Stamp News December 2008
No Financial Crisis in Philately
Philately appears to be holding its own in the present global financial turmoil. Auction Houses here and abroad are generally achieving clearance rates not dissimilar to those in the recent pre-crisis past. It is reasonable to assume, however, that diminished fortunes for so many, on the broad scale that we have witnessed, must dampen enthusiasm to however minor an extent, at least in some categories in Philately.
Personally, I remain very bullish. Specifically towards the type of material I have been recommending in this column during the past six and a half years, that is. Material with visual appeal, suitable for exhibiting, with the scarcity factor, but without the price tag usually accompanying. I'll continue to provide a wide berth for certain types of material, however. Such as material which rates poorly in the visual stakes, but mightily in price tag.
Here are some categories of material I would not wish to be financially exposed to, even in buoyant times:
Figure 1. And I thought I'd seen it all - but it does come "encased"
Most readers will have at least heard of the "Graded stamps" phenomenon, which has raged like wildfire in the U.S. in recent years. Graded stamps being those, which in terms of centring, are close to geometric perfection. The "graders" of such stamps do so, I understand, by projecting a super large image of the subject on to a wall, and then measuring the margins surrounding the design. A grading of 90, 95, 98 or 100, or variants thereof, is then provided for the more well-centred. It has not been explained to me why grading 91-94, 96-97 and 99 are not recognised?
Auction realisations for even common stamps in the highest grading can defy belief. Last September, for example, Figure 1, which was described as Grade GEM-100, "ultimate example . . . matchless . . . gorgeous . . . saturated color . . . fresh as the day it was first issued . . . most incredible", went on to realise US$57500. By comparison, an average example sells for around US$100. Referring to Figure 1, a wag in my office commented "Perfect for those who haven't already lost most of their money in the financial crisis".
One final comment on this phenomenon, rated by the philatelically sane as surely the most unhealthy ever visited upon Philately, is the process of encasing graded stamps (also referred to as encapsulation). I've not seen an "encased" stamp (nor do I ever wish to), but the concept evokes a distant memory. In the early 'seventies I bought at auction, for the legendary collector, Charlie Zuker, the famous Australia KGV 2d tête-bêche pair. Zuker (who referred to his prize item as the "teechy-beechy" pair) rightly was concerned about it's fragile nature; if accidentally reduced to two singles it would be worthless. Later, on a visit to pay homage to Charlie, he produced the pair "encapsulated" within no less than ten hawid mounts. "There, mate. It's bulletproof", he proudly exclaimed.
Other items on my "wide berth" list include certain categories which are peculiarly popular in Australia. More than one Trader in the U.K. has confided that they wish they could emulate in their country our obsession for such material. For reasons which escape many, Australia appears to hold "world records" for valuations of:
1. "Kiss-prints" (more advantageously marketed as "Double prints")
2. "Ink-cloggings" (eg 2½d Kangaroo "Missing '1' in fraction")
3. Marginal inscriptions (notably Monograms, Imprints and Plate numbers - including fragments thereof - take your pick of "2", "3", "8" or "9" if from base margin of sheet, or "6" or "8" for top margin, etc)
4. Watermark varieties (as in Inverted or Sideways)
5. Stamps with holes in them (ie punctured "O S")
On the visual appeal scale, most reasonable thinking Philatelists would argue that "1", "2", "4" and "5" do not rate highly. The less charitable might suggest such categories have a visual rating bordering on lousy. "3" would generally be rated as an improvement in the visual stakes, the Monograms and Imprints that is. It's the absence of value for money, by my standards, however, which keeps me distant from all of the above five categories. "5" I like on cover, which in general represent value for money, whereas mint or used (off cover) companions usually do not. Incidentally, these punctures mint or used, particularly expensive items, should be purchased only with appropriate expert certification, or a guarantee, such as the excellent APTA Warranty offered by members of our Trade Association. It is a fact that many collectors have cast caution to the wind when buying punctured "O S", in that familiar, obsessive quest to fill "gaps".
Items in each of "1" to "5" above have sold for five-figure sums, some up to $50,000+, and six-figures in the instance of "3". Will such items bring pleasure and profit to their owners? Do items which rate poorly in the visual stakes, in what essentially is a hobby all about visuals, have a bright future? I have my opinions, and suffice to say that for me, fifty grand spent on a thousand selected commercial covers, at an average cost of $50 per item, will produce pleasure, and profit, by the truckload.
I mentioned in the introduction I'm bullish towards "Material with visual appeal, suitable for exhibiting, with the scarcity factor, but without the price tag usually accompanying". By way of examples, here follows seven subjects with these attributes, acquired during the month or so prior to submitting this month's column, for an average of around $50 per item. The sources are eBay (4), Public Auction (1 - in a "mixed lot"), Trader's "box" (1), and Stamp Exhibition (1). Ah, the thrill o' the chase.
These seven subjects I rate as being very good examples of their kind, which will bring me pleasure, and I believe heaps of Blue Sky profit potential when I decide to part company with them. All will find an appropriate place in exhibits which I compose in the future. Here's why I like 'em:
Figure 2. One of Australia's commonest stamps - used uncommonly
Some stamps are just so common that it can be a challenge to find an unusual usage to represent that stamp in a Usage collection. Figure 2 satisfies that criterion for the humble 1942 KGVI 2½d scarlet. This 31 Dec 1947 use of a pair was to send a postcard from Bondi Junction to Java, at the 5d Airmail postcard rate. This is the first example of this rate I've noted. Nice enough item, but it's a pity the 1946 5d Ram perforation change (14 x 14.75) wasn't utilised for the purpose. That's one of the rarest solo frankings of Australia.
Figure 3. Highest denomination stamps solo always a treat
Papua New Guinea stamp usage is one of my favourites, as I've indicated before in this column. At one point in time I was able to "win" most of the useful items of PNG appearing on eBay, usually for embarrassingly small sums. I did make the suggestion that readers should consider taking up the challenge of PNG usage collecting. Lately I've been winning very little, which suggests one or more out there took my advice. Philatelic self-flagellation has long afflicted me. Figure 3 fortunately I did win. This is the only example of the 1966 $2 Butterfly I've seen on cover, and being solo it's a gem. Used 10 July 1969 from Boroko to Canada, $2 was for 4-4½ozs. airmail (20c per ½oz. x9 = $1.80) plus registration (20c). The Canadian "Cleared Customs" datestamp adds a nice finish.
Figure 4. Scarce rate, censor, attractive stamps = sweet package
The Fijian KGVI 1938-55 Pictorials are another personal favourite, and my usage exhibit welcomes Figure 4. This is a 2 Sep 1942 airmail cover Suva to San Francisco bearing the attractive 2d x2 and 1/-. The all-the-way airmail rate to U.S. was 2/10d per ½oz. This item is endorsed "Honolulu to U.S.A." alongside printed Air Mail panel, the rate for this part-way airmail being 1/4d only. This is a scarce rate, complemented by scarce Fijian Censor tape/handstamp combination.
Figure 5. "One Pound Jimmy", off to Hong Kong
The 1952-66 2/6d Aborigine is scarce as a solo franking. It is most likely, although rarely, to turn up on airmail articles to parts of Latin America, that rate being 2/6d per ½oz. Figure 5 is an unusual (and very rare) solo franking of the unwatermarked printing used 5 Feb 1959 on registered airmail cover Wahroonga to Hong Kong. 2/6d was split evenly between ½oz. airmail rate (1/3d) and registration fee (1/3d). This was the item in the Public Auction "mixed lot" mentioned above. Such "finds" are becoming increasingly infrequent as scarcer usage items become better understood and appreciated by Auctioneers, and are offered as individual auction lots.
Figure 6. From the little known Colonel Stacy W. Clapp Jnr correspondence
I'm always on the lookout for attractive examples of usage of the PNG 1/7d Cattle, a stamp which ignited my commercial senses back in the 'sixties, when it became an Australasian "glamour" stamp. As a solo franking on commercial covers (I dispassionately regard philatelic covers produced by the Papuan Philatelic Society et al) the 1/7d is rare. The stamp was issued on 2 June 1958 when 1/7d paid the 4d Letter rate + 1/3d registration fee. The rates increased to 5d + 2/- (hence the later 2/5d Cattle) on 1 October 1959, so there was not a great deal of time for valid solo use of the 1/7d. Even as a combination franking, the 1/7d is rather scarce. Figure 6 has it with the 3½d black, itself uncommon on cover, for a 26 June 1958 registered use Port Moresby to U.S. Forces member in New York. The unusual rate of 1/10½d paid 7½d Foreign letter + 1/3d registration fee. Attractive combination for my taste. Incidentally, PNG also had a 1/7d Stationery Registered Envelope for combined letter rate/registration. This had issued 1 September 1959, one month before the rate change rendered it's primary use obsolete. Little wonder, therefore, that this is such a scarce item commercially used. Surprisingly, they generally sell for under $200, which I regard as a steal.
Figure 7. Rare usage items can turn up in most unlikely places
Figure 7 is from a five-decade run of correspondence from West Germany to Australia, which I bought at Stampex 2008 in Adelaide. I like correspondences to Australia; they can be interesting socially as well as philatelically. This particular group comprised over 1,100 covers, and I made only a cursory glance before agreeing to buy. I sorted them when they arrived in Melbourne, and was pleasantly surprised to find this underpaid and taxed cover. The correct rate was 90pf rather than 80pf, and the underpayment was indicated in international currency "15c" (centimes), which equated to a double-deficiency of 2d, for which the QEII 2d brown was affixed, and cancelled at Brisbane University P.O. on 23 Dec 1965. Solo uses of this 2d are very scarce; I've seen them only on underpaid covers during the 5d Letter rate regime. As luck would have it, this 2d is the Helecon paper printing, which is very scarce on cover in any form. This is the first solo use of a Helecon 2d I've noted. Being acquisitive by nature often brings it's rewards.
Figure 8. Convergence of two passions in one item
My Philatelic interests include the broad subject of articles from around the world sent by airmail to Australasia, and unusual airmail labels (etiquette's) on cover, from and to any country. Figure 8 combines both of these interests. A 22 Sep 1942 cover from Republic of Panama to Auckland, it was sent airmail via Portugal, and being during wartime was censored upon arrival in N.Z. This is an exotic origin/destination, enhanced by the presence of an unusual and striking airmail label, apparently of a private nature rather than Post Office issue. It's unlisted in the Catalogue of Airmail Labels, by Günter Mair. This is an excellent publication, hard-to-get, although occasionally found in auction catalogues and on the internet, where I obtained mine. It provides an excellent excuse to collect any country of the world which has issued such labels, and provides a logical common denominator for an otherwise illogical pursuit. Labels of the 1920s and 1930s, in particular, can make for a very attractive combination with the stamp/s present on the cover. This is a highly recommended pursuit for the more philatelically ambitious amongst readers. Incidentally, the observant will note that this is the subject bought from a Trader's box. I deliberately left the pencilled "50 -" in lower right corner, as it conveniently reflects the average cost of around $50 per item referred to in this article!
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.