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July 2004

Flavour of the Month
Me being blatantly self-opinionated 

                             Scan kind courtesy Stamp News

Australia Post has been criticized for discounting a range of its Souvenir Stamp Sheets by up to 30% off the issue price. An example is the 2002 Star Wars sheet which was issued at $39.95 and was recently discounted to $27.95. Rather than join in on the popular philatelic pastime of 'Australia Post bashing' I will actually spring to A.P.'s defence on this occasion.

            Virtually every other industry routinely resorts to discounting when a product has reached the end of its 'shelf life'. Philately is no sacred cow, and I for one cannot see why discounting should not be practiced within the realms of philatelic value-added products when sales begin to hit the wall. The face value of the Star Wars sheet is $4.50 and beyond that threshold a buyer is entering speculative territory in my opinion. By all means add such items to your collection if you are not concerned about resale value. If on the other hand you are a little sensitive when it comes to losing money then perhaps you may wish to occasionally reconsider the pursuit of 'completeness'.

            Glad I collect my new issues only commercially used on cover!

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

                   Scan kind courtesy Millennium Philatelic Auctions

The Millennium sale on 17 June 2004 contained one of the better of the few covers known bearing the Western Australia 1857 6d Golden-bronze (Lot 428). This item was formerly in the John Gartner collection. By rather strange coincidence John and I had in common the rare distinction of having been fellow proprietors of the venerable The Australian Commonwealth Specialists' Catalogue. The auction realisation of $7000 (including premium) I consider a 'snip', my assessment to some extent corroborated by the fact that a well-known dealer bought the item for stock.

                       Scan kind courtesy Charles Leski Auctions

In a more affordable price range for most was Lot 327 in the CLA sale of 21 July 2004. This 1891 Official cover of N.S.W. bearing the 'O S' overprinted 2d, d on 1d block of four, and 7d on 6d was not in perfect quality. It was however very presentable and comprises an incredibly rare combination franking, where any one of these three items would be considered very scarce to rare on cover, and at $138 (including premium) was clever buying indeed.

What were they thinking?
Explaining the inexplicable (or rather attempting to)

Everyone at some time in their life seeks the opinion of a Professional proficient in a given field. This may be for a medical prognosis, legal opinion, business issues, Estate planning, etc. For philatelic opinion when required one would seek the advice of a person or persons who make their living from trading, prudently from within the circle of those who do so successfully, in the style of philatelic material for which opinion is sought. Right? No, sadly, in the vast majority of instances, philatelists do not seek advice from those best equipped to provide expert guidance on their philatelic pursuits. Why? I'm no philatelic psychologist but I suspect ego and an 'l'll do it my way' predisposition may be at least partly responsible. That's fine, providing one doesn't look upon philately as an investment to at least some degree. Despite what philatelists might speak in public, I have yet to meet one who wasn't interested in the bottom line when the time came to sell. And I've been agent for thousands of philatelists in my career as an auctioneer. 

          In that capacity as auctioneer I have processed many collections, some obviously the labour of informed philatelists, but most clearly not. The latter folk really have deprived themselves of much of the fun, and profit, that philately bestowes upon those who seek advice and, once having satisfied themselves that they are armed with the best available information, are willing to become proactive.

          This month I took delivery of the accumulation of a client of over 30 years standing, whom I had not heard from since the late 'seventies. He is the brother of an elderly gentleman with whom I was involved in business during the 'seventies, and the three of us met often for a chat. My old client is a retired professional man who made a good living from providing financial advice to others. You would reasonably expect that such an enlightened person in business would have regularly 'picked my brains' philatelically and in so doing have formed a knock-out collection. You'd be wrong. What I found to my dismay was a 4WD-load of philatelic cannon fodder a-plenty. There were liberal dosages of the ubiquitous Yearbooks, 'seventies and 'eighties FDC's and PSE's ad nauseum, Postcards in pocket wallets, and every other product so brilliantly marketed by Australia Post in the era, much of it still packaged as purchased, rounded-off for 'diversity' with copious, pass mint Decimals and Territories and, as if to mock me specifically, plastic bags and bags overflowing with 'woodchips' (used stamps off cover for the non regular reader). Certainly no profit would be enjoyed by the owner, but little or no fun in the equation is inexcusable. I couldn't help but feel a sense of lost opportunity on behalf of this dear chap, a man of means who really should have known better.

          Since penning the foregoing chapter we have fully processed the consignment. Things just got worse. Owing to poor storage, largely in an out-building, the dreaded fungus which never sleeps has infiltrated the material to varying degrees. Rust hath no mercy. Ironically, about the only glimmer of victory-clutching from these jaws of defeat was in the odd scarcer cancellation (including a Fiji KGV-era mail bag seal used provisionally as an obliterator), reposing in a childhood collection, and some wartime commercial covers addressed to the family. My old friend no doubt would find my interest in these snippets rather bemusing, if not a little eccentric for his tastes.
          The moral to the story is of course elementary, and I'm sure most if not all successful philatelists will agree. You are unlikely to acheive the most out of your philately if you are not prepared to seek the advice of proficient professionals and learn from those more experienced than yourself.

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

                                          Scan kind courtesy Charles Leski Auctions

The major collections of the late Michael Davies were auctioned by CLA on 21 July 2004. Although Polar/Southern Atlantic material is not amongst my personal favourites - I find the material generally too contrived for my liking - Michael managed to assemble very commendable collections of Antarctica, Falkland Islands/Dependencies and Tristan da Cunha, particularly considering that most of the best material from these places more traditionally reposes in Europe.

            Michael had commenced his specialised collections when I first met him in the 1970s when he was a describer for P.J. Downie Auctions. A most unassuming character, aside from his philatelic endeavours Michael, perhaps surprisingly for anyone in this industry, enjoyed busking at markets and such. I wonder just how many other philatelists there are who would happily strum a guitar and serenade large numbers of the anonymous public!

            The collections performed very well with many items that Michael had paid double or triple digits for selling in the four digits range. The illustration above (Lot 537) is of one of the few Die proofs existing of the Australian Antarctic Territory 1959 2/3d which realised $2300 (including premium).
            A good example of a collection formed by a philatelist who passionately pursued his chosen endeavours, derived great pleasure from ownership, and who ultimately provided a windfall for his beneficiaries.

Cosmic results
Noteworthy realisations in the salerooms

                                 Scan kind courtesy Charles Leski Auctions

I hovered like a vulture when Lot 546 from the Michael Davies collection came up in the CLA sale of 21 July 2004. The Antarctic 1966 series of colour separation proofs (40 items plus a set of issued stamps) were estimated at $750/1000, and armed with the knowledge that the proofs had sold for $3050 in the second of the Australia Post Archival Sales (November 1987), I was primed to pounce. I needn't have bothered. The lot went for a very respectable $6325 (including premium).

                                      Scan kind courtesy Status International

Australians have a particular fetish for watermark varieties and you didn't have to be a rocket scientist to predict that Lot 1289 in the Status sale of 21 July 2004 would establish a new record for an Australian inverted watermark variety. Despite the conservative estimate of $8000/15000 the single-line perforation 1d red was an odds-on favourite to take the title away from the less 'sexy' 2d orange, but few would have predicted that the 1d would realise a whopping $39610 (including 'add-ons').

            Now, I appear to be in a minority in that I am not particularly turned-on by an inverted watermark variety, particularly not when the price realised is the equivalent of a museum-quality piece of Australian Colonial art. Call me old-fashioned, but I like to be able to visually appreciate something that is going to cost me forty grand, and visual an inverted watermark is not.

            For my forty grand I'd take, say, 400 covers at an average $100 each, fashion them in to two eight-frame exhibits, and derive great pleasure in savouring the fruits of that endeavour. And in years to come, when it is time to move on and part company with those exhibits, I'd reckon on being very happy with my forty grand splurge. In the meantime, that record-setting inverted watermark must look rather lonely on a single album page (or in a stockbook which may well become its disposition).

                                   Scan kind courtesy Status International

In the same Status sale (as Lot 4201) was the first N.Z. 1958 2d on 1d surcharge with stars that I have seen on commercial cover (I know of another cover yet unsighted). Upon spotting the illustration in the catalogue I conjured up in my mind a guesstimate of $200/300 for this item, admittedly a level at which I would have been in like Flynn. My enthusiasm was tempered by the actual estimate which was $2000/3000, which I felt was rather courageous. The lot fetched $2415 (including premium), vindicating the auction house valuation. Just a few years ago this item I reckon would have fetched more like my initial guesstimate. Such is the general world wide trend nowadays towards recognising the genuine scarcity of many stamp issues commercially used on cover that I suspect that even this seemingly high auction realisation may be looked back upon as a shrewd acquisition in even the very near future.
Rod's Ripper
Cover of the Month

                        1913 handdrawn State/Commonwealth combination

I particularly like postal articles bearing combination frankings of Australian State-era stamps and Commonwealth Kangaroos. I like them for they involve the stamps of two distinct philatelic countries, they represent the close of one chapter in philately and the birth of another, most are fairly scarce to rare, and often are reasonably attractive, few more so than that illustrated above. This is from a recent find of often elaborately hand illustrated items by Herbert Gravenor Appleby, who took up residence in Newcarnie (W.A.). This 29 December 1913 communication with Mrs HGA is franked with two W.A. d together with 1d Kangaroo paying double 1d Empire rate. The notation 'My White Hope!' is rather profound. When the Kangaroo on Map series first appeared there was speculation in the press that the white background to map surrounding our marsupial friend was indicative of the then current White Australia Policy!

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

                          Riotous Latin American airmails - a rap favourite

Central and South American stamps I find generally rather exotic, in particular the Art Deco inspired designs of the 1930s/1940s which often verge on riotous, almost 'Mardi gras' appearance when in combination as they often are with coloured rubber datestamps. Of course I prefer the stamps on commercial cover, and airmail usages are the real favourite, the customary printed airmail envelope further adding to the general aura of confusion.

            My 21 October 1975 auction contained a lot (#29) described as:

            'An interesting accumulation of mostly commercial covers, circa 1930-1960, originating from South and Central America (these are almost exclusively of 1930s period and there are many) ... many flown and/or registered, censor and tax markings ... much useful franking (over 600 covers)'

The lot fetched $120 or about 20c per cover. I have no idea what the contents comprised but today I would love to know, and suspect I would regard that lot as a little goldmine. If the buyer still has it please contact me for an indecent profit on your fortuitous purchase.

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'.