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August 2004

Flavour of the Month
Me being blatantly self-opinionated
A recent survey of BBC radio listeners had APATHY at the top of a poll for the eighth deadly sin of the modern age. This came as no news to some of us in philately where apathy is endemic. An example of the indifference shown by many who would call themselves philatelists is their lack of motivation to acquire material. I have met probably hundreds of people for whom inventing excuses not to buy material they need has been raised to the level of an art form. At the other hand, smart collectors invent excuses to add material to their collections. They know that adding suitable material can deliver much pleasure and may well disproportionately increase the significance and desirability of a collection. These smart collectors enjoy the thrill of the chase in reading auction catalogues, and attending auctions as often as possible, visiting philatelic traders at their establishment or at Stampshows, and searching the internet. Often are they rewarded for such endeavours, and not necessarily by having to spend daunting sums (see 'He chose wisely' below for an example). To those others I highly recommend you join in the circle of winners. To procrastinators I confess I have on the odd occasion been tempted to propose 'Have you considered taking up another hobby?'. Fortunately, I have resisted that temptation. Thus far. Perhaps I'll stick with my more digestible and mildly more inspiring 'Be anything but mediocre' line.                      

A snip at twice the price
Exceptionally high price realisations are regularly reported in the philatelic press, and my contributions in that genre appear below (see 'Cosmic results'). Less often reported, however, are 'bargain' realisations at auction

The 14 August 2004 Prestige Philately sale contained a fine selection of Half-lengths of Victoria, and realisations were generally very high with probably enough records to warrant a dedicated article. Given that I once owned many of these stamps and sold them for often a fraction of the recent realisations however I don't have the stomach to be the one to perform that feat. Perhaps perversely I am more motivated to find a lot which is eligible for this 'snip' article! If there is such a candidate I would suggest it is Lot 768, scanned below.

                                                              Scan kind courtesy Prestige Philately

Estimated at $250 this superb example of the 4th printing of the 1d realised $270 (excluding premium) and was one of the few lots not to achieve a multiple of the pre-sale estimate. It deserved to for this was the best example of a used single from this printing I have seen. Purves described this as the most difficult Half-length in quality which is not surprising as the units in a sheet were printed virtually se-tenant rendering four-margined examples a chance occurrence only. Prestige suggested that the distinctive white flaw on "O" of "ONE" may have later deteriorated thus requiring early substitution. A commendable theory but for the fact that the substitutions occurred in the 3rd printing of the 1d's rather than this, the 4th printing. 
What were they thinking?
Explaining the inexplicable (or rather attempting to)

Robin Linke Stamp Auction sales in Perth I try not to miss as they often do it better in the West, and I attended the most recent sale on 1 August 2004. Robin has a gift for summation in his descriptions and often comes up with memorable lines (I liked Lot #8's'unremittingly common') and his 'a collector mesmerised by quantity' quip remains a favourite. In a novel approach for Lot #156, Australian 1940s and 1950s bundleware estimated to contain 120/150,000 stamps, Robin states 'Optimistically assuming each stamp averaged 30 seconds to process (cut out, soak, wash, dry, sort, bundle), there is well over 1000 hours work (or 25 weeks at Union rates!)'. The lot fetched $230, or about 23 cents per hour based upon Robin's time estimate. I hope the vendor received ample therapeutic reward for his labours for they certainly did not place him upon the road to riches. Yet, we have him and the many thousands like him to directly thank for unwittingly rendering complete covers the finite and desirable collectable they have become.

'He chose wisely'
Smart collector of the month. Perhaps the very antithesis of the foregoing category.

This month it is actually 'Smart trader of the month'. I have long been puzzled why more Philatelic Traders do not regularly frequent auctions as a means of supplementing the depth and spread of the stock they offer, not to mention their bottom line. Every auction, including the biggest and the best in the world, contains a fair share of lots which sell at a level which allows for ample profit potential for a reseller. Occasionally lots sell for a fraction of what they are actually worth due to philately being one of the most complex of collectables and the impracticality of even the most experienced of Auction Houses to always 'get it right'. Successful traders diligently seek out such lots; it is their equivalent of a collectors' 'thrill of the chase'. I inspect and/or attend most auctions in Australia regularly, as do highly successful fellow Melbourne traders Simon Dunkerley and Richard Juzwin, amongst a few others. Less successful traders rarely if ever attend auctions and owe it to themselves (not to mention their clientele) to remedy that costly deficiency in their trading repertoire.

          Simon, as it so happens, is my 'Smart trader of the month' for having been the only viewer at an auction during August to recognise an item which cost hundreds but will ultimately reward him to the extent of tens of thousands of Dollars. For reasons of sensitivity (not to mention diplomacy - I don't wish to be barred from attending the Auction House from which the material was purchased!) I will not reveal too many details. Suffice to say that the material is very popular, there are many specialists in the field, and yet persistence by Simon allowed him to walk away with a 'steal'. Where were the other traders and collectors? Could the apathy alluded to in the introduction to this month's column have aided Simon's quest? A well deserved reward for Simon and a classic example of that age-old adage which has it that you will only receive from your philately what you put in to it.                                    
Cosmic results
Noteworthy realisations in the salerooms

                                  Scan kind courtesy Prestige Philately

The Prestige sale contained the unique imprint block of eight of the Australia d Kangaroo so-called 'Mellow-yellow' (and I thought it never would catch on) shade, which made $2900 (excluding premium). I have a soft spot for this striking shade as it was I who discovered the sheet in 1996, and I haven't in my time made too many discoveries. And it helps my fondness for it in that the discovery was made at our office directly opposite the old Philatelic Bureau at the former Mail Exchange in Bourke Street where the sheet was originally purchased! The vendor on this occasion was well known philatelist, John Sinfield. I recall John uttering when he bought the block from me 'A fool and his money are soon separated '. Well, I can tell you that John is no 'fool', rather he is one of the smartest collectors we have in Australia (with the Gold medals to confirm it), and well may he have said at the point of purchase 'I shall be smiling at this acquisition one day'. Proof yet again that proactive buyers have all the fun.

                                                                Scan kind courtesy Robin Linke

          Robin Linke had a KGV Small Multiple wmk perf 13 x 12 3d Die I with wmk inverted USED, which unlike the reasonably easy to obtain mint of this variety (four sheets came on the market in the 'seventies and 'eighties) is a great rarity, with but a few examples recorded. Catalogued in ACSC at $750 used, $7200 (excluding premium) was realised at the auction and the buyer was a well known dealer who was adding this rarity to stock. It 'made' my day when Robin commented immediately after the lot had been knocked down that the vendor had purchased this item from me for somewhat less than this latest price. I couldn't resist checking the facts when I got home and found that, yes indeedy, the item had come from me, and as recently as January 1999. The price then? Oh, $575. I just love this business.
           Hardly a 'cosmic' result but to me at least interesting was the realisation for Lot #194 in Ross Ewington's Tasmanian Stamp Auctions sale of 18 August 2004. This was a commercial cover bearing the Australia 1972 Primary Industries 30c as a solo franking to U.S. Not easy to find and estimated at a tantalising $8 it went on to fetch $38 (excluding premium). I priced this item at $20 on cover for the most recent Brusden-White Decimals I and it is reassuring to find that collectors are finally responding to the potential that even reasonably modern stamps have when on commercial cover. Ross fortunately shares some of my enthusiasm for 'little' covers and is providing an excellent service to collectors in offering modest value covers as single lots in his auctions.                         
Rod's Ripper
Cover of the Month

                    22 August 1936 - great day for a bird to dip in the Mediterranean

I recently spotted the above cover on ebay. It is one of the few New Guinea 'crash'-related covers I have seen. Sent from Rabaul 3 August 1936 for airmail to England via Australia it ended up on the Scipio, an Imperial Airways Short S17 Kent flying boat which crashed at Bay of Mirabella, near Crete, on 22 August. The handstamp 'DAMAGED BY SEA/WATER' was applied to some of the mail salvaged. The stamps managed to resist the temptation to take a dip in the balmy waters off Crete, and although I prefer my 'crash' covers to look the part, I must say that this comparatively 'fine' condition item is nevertheless a particularly pleasing item for my eye. And it demonstrates that ebay can produce little gems amongst the copious dross perpetually on offer. That is if one loves the 'hunt', and shouldn't we all? 


Blasts from the past
Opportunities from yesteryear for which it would be worth firing up the old time machine 

Lot #557 in the 26 June 1989 Gary Watson Auction read:

Western Australia - Postmarks

  'ABBOTTS' to 'ZANTHUS' vast colln in 37 albums with numerous rarities, record date & sensational strikes throughout, ranging from early period through to Federation then extraordinarilly [sic - obviously in the pre-spellcheck era] strong thru difficult 1920s period, & comprehensive post-WWII material. Amazing numbers of rubber types, paids, telegraphs etc, also 100s of registered & OHMS cvrs. Quality is tempered slightly by most items being glued to pages, (italics are mine) the cvrs having been opened-out for display. Generally considered the finest such WA colln ever formed. Ex Dzelme (8000+ items including 700+ covers etc)                                          Est $18000-20000'

          The lot was unsold and I bought it after the sale for the reserve of $13500 (no buyer's premium in those days). 'I'll put this one away for a rainy day', thought I, omitting to relay my intentions to the ever resourceful Roger Martin who, unbeknownst to me, had solved the 'most items being glued to pages' potential problem. Within days of  that Lot #557 having arrived at my office RM had processed it for a combination of (a) Private Treaty, (b) Auction, and (c) Retail stock sales. A 'quick flick' fairly rapidly ensued with a reasonable financial outcome and I recall uttering a perplexed 'congratulations' to the team.

          What is Lot #557 worth today? Oh, well just look at those statistics - '8000+ items including 700+ covers etc', added to 'Generally considered the finest such WA colln ever formed'. I'd reckon that lot today would realise about enough to buy two Perth median-priced houses. Thanks Rog.

Two pertinent observations come to mind from this story. 'Unsold at auction' doesn't necessarily imply that the lot is a 'dud', and try to buy when others are not. In 1989, when this lot was offered, the monumental work on W.A. postmarks by The Western Australia Study Group was only partially published, and that now completed work, together with the 'Compendium' with rarity guide published by R & J Goulder (2002), have combined to raise the collecting of W.A. postmarks to amongst the most popular pursuits in Commonwealth philately. Don't allow apathy to restrict the pleasure and profit you receive from your philately. Be proactive and chances are you also will get on to a winner.
This column was born at the insistence of my long-suffering staff, who gingerly recommended that a broader forum would be a more constructive medium through which to channel one's daily philatelic 'rantings and ravings'.