Stamp News September 2006
Value buying in 2006 (and beyond)
Most of us reminisce in tales of Philatelic items we could have bought but didn't, and our regrets for not having taken the initiative, particularly in instances where such items subsequently went 'ballistic'. Perhaps some readers will admit to being 'guilty' of not being pro-active even today when a Philatelic opportunity appears to present itself. Others might contend that opportunities just don't surface nowadays. The age of exceptional value for money in Philately is bygone, they would add. In my opinion they would be very wrong.
I read an interesting book on Real Estate investment recently, in which the author contended that 'The deal of a lifetime' (in Real Estate) comes along on average about once a month. He provided many actual examples, and a framework to assist his readers in identifying future exceptional opportunities.
In Philately, I believe we are surrounded by opportunities for exceptional buying at any given time, and this month I'll feature some examples, sold at public auction this year, and attempt to explain why I regard them as having a bright future. This exercise is not to have a 'go' at our Auction Houses, which I regard highly; we are very fortunate in Australia to have a number of world standard auction firms. It is simply that given the huge number of lots offered annually in Australia the reality is that auction realisations will be a cocktail of lots selling (a) for more than expected, (b) at about expectations, and (c) for less than expected. Value buying is not exclusive to any particular one of these three broad categories. For instance, within category (a) some of the best value buying of my career has been delivered at multiples of the pre-auction estimate.
Let's take a look at four examples of what I regard as value buying in covers. I believe these items, which represent very good value for money from the outset, will in time be seen to represent extremely good value for money. There are value buying opportunities in Essays, Proofs and stamps, but they are comparatively few and far between. Such material has enjoyed a remarkable period of buoyancy during the past five years, at a growth rate which is unsustainable. The next five years will see the continuing emergence of commercial covers, and to a lesser extent Stationery, as the prime movers in Philately's growth stakes.
Figure 1. £1 Bass commercial cover - took 17 years to find one
In the June 2005 column I featured separate covers bearing £SD Navigator 7/6d Cook and 10/- Flinders (White paper), and commented that they were the first commercial covers bearing the respective denominations that I had seen. From the same correspondence, inter-office mail between the Sydney and Basle, Switzerland, outposts of the venerable Simonius-Vischer & Co (founded 1782), comes Figure 1, the first £1 Bass (this the White paper) that I have seen on commercial cover. The combined franking of 29/- was for 2/3d ½oz airmail rate x 12 = 27/- plus 2/- registration fee, despatched 19 July 1965. I believe that the firm carried a stock of stamps in the Sydney mailroom, and someone went to the trouble to frank mail to Head Office with a variety of different stamps, probably at the request of an incumbent stamp collector in one or other (if not both) of the offices. A similar arrangement nearly a century earlier explains the existence of the item shown as Figure 4 below. Despite there apparently being a stamp collector involved, I regard this correspondence as commercial; the correct postage rate and use of contemporary stamps satisfying that ideal for me. Figure 1 was offered with two lesser covers (which I valued at $90) as one lot in a Melbourne auction. The £1 Bass was diligently mentioned in the description, but unsurprisingly (to me that is) was not illustrated, and the lot appears to have been overlooked by most cover-enthusiasts. Only two bidders competed for the lot, which realised $391. If re-offered at auction, with a colour illustration, I would not be surprised to see this item breach the $1000 mark, and even at that level I regard it as having plenty of potential to improve further in value. In the same 17 years it took me to find this item I have seen multiple offerings of many other items described as 'rare' come and go ad nauseam.
Figure 2. Plenty of blue-sky above for this 1930 domestic airmail cover
I liked the item shown as Figure 2 from when I first laid eyes upon it in a Melbourne auction recently, and recommended it to a fellow cover-enthusiast. Estimated at $200, $368 was needed to secure the item. This represents excellent value for money; the 4½d is the Small Multiple Wmk. Perf. 13½ x 12½ issue (commendably described as such in the auction catalogue) which, punctured 'O S', retails at $120 used, and is very scarce indeed on commercial cover, and this cover has six! Not difficult to reconcile why this is value buying? An 18 Oct 1930 Official cover from Port Hedland to Perth, the 4½d x 6 (note there are two distinct shades within), and similarly punctured 'O S' ½d and 1½d for a combined franking of 2/5d (29d) represents the airmail rate for an item weighing 3½oz, ie 2d per 1oz for letter rate x 4 = 8d + 3d airmail per ½oz x 7 = 21d, total 29d. This is a striking, exhibition-standard cover which would be equally at home in a collection of KGV Heads, Official mail, or Domestic airmail rates. A $1000 cover in my opinion. And in the very near future it'll be 'any advance on $1000?'.
Figure 3. Small fish are sweet
Value buying need not be restricted to higher priced items only. Figure 3 was an eBay auction, realising a princely US$5.55! I like it for a number of reasons. It's a Permit Aerogramme produced and inscribed for the '12th Quadrennial Congress of International Council of Nurses 17th-22nd April Melbourne 1961' (phew!), and at lower left it is shown that the Postmaster-General approved the design for acceptance as 'Aerogramme No. 59'. Permit Aerogrammes are an interesting sideline, embraced by not all Stationery enthusiasts, and are more often found unused than used. This is the first example of this particular type I have seen used. It's particularly interesting as the sender was a Nurse attending the Congress, writing to a friend in Canada on 18 Apr 1961 (ie during the period of the Congress). Aerogrammes were required to be franked 10d and were valid to any part of the world. This item was apparently adequately franked, but one (5d) stamp has dislodged after posting (residual gum can be seen where stamp was originally affixed) and the Post Office has applied the handstamp 'STAMP FALLEN OFF' and permitted the article to be forwarded as fully paid. An inexpensive yet appealing item which could find a place in any one of a Stationery (Aerogrammes), Thematic (Nursing), or Postal History (Informative Markings) exhibit. I value this item at $150. Diligent and enthusiastic buyers really can have a lot of fun in Philately, and can do so without going broke.
Figure 4. Unique franking of Victoria from De Bernardy correspondence
I don't often feature Australian Colonial subjects in this column. Of course I am very fond of such material, but it's usually highly priced and accordingly can stand on it's own feet; such material doesn't need support from the likes of me. Figure 4 is more of a sentimental selection. It's originally from the De Bernardy Bros. of London 19th Century correspondence, which first appeared on the market in the 1970s. Someone of influence in that firm was a Philatelist, for the frankings on incoming mail from around the world were generally anything but pedestrian in composition, and often were exotic. Clearly, the message emanating from Head Office was to place many, varied and/or unusual stamps on mail when corresponding with London. Robson Lowe Ltd., London, were the auctioneers and produced a memorable albeit somewhat slender single-vendor catalogue entitled 'Treasure Trove'. And indeed that is precisely what this amazing hoard was. Realisations were generally good for an era in which cover collecting was but in its infancy. In today's market the slim 'De Bernardy' catalogue would more likely be telephone directory-sized, replete with copious colour illustrations, and the realisations would be stratospheric.
I bought the lot which contained the covers emanating from Victoria, amongst which was Figure 4. This item represents the only franking of the 1873 Laureate ½d on 1d green that I have recorded (Geoff Kellow illustrates the cover in his Stamps of Victoria). The ½d stamp was for newspapers, and no survivor so used has been noted. The use on a De Bernardy cover of four examples, together with contemporary 2d pair to complete the 6d Ship letter rate to London, is consistent with a directive from Head Office to frank mail 'interestingly'. The item realised $368 in a Melbourne auction. The buyer was fortunate; I would suggest a realisation of more like $1500 would not be out of the question for an Australian Colonial unique franking of the 1870s such as this.
In my incessant reviewing of market activity in Australia, particularly in the auction arena, I observe many realisations which I regard as representing good value for the buyer. True, not a large number represent quite the value seen in the examples selected for this article. As a Philatelic Trader I buy where I perceive good value is to be had in my areas of specialisation. However, when good value is present beyond my core interests I tend to let the opportunity go through to the keeper. I've often thought such opportunities are highly suited for inclusion in self-managed Super Funds, and perhaps some good value buys do end up that way. In a blatant piece of self-promotion, I could act for one or two larger Super Fund Trustees in drawing attention to opportunistic buys as and when they appear at auction. The recent changes which allow retirees over 60 to pay no tax on Super Fund withdrawals are good news indeed for those who have included Philatelic material in a self-managed Fund (assuming they have included the right 'stuff').
It has occurred to me that some readers may lament that the 'value buys' I feature here, and generally in this column, are too 'complex' for their taste. That may be so, but as most Politicians will attest 'Life wasn't meant to be simple', and Philatelic life is no exception. In Philately, the 'simple' seldom has lasting appeal or potential. During the past generation we have experienced short-term booms (and busts) for a whole range of 'simple' subjects. Philatelic 'nine-day wonders' the likes of embellished 'PSE's', basic Decimal stamps, Year Albums, Phonecards, etc, etc. Such material readily lends itself to promotion and speculation. So long as prices keep moving up the weight of capital pours in, and vaporises when the bubble bursts, as it inevitably does.
Smart Philatelists never get involved in activities involving the 'simple', not that is for speculative purposes. They're too busy searching for and acquiring suitable material to build collections of great substance and character, collections comprising Philatelic evergreens which will always be in demand, and in short supply, for as long as there is the wonder of Philately.
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.