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Stamp News July 2004

                              Woodchip-free Zone

Will covers out-perform stamps during the next 50 years? (Part II)


Last issue, in part I of this two-part commentary, I marvelled at the  200/300 times and more increases in values during the past 50 years for specialised Kangaroo and KGV issues, reflected upon by Simon Dunkerley in his Stamp News column for last April and May.  I even dared to suggest that similarly outstanding results during the next 50 years might come from within the world of covers (commercially used) and stationery.


However, even if covers in general do not achieve the dizzying heights in value that I predict below might occur for selected types of material, one can reasonably be assured that cover collectors will be more likely to have enjoyed a higher degree of fun and profit from their philatelic endeavours than, say, those who build their ‘collections’ exclusively at the Post Office.


In the late 1990s, I auctioned an estate which included a large quantity of new issues from the 1950s and 1960s, still in the original glassines as supplied by the new issue dealer, showing prices at which the items were supplied. This ‘collection’ of world assortments included former Iron Curtain countries, amongst which we noted then highly sort after Space and Olympic Games issues. Amongst these was a 1956 miniature sheet which had been supplied for the then princely sum of  £5 ($10), then about the cost of a mint 5/- Bridge. For around double that sum, the even more astute collector could have sought out the odd KGV inverted watermark variety. The 2d orange Single watermark inverted for example was catalogued at £10 ($20) in the 1950s and is presently valued at $15000 (Simon Stamp News May 2004). Returning to our 1956 Olympic Games miniature sheet, we found that in the interim this had been relegated to the obscurity of a catalogue footnote, and accordingly was offered together with the pile of other new issues which realised a predictably mediocre sum. This collector, who seemingly had not touched his new issues since receiving them, had enjoyed neither fun nor profit from his philatelic endeavours.


            Before providing enough rope to hang myself in selecting a few subjects from my ‘Will this item be worth 200/300 times its present value in 50 years’ list, a brief historical overview of the past 40 years or so may be worthy of indulgence. Reviewing Australian stamp auction catalogues of the 1960s and 1970s is an excellent means by which to glean a ‘feel’ for the market of the time. Having been there is also helpful. Many, many items then offered as a single lot would nowadays remain in a collection-remainder, barely rating a mention. The market has simply moved on, becoming more educated and therefore more demanding.


          In those unenlightened times, essay and proof material, now much sought after by smart collectors, and accordingly comparatively highly priced, was seldom offered and then usually at give-away estimates. It was the powerful essays and proofs section of the legendary ‘Abramovich’ collection of Australia, fully one-third of the collection’s total value, which tempered the enthusiasm of the few dealers in the early ’seventies who could raise the $200,000 price tag. This fool was eager to rush in where angels feared to tread, but my proposed 10½d deposit left the Executors of the estate singularly unimpressed.


Similarly in the ’sixties and ’seventies, covers and cancellations, aside from slender offerings of 19th century material, didn’t get much of a look in either at auction. There were the ubiquitous First flight covers and other mostly philatelic covers, particularly of the Pacific, but commercial covers of the 20th century were seldom considered important enough to offer as single auction lots. Conversely, auction catalogue offerings, particularly in the second half of the ’seventies decade, were swelled by wholesale Decimals to fuel the speculative boom mentality then prevailing. At the peak of that philatelic madness my firm achieved $3570 for Decimal Navigators in blocks of ten. Irrational exuberance indeed.


Fortunately, philately’s maturity accelerated following the speculative crash of the early ’eighties, and today’s more enlightened philatelists, aside from readily embracing essays and proofs, actively seek out cancellations and Postal history in its myriad forms to enhance and add character to their collections. Their vision provides them with immediate pleasure and ultimately will deliver profit. As and when more philatelists actively seek 20th century covers exhibiting various aspects of usage of  stamps (alongside the more complex Postal history elements present in their collections), they will also come to appreciate that this is a diverse field worthy of the best philatelic mind, and resplendent with unexpected helpings of the scarce and desirable. When the number of philatelists pursuing stamp usage on cover gains momentum values will steadily grow, for material is finite indeed. And we know what happens when demand exceeds supply, don’t we? This is why I believe 20th century commercial covers generally will be a philatelic out-performer during the next several decades. Here then are a few seemingly unlikely suspects to ‘out-perform’, extracted from a potential cast which numbers in the hundreds if not thousands.


    Figure 1.  1976 85c Ayers Rock, now $20, $4000 within 50 years?


The 85c denomination from the 1976 Australian Scenes series was intended primarily for the fourth weight step for letters to foreign countries other than Asia-Oceania. Such usage will be rare and I have not seen an example. Indeed, the stamp is quite scarce in any form on a commercial article (used in period of use – never forget that qualification). Figure 1 shows the only solo franking I have seen, sent on 14 Feb 1980 from Hobart to Launceston at non-standard article rate of 35c (50-100g) plus 50c certified fee.


                             Figure 2.  1972 80c Pioneers, from $25 to $5000?


Another rather scarce stamp on commercial articles, intended as it was largely for parcel rates and higher domestic and overseas letter rates. Figure 2 shows a rare 16 Jul 1974 Overseas Express Delivery use from Victoria to West Germany, the rate for which was 35c for Zone 5 airmail plus 50c Express fee, rendering this article deficient (although untaxed) by 5c.


                           Figure 3.  1966 75c Cook, a bargain today at $60?


The Decimal Navigators are popular and sought-after on commercial cover. The 75c is rather scarce in this form, particularly as a solo franking, and a more desirable example than Figure 3 I would like to see. The Messenger Delivery service, by which means this item was despatched 12 Dec 1974 from Campbelltown to Sydney, was expensive at 65c (up to 500g) and therefore little used, and to this had to be added the regular 10c letter rate to provide us with this lovely solo franking. But could it be worth 200 times its present day value of $60 within the next half century?


                        Figure 4.  1962 QEII 2d lonesome but rare solo franking


The 1962 QEII 2d was a make-up value and is usually seen doing just that together with the 3d of the series to equal the then prevailing 5d letter rate. Very occasionally one finds either the 2d or 3d singly affixed to covers by absent-minded senders. Such underpaid articles should be taxed under the double-deficiency scheme but more often than not remain undetected in the postal system, and are delivered by normal means. Figure 4 shows a 2d solo use of 19 Jun 1963 from Bonalbo (NSW) to Brisbane. Present value $20.

                        Figure 5.  1941 KGVI 1½d red-brown perforation change. 
                                           Worth five-figures within 50 years?


The perforation change KGVI 1½d red-brown comprised a very small printing and saw very little postal use. Most of the issue was bought-up by speculators and it is actually a scarce stamp commercially used even off cover. Figure 5 shows a rare solo franking used 4 Aug 1942 from Melbourne (where it was censored) to U.S.A. at 1½d Printed matter rate to Foreign countries (1d per 2oz plus ½d War tax). Worth about $50 today – a big ask to increase to $10000 within 50 years?


                      Figure 6.  When four ‘Mona Lisa’s’ are worth far less than one!


Improbable? Fanciful? Perhaps the predictions in Figures 1 to 5 above are startling, but consider the situation in countries with more mature philatelic markets such as Germany. Figure 6 shows not one but four ‘Mona Lisa’s’ supported by Posthorn 20pf block for airmail to US. In Michel’s German specialised cover catalogue a franking configuration similar to this cover is worth around A$12. However, if there was just one 5pf ‘Mona Lisa’, and no supporting franking cast, Michel value escalates to about A$8000. Why? Obviously to qualify for such a grand value such a usage must be rare, and would owe its existence in the instance of the ‘Mona Lisa’ stamp, a make-up value only, to underfranking of the 10pf letter rate. ‘So what’ you may well ask. Well, just as one seeks stamps which for one reason or another are different from others of their kind – for example most would include in their collection of KGV issues an inverted watermark to sit alongside the same issue with upright watermark – so too is an unusual usage of a stamp on cover desirable to demonstrate diversity of usage. Specialised catalogues for some countries have three columns for pricing stamps on commercial cover; for solo frankings, multiple frankings, and combination frankings with contemporary stamp issues, and the differential in pricing for the respective categories may be quantum. Unusual usages on cover in particular are very sought-after not only in Germany, but in Switzerland, G.B., Italy and U.S.A., to mention but a few. Why then not in Australia?


Still a Doubting Thomas? Consider then our Decimal Navigator set in blocks of ten mentioned above. If one applies the Australian major capital city housing index increase since 1980 (and a large number of Australians have enjoyed that ride), when a hapless buyer paid $3570 for the Navigator blocks, today they would be valued at $24,990. In fact, they are actually worth about $100 wholesale, or little above their face value of $86.50. The opposite outcome can and does occur consistently in philately. I refer readers once again to Simon Dunkerley’s April and May Stamp News articles. Fifty years ago if one had suggested to the owner of the KGV 2d orange Single watermark inverted that his £10 ($20) stamp would be worth £7500 ($15000) one day, well might he have responded ‘You’re dreaming’. In philately, expect the unexpected!

Rod Perry has been a philatelic trader since 1962 and a regular Stamp News advertiser since the 1960s. 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.