Stamp News September 2005
Woodchip-free Zone Money not scarce at Baillie Sale
The three-day auction by Sotheby’s in Melbourne of the Australia & Colonies section of the enormously valuable collection formed by Sir Gawaine Baillie, Bt, was a philatelic marathon event even by world standards. Colleague, Simon Dunkerley, will feature many of the outstanding results, and many there were, in his usual interesting and informed manner in his column this issue. I will make a few comments here which are purely from my perspective as an observer of the sale. Sir Gawaine was not a ‘Cover Lover’, thereby excluding his Estate of ever prising money from this little duck.
Some had questioned the rationality of Sotheby’s in conducting in Australia the sale of a U.K.-based collection, citing the U.K. as being the accepted centre for marketing of British Commonwealth material. Where would the millions come from here to absorb so much material they argued? They need not have been concerned, for the usual suspects in the U.K. were well represented by Agents present at the Sale, or in person on the well-manned phones. And of course, the Who’s who of local collectors of the material on offer would not have allowed a herd of stampeding elephants to stand in their way in attending. Frankly, I was surprised and a little concerned not to see any ‘new’ faces amongst the reasonably large crowd present. Certainly, there was a general consensus amongst the informed who were present that prices realised generally did not represent particularly good value for money for the proud new owners. The term ‘irrational exuberance’ was heard to be uttered on several occasions during the sale. Could it be that the emerging new generation of philatelists is seeking in their Philately greater value for money?
Actually, in my opinion, the Baillie Australia & Colonies Collection does not rate as one of the great collections of its kind. This may appear an odd statement to make of a collection which realised $3.2 million, but I don’t believe I’m being unduly uncharitable in making such a statement. Rather, I rate it as a valuable collection more than a great collection, given its structure and scope. Baillie was clearly a value buyer, with a comfort zone which restrained his auction bidding for example to participating in the activity to a level at or about auction estimate. This is a widely entrenched practice, particularly amongst bidders who have a sound general appreciation of their collecting subject, rather than a commanding knowledge of it. As a consequence of this acquisition style the Baillie Collection generally scored items which were good, but less than the best of their kind, and missed out on many of the most desirable pieces offered during the past few decades. Examples of comparative weakness for material which could have been acquired are the almost complete absence of Australian pre-war Essays and Proofs, Monograms and Imprints (particularly for Kangaroos) were patchy; Colonial imperforates were scant, and indeed the Colonials in general were more in the nature of a pot-pourri, albeit at times a peppered one. The Victoria was particularly ordinary, but given that when collecting it I didn’t allow Baillie, or anyone else for that matter, the opportunity to acquire outstanding items I’ll have to forgive that inadequacy. Further, in not including used (and used on cover!) the collection was deprived of many rarities, and such omission detracted from its overall character. Purely mint collections I find a little too sterile for my Philatelic taste (with apologies to unmounted mint only devotees). To conclude, I must add that as an investment, which the Baillie Collection could be said to encompass first and foremost, this was a most successful example!
Much of the material contained in the collection was offered in Australia during the ’seventies, when it generally represented good value for money. During that decade I believe it fair to say that I was one of the ‘movers and shakers’ in the market for exhibition-quality Australia & Colonies. I am and have always been, if nothing else, a value buyer in Philately. Examples of three ex-Baillie items which I handled in the ’seventies are given below, with relevant ‘Then’ and ‘Now’ comments. These items were purchased for Sir Gawaine in the ‘Holding’ Sale (Harmers of Sydney, 1982), having been acquired for the ‘Holding’ (pseudonym for a wealthy Australian family) portfolio in my 1979 Rarity sale.
Figure 1. 1d violet Imperforate three sides pair
Five pairs similar to Figure 1 are recorded in Brusden-White’s (BW) ‘King George V’ catalogue. This pair was from the famed collection formed by H.F. McNess of Perth (as were Figures 2 and 3). It fetched $5000 in 1979, $4400 in 1982, and $70000 in 2005. Realisations here and elsewhere do not include buyer’s premium. The ‘dip’ in realisation for this and Figure 3 in 1982 can be explained by 1979 being a boom year, while 1982 was well into the post-boom ‘depression’.
Figure 2. 1d green block of four Imperforate at top
BW records a total of 12 imperf. at top errors in various configurations. Figure 2 it is rumoured may already have been separated in to two vertical pairs. It made $600 in 1979, $1100 in 1982 (against the general post-boom trend), and $30000 in 2005.
Figure 3. 3d blue unique Imperforate three sides imprint strip
‘At least 36 examples of the error have survived’ according to BW, including three imprints, Figure 3 the largest of these. One of the more desirable of the great Commonwealth rarities, this strip made $10500 in 1979, a sad $6000 in 1982, and redeemed itself with $50000 in 2005.
The above three examples suggest that 1982 was one of the better years in which to buy Commonwealth rarities. 2005? I’ll let the reader be the judge of that. Will values continue to appreciate in a similar way to how they did between, say, 1982 and 2005? Let’s put it this way. If I thought the answer was yes I would be a ‘mover and shaker’ in that market, as in the ’seventies. I’m not, because being a value buyer I see much better value elsewhere, and there is no prize for the reader in guessing that ‘elsewhere’ lies within the realm of covers (and various forms of Postal Stationery). Ironically, the Baillie Sale, entirely devoid of covers as it was, has indirectly refocused the attention of the more enlightened amongst us to the fact that it is commercial covers which represent the best value for money in Philately. On that note, let’s finish the column with our usual covers ‘hit’.
Figure 4. A cover of Baronet quality?
Figure 4 would not have looked out of place in the Baillie Collection if he had chosen to include a representation of Australian stamps usage. As an example of usage of the 1934 Macarthur 9d it is a fine one indeed. In combination with contemporary 2d and 3d it formed part of a 5 Dec 1934 composition for the 1/2d ½oz airmail rate to India; even the regally named Post Office datestamp, Trungley Hall (N.S.W.), is befitting of a Knight of the Realm! This is a most attractive combination of a scarce postal rate and a scarce stamp on commercial cover. Nice covers bearing 1930s high denomination commemoratives are very hard to find, and I have reassessed my opinion of values following a comparison with far more readily obtainable items in the Baillie Sale which nevertheless fetched comparatively much higher prices. Such covers have a very bright future, and I can’t resist speculating on what this item might have fetched were it included in the Baillie Sale. Probably a good deal more than my valuation! Value : $750 (stamps off cover $36). Expect the gap between stamps used off cover and attractive use on cover to continue to broaden in the future.
Figure 5. One of life’s more forgettable marketing exercises
I wasn’t always a committed ‘Cover Lover’. In the early ’seventies I acquired a bundle of covers virtually identical to Figure 5. There were around 50 bearing the 1913 1d Engraved, which is otherwise a rather scarce stamp used on cover. I attempted to sell them at $1 each (you may be able to see in the scan ‘$1’ pencilled in lower left corner of Figure 5, which is in my hand), which was then about the price of a 1d used off cover. I recall there was little demand and I considered floating the stamps off whereby they would have been more readily saleable. Fortunately I did not, and sold them as one lot in one of my earliest auctions. On a few occasions in the interim I have seen the odd one of these distinctive covers appear on the market, this example recently on eBay. It fetched US$76.50, or about 100 times my earlier retail price. Actually, this was an astute purchase by the eBay winner as the current retail price for such a cover is more like A$200.
Next issue the subject will be ‘Should you be more acquisative in your collecting?’.
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.