have fetched? I don't want even to think about it.
Figure 14 was Lot #606, the unique Third watermark 5/- sideways. Estimated at what some thought a very full US$40000/50000, it went on to be knocked-down for US$92000 (A$116456)! Have a glance at it. Is this Philately as Art? I doubt even its mother could love this joey. For A$116456 I dare say one could hang a very nice Australian Colonial painting on the study wall. It would be unwise to hang Figure 14 alongside for fear the cleaner might mistake it for a stain and do away with it. This stamp, I suggest, in terms of its realisation, is Australia's equivalent to the U.S. 1c 'z' (pronounced 'zee') grill, which recently changed hands for a reputed US$4 million. Not that it's likely to matter, but what do I think of zee grill, which is possibly the world's most overpriced piece of paper? Frankly, I prefer zee roast. The Search for the 'Wooden Spoon', without any hesitation from me, is therefore complete. I give you Figure 14. Next month, back to basics. Our subject will be usage of the 1969 Primary Industries set, replete with the tables concept introduced for the 1968 Flowers in the March column.
Rod Perry has been a philatelic trader since 1962. He founded Rodney A Perry Auction Galleries (now Millennium Philatelic Auctions) in 1971. As a collector he has exhibited nationally and internationally. Rod prefers his used stamps on cover and likens taking a stamp off its original cover to converting a tree to woodchips.