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Stamp News  August 2013 

                              Woodchip-free Zone 

 

A round with the Australian auction houses

 

In tandem with buying from their favourite Traders, most serious collectors' worldwide trawl the auction house catalogues for their interests, increasingly online now that the philatelic world is everyone's oyster.

I'm amazed at the in depth penetration of the internet in Philately, traditionally not an industry associated with cutting edge technology, I think it fair to say. If one can master the art of search for one's interests, including utilizing some of the more obscure search functions available ("fatfingers" anyone?), it's possible to discover so much that would otherwise elude one.

Likely never again will a Western Australia inverted frame 4d, auctioned in Germany, appropriately described in German under the country heading "Westen Australien", be there for the taking for approximately AU$3000, and sold months later for $22000 (Perry 1977 Rarity sale).

When I meet a collector who doesn't buy in auctions, frankly I find it difficult to take that collector seriously. Other than via the act of buying a significant collection intact, I've yet to encounter a memorable collection which doesn't to a large degree owe its existence to its owner being a pro active auction buyer.

So, this month I'm featuring a selection of items from recent Australian auctions, for no better reason than I like the subjects selected. And, besides, in so doing I may even be shouted "a round" by the respective auction proprietors. The selection is in no particular sequence, and auction results exclude premiums.

             
                  Figure 1. Mint "OS" 2d and 3d pretty ordinary in comparison

Velvet Collectables Group on June 22 had a cover, Figure 1, which will be seen to have been a very astute purchase. Estimated at $360, Lot 1201 fetched $380, and I should have been in there (story of my life), for this represented excellent value for money. Collectors would rather the mint duo of the 1931 Kingsford Smith "OS" overprints, which are readily available, extensively faked, and overpriced, than owning this once-in-a-lifetime commercial Official cover bearing a pair of the 2d, correctly paying double Letter rate, the day after the overprinted stamps were distributed to Federal MP's, no less. A text book example of why I'm challenged when endeavoring to comprehend the tastes of many amongst the present generation of collectors.

       
                              Figure 2. Rarer, though less sought after than 1d "Eosin"  

I considered forming a collection of Australian Official Stationery about a decade ago. Status International then had a terrific collection/accumulation of this material, assembled many years ago by someone with an eye for the future. I procrastinated, and it never happened. Status still has very nice Official Stationery in most auctions, suggesting that hoard has not yet been exhausted. Figure 2 was Lot 1579 in the June 6 sale, a Wrapper with stamped KGV 1d red with colourless "OS" dots, uprated with punctured KGV d green for War tax, neatly used at Tallarook Aug 6 1919. This Stationery item catalogues $500 in the superb recently published ACSC Postal Stationery, a most welcome new volume to one's library. The Status lot realized full catalogue, against an estimate of $500-800. Less than the coveted 1d "Eosin" shades fetch, although the wrapper is far more elusive. I had intended to feature Lot 1578 in the same sale, the KGV 1d black-brown Wrapper with "OS" in solid engraving, but couldn't execute a suitable scan. That is a rarer item again; only 4000 were printed, similarly specifically for the Education Dept. ACSC prices unused only (at $500); the Status item was used at Melbourne Apr 1 1918 ("April fool's day"!), and fetched $750 (est. $750-1000). That was good value, lesser quality examples in recent years having made $1100 and $800 at auction.

Incidentally, this new ACSC publication, a Geoff Kellow masterpiece, supported by a cast of Stationery superheroes (seriously), will provide a much overdue boost for Stationery which, in tandem with commercial covers, is very underrated in comparison with traditional mint and used stamps.

     
                    Figure 3. Exotic item for Birds or Crash mail serious collections

I originally spotted the Figure 3 cover on eBay in the early 2000s, and bought it. I sold it through Millennium Auctions, and it next appeared at Charles Leski Auctions Airmails sale of May 16 as Lot 569 (the Alan Grey collection), realizing $675 (est $400-500), still good value for money. One of the few New Guinea "crash"-related covers I've seen, it was sent from Rabaul Aug 3 1936 for airmail to England via Australia and ended up on the Scipio, an Imperial Airways Short S17 Kent flying boat which crashed at Bay of Mirabella, near Crete, on Aug 22. The handstamped 'DAMAGED BY SEA/WATER' was applied to some of the mail salvaged. The stamps managed to resist the temptation to take a dip in the balmy waters off Crete, and although I prefer my 'crash' covers to look the part, I must say that this comparatively "fine" condition item is nevertheless a particularly pleasing item for my eye. And it demonstrates that eBay can produce little gems amongst the copious dross perpetually on offer, particularly amongst traditional stamps. That is if one loves the 'hunt', and shouldn't we all?

   
        Figure 4. Mint 2 Kangaroos decidedly common in relation to items such as this

Prestige Philately had Figure 4 as Lot 2327 in the May 8 sale. Estimated $1500, it went for $1250. Items such as this should be worth more than your average mint 2 Kangaroo. This Dec 18 1914 registered use of a 6d Engraved Kookaburra Brisbane to Sweden bearing 1st wmk Kangaroo 2d (corner fault could be restored) and 2d making up triple Foreign letter rate (2d x3) + 3d registration, with scarce early Brisbane Censor tape, presents overall as a very attractive item. I've seen probably less than five correct rate commercial postal articles bearing the 6d Engraved, and this is probably second only to one of the others, an advertising envelope, which I've previously featured.

In the Oct 2004 issue of this column, I wrote, and forgive me for repeating: "I wonder just how many mint 2's [Kangaroos] could be accumulated in, say, one year or two if a well-heeled buyer just stood in the market and bought every example which appeared worldwide at auction and in traders' stocks. Renato Mondolfo, the Italian Industrialist and philatelist, once did something similar to that in the 1970s and ended up with hundreds of examples [see below for previously unpublished detail]. Compare that ready availability with the 2 stamp used on cover, or as more probable, parcel tag. It wouldn't matter how deep your pockets, in the space of a couple of years you more than likely will be unable to buy a quantity of the stamp in that format greater than the number of fingers on one hand." Not mentioned in that earlier article was the source of the information regarding the depth of the Mondolfo mint 2 holding (he had similarly outrageous mint quantities of most British Empire then "blue chip" material). Colin Whitehead, then M.D. of Stanley Gibbons Ltd., mentioned to me over dinner in Melbourne that SG had recently bought 200 mint Mondolfo 2 Kangaroos, to assist the gentleman in paying a ransom for his daughter, who had been kidnapped by the notorious Red Brigade. I suspect Mr Whitehead was hoping I would relieve him of some of that unwieldy quantity of 2's, as he plied me with fine wine. One wonders how many 6d Engraved commercial covers Mr Mondolfo had? I suspect that like most of us in the 1970s, he would not have given such an item a second glance. How preferences change, given time and education.

Interestingly, not long after the time this incident took place, the legendary Alan Leverton, then M.D. of the venerable Bridger & Kay Ltd, of Pall Mall, advised me (again over a fine dinner, not a mint 2 Kangaroo in the conversation, I hasten to add) that Mr Mondolfo was in the market for great covers; nothing under 5000 need be offered, I was informed.

     
                                         Figure 5. Persistence pays off for new owner

In the sale of my airborne mail collection by Phoenix Auctions on June 7 was Figure 5 (Lot 1085), which I have also featured here previously (in Nov 2010), with the caption "Would you pay $6,325 for this?". Obviously I did, when offered in the Prestige Aug 2010 sale (price before premium was $5500), requesting in my sale that the item be estimated at $5000. Realistically, I expected the underbidder, indeed solitary other bidder when I bought it, to be the only other collector who fully appreciated the significance of the item. Not to be, for there were three bidders, the former underbidder becoming the proud successor; persistence had paid off. The auction price was $8750, a new Australian record for a "crash" cover. This is the first discovered and only survivor of the Australian National Airways aircraft which crashed in May 1942 in the sea off the coast of Flinders Is, killing all four persons on board. My definition?: Postal history of real and brutal significance, combining ultimate rarity (unique), of Museum quality.

Despite a record price, I regard this as an astute purchase, when compared with the stratospheric prices regularly paid for readily available traditional "blue-chips" (an irreverent philatelic friend, obviously wishing to curry favour, refers to such material as "blue-woodchips", when in my company). You know what I mean, the "rarities" which turn up ad nauseam in every second auction catalogue one opens or sees online.

       
               Figure 6. A stamp on this one, and another elusive item for Bird enthusiasts

Torsten Weller has emerged as a leading specialist in usage material, featuring many elusive items in his online auctions, amongst more general Postal history offerings. In the May 7 sale was a rare use of the 1965 2/6d Robin, Figure 6, from the alluring Birds SD series, rightfully very popular amongst usage aficionados. This Nov 1965 solo use, Sydney to exotic destination of Grenada, was for the oz. airmail rate to B.W.I. I've noted only three other solo usages, two to Latin America, which shared the B.W.I. rate, one of these the remarkable "Red omitted" error (!) in the Arthur Gray collection, and a double 1/3d rate to Philippines. Torsten's item realized a very healthy $440. Those who don't give at least some attention to "usage" are setting themselves up for missing out on the emerging next big thing in Philately, I believe.

                
Figure 7. Unusual reference to the century earlier than that for my current philatelic research

I seldom feature 19th century covers in this column. I am actually very passionate about them, but much has been written well before this column was ever conceived, and there is probably not much I can add. Besides, I rate 20th century material as under researched, which is largely why it is, in comparison with the earlier century, generally underpriced. Fair to conclude, therefore, my passion for "underpriced" exceeds that for aesthetics in the case of 19th century material. So I feature for Millennium, as Figure 7, Lot 192 from the Apr 3 sale, a superb example of usage of the N.S.W. 1855 imperf. Diadem 8d, accompanied by lovely marginal example of the 1d of the series, paying 9d oz. rate to U.K. via Marseilles, used at Sydney Apr 10 1857. Described as "a very attractive franking" and "one of the finest of the few recorded 8d's on cover", both statements with which I heartily confer. Estimated at a very reasonable $4000, the lot was unsold, and is available at reserve of $3000 (+ premium at time of writing). I've seen plenty of cut-down perforated unused 8d's sold as the imperf. at sums well in excess of these figures; generally without any certificate of opinion. This cover comes with a Holcombe certificate (1995), very respected, if unnecessary; the perforated stamp did not appear until 1860, around three years after this cover was posted.

I regularly see Super Funds salting away often terrible items; meanwhile great items at very attractive entry prices, such as this subject, often don't get so much as a smidge of consideration.

There concludes "A round with the Australian auction houses". I appreciate comments from readers (even brickbats); particularly from those with suggestions for subject matter for forthcoming columns, or providing scans of unusual, newsworthy covers (preferably Australasian). I can be contacted on rod at rap.com.au (remember to replace the "at" with "@", I'm harvested by scammers enough to not provide them with more ready means with which to bombard my email address).

 

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.