Monthly "Stamp News" Market Tipster Column
April 2007 (Lift-out)
The two day auction of Australian "Kangaroo" stamps by Shreves of New York on February 22/23 set several world price records.
I flew across to cover the sale for "Stamp News", and to bid for some clients and buy for stock. This general overview attempts to give a "personal feel" for the occasion from a first hand point of view.
Up front I must stress NO person room bidding disclosed any of the following to me or who their clients were. All comments are based on my careful personal observations over 3 days, experience, and talking to a lot of people, both in New York and Australia.
I carefully recorded the buyer number for each lot, and thanks to the superb software dexterity of Purser Associates Inc, got a print out of exactly how much each buyer spent, and how many lots they purchased, and even notes on underbidders for lots.
Shreves Galleries New York were the chosen auctioneers for this multi Gold Medal winning Arthur W. Gray Kangaroo stamp collection.
It grossed $US5,584,000 including the 15% buyer premium, which on the sale day converted to $A7,158,974.00. An amazing result.
Adding up the pre-sale estimate range in the Shreves sale catalogue came to a total of $US3.56 to $US4.94 million.
This is the largest dollar end result for any "single stamp issue" collection ever auctioned - from any country, from any vendor, at any time.
Only a few entire country offerings have ever exceeded this figure anywhere - which nearly all comprised 19th Century "classic" stamps.
The Arthur Gray "Kangaroo and Map" design stamps as all readers realise are "modern" 20th Century issues, printed between 1913 and 1936.
No Kangaroo booklets were offered, (Arthur retained his superb collection) no bulk lots or accumulations, and only a very few covers - just scarce single stamp items and blocks in the main, and essays and proofs.
Shreve and Gray shake hands after the record breaking sale.
The record sale result made most large Australian newspapers and several overseas ones. This is good for stamps.
Arthur Gray is a very active Sydney collector, and has several other Gold Medal winning Australian collections being added to.
Gray, 68, has collected for 55 years. He recalls cycling around as a young boy to every post office in his area buying up corner "Imprint" blocks with his pocket money.
Every single lot of the 849 lots offered were sold totally unreserved under the hammer by Shreves - nearly unheard of for any major stamp auction, anywhere. I certainly have never head of or experienced any large sale achieving a perfect 100% clearance.
Simon Dunkerley has been to literally several hundred major stamp auctions over 30 years on many continents. I asked him how many large sales he has attended where EVERY lot had sold under the hammer. "None" was his thoughtful answer.
The "Gum Leaf Mafia" who attended the NY sale. One to sell - seven to buy!
Bidders flew in for the sale from all over the world, including the seven large dealers from Australia photographed nearby. Most of whom had never been to NYC before, which surprised me as I’ve visited about 20 times! .
Live "real time" internet bidding secured many lots from floor and telephone and book bidders. It was an exciting two days for me to witness in person.
I was given an
insight into the Droege internet
bidding software, and it seems
to be a terrific technology for
The Shreves Gallery is in very central Midtown Manhattan - on West 57th Street. Very classy place, and the annual rent would probably buy you a decent house in Sydney!
Extensive food and soft beverages were out all day. Each day it took about 5 hours to call the 400-450 lots. Shreves have a huge plasma TV screen with each lot projected on it that I found most useful when bidding.
I spoke to Arthur Gray many times before, during and after the sale. He is a long time client, and told me he was "ecstatic" with the bullish results obtained for his stamps as a group.
A world record price was obtained on day one for a single Australian stamp.
Lot 287 was a facially attractive 1913 £2 black and red Kangaroo with lower sheet selvedge.
This selvedge bore the "JBC" monogram of the stamp printer, J. B. Cooke. Every post office sheet at that time contained two such monograms. It is the only example outside the Royal Collection and the Australia Post archives.
The $170,000 selvedge
This stamp was hinged, had a crease and a toned perforation, but sold to vigorous bidding for $US138,000 = $A176,930 to an Australian dealer, buying for a client. The estimate was only $US50,000-$75,000.
This stamp is SG 16, and is catalogued at only £3,000 as mint hinged. This record price means the buyer effectively paid over $A170,000 for the tiny piece of selvedge paper. Without it, the stamp would not have even realised anything like £3,000 due to the condition.
No other country places such gigantic premiums on monogram or imprint or plate number markings.
£2 'OS' Roo - $A59,000
Day one also saw a world record price for an Australian "Official" punctured stamp.
Lot 310 was a used 1913 £2 Kangaroo punctured Large "OS" - representing Official Service. The Australian Commonwealth Specialist Catalogue (ACSC) values it at $A10,000 used.
Estimate was $US5,000-$7,000. It realised $US46,000 (about $A59,000) after a frantic bidding battle, and was purchased by John Zuckerman, Vice President of Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries in New York, who paid about 6 times catalogue value for it.
I asked Zuckerman who the buyer was, and he would only say it was for an undisclosed client collecting scarce British Commonwealth official stamps. "My client is pleased with the purchase" Zuckerman told me. A leading Sydney auctioneer was underbidder.
I would have gladly sold this for $10-$15,000 if I had it in stock last month. $59,000 was a truly remarkable price and shows what happens when you get two determined bidders battling it out.
Zuckerman's paddle number 247 also paid incredible prices on day two for the 1929 10/- and £2 used Small Multiple watermark "OS" punctures - at $US15,525 ($A19,905) and $US26,450 ($A33,912) respectively.
These massive prices are both many times full ACSC catalog, and many experts do not believe either stamp was genuinely issued in "OS" by the Post Office.
I have always disagreed with that view, and have written so often, over the past 20 years.
I discovered a (still unique) mint £2 Small Multi perf "OS" in the USA 15 years ago. This had an exact matching perfin position, perfs and centering to the fine used Gray example, he had owned for many years.
This discovery led to both being finally listed and priced in the ACSC and then SG only a few years back, and consequently led to this selling for near $A34,000! The mint copy auctioned (Nelson) for $A13,225 in 2002.
Until 1993 neither value were listed or priced in ACSC. In the 1996 edition the £2 mint only was priced and listed based on my discovery.
The interesting thing to many American observers I was given an insight was that virtually none of the 849 offerings were accompanied by any kind of certificate of genuineness, or independent expert opinion as to gum or overall condition, and were offered thus.
American buyers in general are totally obsessed with Certificates. They seek them even for stamps that clearly are what they are, and ordinarily will not buy anything without them. This sale seemed to show common sense and a practiced eye was sufficient for most buyers.
See my article in the March 2007 magazine about nutty American bidders paying 6,037 times full Scott value for a common 3c stamp, usual retail 20¢, with bodgy corners that someone had graded "100".
Not one numerical grading certificate was to be seen at Gray, yet a record Auction $$$$ total was achieved. Food for thought. Seemingly not every buyer needs an "expert" to tell him via a piece of paper that a stamp is well centred and attractive!
I understand this sale is Shreve Auctions largest ever grossing sale, just eclipsing the William Floyd USA classics auction of 2001. Quite remarkable given the many high ticket USA collections and world material he has offered under the hammer over the years.
Gary Watson Prestige Philately, and Jeff Mayfield, Shreve's Operations Manager
A set of twelve 1913 Kangaroo covers to 5/- value, said to represent first day of use from Sydney sold above estimate for $US60,375 (=$A77,407) to a Melbourne dealer acting for a client.
Almost none were
Day Of Issue"
covers, and the
Lot 652 on day two set a world record for any single stamp item from Australasia from any era - from 1850 "States" and NZ issues to date.
It smashed the previous record of about $US130,573 set in mid 2006 for a 2½d indigo Kangaroo essay - as reported by me in this magazine at that time - set by Prestige Philately in Melbourne.
Glen Stephens with record breaking block
The record setting item was a "T.S. Harrison" marginal printer imprint block of 4 of the 1919 £1 brown and blue Kangaroo - SG 44a. It is the only imprint block existing outside the Royal Collection of the £1 bi-colour.
Gibbons catalogue for SG 44a is £8,000 for 4 single stamps. Despite some pulled perfs along the top, this otherwise attractive block sold for 13¼ times that - reaching $US207,000 = $A265,395.
The estimate was $US100,000-$150,000. The block sold after a fierce bidding duel to a telephone bidder, who I believe is British based.
The British buyer of this record breaking £1 bi-colour block has a passion for scarce imprint blocks, but is not very interested in monogram pieces I am told.
Conversely a USA auction agent was also securing many of the choice monogram pieces for other collectors, especially one also believed to be British. That agent spent well over $A1.15 million, proving not all the serious Roo buyers are Australian based.
Melbourne dealer Simon Dunkerely was under-bidder for a client on this block.
Shreves hosted a lavish steak and lobster dinner in midtown Manhattan before the sale for the 8 Australians who flew across for the auction. It was a very classy touch, and several of us continued on to about 4am at an Irish pub, which made for some very sore heads for day one of the sale.
The great majority of the lots were purchased by these Australian dealers in the room (dozens by myself) often bidding for other Australian dealers and collectors - and will find their way back to Australia.
My advice is that one Melbourne dealer who could not attend had another dealer in the room bid $US17,250 for a standard MUH 1913 £2 Roo - SG 16.
By the time agent fees and bank fees are added, his real landed cost will be around $A22,500. Goodness knows what the retail level on this will be when GST is added, but must be getting up to over double full ACSC for our scarcest regular stamp.
The same 1913 £2 Roo in fine used sold for $US4,312 or over $A5,500. I sold a nicer looking example recently for "only" $4,000 so have one very happy client. This stamp has been under-rated locally for years in very fine used.
Melbourne dealer Simon Dunkerley spent well over $A1 million - clearly buying very heavily for one good local client via telephone link - and somehow juggling several other client's book and SMS bids, and his own stock needs at the same time.
This is the first time in history any Australian stamp dealer has spent over $1 million at any stamp auction - anywhere.
Dealers Simon Dunkerley and Richard Juzwin.
Bizarrely, no lot viewing of these stamps ever took place in Australia, due to some complications and delays with the Australian Movable Cultural Heritage Act (1986) bureaucrats. This was resolved just as the sale commenced, but too late to allow local viewing.
Shreves top management flew out to host lavish cocktail receptions in both Sydney and Melbourne just before the sale, but were unable to bring any stamp lots. The lots were on display in London.
A trade source or sources in the UK also appeared determined to undermine the success of this sale, and at least two prominent UK collectors of this area are believed not to have bid.
It is also understood one of Australia's best known collector of Kangaroo stamps, Mr Hugh Morgan succeeded in only buying a small number of lots at this sale via a Sydney dealer I believe was bidding on his behalf.
Mr Morgan was CEO of massive Australian conglomerate Western Mining Company, and is a keen collector of pre-war Australian stamps.
He was the buyer of a 2½d blue 1912 unadopted essay for Australia's first Kangaroo and Map stamp issue, which was auctioned April 22, 2006 for $A174,750 (then $US130,573) by Prestige Philately. My June 2006 column has more detail. Arthur Gray was also the seller.
Morgan's apparent disinterest in the same design, but more visually attractive bi-colour essays saw them sell to the "book" for what I think were bargain prices of $US48,875 and $US60,375 respectively.
Well under half what the far less attractive 2½d blue obtained less than a year back. It takes two to make an auction!
In general "basic" stamps sold for way above Australian retail. Many inverted watermarks, monograms, imprints, shades and varieties sold for MANY times full ACSC prices.
5/- Sideways Wmk
The 1918 5/- sideways watermark sold for $US92,000 or about $A118,000, to an American dealer acting for a client. Current ACSC is $A50,000.
My February column predicted: "I suspect it will be invoiced at double that catalogue figure", and I was actually on the low side. It was quite an un-attractive stamp in my view, very 'greasy' - with wonky perfs and a large pinhole not mentioned in the lot description.
However it is unique and that is all that counts here, and is why it fetched $A118,000. This stamp last sold at auction for less than $3,000 in the early 1990s - a 40 fold increase.
Collectors who look at prices of scarcer Roos in the now very dated ACSC, and use those as their "top" price limit will simply not buy any elusive stamps.
written bids from several clients at
double ACSC values on some major items,
and they did not even get close to
securing the lots.
One result that stuck in my mind in this vein was a 1915 second watermark 2d grey with inverted watermark. It had a large diameter violet Parcels Office cancel, and a completely added corner! About ten are recorded used. ACSC is $A12,500.
This damaged stamp (est $7,500-$10,000) sold for $US23,000 to a New York dealer - or near $A30,000. A seemingly crazy price, yet there was an under-bidder!
The sale catalogue was a lavish hard cover production that I rate as easily the finest auction catalogue I have sighted in my 25+ years in this business.
A work of art
leather-look dark brown front cover,
with cover and spine richly gold
blocked and embossed. The catalogue
was HAND-BOUND to ensure this high
standard final finish.
Even the pre-sale advance notice brochure for the sale, with heavily embossed cover, waxed interleaving and pages of glorious photos was more lavish than MOST regular auction catalogues!
Arthur Gray told me as this was written March 5 - "the catalogue, the promotion, the staging, the hospitality - indeed the total professionalism of Shreves were all FAR better than even I had expected. I could not fault them at any level, and I am a very tough man to please."
Shreves have set up a perpetual website for this collection with photos and press clippings and full listings, on www.arthurwgraycollection.com which is being completed as I type this article.
After the sale Arthur Gray, Simon Dunkerley and I went out for dinner and a few drinks until about 4am with Jeff Mayfield, Shreves Operations Manager. We introduced Simon to the wonders of New York Pastrami.
Arthur Gray became the first customer of the Stage Deli to ever sprinkle a sachet of sugar over his corn beef hash thinking it was salt. With a $7+ million sale safely behind him, I doubt he really cared!
Paul Fletcher, Glen Stephens and Stewart Wright at an Irish Pub - 4am.
Charles Shreve, Arthur Gray and auctioneer Tracy Shreve.
Shreves Auction listing of the sale with colour photos of every lot is here for you to peruse - to get to invoice price for each lot in $A, taking into account the buyer fee and exchange rate on the day, simply add 50% to the prices shown here - i.e. “Sold for $1,000” cost a local $A1,500 -
Buy your OWN Arthur Gray Auction Sale Catalogue!!
Buy your OWN Arthur Gray Auction Sale Catalogue!!
Buy the Arthur Gray sale catalogue (see photos of it above in this article) and also get TWO copies of this superb reprint of the unissued design essay from the sale - which sold for $A75,000. These are superbly printed, and in same postcard size as the original, on heavy yellow/cream paper stock, specially selected to give an "aged" look to them. Copies of this same reprint have recently sold on ebay for $A 187.50 EACH!
These catalogues are a real De-Luxe production. I would have to say the printed Shreves Catalogue for this sale must surely take the award for THE finest stamp auction catalogue ever published anywhere. By anyone. At any time.
Even if you already own a "working copy" - keeping aside a spare shrink wrapped one will never be a bad idea!
We are talking a huge hard bound tome here, near the size of a Stanley Gibbons catalogue. It weighs in at 2½ pounds or 1¼ kilos. You get a perfect new volume -- un-opened in original shrink-wrap.
Deeply grained leather-look dark brown front cover, with cover and spine richly gold blocked and embossed. The catalogue was HAND-BOUND to ensure this high standard final finish. My rushed digital photos on website above do it no justice.
Heavy grade archival art paper, and 280 large A4 sized pages. Key stamps often have an entire page of detailed background detail and description devoted to them. The foreword itself is a fascinating read!
Copious write up on every lot. A reference treasure trove for decades to come. The COLOUR match on this catalogue is the best I have ever seen for Kangaroos. From anyone, anywhere. Absolutely perfect in my professional opinion. The ACSC of course has as its major weakness that it is monocolour. This volume is a "must buy" if for no other reason that that - you get 100% accurate COLOUR reference for every key Kangaroo stamp.
I have just FIVE copies left from the cartons I ordered, and mine also comes with a copy of the lavish 16 page colour brochure detailing and summarising the sale - itself an expensive A4 production, and of course I include a complete prices realised list.
Indeed, buyers from me get a world exclusive. When these 16 page fancy souvenirs were first printed, the printer screwed up and the high gloss front cover was a mess. He left a wide ugly, raggy, "tidemark" around the Imprint block of 4 £1 Kangaroo depicted many times original size on the front cover - that sold for $A265,395.00.
Printer refused to re-print them, as the cost was $6,000 to do that. He said stamp collectors were far too fussy and: "who really would notice it anyway." He was in the end forced to re-print, most reluctantly, which held the magazine mail out by a week. The printer's sales rep was sacked who approved the cover based on it looking "OK". They all went back to printer to be pulped.
Arthur Gray heard of it, and was ecstatic to get a copy from me of the "pulped" supplement for his collection. I asked him why, and he said "I collect varieties on stamps, and I certainly want a copy of this for my files - heck it is a printer's error after all!"
So if Arthur thinks they were collectible, I figured others would too! I kept a few aside, to mail out with this special package. Other than those getting them from me, and Arthur's personal copy, none now exist.
Also included in the package from me are TWO copies of the SUPERB reprint sheet of the magnificent Kangaroo bi-colour essay sheetlet, printed on thick heavy card ... which is now a sought after item in itself, and has sold for $A187.50 each on ebay.
Price $A150 for the package above + shipping. All credit cards accepted. FIVE only available.
The Auction catalogues are now selling for around this on ebay already WITHOUT the many extras I enclose. Please advise, or simply order and call it "Gray Cat Package" at www.glenstephens.com/order.html
Arthur Gray and Glen Stephens, Sydney, chatting at the pre-auction dinner.
Glen Stephen's Page 1 article on the sale March 26, 2007 in "Linn's Stamp News".
Glen Stephens April 2007 feature article in "The Philatelic Exporter" - published in the UK.
Full Time Stamp Dealer in Australia for over 25 years.
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