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Stamp News  February 2013 

                              Woodchip-free Zone 

 

Timing. It can be handy.

 

The Phoenix Auctions sale of 15 December 2012 reminded me, as if one needs to be reminded, that timing is, well . . . everything.

Lot 1258 in the Phoenix sale comprised a number of 1950s/1960s sheets/part sheets, namely part sheets 1954 Royal Visit (65 sets - sheets were of 80), and complete sheets of 1964 Airmails (80 sets) and 1965 ANZAC (80 sets). Some "mostly mild gumside tone spotting" was mentioned for accuracy. Estimated at $160, the lot fetched $172.50 with buyer's premium.

Given that the commemoratives of that era were favourites amongst the punters of the Great Boom we had to have, I thought I would engage in some good ol' fashioned, if perverse research, making a comparison between the Phoenix modern day result, and the heady days at the height of the Boom.

Conveniently, the Harmers of Sydney auction of 7 February 1980 may well have provided the optimal comparison event; there were many sheets on offer. I was present at that auction and, along with other members of the Trade, was bemused at the irrational exuberance on display; fair to say height of the Boom madness.

Complete sheets of 1954 Royal Visit set sold for $572 (pro rata $392.25 for comparison with the Phoenix part sheets), 1964 Airmails $1320, and 1965 ANZAC $2530, a total of $4314.75 (including premium). Remember, the recent auction price was $172.50, for essentially the same material.

Astute investors generally use the "money doubles every seven years" principle as a yardstick for minimum investment performance expectations. And so, applying that principle for the 32 years 10 months duration which separates the Harmers and Phoenix sales, we arrive at $99,983!

   
   Figure 1. What would this have fetched in 1980? Oh, probably a buck, buck 'n a half.

Clearly, 1980 was a good time to sell Australian 1950s/1960s sheets; 2012 was not. This class of material was always readily available, even when demand was out of control. Now that demand is, fair to say, subdued, just how much more readily available is it? On the other hand, 2/3d ANZAC frankings on commercial cover are genuinely difficult to find (and the 8d is even harder!), always were, and in modern times have sold for $200+ at auction, more than the recent realization for the entire sheet hoard! I've seen less than a dozen 2/3d ANZAC commercial articles in the past 24 years, or an average of one cover every two years! Figure 1 is the only double rate item amongst these, probably a $250+ item at auction.

Incidentally, of the 893 lots on offer at the Harmers sale, there were virtually no covers of any significance, aside from ubiquitous First flight and other philatelic usual suspects. True to say, covers were then the poor relation of traditional material.

          
                                                              Figure 2. "Sleeper"

Whilst the 1954 Royal Visit set is fresh in the mind, here's one to look out for: the 7d as a solo franking. I've found this to be extremely elusive; much more so than the Coronation 7d, which preceded it. In fact, the Royal Visit appears to be somewhat scarcer as a solo than the more famous 1952 KGVI 4d red (and see Figure 3). Torsten Weller had a nice R.V. 7d (Figure 2) in his on-line auction of 11 December last, which realized $80. Not dear, considering how very few I've recorded. 7d was for Foreign surface mail rate.

       
                                Figure 3. Value holding up well, and deservedly so

Figure 3 makes for an interesting comparison with Figure 2. This solo example of the 1952 KGVI 4d red, typically for Foreign postcard surface rate, was offered in the Status International sale of 6 December last. Described as ". . . small flts. The rarest of KGVI series on cover", it fetched $350 (excluding premium); a good result for what was not one of the more attractive examples of its kind. While I can't agree with "rarest", the stamp certainly is very elusive as a solo franking (I have yet to add a solo on postcard to my reference collection), and continues to enjoy solid support from bidders in the $300/500+ range at auction.

Back to "Timing". It is Rocket Science. Not so much the point of entry, in my experience, it's the exit which takes some mastering. Generally, if a given field in Philately appears incredibly good value for money, it probably is, provided the fundamentals support the worthiness of that field. Similarly, one might assume that if a field of Philately appears incredibly poor value for money, which incidentally is my assessment of much that is Traditional in Philately, then it will follow that one might be wise to assess one's exit strategy? Human nature, however, often takes precedence over common sense when it comes to the exit phase. Whilst I have had my fair share of timing the entry point, I've yet to master the exit. My epitaph may well read: "Inclined to arrive, and leave, early."

Australia, it appears, is the world's most expensive country for 20th century Traditional philatelic material (aside from unsustainable bubble-market material of China and India, etc). Ironically, Australia represents generally incredibly good value for usage material; usage, of course, being a sub-category of Traditional. Usage is just less understood (despite my best efforts during the past decade!).

I was reminded of how expensive (read: challenged in the value-for-money stakes) material such as the Kangaroo series has become, whilst I recently reviewed auction catalogues issued since the last ACSC "Kangaroos" was published in 2004. (I'm tasked with updating the cover price column for the next edition, which is targeted for publication to coincide with the May 2013 Centenary Exhibition in Melbourne.)

The amount of mint, used, and punctured Official Kangaroos offered at auction (and in price lists) during the past decade is overwhelming. So-called "rare" items appear remarkably often, I couldn't help but note.

Conversely, usage material on intact commercial postal articles, particularly for First and Second wmk. denominations 6d to 2/- , Third 2/- brown and 1 grey, (the 5/- for these three wmks., and other higher denominations not mentioned, are either nonexistent or virtually so), S.M. 5/- and above, and CofA 1 and 2 (not to mention the 6d; it's a rarity on cover!), and most punctured and overprinted Officials, are few and far between. Not a single example of qualifiable usage for many issues was found in the large number of catalogues/price lists I researched.

As I reviewed so many catalogues, a recurring thought entered my mind: "Where are all the Kangaroo attractive franking items hiding?" A few items which were found in past auction catalogues reviewed are shown as Figures 4-7, with comments on why I've chosen to feature them here (auction realizations exclude buyer's premium).

          
                                Figure 4. 4d Kangaroo pairs don't come much nicer

One could be forgiven for believing Kangaroo 4d pairs on cover turn up often, judging by the modest realization for Figure 4 in the Prestige August 2012 sale. They do not, and $850 for this particularly attractive usage item was a very wise entry point for the fortunate buyer. The registered use from Stock Exchange Melbourne on 19 Mar 1914 was to Hungary, a nice bonus being to an unusual destination [5d double Foreign letter + 3d registration fee].

            
                                         Figure 5. 5d Kangaroo pair, even better!   

I like multiple usage of a given stamp; it attracts attention (and isn't it the visuals that Philately is all about?). Figure 5 was offered in the Phoenix March 2012 sale, a Kangaroo 5d pair for quadruple 2d Foreign letter rate Melbourne (where "Passed" Censor handstamp was applied) to U.S. Auction catalogue descriptions can be entertaining, and I liked the Phoenix modest "Quite rare" (we former Auctioneers refer to that as the "glass half empty" approach). I would suggest "Extremely rare" would not be an overstatement for this item. Excellent timing by the buyer at $850. By way of comparison, the same sale had a Kangaroo Third wmk. 2d "JBC" Monogram single described as "Rare", a glass half full description, in my opinion. My suggestion? The buyer might not appreciate "Rather scarce", but research turns up plenty of these, and at $1250 I'll take the 5d pair on cover (and the $400 change) every time, thank you.

      
Figure 6. Kangaroo 9d Large OS on Official cover; only way to collect them in my philatelic world

I've often touched upon the questionable "OS" punctures endemic in the marketplace; in any pursuit other than Philately, I doubt such complacency would be so readily tolerated. Figure 6 I have no problem with. It was offered in the Prestige April 2011 sale, the first example of a Large "OS" 9d I've recorded on cover; 1 Dec 1913 registered Official use Perth to U.S. It appears to be an overpayment of 1d for double Foreign letter + registration, which should have been 8d, but is clearly commercial. $2700 was a healthy result, but much better value in my opinion than the inverted wmk. variety. The Gray collection contained two examples of the latter, which averaged US$12500 (then just over AU$16000).

              
                              Figure 7. Philately as Art, for my eyes

I once owned Figure 7, which I sold as Lot 750 in the Millennium 2006 Rarity Sale, realizing $750 (excluding premium). Doesn't seem much today for such a rare and attractive franking, including Kangaroo 5/- (CofA wmk.) and 2/- Silver Jubilee. The aggregate 7/10d (a KGV 1d is on reverse) was for an article weighing 11-11ozs, sent airmail within Australia, thence surface by Narkunda to U.K. The rate translates as 2/- surface (2d per 1oz. x12) + 5/9d airmail surcharge (3d per oz. x23) + 1d late fee. A gem for a usage collection of Kangaroos or Commems, or a rate collection. Assessing this item raises that age old question with which I regularly torture myself: "Why do I so often allow items with such a bright future slip through my fingers?"

As part of my ACSC review process, I of course revisited the Kevin Nelson postal history sale (Prestige 27 November 2010). In so doing, I was reminded that one could have bought the entire collection prior to it being consigned for auction, for $325,000. The dedicated website for the auction results of the sale indicates that published catalogue estimates at $323,050 were supportive of intact asking price, and realizations were $364,765 (excluding premium). The result was even better than it appears; 13% of lots were initially unsold.

I find it irresistible to compare the original asking price for the Nelson collection, for which I've often in this column expressed my admiration, with the almost identical price paid for the Hardy imperf. Kookaburra minisheet ($326,000).

It is almost incredible that a printer's reference item realized a sum which just two years earlier would have bought a best-of-kind collection; one which in its time was awarded four International Gold medals. Am I the only philatelist who finds this comparison bizarre?

Not buying the Nelson collection intact was an opportunity lost; a "Timing" fail, fair to say.

To finish off this month, a couple of recent items of interest which have come across my desk (in fact, received day I contributed this column to publisher!).

           
                                 Figure 8. Clearly, every cent counted for this sender

The September 2007 column featured usages of sub-base rate vending machine Booklet stamps (see www.rap.com.au and search "Rod's columns" in menu bar at top of Home page.).
Figure 8 would have slotted in nicely in that issue. The 1982 Eucalyptus Flowers base rate stamps are elusive on commercial cover, particularly the 3c and 10c (these were from the dearer $1 Booklet). Here, on 19 Sep 1983, the sender, writing to "Social Security" in S.A., resolved to resourcefully use-up the "leftovers" from Booklets, affixing 1c x4, 2c x4, 3c and 10c. That aggregate affixed was 25c, just short of the Letter rate of the day, 27c. The conscientious sender was not about to underpay Australia Post and so, apparently with no more fractional stamps available, resorted to affixing a 2c coin. What a delight! This little gem represents real Humanity (and ingenuity) in Philately.

The item may have realized just AU$2.51 on eBay, but I would prefer to own it than readily available mint/used, so-called "blue chips", costing a hundred or more times that price.

          
                              Figure 9. The greatest post-1947 cover of Norfolk Island?

At the London 2000 International, I did the rounds of the Trade stands; as one does. Most Standholders with covers (all that I'm interested in, of course) bring along just standard-sized items; non-standard material takes up too much space, particularly for participants travelling long distance. Experience has taught me to always make it a point to enquire of Standholders if they have any non-standard material with them, perhaps "under the counter". Figure 9 came my way as a consequence of such a request. This 16 August 1957 registered airmail cover, Norfolk Island to Norway, bears remarkable franking of 1953 5/- sepia strip of three, 7d pair from same series, and 1947 1/- Ball Bay, represents 2/- per oz. x8 (i.e. 3-4ozs.) + 1/3d registration fee = 17/3d.

This amazing usage item is proof there was scope to engage the 1961 10/- Bird for postal purposes. (No example of postal use of the 10/- has yet been recorded.) I regard the commercial use of such items as the 10/- Bird, and 1960 2/8d Local Govt , if they exist, as being amongst the most important items of N.I. Of the 5/- sepia, I've seen but one other commercial usage, of a single in combination with contemporaries. Highly priced post-1947 items of N.I. abound; sunken Die proofs, and errors amongst them. Few such items are as rare as the commercial usage of certain stamps of the Dependency.

The collector to whom I sold this item a dozen years ago is placing it for sale at a price, er . . . a little higher than what he paid me.

My thanks, as always, to the auction houses for use of respective images.

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.