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Glen Stephens The Biggest Stamp Dealer in the Southern Hemisphere

“ASM” March 1998 column

Cricket Covers

By Glen Stephens

  There is an unfortunate perception among many "serious" collectors that stamps and covers issued in the Decimal currency era from Australia ( i.e. since 1966) have little specialist interest and even smaller value.

The Perry Auction in Melbourne February 6th for Decimal missing colors and imperfs and other printing varieties should have caused many such people to re-assess that point of view. There were plenty of 4 figure sums being obtained for many nice pieces after often intense bidding.

This column is being written early February, and the long awaited Brusden-White "Decimals" ACSC volume is not yet published, despite it being expected before Christmas. I am told by Rodney Perry it is to be nearly 500 pages thick. Packed with Geoff Kellow's usual meticulous research it will I'm sure when available open many eyes to the challenge of this once much neglected era of Australian philately.

Stamp collecting mirrors the world in general ... nothing stays the same forever. Things come into fashion or become accepted behavior for reasons not always logically explainable. Things like ugly Doc Marten workmen boots on 1000's of pretty young school girls, and an American President somehow managing to INCREASE his popularity rating in the midst of a string of alleged sexual misdemeanors!

The "unfashionable" in philately does not always stay that way. Twenty years ago when I started dealing in stamps, New Guinea, NWPI and Papua were not popular, and prices and devotees were a fraction of today's levels. As outlined in details in recent columns, interest in Australian pre 1960 First Day Covers was very limited ...... items selling at Auction for many thousands in Australia last year from this field would have often fetched only a few dollars as recently as the 1970's.

Entire reigns that were once quite unpopular such as King George VI have seen a huge renaissance in their appeal ... and consequently huge price increases. Whole countries that were not terribly sought after have become "hot" such as China, Hong Kong, and in fact most of the British Asia region in general.

This month I will conduct a small "knowledge test" and see if you can pick a trend that has emerged in recent times. I noticed the First Day cover illustrated here in a postal bid catalogue from David Kirby in Melbourne. Why I wondered, was such an ordinary looking item so prominently photographed? Study it yourself and see if you can answer that same question!

Many dealers would price this in their stock at $5 or less - I certainly would have until this week. The cover is the common PO issued type, produced and sold in the 100,000's. The franking is simply 2 each of the cricket issue - they have no errors or varieties upon them - retail off cover a few dollars. The cancel was the usual special cricket postmark of which over 100,000 impressions were struck for collectors. This cover did however sell in early February for $1,025!!



  This cover realised $1,025 based on a pre-sale estimate of "$650-750". Incredibly enough, the successful bidder lives in a small town in Texas ... a curious place for a cricket cover to be headed! So much for the theory cricket is an entirely Anglo-Saxon sporting pursuit. Auctioneer David Kirby told me today: "interest was terrific for this item. My Texan client, probably due to the strong $US was always going to prevail .... I can now reveal his maximum bid was in fact several $100 above what he paid". For this money you could literally buy TWO MUH copies of the 1932 5/- Harbour Bridge "glamour" stamp.

The reason for the huge interest in this item was not the franking, nor the envelope design, nor the postmark, but the special Registration Label used on the cover!! It is the highest price I can recall ever paid for an Australia "cricket" related philatelic item, and probably a world record price for any Registration label. (Other than the W.W.I. "GRI" overprinted Registration labels from New Guinea, but these were of course then designated official postage stamps, with a specific face value overprinted as well.) David Kirby tells me even a single label off cover could fetch around $500 at auction given the international interest in this item. These labels were produced in a large quantities but it appears few were used.

Cast your mind back to this Centenary Test Cricket match. The "old rivals" battling it out exactly 100 years from the first Test in 1977.The biggest sporting event of the year in Australia. The Post Office had issued the attractive se-tenant strip of 5 x 18˘, and single 45˘ stamp, and hoped to reap substantial extra revenue by marketing this set of 6, and associated souvenirs at the cricket ground.


"This unassuming looking 1977 cover Australia Post sold for over $1000 at auction".


  A fancy temporary Post Office was erected at the MCG, built to replicate a 19th Century bush Post Office. All Australia Post staffers manning it dressed in period costume, to add to the "1877" visual effect. This PO was open from March 9-17th, outside the Member's Stand. A special large size color poster of the stamps was produced by AP, to sell at $2, and was a huge flop and nearly all were destroyed .... Noel Almeida now BUYS these for $100 if anyone still has a copy!

The Post Office also produced a special registration label, worded "Centenary Test Melbourne" to affix to all registered items posted over the 9 days. The special pictorial cancel illustrated was a hit with collectors, and over 100,000 items bearing this cancel were serviced. Only 56 of these items were Registered, hence the scarcity of this special label. The lowest number seen is # 0005, and the highest is # 0040. Any reader owning one is urged to notify these specialists so the register can be updated.

Almeida and Kirby have recorded the existence of 17 different label numbers, all on cover, and all have the applicable backstamp, and all except one are cancelled First Day Of Issue for the stamps, as per the cover illustrated. Therefore for 8 of the 9 days of PO opening only one Registered item is recorded. A date other than March 9th could clearly bring a great deal more than $1,025 as it may prove to be unique useage.

As the temporary PO offered all normal "special" services, including parcel post, and as 1000's at the ground were from the UK, and many 1000's from other Australian states, it is obvious a lot of mail containing souvenir programs, and other such odds and sods were posted to fellow cricket fans, and friends back home etc. These if sent registered would have had the label affixed as usual on the outer wrapper, and as nearly always, discarded upon arrival - the cricket stamps I'm certain were mostly carefully preserved and soaked off! (In those days, as for the previous 127 years, stamps could be used for postage and fee on overseas Registered from Australia, unlike today's idiotic regulations!)

So, there were only 56 items ever processed using this label, and few survive. There was NO publicity whatever given by the PO or stamp magazines to this label at the time. It was then PO practice NOT to produce such printed special Registration labels for temporary post offices. Collectors had no idea it existed. It was assumed a "Jolimont" Reg. label would be used, that being the closest PO to the MCG. (Jolimont post office no longer exists.)

Melbourne cricket enthusiast and dealer Noel Almeida has sought these labels for the past 21 years. He even published a monograph titled "The 1977 Centenary Test" in 1991, and he and cricket specialist dealers David Kirby and A-One Stamps have sold a surprising number of these. (Cost is $25 airmailed anywhere in the world - for contact details, all 3 dealers have ads in this magazine - Ed.)

Noel Almeida used the Freedom Of Information Act in 1983 to obtain from Australia Post all internal files pertaining to this stamp issue in 1977, to research his book. He has searched the world for these Registered labels. Mr. Almeida has taken a small display ad twice a year in local and British magazines for the past 15 years seeking them, to zero success. "I get dozens of people writing to me saying they too would like to buy one, but no-one has ever offered me one for sale" he bemoaned today. The one copy he does have (# 0035) cost him $5 in 1978 from a Sydney collector, who also had the PO Registered receipt, the only one known to have survived. Who says Decimal material is not a good investment - more than 200 times increase in 20 years sure beats ANY stocks and shares!

Noel Almeida saw in the F.O.I. documentation reference to the fact that labels # 0001 and # 0002 were planned to be presented to Queen Elizabeth II (presumably on covers) and as many will remember, Her Majesty and Prince Philip personally attended the Centenary Test Match. Noel wrote to Sir John Marriott, RDP, FRPSL, the "Keeper Of The Royal Collection", to verify this fact. Sir John's reply on "Buckingham Palace" royal crested letterhead from 1986 is shown here ... personally handwritten, it indicates no record of these labels can be found.

These specialist dealers all report to me that demand for "Cricket" as a theme is gaining strength each year. The cover reverse illustrated here makes the point that even "Cricket" philatelic connected items having no postal validity whatever are sometimes worth big bucks. This cricketer "Cinderella" label was one of a large sheet of such tourist labels produced for sale in South Australian newsagents in 1936 to mark their State Centenary.



  The stance and features on this label are unmistakably modelled on Sir Donald Bradman, then match winning Australian captain recording mammoth personal scores, who was national public hero No #1, in those gloomy depression years. Bradman moved to Adelaide in 1935 and worked as a stockbroker , and captained the South Australian team for the first time in November 1935 against the MCC. (They lost by 36 runs!) Given his cult status in that state in particular, surely a large number of such full colorful labels would have been purchased by the public? Perhaps so, but they are most uncommon 62 years later. Used on a cover, anytime during 1936, on front or back, it will fetch up to $500, especially if it is "tied" by a postmark. Even a single loose label mint or soaked off a cover is worth over $100, and this perversely is 4 times what a mint set of EVERY Australian postage stamps issued in 1936 presently sells for!

Last year's Don Bradman 45˘ joined stamp pair 'Legends' issue was a huge hit at Post Offices across the country. This January 21st we had SIX sports people depicted in 45˘ se-tenant pairs, in what I thought was a pretty boring and dreary looking "Legends" issue. My postmaster tells me "impulse" sales compared to the Bradman have been woeful. Perhaps it simply tells us Shirley Strickland and Marjorie Jackson etc are hardly in the same "Legend" category as The Don!

The uninspired color choice and far too "busy" design aspects aside, do not overlook the fact all 12 x 1998 "Legends" stamps DO have the 5 Olympic "Rings" on them. As this Olympic connection was NOT mentioned or illustrated in any way in the Jan/Feb APO "Bulletin", it will have been almost completely overlooked by those "tucking away" a few extras of all the Olympic "forerunner" issues. It will of course be illustrated in the March-May "Bulletin" but by then many normal PO's will have sold their stock allocation for a January release. At $5.40 you can't lose by socking away a few sheetlets of 12 now. Demand for the July 1997 45˘ Sheetlet of 10 is high within the trade, prices are rising, and stock is basically non-existent - so don't miss this one at issue price.

Cricket as a topic has a huge and growing market. Regular advertiser Charles Leski held a successful "Australiana" auction on February 8th. Charles has in the past ran specific cricket memorabilia sales and exhibitions and has a recently introduced a "Cricket Classics" website ... surely a world first for a stamp dealer!? The Auction catalogue is a fascinating reference work. Just featuring Sir Donald Bradman alone there are books, cigarette cards, numerous signed photographs and signed cricket bats etc. A couple of these are shown in his ad on page 15 of last month's magazine, including the signed 1948 bat which carried an estimate of $3,000-$3,500.

Charles Leski told me today: "we are delighted with the interest shown in this special 'Australiana' sale. The wide range of vendor material, and the level of postal bids has encouraged us to schedule a similar sale in the future. Our successful series of 'Airmail' auctions carved us a very successful market niche, and this is a logical continuation. This sale had an amazing collection of Australian Rules Football cigarette and trade cards...the finest we have ever seen, and that was consigned by a collector in New Jersey, USA, of all places!"

Mr Leski continued: "there appears to be no international boundaries to such collections. The very strong Australian Kangaroos and KGV era stamp material was consigned from Thailand ... that vendor will I am sure be delighted at the Baht figure we remit him, given the severe drop in the value of that currency against the $A in recent months. We have seen an unusual amount of material being consigned from both Indonesia and Thailand recently, possibly linked to the currency turmoil in those areas."




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.





Life Member: ASDA, PTS, APS, ANDA. ALL Postage + Insurance is extra. Visa/BankCard/MasterCard/Diners/Amex all OK, even for "Lay-Bys"! All lots offered are subject to my usual Conditions of Sale, copy upon request or they are outlined in full on this Web site. Usually allow at least 14 days for order dispatch. If you want same day shipping please go elsewhere! I am Sydney's BIGGEST STAMP BUYER: Post me ANYTHING via Registered Mail for my same-day cheque. Avoid  NASTY auction "commissions" of GENERALLY 35% (12˝ + 15% + GST, etc.) AND their five-month delays! Read this for details. I stock Australia & Pacifics nearly 100% complete 1913-1980. Ask for my LOW quote!

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