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Stamp News    June  2008

                              Woodchip-free Zone 

Sand dunes. Once scoffed upon.

Smart Philatelists often commence a collection when the subject is unpopular. Such methodology provides the best opportunity for obtaining material when it is most abundant, and prices most depressed. Logical, really. In reality, however, very few collectors follow the Contrarian approach to collecting.

I've long been interested in trends in Philately. Things such as why a given country might be very popular, whilst another might be in the doldrums, for no obvious reason. And later, how opposite positions in popularity can become possible. Economics can provide an answer, at least for why China and India are the most popular countries by search criterion on eBay's stamp site. The peoples of these countries are making money, and they want to spend some of it on their stamps. Contrarian collectors of China and India, and I know of some who started in the 1970s and 1980s, have good reason to be pleased with themselves these days.

eBay provides a wonderful microcosm of trends in Philately. An excellent, up-to-date guide to what's hot and what's not. During last April I monitored a number of covers (what else!) from the Persian Gulf on offer on eBay. These covers are from countries which in the 1960s and 1970s were irreverently referred to as "Sand dunes". Certainly, some such countries did have somewhat liberal stamp-issuing policies. Countries from the former Trucial States on the Persian Gulf, such as Ajman, Fujeira, Ras al Khaima, Sharjah, and Umm al Qiwain in fact have many of their 1960s/1970s stamp issues listed as an appendix in Stanley Gibbons' "Middle East" catalogue. The reasons for this treatment given by S.G. "… issued in excess of postal needs or have not been available to the public in reasonable quantities at face value.".

In practise many "Sand dunes" stamps did see actual postal use, albeit usually to a rather modest degree. Economics have again played a role, and thanks to the oil price some of the countries in this part of the world now possess great wealth. And the people have turned to the Philately of their region, with a vengeance!

Six of the Persian Gulf covers I monitored on eBay in April are featured this month. The first five items are addressed to Australia; all six had a starting price of less than US$10, and my arrangement of them is in final realisation ascending order. I accept many readers are not interested in this type of material as such. Rather, it's the concept of why getting in early in Philately can be so productive that I'm attempting to promote. Not many years ago items such as these could be bought for next to nothing. I'm sure even experienced Traders, if asked their opinion of value of these items (before reading this article, of course!) might well have replied "Oh, a buck, buck and a half each". No shame in that.

                         
    Figure 1.
Dubai to Australia in 1963. Now that's where and when we should have invested.

The Dubai 75n.p. stamp in Figure 1 catalogues £1.40 used in my latest S.G. That was the rate needed to send an airmail article to Australia in 1963. This commercial cover realised US$91 on eBay, a substantial premium above the off-cover price.

                
                   Figure 2.
Muscat & Oman to unlikely destination of Australia in 1968

The combined S.G. catalogue value for the seven stamps used in Figure 2 is a princely 70p. A 1968 airmail article to Australia at 65b (64 baizas = 1 rupee suggests that this may be overpaid 1 baiza!), clearly Muscat & Oman to Australia is an exotic origin/destination item for the time. It realised US$123.50, again a big premium over the off-cover used price.

                 
                                Figure 3.
Qatar 10p stamps off cover, but not on cover

The cover in Figure 3 was originally franked with the 40n.p. (red) stamp only. This was insufficient to send an article by airmail from Qatar to Australia in 1965. The correct rate was 75n.p. (as it was from Dubai in Figure 1), and the article was returned to sender for the requisite additional 35n.p. in stamps. These have been affixed over the "Returned for additional postage" handstamp, and cancelled a day later than the initial franking. These three stamps used catalogue 10p each in S.G., but in the form of Figure 3 a realisation of US$162.45 was booked.

                
                              Figure 4. Abu Dhabi handsome Stallion (on the right)

It may have been a collector of Thematics of the Equestrian kind who bought Figure 4, or perhaps it was an aficionado of Abu Dhabi usage, rightly drawn to an uncommon stamp used in solo configuration, to the unusual destination of Australia in 1973. This Provisional stamp, the 125 Fils overprinted "UAE" (United Arab Emirates), catalogues £22 used, so on a commercial cover logically it's going to be a very good item. The realisation of US$255 proves that.

                  
                               Figure 5.
Abu Dhabi to Mole Creek Tasmania, no less

The solo stamp from Abu Dhabi in Figure 5, again a 125 Fils denomination as in Figure 4, confirming the airmail rate to Australia, catalogues £1.90 in my S.G. It may have been an unusual cancellation, or something else I'm not conversant with, but there was something quite special about this item. It realised a quite staggering US$510. The recipient of this item in 1968, a Defence Forces Officer in Tasmania, no doubt would be bemused by this outcome; he was not the vendor.

                      
                                     Figure 6.
Das Island - not in the Whitsundays

Figure 6 is an excellent example of why Postal History has so many Philatelists "hooked". The stamp involved is yet another 10p item used (off cover). A Bahrain 40n.p. overprint on G.B. Wilding 6d, plenty of these stamps were used in the 1950s to the U.K. 40n.p. was the airmail rate to U.K., and large numbers of Brits at this time were engaged in the Oil and other industries in the region. The item is addressed to the rather grandly titled "The Institute of Cost and Works Accountants" in London. The key ingredient to rendering this item head and shoulders above similar others was the identification of the specific area in which it was used. On the reverse flap is printed inscription for Abu Dhabi Marine Areas Ltd., and the sender has written his name and identified "Das Island" as his location. We have seen from Figures 4 and 5 that anything Philatelic from Abu Dhabi is "hot". If you're still in the habit of removing stamps from covers, you might want to review the practise when I tell you this item realised US$650. Remember, this is a 10p stamp (ie worthless with a capital "w") off-cover used.

Collectors of Persian Gulf material, particularly commercial covers, who got in to their field early have many reasons to rejoice. There are plenty of presently unpopular countries/regions which will not always remain that way. A little research will go a long way towards identifying some. And when you find them don't forget to go after the commercial covers. They will outperform the off-cover used stamps by a country mile, as ought to be obvious from reading 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.