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Seven Seas Stamps Sold Silently

By Glen Stephens


The largest mail order stamp company in the Southern Hemisphere has just been sold. This fact was reported exclusively in my column last magazine.

Seven Seas Stamps has been in operation for 47 years. It was founded by Bill Hornadge in 1951. Bill is still very active and well connected in the stamp trade, and still does the majority of his business with clients overseas via direct mail catalogues, trading as Review Publications in Dubbo.

Seven Seas Stamps produce the largest range of printed albums for the Australia and Pacific area, and are the clear market leaders in this region. The Australasian Stamp Catalogue is a large full color standard reference work covering this area. The 28th Edition is to be published in the first half of 1999 the new management told me today. The excellent Compact Australian catalogue was published late in 1998 - see the full page colour ad in November magazine for full details.

The company was based for decades in Dubbo, a country town about 300 miles west of Sydney. Seven Seas Stamps gained its strength and huge customer base from approval packets of stamps.




Mirroring the growth path of many large US based companies in the 1950s and 1960s, most comic books sold in Australia contained premium offers and enticements for approval packets. Hundreds of thousands of Australian youngsters signed up for these offers.

Many very senior medal winning collectors in Australia today will sheepishly admit they got their start in stamp collecting from this comic book approval campaign. If you did a survey of the Gold and Silver medal winners at AUSTRALIA 99 I suspect you would find a surprising percentage started their collecting via companies like Seven Seas Stamps.

Seven Seas Stamps also was very aggressive in using stamp packets as promotional premiums for large companies. In the mid 1960s a large campaign involved over 20 million packets of colourful world thematic stamps being given away with the purchase of one brand of petrol...AMPOL.

These packets contained an incredible 70 million world stamps - many of them MUH, and they entirely excluded cheap definitives.

A very inexpensive cheap album was also made available, a massive 300,000 were sold, and again this was the formative spark that attracted many of today's leading collectors and dealers. This writer was certainly introduced to philately via those AMPOL packets of triangularsfrom Mongolia and Nudes from Spain! (I still have the Nudes.) The packets were "salted" with the odd "goodie." When these were found the owner often got widely reported in the daily papers, creating more excitement and demand from AMPOL...and Seven Seas. AMPOL would always claim to have initiated "an urgent investigation" on how a 5/- Bridge or Penny Black got into their cheapie packets! The press lapped it up.




One feature article widely reported across the country in the mass media had a 9 year old girl called Lisa Bell of Clontarf Street, Seaforth, N.S.W. holding up a CTO £2 Roo she had found in one AMPOL packet. Leading dealer M. C. Cohen, bless his soul, was quoted as saying he valued thestamp at a lofty £9. Seven Seas Stamps were quoted as saying they would pay £9 to have the stamp back again. Great stuff. Lisa was quoted as saying, "This is the best stamp in my collection now, and I am never going to sell it." If Lisa is still a collector, she is about 45 now...if she or someone who knows her reads this magazine, I would love to know if she DOES still have the stamp. (I'll pay a wee bit more than £9 ($18) by the way!) Who said stamps have not increased in price?

Australia at that time had a population numbering about 10 million people, so 20 million stamp packets was obviously a vast amount, being about two packets given away for every man woman and child living in the country. At one stage Seven Seas in Dubbo were tearing up, packaging and dispatching 400,000 packets a week to meet the demand which was many times the budgeted estimate. AMPOL figured the usual "asking rate;" for a promo item would be the usual 15%. However, it immediately ran to around 50%, and stayed that way. I wish Seven Seas or someone else would get McDonalds, Shell, Dick Smiths, etc. to run such a campaign in the late 1990's.

Don't laugh ... the concept certainly worked for AMPOL. The Chairman of AMPOL was reported widely in the daily financial press in 1964 speaking at the company AGM, stating that sales and profits had gone up significantly, and stamp packets were the reason for this upsurge in business.

The idea also worked 30 years earlier. A new brand of peanut butter was introduced, called ETA. In 1937 they also decided to use stamps to gain attention to the new ETA peanut butter in Australia. Some 25 million stamps were given away. In the first year 275,000 printed albumswere sold, compared to an estimate of only 75,000 being needed! Sixty two years later, that new brand is still the market leader. Both AMPOL and ETA albums turn up regularly in auctions and dealer shops to this day, showing the enduring power of stamp collecting as an advertising medium.




Sourcing such a huge quantity of thematic sets from Australia for AMPOL was a monumental task, and clearly an impossibility to obtain locally. The stamps needed to come in from Europe and the USA by the pallet load. Leading dealers of today like Max Stern played a prominent rolein this 60's effort. The contacts made have undoubtably served him well. Max was recently presented with his "50 Year Pin" as a member of American Stamp Dealers Assoction, New York, USA. Max made 3 round world air trips to source these stamps. We forget in an age where it costs only $1,300 to fly to London that a round world trip on a lumbering Qantas "Connie" 35 years ago ran to more than the annual salary of a labourer.

In 1971 Seven Seas Stamps was sold to Kevin Duffy, who continued and expanded the approvals and premium side of the company, merging it with his own large existing "penny approvals" style business. Names like Rocket Stamps and Peter Harris were some of Kevin's creations then, as was a much more recent one sold a few years ago to John McDonald..."William Booth." Kevin is still well known and liked in the trade, and has many connections overseas (he lives a few hundred yards from me in Castlecrag, actually). Kevin Duffy is a multiple Past President of the American Stamp Dealers Association.

With exquisite timing, Duffy sold Seven Seas Stamps in late 1980 to Reader's Digest. This publishing giant was keen to expand worldwide into other "leisure activities" at this time. Philately fitted their clean cut, conservative, American corporate image perfectly. Stamps had of course experienced phenomenal annual price growth for several years up to the purchase in 1980, but the "real" market had peaked worldwide and was in fact falling fast. The huge "Sydpex 80" Exhibition in N.S.W. was the beginning of the end of the stamp "boom" in Decimal and Territories stamp prices. The show closed October 5. Kevin walked away from Seven Seas Stamps in October 1980 with $4,000,000 (Australian dollars) in his pocket. What absolutely superb timing and foresight. Even Kerry Packer or Rene Rivkin have never got their timing THAT precise!

Savvy stamp dealers knew the "boom" was crashing in October 1980, but the Reader's Digest accountants only looked at past year's audited trading figures, not the present market. These were not stamp collectors, but merely corporate "bean counters." What they saw quite simply was an upward graph going off the wall. Head office in Pleasantville, New York loved the numbers and they signed the cheque. Reader's Digest purchased the company from Kevin Duffy for a reported $4,000,000 plus (Australian dollars). It sold this month for around one tenth of that figure.

The vendor was an Australian owner, David Foster who had been Managing Director under Reader's Digest and with his wife Margaret later bought the company outright in 1993, undoubtably crystallizing a huge book loss on the original investment by this multi-national corporation.




The Fosters have now retired from the stamp business and the new owners are John and Marzia Higgs of Sydney. David Foster is keen to devote more time to his scuba diving safaris, and model aeroplanes, and Margaret is quite a Bridge playing whizz at the highest national level, and willdevote more energy to that. John Higgs has worked for five years as a Manager at the company and knows the product and business well.

John Higgs is very active in collector circles, is well liked, and has been President and on the executive of local societies in the North Shore region of Sydney, Australia. By contrast, the Fosters had no background whatever in the stamp business or as collectors. Seven Seas Stamps is now entirely based in Sydney, and the Dubbo operation was recently closed down.

The town of Dubbo was once an shining light in the Australian stamp trade. Another large Dubbo based wholesaler, "The Stamp Factory" was bought out by our regular advertiser Lighthouse Philatelics earlier in 1998, and the once dominant "Stamp News" magazine is in my view a very pale shadow of its former self. For quite some years I was their largest advertiser, and Market columnist, and really feel sad at what a polyglot mish-mash I see whenever I now glance at a copy at a newsstand. I have spent not one cent with "Stamp News" in 3½ years, yet my business isbooming, so draw your own conclusions!

I asked John Higgs today what changes he envisaged at Seven Seas Stamps. "We plan to keep the present product range and apart from a little fine tuning, there will be no immediate changes. We are committed however to listening to what the trade and collectors want and it may well be that new or different products appear, based on this input, during our first year," he concluded.

It is my personal view that Seven Seas Stamps had "lost the plot" in the past 10 years or so. Many strange decisions were taken, and many perfectly sound product lines were deleted or fiddled with. The fact the business has just changed hands for around 10% in 1998 dollars of what Kevin Duffy received 18 years ago speaks volumes about the way the business has fared.

In my view the biggest error made was Seven Seas Stamps largely getting OUT of their core business of selling STAMPS which was so profitable for Bill Hornadge and Kevin Duffy. I am sure both those men will agree that profits from catalogues and accessories and album pages were a lovely "bonus" in their day, but all those zillions of "senior approvals" packages, etc. going out in the mail were the "cream." Lots of wealthy farmers in the countryside buying hinged Australasian stamps at basically full catalogue and getting a 10% discount or whatever if they kept the "entire selection." Money for old rope apparently, but wiser minds than mine decided this was not worth continuing with. In this era of almost universal credit card ownership, one wonders why.




The Higgs' got a bargain. In my opinion the good will of the name "Seven Seas Stamps" alone is easily worth the entire amount of what they paid. We are talking here of about $400,000 to $500,000 (Australian dollars) for the entire operation and a warehouse full of stock. Had the business been advertised in this magazine and the overseas trades for sale at say $600,000 (Australian) or even "$750,000 ono," I have no doubt it would have attracted a cash buyer at that kind of level. Possibly another corporate client in the leisure business. I can think of dealers in Australia who could have probably trebled the Seven Seas Stamps turnover within a year or so. Kevin Duffy for starters!

The curious fact remains that the business was not advertised for sale, as far as I am aware, either in Australia or overseas. David Foster told me this week he approached a few people he thought might like to buyit, and one of them agreed. One person was Kevin Duffy. Another was Peter and Cathy Craft from Prospect Stamps and Coins in Blacktown. Avery laid back way to approach the sale, and it probably cost him around$250,000 all for the want of a few ads in the magazines. When he spoke to me David seemed pleased with the deal, so money is not everything I suppose. I just wish he had asked me!

Lets put this price into some sort of perspective. Paul Fraser took Flying Flowers stock then worth some £13½ million in June 1998 (then$A40 million) for the sale of Stanley Gibbons. Greg Manning's December 12 auction in the USA alone had conservative estimates of TEN times what Seven Seas Stamps sold for when you add his buyer commission. Our front cover storey last month reported Mystic Stamp Company in New York, USA paying around $A1,500,000 for the USA "Z" grill stamp for "stock," i.e.a clever publicity stunt. That anonymous blue stamp cost more than TREBLE what the SevenSeas Stamps name and entire stock has just changed hands for! A companylike Afinsa Stamps in Spain, who most readers have never even heard of hasannual sales of $A175 million. One might imagine Afinsa probably spendas much on tea and biscuits and sherries annually as Seven Seas Stamps just sold for.

I could go on, but the point is surely made. John andMarzia Higgs now own a famous and proud stamp company, and I am sure they willcontinue to grow the name into the future. The hobby in Australasia NEEDS a strongand vibrant Seven Seas Stamps. I for one will be delighted to see a page ad in a comic book once again offering approval packets from Mongolia and Hungary and Bolivia. The only ones who paid too much appear to be Reader's Digest, and who among us will shed a tear for those people I wonder?!



These articles are all Copyright © 1999 Glen Stephens. They may NOT be reprinted or used without written permission. However, permission will be granted for virtually any reasonable useage purpose, providing full and correct attribution to the writer and magazine is given. Applicable scans from articles in black and white or color can also be arranged to be E-mailed to you.

Above is one of my Market Man "Tipster" columns published in the Australasian STAMPS Magazine.



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This page features worldwide rare, unusual, and one-of-a-kind items of special interest.  It is one of Australia's MOST visited stamp dealer web pages.  Check EVERY day, as you can see - new items are regularly added and the sold ones removed.  Many large dealers buy from here regularly.

So that I can show you the items in great detail in high resolution, some of the images may take a minute or three to load up if you have slow dial-up connection. I apologize for this, but it's worth waiting for!

A note about payment on these: Yes, these lots are expensive, but
"Lay-By" is available; E-mail, Phone, or Fax me to discuss it.  I do NOT rip you off like auctions and add 15-20% to my prices.  A $1,000 stamp is $1,000 - not $1,200.



Most 4 figure items like these only appear at public auction.  You THEN need to pay 15-20% extra on top of the hammer price - for the nasty, nasty "Buyer Commission".  As well the associated GST taxes added to that commission, and GST added on the postage and handling and insurance etc. AND then often another 3½% on top of all that, to use a credit card like Amex or Diners!

These commissions pay for the MASSIVE overhead of the auctions. Their dozen staff, Director fees, fancy rented CBD building, deluxe catalogues, and page full colour ads in magazines etc. I have none of this overhead.  I work on my own - from home.  No rent, no staff, no fancy catalogues or ads.  Just fast turnover and low prices, and a done on the CHEAP website!

I have no doubt whatever the unique £1 Tasmania Sperati Forgery offered here would sell for easily $A4,000 at Auction.  However from me it costs $A4,000 plus shipping. Bid $4,000 at Auction and your invoice will read more like $4,800 plus shipping!  True - and $800 is not chicken feed to anyone.

All prices on this page are nett - NO extra taxes or commissions are added to the price.  KNOW in advance what you are up for!  And I NEVER charge buyers extra for using their credit card.  NEVER.  That is absurd, and pure gouging, but Australia's leading auctions seem to hate Amex cards.  I speak from first hand experience.

In my 25 years full time selling stamps I have hardly auctioned one stamp.  I do not believe in it.  My huge website gets far more visitors than most large local auctions, and always has.  Well over one million visitors is testament to that.   I am pleased to sell direct - at fair sensible prices, so you know EXACTLY where you stand.  You buy direct off me, and you the customer get the savings.
And as many of my clients are overseas, remember EVERY price below is in weak AUSTRALIAN dollars.  For European and American and British buyers go check how cheap these "Pacific Peso" prices are on:   And most importantly the way I ship, you generally avoid the nasty UK 17½% VAT - and the similar European and NZ import and GST taxes etc.

As with ALL my sales, payment is tailored to suit YOU. If you see something for $A1,000 that will mean a divorce case if you buy it outright, I am happy to do a lay-by or layaway.  I can debit your credit card 4 debits of $250 or whatever suits. There is NO price penalty whatever for you to use this system - even if you use credit cards.  Just let me know what suits.   Happy reading!    Glen



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Also Member of:  Philatelic Traders' Society.  (London)     ANDA. (Melbourne)    American Philatelic Society, etc