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Glen Stephens
Monthly "Stamp News" Market Tipster Column


       July 2005




     Used Roos way under-valued

The wonderful truism about stamps is that no-one knows everything.  Even in areas we SHOULD!
And the folks that take the trouble to have a tiny bit more knowledge than the rest of field can often be BIG winners.
I just sold a stamp this week for $85 that another leading dealer would have charged about $1000 more for. 
This is an interesting story,  and may it serve as a timely warning - if I even needed to give one, of my favourite mantra: 'KNOWLEDGE IS POWER' in the stamp business.
A long term customer phoned me recently and said one stamp he was missing from his used collection was the 1928 1/- Kangaroo, third watermark, with watermark sideways.
This is not a very difficult stamp to find, and over the years I have sold scores of copies.  The Stanley Gibbons number is #40ba and the current catalogue value is £130 in used condition.
He said he wanted a genuine postally used copy.  I got out my used Roos book and there were 6 copies in there.  A couple of them were quite nice looking, but one had the totally fake 'Vic. Aust' corner cancel with no city name. (This was used a lot by a well known dealer  to make 'Fine Used' out of toned or heavy hinged mint stamps.) 
And the one illustrated nearby had a Melbourne cancel.  Customer asked if any had a legible year date on them, and I said one example had a discernable 1928 cancel, but  that one was badly centred.  (Very common on this issue I might add.)  My customer asked how much it cost.
I looked at the price which said $85 when I'd put it into stock a few years back.  I assumed it had not gone up much in value since, so I said: 'Well, it is marked at $85'.  Half expecting him to say: 'can you sell it to me for $75'.
"I'll pay double"
Customer then said: 'so how much do you now want from me for it - $150?   $250?'
I was a little confused, and laughed and said: 'well it says $85, so the price is $85 - you must have won lotto to be offering double my asking price!'
Before we went any further he said: 'we know each other very well, so I feel I must tell you this up front - the stamp is catalogued at $1,000 in the new ACSC "Kangaroos" volume'.
This did surprise me, as I had just written a detailed review of that catalogue, and must confess I had not noticed this.  The mint copy was catalogued $100 so I assumed the used at '$1,000' was a simple typographical error.




Worth $100 or $1000? 

Anyway I laughed, and said: 'a deal is a deal, and for a good customer, it is yours for $85 no matter what any catalogue says'.
He was happy, and I thought no more about it, as on checking the Richard Juzwin current price list I saw he too had it priced $100 mint and $100 used.  So getting $85 for a poorly centred copy had me very well satisfied.
At the 'Pacific Explorer' Exhibition (re-named by most now as 'Titanic Explorer'!)  in Sydney a few days later I mentioned this to dealer Michael Eastick.  He laughed and said: 'that is just a typo - I noticed that, and the correct catalogue price for used is of course $100'.
The booth of Millennium Auctions was nearby so I asked Paul Fletcher who publishes the ACSC via Brusden White.  He could not be certain, thought it was indeed possible it was a typo for $100, but made a note of my enquiry, and said he'd email me if it was in fact really $1,000.  I heard nothing further for weeks.
This week I was talking to dealer Simon Dunkerley and happened to mention this stamp.  Simon consults on pricing for the ACSC and said to me: 'in my view the correct price for postally used should be more like $1,500 - but $1,000 was what was settled upon by consensus for the present time.'
Simon mentioned he'd only ever seen a few genuinely postally used copies in his life, and was totally amazed I sold a 1928 dated copy for $85.
So the moral of the story is to know more than the dealers, and you will often pick up a bargain.  I have no doubt if my purchaser placed the stamp right now into a leading auction it would sell for near TEN times what he paid me. 
Paul Fletcher did get back to me eventually, and confirmed the $1000 price is correct for used.
The copy I had in my book priced at $100 with an inconclusive Melbourne cancel, I quickly increased in price to $250.  (See photo above - shameless plug!)  It may well be more of a 'per favour' cancel, but it does not totally have that 'feel' to me. 
Those 'CTO' stamps are normally cancelled very lightly, and barely across one corner - and usually a lower corner for visual 'neatness'.   These errors were on sale at Melbourne, so who really knows.  Anyway, the new price is a "maybe" acknowledgment!
If myself, Michael Eastick and Paul Fletcher initially had no real idea of the value of this stamp postally used, all of us quite experienced dealers, what you will find on sale from smaller dealers, or on eBay etc is anyone's guess.
This stamp was on sale in Sydney from December 1927 for a short time, and later in Melbourne also briefly, so my 1928 dated example was clearly correct period use.  Anything with a neat 'Vic. Aust' or similar type corner cancel you can assume is an outright deliberate fake to 'improve' a rough mint copy, and the price in that case stays about the same as mint.
The ACSC might perhaps offer a clear warning to this effect in the next edition.  I caution readers strongly that the $1,000 catalogue price is for genuine postal use in the period of issue, and I suggested this to the Editor of the ACSC, that this note might be added.  This is the only stamp to my knowledge from Australia catalogued 10 times more used than mint. 
There are not many Australian stamps at all where the used values are many times the mint equivalent, but collectors are becoming more and more knowledgeable about the ones that truly are worth a large premium.


 30,000,000,000 Marks

German 'Inflation' era
In many foreign countries used examples of a stamp are often worth many $100s, even $1,000s whilst the mint version sells literally for pennies.  The Germany 1920s 'inflation' series offers some striking examples of this.
One that quickly springs to mind is the Germany 1923 800T on 500M green. SG #300.  Mint it is catalogued 20p by Stanley Gibbons, but used it is £1,200 = $A3,000.  Michel rates it as 2000 Euros Mint (=$A3,175) used, and only 70c mint!  Of course you only buy expertised examples of used.
We have all heard of the insane inflation in Germany in late 1923.  This Weimar Republic era saw folks paying for a loaf of bread with a barrow load of Mark notes, as the currency was devaluing rapidly by the day.  This posed enormous problems for the Post Office.

The German mark was finally revalued on Dec 1, 1923 at the conversion rate of 1,000,000,000,000 old Marks to 1 new Mark, or one trillion to one.  Herein lies a common point of nomenclature confusion, particularly for US collectors.  After one hundred million, the European and North American conventions for naming the numbers differs.  The European billion has 12 zeros, which is a North American trillion. 

Illustrated nearby are 4 stamps issued just before and just after this startling currency reform.  The face values drop from 20 Milliarden Marks on one stamp, (in US figures - 20 billion = 20,000,000,000 Marks) to 3 pfennig (= 0.03 Mark!)

Stamps from this era are still very common mint, despite being over 80 years old.  I have a large bagful on them in my current web list - in sheet wads and blocks all stuck together - 1,000s of them for $50 if anyone wants some soaking practice!

The Registered letter illustrated nearby was posted on December 6, 1923 from Berlin Germany.  It was correctly franked for the destination - New York City, U.S.A.  The total face value of all 15 stamps is 15 x 50 billion = 750 billion Marks!  This crazy inflation was one of factors that facilitated the rise to power in Germany of Hitler and his Nazi Party.



750 Billion Marks!



Used Roos under-valued

What this new $1,000 price underlines for the 1/- sideways watermark Roo is that the scarcer pre-war Australian issues in USED condition have often been grossly under-valued.  We are entering a new era of price adjustments - mark my words
I have felt this coming for 25 years, and built even back then what is without doubt the largest dealer stock in the world of used KGV heads and Kangaroos under 10/-.  Both normal and in both 'OS' perfin sizes.  I still have it, and am glad I have been too lazy to run ads for it in recent decades!  
It may finance my retirement!  I used to run full page ads every month 20-25 years back offering pre-war Australia issues each in FIVE used grades, from "spacefiller" to "Superb Used".   With Average Used, Good Used, and Fine Used grades in between. For every stamp, in every watermark up to £2.
A rough condition 1913 5d Brown Roo with heavy cancel and off centre was a couple of dollars and a SUPERB one was priced about 10 times more.   Folks bought exactly what suited their needs and their budgets.
My grading was rigorous, but at that time the fanaticism for 'MUH' pervaded this market, and used stamps were generally overlooked.  And still are.  
Some present day dealers like Richard Juzwin illustrate used stamps in 4 grades on his list.  I have suggested to Richard before that he should consider selecting 4 more representative examples.
His 'list price' example and his '30% more than list price' copy has BETTER centering on the cheaper example.  Furthermore, most Europeans and real collectors would FAR prefer the legible crisp cancel on his 'list price' copy.  Richard is thus costing himself big money for not taking 5 minutes to re-illustrate his examples. 
It loses him money, and does nothing whatever to educate collectors as to what to look for, and what 'quality' really means - or looks like.  For a leading dealer to be charging 30% more (for 20 years!) for a less desirable stamp is just nuts.
I have typed a dozen columns over the decades warning folks that paying a 300% premium for 'MUH' early Commonwealth was mostly just lining the pockets of the re-gummers and their MANY local customers, but I was a lone voice in the wilderness. 
I still hold that view.  I have seen skilled German re-gumming that 95% of dealers could not pick, much less any collector.  Only a fool has paid these silly 300% premiums.   Like Sydney and Melbourne house prices, the 'MUH' premium was way overblown and has now dropped back.  And like Darwin and Perth house prices - used prices are still increasing, as they still offer 'value'.
A superbly struck, crisp readable cancel on a clean and attractive well centred Kangaroo is a joy to behold.  And near impossible to forge.  And even today will cost you only 10% of what you pay for a HINGED 5/- CofA Kangaroo. 


A joy to behold     

One thing is for sure - no German regummer is going about applying nice steel cancels to mint 5/- Roos!  Or virtually any mint Roo for that matter.  And used stamps do NOT tone or 'rust' anywhere near as fast as mint stamps do along the eastern seaboard.  True.
Well struck crisp steel cancels on pre-war Australian stamps can be a delight to the eye.  Most especially on values higher than 3d.  And on some values are truly 'one stamp in a 1000' type occurrences.
The three Kangaroos I illustrate nearby are the kind of thing I personally love to handle and sell.  A 1913 1st watermark 1/- was used on parcels so this is a lovely example.   As used copies are 5 items cheaper than even hinged mint I'd much rather have a row of these than a single mint copy.  History will show I was right.
The Victorian numeral '249' has great 'eye appeal'.  As the base 2d 1913 stamp is only $10, I'd sell such a copy for 2 or 3 times that, which is of course only a $20 premium for visual perfection!  The cost of a pizza.
Tip Of The Month
The 1915 Second Watermark 2/- (SG29) is a hard stamp to find in top condition used - mint are actually pretty plentiful. This stamp rather incredibly sells (now) for around seven times more mint, than it does used. 
That is absolutely absurd, and does not reflect relative scarcity whatever.  My old 1971 ACSC says that mint was worth 3 times used.  That is about the correct ratio, not today's 7 multiple.  So from here, if used prices doubled and mint stays the same, ratios are correct again!  
If you want my tip of this month, go and buy all the NICE used copies you can find.  Light cancels on this 2/- are really hard to find.  The crisp little 'thimble' cancel 'Registered Kalgoorlie JY 25:15' illustrated is a beauty, most especially being entirely placed on the stamp - rare on any Roo.
Ten years ago I'd have added a 50% premium on that stamp over a more usual cancel.  Today I'd add at least 100% - indeed it is priced $300.  Knowledgeable collectors looking for this grade know that you see a stamp like that once a decade, and thus price is not a major issue.
The 2/- rate covered parcel and telegram use (which used up most copies), so used with a Registered cancel clearly denotes postal duty.  The 2nd watermark (emergency war-time use on KGV watermark paper) was only on sale for a short time during WW1 before the 3rd watermark 2/- brown was issued.  Only one printing of 960,000 was made.  
Used copies are quite scarce, and used on parcel piece/fragment or cover are unknown says the new ACSC.  That has changed as I recently discovered in an estate a superb parcel tag with this stamp affixed.  I assume it will be listed higher than the more common 1913 1st wmk 2/- brown - now rated at $2,000 on tag/cover.
My gold plated tip of the month is to buy this 2/- stamp in nice USED condition.  Check your dealer's stock - I bet his few copies there all look pretty dreadful, and you'll then appreciate just how hard nice examples are to locate.
Anything really nice I'd readily pay $200 for and put it aside with a smile. 
The reason Grange Hermitage sells for $500 a bottle and rough reds are always $5 a bottle is the same as VFU stamps - some savvy folks recognise real quality - and gladly pay for it!
Note - unlike the 5/- second watermark Roo, perfs on this 2/- stamp are ALWAYS clean and neatly punched, and centering is very good too.  Light cancels and freshness are all you are buying.  


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