Stamp News December 2012
They would be amused.
The amazing result achieved by Phoenix Auctions for the Stuart Hardy example of the imperf. 1928 Kookaburra minisheet (and indeed for Part I of the Hardy collection in general) will doubtless be well and truly featured in this month's issue. Indeed a very commendable marketing exercise.
I also have my two-penneth worth to contribute; the image of this item is nearing saturation point, so I haven't included another.
Firstly, I think it fair to say, the remarkable invoiced price of $326,000 for the minisheet would have, well, amused Stuart Hardy. This modest, unassuming gentleman I visited regularly when I owned the ACSC; fond memories of those meetings are many. Every visit included a mandatory lunch at Adelaide's venerable Elephant & Castle where, over a few beers and consistently excellent Carpetbag steaks, Stuart and I would discuss all things Commonwealth. He loved his stamps: "I can't sell them, Rod, they help keep me alive", he would apologetically express, possibly thinking it wise to pre-empt me asking the question.
It may also be fair to say, of the price realized for the minisheet, that Her Royal Highness, Queen Elizabeth II, might also be amused. The Royal Philatelic Collection (TRPC), the original source of the Hardy example, still has the remainder of the imperf. sheet, the block of twelve minisheets. The most recent occasion on which TRPC divested a significant amount of surplus material to fund a new acquisition, was when the magnificent record-franking Penny Black FDC was added, at a reputed £250,000 purchase price.
Was an equally magnificent 1840 Two Pence Blue FDC to become available for adding to TRPC, an irresistible vision comes to my mind: Keeper of TRPC: "Ma'am, I just may have found a means by which we can acquire that FDC, after all." Her Royal Highness: "Well, come on, I'm all ears". Keeper: "We just need to hive off a few more of those pesky Kookaburra imperf. minisheets, Ma'am, just like we did way back in '53". HRH: "Don't just stand there, man, dust down that ol' rule Sir John used last time!" [Sir John Wilson had bravely utilized a steel rule to excise the three minisheets.] Vision . . . or inevitable?
Stuart Hardy often recalled how fortunate he was to have had the opportunity to buy his example; a thoughtful friend had noticed it in The Ameer of Bahawalpur sale by Stanley Gibbons, 12-13 December 1968, and brought its pending offer in London to Stuart's attention.
When told, many years after his fortuitous purchase, Stuart appeared to enjoy the story of my close encounters with the other two excised units from the original sheet. His was unit 5, and at Harmer's of Sydney, on 21 March 1975, unit 10 was offered in the Charles Zuker sale. Estimated at $2000/2500, I bid to the then ACSC price of $3000, but Ron Hyeronimus came over the top with the knocked-down $3200. Sadly, Ron's great collection was later stolen, believed thrown in a creek by non-philatelic morons, whereupon Commonwealth Philately was to suffer a huge body blow. Fate had it that way.
Earlier, unit 15, again by Harmer's, was offered in the Jill Nette sale of 30 August 1971, when it sold to P.J. Downie for $2500, and reappeared in his "Sale 100" (7 December 1971). There it was estimated at $2600, and sold for $2700 to Alan Munro of Melbourne. Some eight years later, Alan would consign unit 15 to my 1979 Rarity Sale.
Not long after that consignment, and fortunately before we had gone to press, Alan rang me, somewhat flustered. It transpired that he had forgotten that years earlier he had promised to give first offer of his minisheet, in the event they would part company, to another Melbourne philatelist. That philatelist was no other than Ray Chapman, and Ray, once he became aware of the consignment, Alan made clear to me, had reminded him of that promise in no uncertain manner. "Would I help him out, and withdraw the lot?" Alan literally begged. Graciously (well, sorta), I obliged.
History records that the Ray Chapman Collection, including unit 15, now forms part of the Australia Post archival collection. That Downie Sale 100, incidentally, also contained the 1d "Rusted cliché" pane (then estimated at $2500), which I was to sell to Ray Chapman, coincidentally, at auction in 1977, for $12000; considerably more than the value of an imperf. Kookaburra minisheet at that time. Tempting to speculate what the 1d pane would have realized in the Hardy sale had Stuart been the successful bidder in 1977?
Back to my "two-penneth worth". Now, readers who know me understand I'm from the Professor Julius Sumner Miller "Why is it so" School of Philately. I find it irresistible to analyze; ten years ownership of ACSC made the honing of certain skills mandatory in that regard. Accordingly, some might be interested in my assessment of the price paid for the minisheet? For others, who didn't ask, here it is anyway:
I find the minisheet auction realization, given the very nature of the item, well, let's just say . . . "interesting". For what, after all, is an Imprimatur (i.e. emanating from a Printer's reference sheet) this may well be a world record realization, and almost certainly is so for a 20th century imprimatur. Printer's reference material occasionally finds its way on to the market; a defining example was the sale of Australasian related material from the De La Rue Archive, which Robson Lowe International Ltd conducted in Melbourne on 5 August 1976.
I had a generous credit line with the Lowe organization at the time, and would become far and away the major buyer at that remarkable, one-of-a-kind auction. Never before had such amazing imprimatur material been available to collectors. There were imperf. complete sheets of Tasmania 1899 Pictorials (set of eight), Western Australia various denominations to 1/-, and Papua British New Guinea 1901 ½d to 1/-. Don't ask the realized prices; suffice to conclude they were incredible bargains. I spent the Saturday following the auction methodically dissecting the sheets: the steady hand of a Surgeon, as would be expected of a fit and healthy 28 years of age Trader.
Figure 1. These imperfs so near, yet so far
Now, the De La Rue imprimatur sheets have the precise same status as the imperf. Kookaburra minisheet; they are all printer's reference items. The defining difference, in terms of market value, however, is the Kookaburra has achieved S.G. catalogue listing; the others have not. (Curiously, the W.A. DLR 2d yellow was once listed as an imperf. pair, but has since disappeared from the listing?). Present owners of imperfs of the Papua 1901 group, and the other DLR imperfs, must lament the absence of an S.G. listing: coincidentally there were 15 sets in pairs possible when I dissected the Papua sheets, precisely the number which once existed for the Kookaburra units. Figure 1 is an extract of three denominations from the Papua set, from the Peter Troy auction catalogue, courtesy Prestige Philately. The Troy set (2009) in pairs made $4200; the Tim Rybak set in 2008 realized the same. A little over 1% of the Kookaburra minisheet realization. Logical? I'll leave that judgment to others.
Suffice to conclude, I'm a value buyer, and in that regard, for me, the minisheet doesn't tally. For $326k, not far short of a third of a million, I would expect no less than to add a diverse range of great value for money items to a collection or a Superfund, as the case may be. Items which I would be very confident would significantly outperform any future potential the minisheet may have.
Or non philatelically, one could consider for that sort of money an Australian Colonial painting worthy of inclusion in any self-respecting Gallery in Australia, or a quality three bedroom apartment/villa in many bespoke resort towns throughout Australia (Example: Port Douglas has many listed in $300/350k range), or dare I say, for those so inclined, a superb, classic automobile?
Why did this item realize far more than many learned observers, including some friends from overseas major auctions houses with whom I confer? Why, indeed, does Australia now hold world auction records for a raft of philatelic categories? I put it down to what I term the Too Much Capital in a Too Confined Space Syndrome (the catchy TMCTCSS).
Simply put, a small band of well-heeled collectors hell-bent on outdoing one another, not necessarily with due regard to fundamentals, have pushed prices to levels which often have no precedent elsewhere in the world. There was a time when Australian philatelists looked on in awe at the prices realized for certain categories of U.S. material. It's no mean feat that in modern times Australia has displaced the Americans in the awe struck stakes.
True, the market is the market, just as the law is the law, but, as we know, is not the law occasionally referred to as an ass?
Figure 2. For those with less than 326 grand to spend on a single item
To wind up on a light-hearted note this month, yet appropriately retaining the KGV theme, I give you Figure 2. Not an item issued during that reign, as it happens; rather an item featuring the Duke of Cornwall & York, later to become King George V, from the painting of the opening of the first Federal Parliament in 1901, by Tom Roberts (memo: check to ascertain if I can add a T.R. picture to collection for less than $326k).
The 5½d stamp from the series of 50th Anniversary of Federation is scarce as a solo franking. I've recorded such use for (a) Foreign letter rate (six seen - one sold for $288 in recent Phoenix sale), (b) Second weight step local letter (three seen), and (c), Figure 2, a unique thus far use for a specific purpose, which I'll elaborate upon later.
Firstly though, why is the 5½d stamp scarce as a solo franking? The quantities printed for this series are generally large for a higher denomination commem set, suggesting it was intended to be in use for a prolonged duration. However, a rate change some two months after issue rendered the 5½d a make-up use only denomination. Figure 2 is special as a Commercial papers item sent under the Permit mail scheme (note "P.M.G. P.B. 149" relevant code printed lower left). This allowed for articles to be sent sealed, rather than unsealed as normally required for commercial papers and other printed matter. The cover apparently contained a heavier brochure, hence sealing was prudent. The rate of 5½d comprises Commercial papers 2d to 2ozs. + 1½d per additional 2ozs. x2 + ½d Permit mail fee. Unique usage item thus far as mentioned, $500 auction estimate, and my interpretation of a very good value for money item. A Die proof of the 5½d, of which seven potentially are in private hands, is $3500 in ACSC.
Next month I'll focus on the Morgan Commonwealth collection, auctioned in London 13-14 November 2012, including a comparison of the Hardy imperf. minisheet and Morgan KGV 2d overprinted "OS" inverted on cover-front, which I regard highly.
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.