IF you had asked me a month
ago how many Navigator imperforate minisheets were produced for
“Australia99”, I would have guessed at say 250,000 or even
500,000. The real number will astound you.
Read on. It is the most exciting story concerning Australian
decimal stamps for 20 years.
The attractive sheets were produced for sale at “Australia 99” in
March, the most successful stamp exhibition ever to be held in the
The story of these special products for the show is a little
confusing for the casual collector, so I will, now the dust has
settled, go over the whole issue chronology again.
The two miniature sheets were issued reproducing the now famous set
of 6 “Navigator” stamps initially issued by Australia in 1963, in
the pre-decimal currency era.
Those exact six designs were then re-issued in 1966 as part of the
debut new Decimal Currency series. The same colours, and exact £SD
to Decimal conversion rates were adhered to. That is, the low value
4/- became the exact decimal equivalent of 40¢ and the high value £2
became the new $4, which was of course exactly two pounds. That £2
King stamp is by the way the most valuable face different stamp
issued in Australia for the past 36 years in MUH condition.
So, these six stamps were decided upon as the “anchor piece” of the
Australia 99 releases. The same 6 designs were used, and the same
colours retained … i.e. the £2 and $4 Sepia brown colour
Philip-Parker King was again printed in that same colour and design.
The only difference was in 1999 was that all six values were now
issued in 45¢ letter rate denominations.
So far so good. Six stamps, all being 45¢, and available in two
miniature sheets. One sheet contains the three “ square” stamps i.e.
Bass, King and Dampier, and being dark brown in overall colour (see
photo below) I always refer to this as the“ Brown” sheet. The other
one had the three horizontal design stamps, i.e. Cook, Tasman and
Flinders. This being dark blue in overall design I refer to as the
These two mini sheets were
issued in large numbers in perforated condition. You could buy them
in hang-sell packets at pretty well any post office across
Australia. Lots were sold at Australia 99, and lots were sold by
Australia post mail order, and by their overseas agents.
AN HISTORIC FIRST
An interesting thing happened with these two Navigator sheets. For
the FIRST time in the history of Australian stamps, they were
available from the Philatelic Bureau by mail order or at the“A99”
show in your CHOICE of either perforated or imperforate types.
This has happened before for many European issues, but NEVER before
for Australia. New Zealand did it once for the Orchids miniature
sheet for “NZ1990”, and the imperf version of that has held up well
in price, in fact has increased all the time, and is catalogued in
the excellent new Auckland City Stamps 1999 colour catalogue at $110
mint or used or $150 on FDC.
Managing Director Warwick
Delamore told me today demand for these items always out strips
supply even at these rather hefty prices, and he predicts that this
catalogue price will increase again in the next edition. So, as this
1990 NZ example shows, imperforate mini sheet versions of regular
issues are virtually ALWAYS worth more than the perforated ones
…Check the listings for any European catalogue to see the evidence
The sole New Zealand one is a better example closer to home. I know
I left that “NZ 1990” with a bunch of those imperf sheets as I KNEW
they would be scarce, and they would show me a profit. They paid for
my trans-Tasman airfare and hotel bill very quickly as I recall! So
why didn’t more Australian bother buying up the special IMPERF
miniature sheets for Australia 99?? Who knows.
They were not available at local post offices for one thing. That
stops a lot of people. They sold out at Philatelic via the dealer
contact fairly soon after the show. That stops many others. I made
it clear in my column here 3 months ago that these imperfs on FDC
would never be cheaper. They have doubled since.
At that time I said: “It is the Australia99 items that people
“forgot” to order such as the imperforate sheets on FDC that do well
in the future. The earlier you buy such items from dealers, the
cheaper they will be. I suggest if you missed these items, that you
contact your favourite dealer to ensure you secure copies for your
All those who took that
advice, owe me the customary bottle of Port already it seems! The
entire purpose of making available the IMPERFORATE Navigator mini
sheets was so that you could get the “A99” perfins. “What are they”,
I can hear some of you STILL saying! Yes, it is a complicated issue
1928 TRADITION FOLLOWED
Well, the Post Office announced a unique idea at “Australia 99”
designed to get 1000’s of personal visitors to attend the show. They
built two machines that, in the tradition of the 3d Kookaburra
miniature sheets, at the 1928 Exhibition, allowed you to have your
imperforate stamps hand perforated on a manual press in front of
your very eyes. Two machines were built, one with a perf head to
punch the long size “blue” mini sheets and one with a perf head to
punch the “square” stamps found on the “brown” mini sheets.
You were required to go and buy the specially printed I M P E R F O
R ATE mini sheets and take them to the two hand perforating
machines. The maximum permitted was two sets per person. These two
sheets perforated at the show were planned to look precisely the
same as the regular perforated mini sheets apart from a small “A99”
lettering that was punched on the LH side of each mini sheet.
That was the theory. On the “blue” mini sheets, the theory worked
fine in practice. The widely sold “blue” mini sheet, and the hand
perforated version all measured on the 3 stamp designs, exactly 14 x
14½ perf per gauge. Correct, as it was meant to be. Torn out from
either mini sheet in singles, all stamps were identical of course.
The “brown” mini sheet is
where the problem occurred. The widely available sheet had the 3
stamps perforated 14½ x 14. The perforating head on the special hand
press was tooled up however in a DIFFERENT gauge in error.
The 3 stamps perforated at “Australia 99” on the special
machine has not only the tiny “A99”, letters to one side of the
sheet, but also had the 3 stamps are perforated 15.2 x 14.7. That is
a huge perforation variance, one of the greatest on any Australian
stamp other than the KGV heads. This is means full % perf difference
on both sides, and is visible with the naked eye.
ONLY 15,000 EVER SOLD
This is where the story got interesting as far as stamp collectors
are concerned. These “brown” mini sheets with the rare perfs were
issued in ONLY 15,000 pieces. That means of course that only 15,000
copies in the world of the 45¢ Bass, Dampier and King stamps can
exist. I believe that Gibbons, Michel, Scott, ASC, ACSC cats. etc.
will list these as totally separate perforation errors. The stamps
thus perforated were available to anyone who wanted them at
Australia 99, and for a month or two afterwards by mail order.
The only proviso was that NO-ONE seem to know about the different
perfs until I broke the story worldwide on the front cover of our
“June 1999” magazine. They’d sold out by then. The price of the
scarce perf mini sheet started in the trade at around $70-$75 a
sheet, or $25 per stamp. It is now pretty widely offered round $100
a sheet, which is still around $30 per rare perf stamp.
One should compare this with the previously scarcest Decimal
perforation variety, the $1 Flinders, which is listed in Stanley
Gibbons as 401c and catalogued at £100 (=$A275). Best estimates are
that some 200,000 of those were sold, so $30 apiece for something of
which 15,000 were sold still sounds dirt cheap to me at current
I know I have had trouble re-stocking on these in recent months, as
have all other dealers I have spoken to about them. No articles have
been published overseas on them yet, so the strong international
demand is yet to come, even when stocks here are almost exhausted.
As there was an official written policy of “2 sets per person” of
this scarce perf, in person or by mail, nearly all copies were
purchased by collectors, not dealers. Australia’s largest dealer Max
Stern told me last week he got NONE. Not a single set!
All his polite requests for a bulk supply were equally politely
refused by Australia Post who insisted the “2 per person” rule
applied to everyone. There do of course exist, as Michael Eastick
has written in recent columns, a number of this 15,000 quantity that
were perforated irregularly.
There were inverted, skewed,
grossly misperfed, reversed, doubled, partial, and other such
freaks. The small machines functioned poorly at times, and some of
the attendants seemed happy to produce “funnies” for collectors. I
ran numerous buying ads for this material and got a trickle supplied
by lucky collectors.
Prices are typically $100+ per “freak” sheet, and demand outstrips
supply by a factor of about 10 to 1 in my experience, so they will
be real stars of the future. A pair of inverted perfin sheets MUH
sold for $440 at a recent auction by regular advertiser Craig
Chappell of Brisbane. Regular advertisers like Craig, Simon
Dunkerley, Michael Eastick, Sydney Philatelics, Peter Strich,
Manfred Junge and A-One Stamps have advised me demand for this
material is red-hot.
Supply is low and demand is
high, a fantastic recipe for the future. Australia's leading error
dealer Simon Dunkerley told me the inverted perfin mini sheets are
the best looking “pure” error he has seen in recent years coming
There have been a few vocal critics in the trade of these “A99”
sheets, the inverted perfins, and now even the imperforate sheets.
Almost without exception these voices in the wilderness are from
dealers who did NOT have the common sense to obtain stocks of these
items! I’ll let ASM readers determine whether their negative
comments are based on an impartial summary of the situation, or are
simply “sour grapes”!!
SCOOP OF THE DECADE!
Now to the “scoop” of this entire magazine. Look at the mini sheet
below. It is fully imperforate. As I said at the start of this
article, a few 100,000 printed would not have surprised me. Around
10% of that figure seems to have been the REAL story, and hence the
sensation. In a detailed “Letter to the Editor” published
elsewhere in this magazine, Mr David Maiden the Manager of the
Australia Post Philatelic Division corrects the quite ridiculously
incorrect figure hypothesized by another stamp magazine of the
numbers sold of the “A99” perfin miniature sheets. That magazine, as
in many things philatelic has ran a negativity campaign on this
I suspect when their readers end up paying twice what astute readers
of THIS magazine spend, by often getting in first, their readership
will continue to drop! Anyway, the figure sold of the “A99” perfin
mini sheets with the scarce perfs on the “brown” sheet was ALWAYS
been correctly quoted in THIS magazine at 15,000 pieces. Month after
month after month.
That figure was published in
the official Australia Post colour “Philatelic Bulletin”
and in other official literature connected with “Australia 99”.
Based on that information, why anyone would invent a story the
quantity was possibly 6 times greater mystifies me. The basic tenet
of good journalism is “check your facts” and “Stamp News” did not do
The letter from David Maiden, Manager
Australia Post Philatelic, states that:
“Australia Post accounting records show
that 30,033 sets of the Imperforate Navigator Miniature sheets have
been sold as at 23 July 1999. That includes sales at ‘Australia 99’
and through mail order.” He also confirms that only
some 15,000 “A99” perfinned sets were sold in total. As these
15,000 sets were hand perforated on sets of imperforate mini sheets
sold at the show, one simply deducts 15,000 from the 30,033
imperforate sets sold as at July 23, leaving some 15,033 imperfs
sets in collector and dealer hands worldwide at that point.
I understand the imperforate minisheets were sold out and withdrawn
attend July and only a few thousand sets e re in stock at the time
of David Maiden’s letter being written. This gives a ball park
figure of some 20,000 sets of imperforate miniature sheets existing.
A really TINY number. My prediction some months ago about these and
especially the FDC were wiser than even I thought at that time!
Remember that it is likely that EVERY major album will have
provision for the perforate and IMPERFORATE sheets on their “1999”
Lighthouse, Davo, Stanley Gibbons, Scott, Schaubek, Lindner, Minkus,
KaBe, Seven Seas etc. The imperf sheet was freely available, at the
show and by mail order for several months to all who required it,
with no restriction on number purchased. I can ASSURE you that a lot
more than 20,000 sets of printed album pages for Australia are sold
worldwide. The perf AND Imperf sheets will also be listed in priced
in EVERY major stamp catalogue next year.
Contrast this to say the 1970 Cook “Anpex” mini sheet, that was
never sold by Australia Post, this being a private issue in a large
run of 50,000 pieces, and is not illustrated in any major overseas
album yet STILL sells for $25 a sheet locally. Dealers around the
country have been scrambling to obtain stock of the IMPERF
“Navigator” sheets. Prices of $40-$50 mint seem to be regarded as
sensible starting prices for many dealers, and WHERE it will end up
in 12 months time is anyone’s guess.
However, I do suggest that today’s prices will look cheap down the
track! One very important final point is that there was a remote
possibility of the scarce perf varieties on the “A99” being forged
from imperforate sheets, had the imperf sheets remained cheap, and
the “A99” ones remained at $100 or so a set.
Leading Melbourne dealer Peter
Strich, owner of Myer Melbourne Stamps pointed this out to me this
week. Peter said: “If the imperforate sheets are selling at high
prices, and themselves are scarce, obviously no-one will be using
those to try and fake any “A99” perfins, hence BOTH should hold up
strongly in price in the future”. A point to ponder!