Stamp News February 2008
'Have a go at covers in '08, and don't be stingy!
Ian from my office has an interest outside of Philately, regularly manning a table at Book Fairs. On one occasion, a few years ago, a visitor to Ian's stand commented "Aside from books, I'm also a stamp collector; I've been collecting for over 30 years", to which Ian volunteered, hoping to strike up a stimulating conversation, "Oh, really, I work with Rod Perry". "Who?", bounced back the reply. It transpired that our collector had for 30 years bought only from the Post Office. "I don't trust stamp dealer's or auctioneer's" mumbled our man, as he wandered off.
Now, I haven't seen this chap's collection, and yet I have; probably a thousand times before, not counting in my nightmares. Such collections, by their very nature, are "clones" of one another. One can form a collection exclusively from purchases at the Post Office, but, sadly, this can never be a memorable collection. That essentially requires expanding one's horizons and ambitions to include interacting with Traders and Auction Houses. "But isn't that expensive", do I hear? Well, the answer is yes, or no. The brutal fact is, Traders and Actions, and virtually they alone, handle the material which can elevate a collection from moribund to magnificent. It is nigh on impossible to form a great Philatelic collection if the source of material is limited only to buying from Post Offices and/or "amateurs". I don't use the latter term in a derogatory manner, but rather to identify that group in Philately who sell material which is surplus to their requirements, or to augment their cashflow in order that they may acquire items they do require. Nothing wrong with that (I was one of 'em before turning "pro"); indeed such endeavour can be quite resourceful, although unlikely to regularly yield important material, as do Traders and Auctions. An exception to this rule might be where one collector sells a collection directly to another, by-passing the professionals.
This issue I've chosen to feature five Australian items which, during the month prior to submitting this column, were sold by Traders/Auctions, and which I regard as not only significant examples of their respective kind, but as very good value. Diplomatically, I have omitted reference to precise sources!
Figure 1. Fickle hobby? Some items fall out of favour for no logical reason.
When I started my former auction business in the early 'seventies, the "Herald" and "Pals" Air Mail etiquette's, particularly on 1920s pioneer flight covers, were very highly sought-after by that generation of Philatelists. And quite rightly so; this was an important era in Australian Postal History. Such items, however, have not basked in the brilliant sunshine which has enveloped most other scarcer Philatelic items of their era. Figure 1 is from the Herald & Weekly Times sponsored experimental air mail, conducted 17 April 1922 from Melbourne to Geelong, and same day return. According to The Australian Air Mail Catalogue, 1500 articles were carried on the outgoing flight, and affixing of the special "Air Mail" etiquette was a prerequisite for participation in the event. The catalogue does not provide the number carried on the return flight (our subject), and indeed until 2002 that flight was listed as "*" ("may exist"). It's possible that the "1500" is intended to refer to both outgoing and return flights? I've handled only three of these items; the last in the 'nineties realised $920. It's presently catalogued at $1250. Figure 1, however, sold at auction recently for a hammer price of just $600. I regard this as considerably undervaluing such an important item, which to my mind ought to be worth closer to $2500. Based upon the prices we saw in the 'seventies, and the widely accepted "money doubles every seven years" adage, the figure comes out at $6000+! Traditionally these items find themselves reposing in "Aerophilately" collections. This one has bucked that trend, ending up in a KGV Heads "Usage" collection.
Figure 2. £2 'Roo's with holes in 'em arguably an acquired taste
Most readers will be aware of just how difficult to find is a £2 Kangaroo on "entire". Just two covers and a small number of parcel tags bearing the stamp are recorded. Figure 2 is a most unusual usage, one which I had not previously encountered. A use of the £2 (Small Multiple wmk.!) on 7 May 1940, together with Robes £1 and 10/- and 1/- Lyrebird, to pay Bulk Postage for 852 articles at 1d each (the aggregate £3 11s franking), posted at Renmark (S.A.). Post Office regulations required that denominations above 2/- receive a diamond-shaped puncture, implemented by an apparatus dedicated to that purpose.
Curiously, the subject item was offered at auction under the heading "Ephemera", with an estimate of $100, and no photograph in the catalogue. It went on to realise a more respectable hammer price of $920. It has since changed owners, and now reposes in a KGVI "Usage" collection! I love auctions.
Figure 3. No dishonest seeds at Mr. Rumsey's
When I refer above to "Auctions" being a great source of material, I include that phenomenon, eBay, in that breath. eBay is a wonderful source of affordable material, generally of a nature which is of insufficient value for inclusion as an individual lot in a major Auction House sale. However, there are exceptions on eBay to that rule, and Figure 3 is one. This is one of the most attractive Engraved 6d Kookaburra covers I've seen, and I haven't seen many! An advertising cover, the first I've seen bearing this stamp, it was used from Dundas (N.S.W.) on 20 November 1914 to U.S. Undoubtedly a commercial use, it appears to have overpaid by 1d the 5d ½-1oz. Foreign letter rate (another possibility is 3d 1st 2oz. Foreign commercial papers rate + 3d Late fee?). Two very savvy bidders took it to US$1600, from a starting price of $29.99 (wouldn't that have been lovely!). The third highest bid was $428, from an optimist. This will be seen within a short time to constitute a very sound acquisition for the new owner.
Figure 4. Once was "Yellow green", some prefer "Cyprus" green
Rumour has it the Philatelic Network was buzzing in September 1923, when a highly distinctive shade, virtually a colour-change, appeared for the KGV Head ½d "green". More typically a "blue-green" was the ½d in the past, however this new variant was a very bright yellow (so-called "Cyprus") green, quite unlike anything approaching the more mundane "yellow-green" group of shades also encountered in the ½d's. It has been suggested in ACSC that this was the final printing of 20,000 sheets, prior to the issue of the ½d orange in November 1923. It would be interesting to speculate if the subject significant variation in the "greens" was deliberate, to avoid the necessity of having to issue an absolute colour change for the ½d, which was otherwise necessary given that the 1½d stamp was changed from brown to green, to conform to U.P.U. requirements for the colour for foreign newspaper stamps.
As a consequence of the extensive buying of the distinctive new shade by Philatelists, the stamp is common mint, but relatively few appear to have been used for postage by the general public. ACSC (2007) catalogues the "Cyprus" (yes, I take the blame for that) at $50 for unmounted mint ($30 mounted), and $150 used. The latter, of course, is for commercially used in period of use. I've seen plenty of non-contemporary "cancelled" stamps, conveniently created to assist collectors in their mania for space-filling. I'm afraid such items are adulterated "duds". I'd suggest that a certified used example, if offered as a single item at auction, would fetch somewhat more than catalogue value. I doubt that I've seen in my career more than half a dozen used examples. I had never seen an example on entire, until finding a few years ago a nice example used together with other KGV stamps on 3 November 1923 postcard, Mosman (N.S.W.) to Italy. Unwisely, I sold that, at the time mesmerised by the opportunity to book a quick and handy buck. More recently, a diligent, leading Cover Trader has found an example on cover. And what a lovely cover! Figure 4 provides that always sought, but seldom delivered combination, "rarity and looks". A 23 October 1923 use of "The Edison Shop", Sydney, advertising envelope to Coolongolook, in company with 1d violet to make up the 1½d letter rate. The finder had this priced at $1500, which is full ACSC "on cover" value. A number of leading collectors considered the item, but baulked at the asking price. I consider this item was a "snip". This ½d variety is far rarer (remember, genuinely used only) than is the ½d single-line perforation used, and the latter catalogues $500, and the only recorded cover (which bears a pair) $20,000. Although there is to date but one cover recorded for each of these ½d's, I'm not suggesting that Figure 4 ought to be worth as much as the single-line perf. cover. I am suggesting, however, that $1500 was in no way expensive. Time will tell if I'm right.
Figure 5. "Little gems" a constant source of delight to this columnist
Australian Defence Forces personnel serving outside of Australia were entitled to concessional postage rates. Figure 5 is an example of an available concession, 3c for an Aerogramme (cf Aerogramme regular rate of 14c), actually a "borrowed" U.K. formular Forces Air letter, used 21 January 1974 at "ANZUK F.P.O./5" (Singapore). The concessional airmail letter rate at this time was 5c, and 3c for airmail postcards/greeting cards. Aerogrammes were not specifically provided to Australian Forces at this time (they had been during the Vietnam War), but clearly the 3c rate also applied for their use.
The QEII 3c had been replaced by the 3c coral crab on 11 July 1973, some six months before our subject's use, but use of the 3c stamp would have been limited, and old stock would have lingered for a while. This "little gem" was found in a "mixed lot" in a major auction. It's the first such usage of this stamp I've noted. In fairness, even learned traditional Traders, including Auctioneers, can be forgiven for being unaware that some very common used stamps can be quite important, in many and varied ways, when used on entire. Such "oversight" is but one of many reasons why I'm enamoured with the study of "usage" (the myriad ways in which a given stamp could be postally used). What's Figure 5 worth? Well, not a lot compared to the other four subjects featured this month. However, some readers may be surprised when I say I know of a number of specialists to whom $150/200 would not be too much to pay for this item.
My observation is that commercial covers collecting really came in to its own during 2007, and I predict will go from strength to strength during this year and beyond. The serious money is "sniffing around", and is seldom slow to get in on a good thing!
To conclude, don't be afraid to pay full price from time to time: when buying, a cocktail of below-market, at, and above-market is what all great collectors practise. A very good friend of mine (we met as teenagers at a Stamp Fair (naturally) in 1966), recently had an interesting experience. Whilst sipping a latté at a chic, well-known café in South Yarra, he witnessed a driver awkwardly attempting to park a block-long 'seventies American 'tank', out front of the café. Before his eyes, the driver managed to nudge my friend's car, whereupon he approached the incident scene. Following an inspection, he commented to the slightly embarrassed driver that it looked like a couple of hundred dollars worth of "bother" had been inflicted. The driver reached for his wallet, but was interrupted by my friend proclaiming "Don't worry about the two hundred, just tell me how I can become a Billionaire". Seemingly, an odd question, well might one ask? Nevertheless, obligingly, the driver offered a few words, which included "Try not to be stingy in life", and with a smile Richard Pratt* turned, and strolled in to the café. In Philately, as in general life, words of great wisdom, indeed.
(* For the uninitiated, Australia's third wealthiest individual according to Business Review Weekly's 'Rich 200')
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.