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Stamp News  July  2011 

                              Woodchip-free Zone 

 

eBay. One's that got away

This is the start of the tenth year I've been penning this column. My philatelic passion, commercial covers, has come a long way during that decade, and eBay is a reasonable barometer by which to gauge that steady march of progress.

Before I continue in that vein, however, a little personal indulgence, if I may. In this, my 50th year of philatelic trading in Melbourne, I've closed our Bourke Street, Melbourne, office. Given that I've lived in Port Douglas, Far North Queensland, for over two years, frequent trips to a Melbourne office have become overbearingly onerous, particularly the temperature plummet.

Known to many readers, particularly former customers of my auction and publishing businesses, loyal staffers, Ian Matthews and Dr Michael Sloan, fortunately are to remain in Philately. Ian, who started with me in 1975, when we were both strapping young men, joins Phoenix Auctions (one floor upstairs from our former office). Ian ran my London office during the late 'seventies Great Boom, an era that none of us who lived through will ever want to forget. Michael will run our website, and other on-line activities, from cyberspace.

I hope to spend my next fifty years in Philately from a base in Port Douglas. More on that next month. Some Melbourne philatelic friends gave me an expected send off dinner, the day before I closed the office. Present, in no particular order, were David Wood and Ken Pearson, partners in Phoenix Auctions, and hosts for the evening, Peter and Seija Strich, amongst the last of the great philatelic shop proprietors in CBD Melbourne, Richard Juzwin and Tony Shields, leading philatelic traders, who need no introduction to Australian Philatelists, similarly Greg Fair (Rex & Fair), a friend since the 1970s, Richard Breckon, Australia Post Historian, Mark Knothe, keyman in the philatelic auction industry for forty years, who reminded me that evening that I've known him since he was sixteen (hope I haven't led him astray in the interim), Ian Kitchin, who many readers will remember as proprietor of Macray Watson Auctions, and, of course, Ian and Michael. A wonderful evening; my thanks to those who took the trouble to organize and attend.

Back now to eBay, that addictive facility we didn't know we needed, until it came along. Ten years ago, I won the vast majority of lots I bid for. I didn't keep records then, but think a reasonable guess would be a 75% success rate. Nowadays, I use one of the many useful sniper systems to bid, and each morning check to see how my bids fared during the previous 24 hours. Lately, I've been perplexed to see those ominous words, "BID TOO LOW", increasingly placed against the result for lots for which I've bid. My sniper system allows me to archive 300 past auctions, so I recently decided to study the statistics. 300 lots represents on average about three months of bidding activity, for covers only, and it transpired that I won only 119 of those lots, or just under 40%. Clearly, I need to sharpen my pencil, demand is increasing, or both. Corroborated by public auction realization observations, and anecdotal intelligence gleaned from the Trade, I'm inclined to accept demand for covers is steadily increasing.

I thought this month I would share with readers details of some of those 181 (of 300) eBay lots, the "One's that got away". Scans are captured from eBay site and may not be up to usual Stamp News quality.

                                                          
                                  Figure 1. Heroic little 1c pays 5c postage      

I've often in this column featured sub base rate stamps which have been accepted for base rate of postage. Such items should be taxed, but occasionally run the gauntlet successfully, undetected. These are rare usages, and judging by Figure 1, a solo QEII 1c from the first Decimal series, which managed to pay the 5c Letter rate from Muswellbrook to Sydney on 10 Nov 1967, collectors are beginning to appreciate this fact. Realised US$89. In the September 2008 column I suggested such an item might be worth AU$40.

                      
                       Figure 2. Nice 5/- Cattleman usage item, to exotic destination

Usage collectors, in addition to solo frankings for a given stamp issue, like to show combination frankings where the subject stamp is paying a specific component in the make-up of a rate. In Figure 2, a 7/- aggregate franking sent registered from Wallaroo to Argentina on 23 Oct 1962, the 5/- Cattleman paid double the 2/6d per oz. airmail rate, and the 1/- Colombo pair paid the 2/- registration fee. This item "fits" nicely in to a usage collection of either of these two stamp issues, although I would opt for it to go under the 5/-, which is a much scarcer stamp on cover, particularly one where a specific rate is paid. A worthy realisation of US$180.

            
                                                Figure 3. 1 Arms solo, to Italy

The 1 Arms as a solo franking, unsurprisingly, is quite rare. I featured one in November 2002, and again in January 2007 issues of this column. My valuations then were $200 and $400, respectively. Figure 3 is a solo use for a different purpose, a 1962 registered airmail Carlton to Italy, which paid the 2/3d airmail rate x8 + 2/- registration fee. A nice addition to my Arms one-frame work-in-progress it was not to be, realising US$535. I'm already regretting not having been a more aggressive bidder.

                                          
              Figure 4. 7/6d Arms solo. In pursuit of a one-frame "Arms" usage exhibit

Still on "Arms", this time NZ's enigmatic Postal Fiscal series, which I've been fond of since I was a kid. In 1970, when I could afford them, I bought a mint simplified set to 5, which included the key denominations: 35/-, 3 10s, 4 10s. It cost a pretty penny, and soon after the lot landed from London I began having sleepless nights: "had I bitten off more than I could chew?", again. Not long afterwards, the oldtime NZ Trader, C.J. McNaught, arrived at my Bourke Street shop. Would he be able to come to the rescue, and take the set off my hands? Not likely, NZ was financially in the doldrums at that period in time; Colin could not nominate a buyer in all of NZ. He concluded: "In my experience, the best loss is the early loss". Not quite what I wanted to learn in those formulative years of my philatelic career.

No longer mesmerized by mint NZ "Arms", I decided some years back I would attempt a one-frame exhibit of postal use of the series, on covers, tags, etc. The 1/3d, 2/6d, 4/- and 5/- are readily available, other denominations range from scarce to probably non-existent in the form I'm targeting. Figure 4 is one of the more elusive of the "other" denominations, a solo use of the 7/6d 6 Jul 1955 to U.S., paying 1/6d airmail rate x5. It realised 364.86, a lot more than SG's used price of 75 for this stamp.

                  
                                    Figure 5. Norfolk usage finally receiving attention

High on my theoretical list of Most Boring Philatelic Pursuits would be "Norfolk Island, complete MUH". So easy, so meaningless. On the other hand, commercial usage of Norfolk stamps on cover does it for me. That said, it may appear surprising that I don't have a usage collection of Norfolk Island. The reasons are twofold: (i) two key stamps in the SD-era, the 1960 2/8d Local Government and 1961 10/- Bird, probably do not exist on intact commercial postal articles of any form, rather discouraging for me, and (ii) another key stamp, the 1953 5/- Bloody Bridge, which might otherwise have been on my "impossible" list, I actually owned, in a strip of three no less, on a commercial registered cover to Norway (!). I sold this over 20 years ago, in the days before I became a Usage Warrior, to a friend, for $180. He still has it, and little wonder rates me a best mate. I'm a reasonably courageous collector, but the combination of (i) and (ii) caused me to baulk at Norfolk. Fortunately, others are being more courageous, for Figure 5, a 6 Aug 1953 solo use of the 7d, for Foreign letter (surface) rate to U.S. realised C$182.50. A big price I thought, one that rubs salt in the wound when I recall that strip of 5/- from the same set!

             
                                   Figure 6. KGV d "OS" solo finds an enthusiast

One of a number of disappointments for me is the fact that few, if any, of the legion of KGV Penny Red enthusiasts embrace covers, not at least to the extent they do the stamps, per se. I would love to see, say, a 5-frame exhibit purely of Penny Red usage. The KGV d specialists, on the other hand, I've found comparatively enthusiastic about inclusion of usage material in their collections, and good on them. Figure 6 was a nice military-related 28 Sep 1916 use of the d "OS" for Postcard rate, Sydney to Mosman, which realised US$227.50. Healthy.

                
                             Figure 7. Stains not about to deter keen usage collectors

The little KGVI 4d of 1952 continues in popularity. Figure 7 was an attractive usage item, albeit stained. I still don't have a solo franking of this stamp for Foreign postcard rate, and thought I might get this stained example; I'm getting good at applying my Chloromine-T. Not to be, this 9 Apr 1953 usage Orange to U.S. sold for US$227.50. It's unjust that I contributed to the "fame" of this stamp as a solo franking, and am struggling many years later to add one to my collection! I'm having fun, however, chasing. Anyone who is serious about cover Philately has to be an eBay participant. You owe yourself no less.

                 
                                           Figure 8. A lemon in classification only

The KGV 4d lemon-yellow is elusive on cover, and rightly sought-after. Figure 8 was one of the nicer usage examples I've seen, a Kodak envelope of 7 Sep 1916 Spencer St. to U.S., where the 4d paid Foreign letter rate, and the 1d a Late fee, for posting after advertised closing time for that day's mail. Respectable result of US$530. An internet check informs me the retail price for a "MUH" 4d lemon-yellow is around AU$750. Given the stamp is very available in that grade; I can't help but be convinced that covers continue to represent the very best value for money in Philately.

                
                                           Figure 9. A lot of fun, and for just AU$3.75

Figure 9 actually didn't get away; it'd be embarrassing to admit I was outbid for AU$3.75, wouldn't it? This 10 Aug 1954 postcard from Austria to Adelaide at the 1.45Sch rate, which was for airmail, has en route come into contact with seawater. Note the minor trauma at left, and the stamp has been reaffixed with local glue, not in sync with the postmark, as it so happens. The framed "DAMAGED BY SEA/WATER" is a type applied in London, where the Post Office probably attended to the loose or dislodged stamp; any Air Mail etiquette, if one was originally affixed, has not survived. I've been unable to ascertain what incident the article was involved in; it doesn't appear in the acknowledged references. The item arrived just before I submitted this article, so the detective work will continue beyond. Thus far, a lot of fun, and for the price of a skinny latt.

             
                                                  Figure 10. OK 1d Kangaroo cover

I've on a number of occasions in this column referred to my fondness for State/Kangaroo commercial combination frankings. The convergence of philatelically distinct stamp issuing "countries", at such an historically significant period in Australian Philately, is irresistible to me. I was therefore disappointed to miss out on Figure 10, a 1 July 1913 use of N.S.W. 2d pair + 1d Kangaroo, from Sydney to France. The 5d rate is rare, representing 2d Foreign letter + 2d Late fee, peppered by the fact that the 1d is a private perfin "OK" (for Orme, Keigwin & Co). Yes, I was a wimp to let this go for 370. I've been collecting these combination frankings since 1985, and clearly am having difficulty coming to grips with the modern pricing paradigm for such material.

In a scoop for Stamp News readers, I can divulge that my personal collection of State/Kangaroo combination material, some 60 items, is to be offered in individual lots in a Phoenix Auctions sale in August/September. In keeping with most of my collections, this is a best-of-kind, the likes of which may never again be assembled by one individual. It may appear immodest to refer to it as a "best-of-kind". It's a fact, however, that I never commence a collection if I don't feel that I can mould it in to the best, or near to best of its kind. Being second best isn't an intentional goal of mine.

Why, then, would I choose to sell something if it's so good? Well, there are more reasons than one. Firstly, you can't keep things forever; secondly, and in that vein, my next birthday I turn the age that The Beatles immortalized in a song (you know, the one with the words "Will you still need me, will you still feed me . . ."); thirdly, and this is from a more practical, marketing perspective, the centenary of introduction of the Kangaroo series, and corresponding demise of the State stamps, is less than 18 months away! Time to stand aside, and pass the baton to others with foresight. And besides, I still have another 999 collections. To have 1,000 was ridiculous.

I'll continue this shameless self promotion next issue, and focus on some of my State/Kangaroo combination items. For those who would like a preview, or just an introduction to this historic period in Australian Philately, refer to the December 2007 issue of this column, entitled Kangaroos. With a twist. For convenience, it may be accessed on my website, www.rap.com.au, under "Rod's Columns", in menu at top.

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.