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Glen Stephens
Monthly "Stamp News" Market Tipster Column

August 2008




What is  "SUPERB USED"?


I often get asked how does one accurately value older stamps, that are in far better than usual condition.

It is a complex answer, and there is no real tried and proven formula to be honest.  As the rest of this column will hopefully explain in a little more detail.

My big speciality is Superb Used Kangaroos.  For near 30 years I have kept arguably the best stocks in Australia of these issues, and my 5 gradings I set up in magazine page ads in 1980 are still the ones I use, and are regarded by many as very accurate. 

No other dealer offers such a choice, and most do not have the stock to even contemplate doing so, even if they took the time to sort them apart.  

Leading Melbourne dealer Richard Juzwin repeatedly asked me for assistance with providing examples of each grade for his last pricelist, where he lists 4 grades for used. 

Sadly I was overseas and tied up with other things, and did not respond in time, despite a few reminders – my fault.  

I use these five grades for every Roo and KGV head – 1. Spacefiller.  2. Average Used.   3. Good Used.  4. Fine Used.  5. Superb Used.  All are priced accordingly.

Often what I sell as “Good Used” is regarded as “Fine Used” or even “Superb Used” by others who handle less copies than myself.  Or who grade less precisely than I do.

Many dealers have three prices for Kangaroos on their lists – “MUH”, “Mint” and “Fine Used”.  Anything on hand with a cancel on it often magically qualifies for the latter grade, if that is all they have!

One thing you learn for sure if you deal in this area for decades is that for every truly SUPERB used Kangaroo, there are generally several hundred ordinary copies.

Try finding a SUPERB used 2/- Brown third watermark for example.  I can sell you a “nice” looking example all day long for $30 apiece. 

I have probably 50 of those on hand.  And a few 100 less than “nice” copies.  Yet only about four REALLY great looking examples.

This stamp does NOT exist CTO from the Specimen packs, so that very handy source of supply is not available to us.


27 Million were sold


Why so scarce?  Who knows.  The ACSC tells us there were near 27 MILLION of this stamp sold, over 8 years. You’d think stacks of them would be around in top grade.  They are not.

And bear in mind there are 6 totally different major shades recognised by the ACSC for this watermark alone.  So for the true collector with an eye to top quality, you could spend several years just sourcing this stamp alone in top grade for all 6 shades.

This kind of “Holy Grail” quest has kept many of my clients, and myself and many other dealers very busy for decades.  It is the “fun of the chase” factor, and the very real challenge involved.

These 2/- values were used on parcels, and most got well and truly “clobbered” by the postal staff at the time - and/or mangled or scuffed or creased or torn in transit.

Now ask me for a SUPERB 1913 2/- Brown First Watermark Roo and no problems.  Only 960,000 were issued of that watermark, but I can always find you a superb one like the 6d blue shown nearby ….. as such nice looking CTO copies are out there.

Even the choice “VFU” collections of Roos I offer on my Rarity page are tough to fill for a stamp like this 2/- Brown Third Watermark, as we have many factors to take into consideration.


Take your pick


This series often had “fluffy” perfs which most collectors do not like. (See the nearby photo, central stamp for an example of this.)

Heavy and/or smeary parcel cancels are of course the biggest issue, as well as soiling, toning, and poor centering.

See the photo of the three x 2/- Browns nearby.  The central one was a “trade-in” to me this week from a client who bought it off ebay as “fine used – light cancel”. 

It is by my conservative grading - level two in a 5 grade scale – i.e. “Average Used”.  He paid $32 for it on ebay.  Double a stamp dealer price.

Many collectors of course are perfectly happy with such an average stamp – it has no thins or creases, and my price for that grade is $15.  Or less than half the ebay “bargain” level.

The two 2/- stamps on either side are from stock, and are top end examples for this stamp.  Forget abut $30 ….. in this grade we are talking around $70 each.

So from the central stamp at $15, to the right hand stamp at $70 we have a wide spectrum of condition .. and price. 

Very much like buying a used car.  The one-lady-owner, always garaged, low kms, versus the ex-Taxi with 500,000 kms!   You get what you pay for in life.


WHAT is superb used?


The funny thing with “Superb Used” is that all collectors have a VERY different definition of it.  And in different continents they most especially do.

Looking again at those three x 2/- Browns nearby, most Australian collectors if given the choice of the left and right stamps at the same price, would select the RIGHT stamp, as in this country most  folks prefer light corner cancels.

Every American would also choose the right hand example as with their micrometers they’d say it is better centered.  Americans do not care about perfs or cancels in general.  It is all about centering, centering and centering.

However if you show these same 2 stamps to any German or Swiss collector, they would nearly ALL select the left hand stamp, if priced the same.  As it shows a clear unframed, upright dated cds, of “DROUIN – VICTORIA - 18 DE:16”.

There is not a continental European collector alive who would choose the right hand example is my guess, as no date or town is discernable. And they also greatly dislike “CTO” corner cancels.

And remember that no “fake” modern cancel will likely ever appear on this stamp.  Hinged mint this stamp would be $300++ with this centering and perfs.  Even with NO GUM it would sell for around half that – or way above VFU price. 

And that price differential has always been there.  My point is that no-one would likely EVER have applied a fake cancel to an unused 2/- Brown.  Even in my 1965 ACSC this stamp was priced more than twice as much mint as used.


Post Office “CTO”


The 6d Blue 1913 First Watermark illustrated nearby, many would regard as “Superb Used”. 

It is a “CTO” copy, that the Post Office sold in little packs for £1. These  included all 1913 stamps up to 5/- with this crisp 1913 Melbourne half circle cancel, and then the top 3 values to £2 were hand-stamped “Specimen”.

A few MP and VIP presentation sets also were done, which is where the 3 high values CTO originated with the same cancel, and a similar Melbourne corner cancel, and some even have a CTO Brisbane cds ex PO Archives. 

This Specimen pack sale continued right up into the Decimal currency period, and stopped in about 1970.  The lower values to 5/- always being light cancelled (mostly corner cancelled apart from the 1913 Roos)  and the top 3 or 4 values were overprinted “SPECIMEN”.

This 6d CTO Roo is now thankfully listed in the ACSC as such.  So a “normal” used 1913 6d blue is now cat $20, but a CTO example like this is catalogued at $75.  Why?  As only about one in 100 copies on the market are CTO.

And just having the CTO cancel does not guarantee a nice copy - on any value.





Post Office Vandals



The PO staff in that era sadly did not select well centred sheets for the CTO and SPECIMEN overprints.  Nor did they tear them apart carefully.  Many are absolutely woeful in BOTH respects!

This means the BULK of the crisp CTO copies existing are badly centred and/or have poor and torn out perfs (by the PO staff) and/or have doubled or ugly over-inked cancels.

I’ve handled probably 1,000+ of the 1913 CTO’s over the years, and I’d guess only 5% of them are graded “very nice”.

I have about 20 of this 6d CTO stamp in stock, and the one shown is about the best.  This one I’d price at $100 and the others down to $30, based on how off centre or perf pulled they are, or how toned/rusted.

At $100 it is the same price as the current Australia Post “2007 Annual Album”.  In 10 years time I know which one will prove the better buy!

However the 1913 5/- First Watermark used (SG 13) is nearly only found in CTO.   ACSC lists CTO and postal used equally at $A200 which is totally absurd. 

Near every used copy in albums is CTO,  and a very fine postally used 5/- 1913 is a true Kangaroo RARITY.  Even the superb $A7¼ million Arthur Gray Kangaroo collection did not possess one postally used example!

If anyone is looking for my Tip Of The Month – buy every postally used SG 13 you can lay your hands on at today’s silly prices.  You will thank me one day.

I said that about the 5/- Bridge for decades, and the market has finally caught up on that one.

Re the 1913 5/- First Watermark used, if you phone 20 dealers you will NOT find a superb postally used one at ANY price – trust me.  Please don’t phone me – I haven’t had one in stock for years.

I ALWAYS had a lot more of the used 5/- Second Watermark in stock, and always have had, yet it is priced retail at twice the SG 13 … madness.


Memo To Geoff Kellow


So Memo to Geoff Kellow ACSC Editor ... like the 5/- Bridge, postally used at $500, and CTO at $300 is about right for this SG 13 stamp too – in my view.

Indeed even the current $200 5/- Roo “CTO” price is currently way too low, as they are not especially plentiful at all.  $300 for a reasonable looking one is about the right level.  And around $400 for top grade.  And again I stress this is not an ad - I do NOT have any for sale.

The ACSC tells us only 2,169 sets were ever sold of the 1913 Specimen packs, so SG 1, the ½d green Roo CTO (ACSC cat $25!) is equally as numerically scarce as the 5/- ... indeed both are about equally as scarce as the 1913 £2 Specimen – Cat $525 hinged and $2,250 “MUH”. 

So some serious price adjustments need to be looked at for the next edition on these 1913 “CTO” issues.

Every value from ½d to 9d in CTO should have exactly the same ACSC price – say $100 each.  The 1/- should be a little higher as it is basically the only source of the now SG listed inverted watermark, as most 1/- CTO’s are inverted.  Hence a world demand exists for just that value more than the others.

The 2/- and 5/- clearly deserve to be higher still at $200 and $300, as they are generally the only way to source acceptable looking “used” copies for even simplified collections.

Getting confused about how dealers price their used pre-war Australia?  Good!  Here is the exact OPPOSITE situation just to confuse you even further.


Your Choice.



Nearly the entire supply of 1932 5/- Sydney Harbour Bridges in collector hands today derived from these Specimen packs.  See the photo nearby.

To find a nice contemporary 1932 dated POSTALLY used 5/- Bridge is a near impossibility.  My guess is 99% of existing used Bridges are corner CTO - like the copy shown nearby.  They sell for about $A275 each – and up to $350 for really top examples.

The other 5/- Bridge stamp shown next to it is commercially used, with a clear “16 JUNE 1932” date.  To many collectors this “heavy” cancel is FAR less desirable to the corner CTO one next to it.

I will list the “heavy” cancel up at about $550 on my Rarity page soon, and it will sell in days.  Why?  As so few 1932 postally used dated copies exist.   


Rarer than you think.



I have been typing that reality for decades, and the wider market is now finally starting to agree it seems.  Other than those soaked off tatty or damaged Bridge opening covers from March, almost no other 1932 clear dated copies exist.

The ACSC has even caught up, and now prices postally used at 70% MORE than the CTO ones!  A slightly inferior centered 1932 dated copy to the one illustrated here fetched $A535 at the last Prestige auction.

However stamp collectors at large are often slow to catch on.  Ask most Australian collectors which of these two illustrated 5/- stamps they’d prefer in their collections, and the vast majority would choose the CTO example, despite it being worth about half as much by today’s informed market!

Oddly, these Specimen packs NEVER sold well in their 60 year history, and for most of them, the intact contents are worth way into 4 figures.  Even the Navigator set 4 shown nearby was on sale right up until Decimal currency in 1966.

Most of these packs seem to have been bought by “senior” collectors and given to kids as gifts.  Young Billy or little Jessica, who might like a set of current stamp for their collection.

They were light and easy to mail, and were about the size of a greeting card, so as birthday or Christmas gifts they seemed especially popular.

I often see a full set of Specimens roughly hinged into kid’s albums with those horrid thick yellow Woolworth’s type hinges that never peel off.  Or worse still, are often LICKED onto the pages – as all stamps had full gum of course.


Getting near $1,000


The set of 4 x 1963/5 Navigators “Specimen” set shown nearby is getting up near the $1,000 mark retail.  But buy ONLY from reputable dealers who will guarantee them, as a lot of forgeries are starting to appear on ebay etc, from the couple of “fly-by-night” sellers who seem to forge everything imaginable. exposes much of this faked material, and who is offering it,  as does the American site – (the latter however mainly after they are banned.)  Check both out carefully if you are considering buying ANYTHING Australian perforated OS, or overprinted with ANYTHING, on ebay.


Dozens Banned off ebay



Dozens of these sellers and con-men have been closed down by stampboards sleuthing, which is noted and passed on by APTA and others to ebay management. 

Very often other successful ebay stamp sellers are the ones to quietly report the shonks to ebay, as they recognise these “bad apples” hurt them, and the hobby.

However if you have been unfortunate enough to buy a “bargain” from these crooks, you are often holding an expensive fake, and the only recourse is to sue a shut down ebay account, owned by a totally fake name, at a long deserted PO box.  Good luck. 

Buying this type of material from a real stamp dealer, you are pretty certain they will be there to contact in a year - or indeed a decade’s time.  Many of these ebay sellers are banned within a month or so after ripping of “bargain hunters” for $50,000 or so with fakes, forgeries and fantasies.

And curiously many large established ebay stamp sellers with huge turnover are members of absolutely no stamp dealer bodies, who can intervene in any cases of mis-describing.   You do need to ask yourself – WHY?

You have no trade recourse whatever to buying dud material off these sellers, some of who have long records of selling highly over-described and deceptively described material.  Often over-charging the very often unsophisticated ebay “bunny” new buyers, via their lot wording.

One large seller of Australian stamps has been declared “Not A Registered User” by ebay several times in recent history, and consistently and knowingly misleads about the alleged “retail” of his often over-described material. 

He frequently overstates “retail” by double or treble what real dealers readily offer it for, in the same grade. 

Google the ebay handle of anyone you are planning to bid with on ebay, and you may often get a great surprise.     


“Superb - retail $150-$200"?


The 4d Kangaroo mint stamp shown nearby was offered on ebay recently by a seller called “stampcollectorboz” who truly has perfected the art-form of outrageous over-description.

This is a really horrid stamp.  It is woefully off-centred, and has the entire top left corner ripped off - as all here can see.  It is a mint spacefiller - at best.

His usual trick is to photograph terribly centred Roos on a white background, as it does not show as badly centred that way.  Check his well centred ones – they’ll likely be on a black background!

Retail for GOOD copies of this 4d Roo from reputable dealers like Richard Juzwin is $A125.  As Richard clearly says on his price list -  for poorly centered copies “deduct 50%” .. so this would cost $62.50 top retail, for an off-centred sound mint example. 

With also a totally torn off corner, AND way off-centred, real dealers like Richard, or me, or indeed any large dealer, would generally take $20 or so for such an obviously defective 3rd grade DOG … and would be delighted to see it vanish from stock forever at that price.

This was ebay item 290233154384 and was described in the lot heading by "stampcollectorboz" as “MLH SUPERB” and he goes on with more total fiction – “This is a super copy of this difficult stamp -  MARKET RETAIL FOR THIS STAMP $150~200”.


Worth 10% of ebay claim


As I have stated, REAL retail, from established reputable, stamp dealers for this spacefiller, is about 10% of that absurd claim. 

This nonsense was pointed out on stampboards, but the auction still continued, and some clueless ebay bidder called “dc10red” paid $69 for a stamp actually worth maybe one third that figure. 

One can only assume this total fiction as to the alleged “retail” price influenced him and other 3 bidders?  And that is what angers those in this business – and many collectors and other conservative ebay sellers.

I have no issue with sellers accurately describing material, with a sensible start price, and if buyers THEN pay such silly prices ... well the blame lies totally with the buyer.

However this “stampcollectorboz” has over quite some time consistently mis-described much material – often starting it at very high prices, and that is what many take issue with.

He listed up this 10/- Kangaroo shown nearby, with a clear hinge mark in late May, for a START price of $US899.99 (Lot 290231342623) stating it was “SG43a 3rd Wmk MNH SUPERB” - and misleadingly stating it had a catalogue value of $A3,200.


Total ebay nonsence


This was nonsense of course, as blind Freddie can see it was hinged. member David Benson pointed this out.

The seller’s own scan was darkened to show the clear rectangular hinge mark, and the pencil writing on the gum – also conveniently overlooked in the glowing description!

So "stampcollectorboz" then cancelled that auction on May 22, exactly when this was raised on stampboards, and the same day re-listed it with a different lot number - 290232679340 – same description – to hopefully throw folks off the scent, one can only guess.


 “Superb MUH”??


So here we have someone who surely knows full well the stamp has been hinged, has been advised publicly the stamp is hinged (using his own photo to prove it!) reacted quickly to that advice, and yet still states it is “MNH SUPERB” - and still starts it on ebay at near $A1,000.

This is bad for the hobby, as when some ebay bunny eventually buys this type of thing, and tries to re-sell it to a real dealer, he will likely get offered half – or even less than half what they paid.


This hurts Philately


Those folks then stay out of stamps forever.  And bad-mouth the hobby to all their circle of family and friends and workmates for years.

If this 10/- was offered as “mint with hinge mark, and pencil notes on gum” with a sensible minimum bid, then market forces prevail as to final price, and I have no issue whatever with that at all.

ebay is a great thing for the stamp market, if sellers offer material correctly described.  It brings in a lot of buyers, and encourages them to collect new areas.

On cheapie lots there is not much financial harm possible, but when stamps like the above in the $1,000 type arena are badly mis-described, the ebay buyers can stand to lose serious money.   

When super experienced ebay sellers with many thousands of stamp lot sales, consistently and deliberately fib about alleged “retail” and centering and condition, it helps no-one …. most especially themselves in the long run.

If they keep doing it, I will keep writing about it, and stampboards members will doubtless keep exposing it to a global audience.  The solution seems simple to me.

Sellers like him often come up with some nice material – offering it without the fictional retail will still see it get fair prices, and no-one will have complaints then.


 Guess the price!


Getting back thankfully, to real stamps with correct descriptions, this one illustrated nearby caught my eye at the Prestige Auction sale in Melbourne on July 11.

Stamp is the Tasmania 6d slate-violet Chalon, SG 48 unused with no gum, with large margins as you can see.  Clearly a most attractive stamp. A gem.  Truly SUPERB.  (Some ebay sellers please take note!)

So back to the theme of this month’s column - how does one value such items?  A little like the superb used Kangaroos - it all comes down to eye appeal, and a keen knowledge of how many similar copies are out there.

Usually with Australian States, collectors want to pay a percentage of Stanley Gibbons.  Often for imperfs, only 20% or 30% of Gibbons is paid even for decent looking pieces.

This Tasmania stamp is catalogued Mint by Gibbons at £350.  Many collectors would try and buy a  nice looking example like this for say half cat - or around $A400.  This one was invoiced out for a tad under $A2,500 when all the buyer add-ons and GST were included.

It attracted some great bidding, and went way above the auctioneer's estimate, and goes to show that collectors will pay for quality, when that  grade is seldom encountered.


Three Times Gibbons!


It also illustrates a point I often make to collectors - the lack of gum does NOT make a lot of this classic imperforate material "worthless".  This one got well over THREE times full Gibbons - and has no gum!

Again this is an area where "knowledge is power" - and having no gum can often be a warning sign. 

Colleague Simon Dunkerley recently wrote a multi page expose on some clown bleaching the daylights out of many Australian States stamps with pen cancels, and offering them on ebay as "Mint". 

Netting $10,000s in ill-gotten gains off totally clueless buyers, who trustingly seemed to believe they were buying genuine “Mint”.  


Postal or Fiscal?


Early Tasmania in particular one needs to be careful with, as stacks of the imperfs had non-postal (or “fiscal”) pen cancels.  However until October 1863, any pen cancel on early imperforate Tasmania (and there were many) must be POSTAL and not fiscal - confused?

"Knowledge is power”!  Another good reason to buy off real dealers who know their stuff.  All three of the Tasmanian imperfs shown nearby MUST be postal cancelled, as the cancels are before 1863.

To read the full detailed story on these, go to and use the in Forum “search” function for the word TORQUAY for the full discussion.


 Green with envy!


And whilst mentioning surprising prices at the July 11 Prestige auction, the 1/- Green Western Australia swan illustrated nearby certainly fits that bill.

This stamp was a hinged mint 1861 SG 46 - the rough perf 14 to 16, catalogued at £1,500.  If I had it in stock, I'd have been absolutely delighted to get $1,000 for it, as I personally think it looks a little ugly and rat nibbled. 


I have no clue!


However my own knowledge of WA mint is clearly way out of whack.  This rather ordinary looking thing was invoiced at many times estimate, at over $5,800 if a local buyer secured it, as it was a dreaded "T" lot, upon which full 10% GST is applied to the hammer price, as well as the 15% “Buyer Commission” on top of that.

Indeed the Western Australia prices across the board were mind boggling, from imperfs right though to the Commonwealth period, and to revenues and railways - so check with your bank manager if trying to buy WA material in the future!


Imperf or Roulette?


An 1862 WA cover with a 6d Green swan to Victoria with a crease, and a missing back flap, and no unusual markings or postmarks whatever, you'd think was no really big deal.

The July 11 sale catalogue called it "imperf" but weirdly gave the SG number for the roulette.  However no great difference, as both are in SG at near the same value used - £550 and £600.

In the small catalogue photo it looked like the cheaper imperf to me.  Anyway, the invoice for an Australian bidder on this, as it also was a dreaded "T" lot, was $A6,325, over 6 times the pre-sale estimate - and MILES above the full SG on cover price "x 4"  for either the imperf or the roulette.

Weird how such a pedestrian cover gets that kind of price, but I repeat again .. Western Australia is all its guises is RED HOT right now.






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