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Stamp News  February 2012 

                              Woodchip-free Zone 

 

Multiple milestones

 

This month marks the 50th anniversary of my entry to Philately as a profession. It was on February 12, 1962, that my inaugural Cash journal entries would record 9d for the train trip to Town (Melbourne), 1/2d for lunch (wine not included), 3/7d for stamp purchases, and 1/3d in stamp sales (to Myer Philatelic Dept., 11d of which was handed back for a packet of hinges). Questioning was the "Philately this Way" signpost the right one to follow did at the time enter my head.

That story will have to wait until some other time. Two philatelic legends have reached milestones: Ken Baker this month becomes a Centenarian, and Max Stern has turned 90. My thanks to Kevin Duffy, himself a philatelic legend, for this initiative. Kevin, incidentally, wasn't volunteering his age.

So it is that this month we celebrate Ken Baker and Max Stern. Volumes could be written, and indeed Max has contributed two of those autobiographically, which are essential reading. Ken provided a fascinating reflection on his career, typically understated, in Stamp News of July 2007. This, therefore, is an abridged reflection upon the careers of these two gentlemen, with occasional recollections of mutual interactions from my perspective.

Ken Baker

Ken Baker, by all accounts of those who have had the pleasure of meeting him, is an assuming gentleman, which is in contrast to a remarkably successful career in commerce and investment, within and beyond Philately. Ken began philatelic trading in 1928, aged 16, as K. Baker & Co, from space allocated him in a rare book shop at McEwan House, 343 Lt Collins St, Melbourne. Two years later, business was thriving to the extent that Ken was booking two full pages of advertising in Australian Stamp Monthly. By this time Ken had bought that rare bookshop.

                  
                      Figure 1. By 1932 K. Baker & Co was operated by C.J. McDonald

Ken sold his business in 1932 to C.J. McDonald, and in 1936 moved to Sydney, opening a stamp shop at 12 Royal Arcade in 1937, the first of several shops devoted to stamps in that famous arcade. Figure 1 is a 1932 ANPEX cover to "Mr C.J. McDonald/c/o K.Baker & Co", which had relocated to 92 Elizabeth St, next door to which P.J. Downie would establish his stamp and coin auction business some 30 years later. Ken and Phil were longtime friends, and it was in 1970 that Phil introduced me to Ken. I had been ordering wholesale by mail order from Ken since the mid-1960s.

                  
                             Figure 2. 1945 "K.Baker" inscribed cover and perf. Gauge

                      
                    Figure 3. Royal Arcade in days before the Philatelic Trader invasion

Figure 2 shows a 1945 registered cover inscribed K. Baker, 12 Royal Arcade, Sydney, not long following Ken's resumption to trading after war service, and a probably contemporary, similarly inscribed perforation gauge. Figure 3 is a W.F. Hall original stereoscopic view of the grand Royal Arcade in Edwardian times. One imagines it was little changed when Ken, followed by other members of the stamp trade, came to occupy in the late 1930s.

                         
                       Figure 4. "Baker & Moloney", a familiar name to FDC specialists

Ken Baker and D.B ("Bernie") Moloney formed a partnership in 1948, and relocated to 16-18 Royal Arcade. Figure 4 is a stylish letterhead printed within a 7d Airletter for the partnership, addressed to British Philatelic Association, signed by Ken. (dated two months before I was born!) The firm produced a popular brand of FDC's, appropriately styled "Royal".

                     
                                         Figure 5. Link with pioneer philatelic traders

In 1951 Baker & Moloney bought the venerable business of J.H. Smyth Ltd., which dated to 1890. That firm originated as Smyth & Nicolle, the respective partners separating in 1902 to form individual trading firms. Ken explained to me that the £10,000 offered for the old firm was not a difficult commercial decision to conceive. The Smyth Bank account contained that amount in cash. Figure 5 shows the 1902 Priced Catalogue of Australasian Stamps, with J.H. Smyth & Co label affixed over Smyth & Nicolle details. Note the "Established 1890" claim in lower left corner. This continuous link to the present with a Colonial philatelic trader has but one other precedent in Australian commercial philately. That will be revealed later.

                    
                          Figure 6. Ken Baker tried his hand at most things philatelic

Ken, during his extraordinarily long philatelic career, in various phases tried his hand at retail, wholesale and auction. Baker & Duffy Stamp Auctions was of course a partnership between Ken, and Kevin Duffy, which subsequently was sold to form Phil Downie's auction business. Figure 6 is an uncommon survivor from that enterprise. I wonder do any readers recall buying from the Baker & Duffy business? I've not seen a catalogue. Kevin independently ventured in to auctions on more than one occasion; I have a 1954 cover inscribed K.D. Stamp Auctions, I was a bidder in Kevin Duffy Stamp Auctions in late 1960s (a post Baker & Duffy initiative, again sold to Phil Downie!), and Kevin dived in yet again during his Seven Seas Stamps era. Clearly, Kevin's philatelic career must become the dedicated subject for a column. Let's not wait for Kevin's 90th, however.

                     
                                 Figure 7. A survivor from the Norfolk Island sojourn

An entrepreneur in the true sense of the term, Ken Baker astutely took advantage of the attractive tax concessions that Norfolk Island once afforded, relocating to the Island in 1970 for two years, and incorporating K. Baker (N.I.) Limited. Figure 7 is from that era, and judging from the number of such covers I've seen, a lot of philatelic material was shipped out of N.I. in those days.

                            
  Figure 8. Nice for me to have been in association with legends, with a legendary item

Few Traders can aspire to handle the Georgian 2d TÍte-bÍche pair, catalogued in ACSC (2007) at $250,000. Interestingly, that item has been handled by Ken Baker twice, Kevin Duffy and I in "partnership" once, and me individually twice. Ken sold the item for £250 on each occasion, and lamented in the 2007 Stamp News interview "I really should have kept it". Kevin and I "lost" $100 between us, in a convoluted, but memorable transaction. We had bought the item jointly at the Harmer's Jill Nette auction in 1972, paying $4,100. The legendary Charles Zuker had instructed us to go to $4000 only, but the TV cameras were present (this was an important auction), and an advertising opportunity beckoned. After the auction, Kevin and I were asked by a journalist why we had paid such a huge sum for this, the highest realizing lot at the auction. While I fumbled for a cute reply, Kevin, quick on his feet, came to the rescue with "It's the only item not in the collection of Her Royal Highness, Queen Elizabeth II". Kevin and I figured we had received good value from our brief ownership of this great item.


Figure 8 is the flyer Harmer's prepared for the 1975 offer of the TÍte-bÍche pair when in the Zuker auction. I subsequently paid $15,000, then easily a record for an Australian item, delivering Charlie a nice profit within a short timeframe. Later, a gentleman, obviously in awe of Zuker (he was nearly 200kgs in stature) and his amazing collection, posed the question "Mr Zuker, may I ask how many unique items you have in your collection?" Charlie shrugged those huge shoulders and replied "Unique, schmunique, mate". They don't make them like Charles Zuker anymore, or Ken Baker.

                    
                     Figure 9. A career highlight, the envy of every Australian Trader

It's unlikely that another Trader will have the opportunity to own a half sheet of £2 Kangaroos. Ken Baker did just that when on 6 September 1961 he bought at the Robson Lowe Ltd auction the C.F. Bulley (of Melbourne) left pane of sixty Small Multiple wmk. Ken told the story in Stamp News that it actually was his mother who did the room bidding; perhaps a baptism of fire for a novice auction bidder! The illustration of the pane in the auction catalogue is shown as Figure 9.

It's believed that this pane was purchased at Melbourne G.P.O. as late as 1948. It was not generally known that the £2 was available on special application, long after it had ceased to be listed as a current denomination in the Postal Guides from January 1939 onwards. At Robson Lowe in 1961 the pane realized £1200 sterling, a handsome return on the 1948 purchase price of £120. The late Stuart Hardy of Adelaide purchased from Ken the lower six rows of the pane, but that block of 36 has since reduced to 24. I was stunned when on a visit to Stuart's home in the 1990s he nonchalantly asked me to hive off a block of four and some singles from the block for auction. The first thing that came in to my head was "I'd better make sure my hands are clean before surgery".

The Bulley family also was responsible for preserving direct from the Post Office another great Commonwealth Kangaroo item: the unique "Harrison" imprint block of the £1 Bicolour, sold to Arthur Gray via Richard Juzwin.

Max Stern AM

Max Stern was a philatelic trader in his native Czechoslovakia in the late-1930s. Max kindly gave me an inscribed envelope showing "PHILATELIA/KUKO/M. STERN" surrounding a stylized globe, which dates from 1945, when Max was still in Bratislava. The unusual name "Kuko" derived from Kulka Kon, the female former proprietor of the firm.

                    
                  Figure 10. Rare survivor, from a long forgotten trading partnership

Max arrived in Australia in September, 1948, and it was a registered cover to Max received from Baker & Moloney on 12 November 1948, a photocopy of which was sent to Kevin Duffy by Max, which initiated the subject for this month's column! In the year of his arrival Max, and Fritz Feibes, who had arrived in Melbourne also from Europe, in the 1930s, marketed packets under the brand name Brilliant Stamps. Figure 10 is a rare survivor from that enterprise; my thanks again to Max for providing me with this for my Trade memorabilia collection. Yes, a highly appropriate name for a Brilliant career.

                        
                       Figure 11. The immaculate Port Phillip Arcade shop c1963

Max's Port Phillip Arcade premises are now greatly enlarged upon what is seen in Figure 11, but this is how the spotless shop appeared when I walked in with a fist full of One Pound notes, intent on walking out with my first 5/- Bridge. It was 1965, and the price for a mint Bridge was shown in Max's counter display as being £16/10/-.

In one of my favourite Max Stern moments, I asked Max did he have one in stock. "I have one and it's beautiful", Max replied. He left the counter for the backroom and returned so fast with the stamp in his cupped hand that a microclimate ensued, causing the stamp to take off, landing in slow motion on the floor behind the counter. Max promptly stooped upon it, re-emerging composed and placing the stamp in front of me. "Don't worry, it's still beautiful", he declared. Who was I to disagree? Besides, I wanted it so desperately I would have bought it even if it wasn't beautiful.

               
                Figure 12. The old Melbourne-Sydney Trade rivalry, 1930s-style?

Figure 12 may appear an odd item to associate with Max Stern, but bear with me. This 1930 1st flight cover, Melbourne-Sydney, is in the hand of William Ackland, the pioneer Philatelic Trader, established in Melbourne in 1892. It's addressed to Messrs Fred Hagen, one of Sydney's earliest trading firms, rather condescendingly as "The Same Mouldy Firm". This may have been a little like the pot calling the kettle black. Now, I can't say I know what the Ackland store was like in the 1930s (Ken Baker probably could!), (after all it was nearly 40 years since the proprietor had commenced trading), but I did walk in to that same store in 1959, and the term "mouldy" does resonate. That was the year I bought my first S.G. Simplified catalogue, 1960 edition, from Joyce Ackland, Bill's daughter. I still have that catalogue and, yes, mouldy it is.

It was around this time that Max Stern bought the William Ackland stock (Ackland had died in 1953), thereby providing the second continuous link to the present with a Colonial philatelic trader (see under Figure 5 above). Dating as it did from the 1890s, this must have been a fascinating stock to handle. I was told as much by Phil Downie. Memorable to this day is Phil's description of an envelope inscribed "1Ĺd Canberras. To be imperfed". As is a story of the former Postmaster of Lord Howe island, seen in Ackland's office in the early 1930s, seated with sheets of the 1930 1Ĺd Sturt, and pen and ink, told to me in the 1970s by a third party, present at the event.

The stories that Max, and Ken, could tell, particularly of commercial Philately in the 1930s and 1940s would be enthralling. I'd never want them to shut up!

It is a great pleasure to personally know Ken Baker and Max Stern, and to have conducted memorable transactions with them over several decades. I'm sure readers will wish to join with me in congratulating these great gentlemen of Philately, Ken and Max, upon their respective milestones, and in wishing them many happy returns.

                   
                              Figure 13. My first cover, arguably probably not my best

All we collectors have "things" we probably don't really need. That mouldy 1960 S.G. Simplified, for example, in my case. Also still in my possession, unnecessarily, is the cover from my first international transaction. Figure 13, from Stanley Gibbons, was sent registered on 28 June 1962 to my first place of business: my bedroom at my parent's house. I wish I could say that this very pedestrian looking item contained material which would launch my philatelic career. Sadly, it contained a returned International Money Order for 6/- sterling. The stamp I had ordered from Gibbons from my 1960 Simplified catalogue was out of stock. Now if I had kept that 6/- IMO . . .

 

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.