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Glen Stephens
Monthly "Stamp News" Market Tipster Column

July 2007




    Dealer for 85 Years



On the busy new bulletin board a lively discussion took place this week on the two pioneer Australian stamp magazines.
The "Australian Stamp Monthly" (hereafter called the "ASM" as it was always widely known)  which commenced in 1930, and "Stamp News" which commenced in 1954.
I am fortunate to have first issues of both in my library.  Reading through the first 1930 volume of the ASM, I noted the large ads from stamp dealer Ken Baker, and they inspired this month's column.  He must be the only person on EARTH to have sold stamps for 85 years!  
Ken is now aged 95, is as sharp as a tack, and takes a mile walk each day from his Sydney downtown apartment.  Ken assures me he is well on track to getting his "Telegram" in a few years!  (Editor's note - we have given Ken a free lifetime subscription, and hope we will need to mail them to him for MANY years yet!)
Richard Peck and I interviewed Ken Baker, and I thought I'd share his story with "Stamp News" readers.  I had a long chat with Ken, and with Kevin Duffy as this went to press.  Kevin is a Castlecrag neighbour, and was able to add a few more details to the original data I had. 
Kevin told me his sole dream as a schoolboy was to emulate those stamp dealers in the Royal Arcade in Sydney - like Ken Baker.
Kevin Duffy became Federal President of ASDA on 3 separate occasions, spaced 10 years apart - being 1964, 1974 and 1984.  He later received the second highest award conferred in the country, an Officer in the Order of Australia (AO) - broadly equivalent to a Knighthood in the old system.
Selling his Seven Seas Stamps business in 1980 to Reader's Digest for $4 million Kevin would have made ALL those Royal Arcade dealers gasp in wonderment I imagine!  It changed hands many years later for a fraction of that sum.
Ken Baker is a wonderful gentleman - in the true meaning of that word, and there is not much that has occurred in this business since 1930 that he was not a part of in some way. 



Ken and Mona Baker



Ken and wife Mona have attended many industry dinners, and they've attended a couple of my dealer Melbourne Cup lunches here at Castlecrag.  Ken's long Rolls Royce poked out a full metre from my garage!

(My thanks to APTA President Michael Eastick for the photos of Ken shown here, taken from his files.  Baker is ASDA/APTA member "1". )

So here we go - a remarkable story - in Ken Baker's own words:


 Selling for over 85 Years


I was born in London in 1912 during the reign of KEVII, in Shoe Lane off Fleet Street - literally within the sound of the Bow Bells.  I celebrated my 95th birthday on February 8th this year.  I helped my father in his part time packet-making business there. 

Father used to supply newsagents with cheap stamp packets, a business he commenced before I was born. So from a very early age I was very involved with the stamp business.

It is true to say "I was never without stamps".  When the family migrated to Melbourne in 1923 on a £10 new migrant package deal, my father continued in the same line in Australia until his death in 1951.  My brother and I took over £400 of debts from this business and soon learnt there was no profit in stamp packet-making.



My First Stamp Shop - 1928


In 1928 I got a job in a rare book shop in Little Collins Street near the Stanley Gibbons present Melbourne premises.  After a while I was allowed to put some stamps in the window.  Most other dealers at the time had upstairs shops.

The business grew and I later bought the book business. Though I had little knowledge, I needed to make a quick turnover and knew all the stamp collectors of the day who used to meet in my shop.

One day in 1930 I was tipped off by veteran dealer Alf Campe senior that one of my customers was a thief.  I then spread the word, and promptly received a writ for slander demanding £500 (about $5 million today, I suppose).  Imagine being an 18 year old about to lose his business.

Fortunately for me, the legendary collector and legal man Bill Purves sent me to the best barrister in Melbourne.  King's Counsel Eugene Gorman (later Sir Eugene) was his name.

I was terrified of the money this would cost, but later learnt that Purves' firm had taken care of it as they retained him on many other briefs. Fortunately the matter was settled out of court the day before it was to go before the judge, for £15 damages and £20 costs.

That was my one and only brush with the law in my lifetime.

In 1930 I also took ads in the very first year of publication of the venerable "Australian Stamp Monthly".   I am proud of my Member Number "1" plaque from the Australasian Stamp Dealers' Association - now known as APTA.  I formed that Association in 1948 with Phil Downie and Max Cohen.  ASDA celebrated their Golden Jubilee in 1998. 



Saved by Peanut Butter!


In 1933 I drifted away from stamps, but by 1936 was back in Sydney at the back of another bookshop in Bathurst Street - once again with little money.  Luckily it happened to be the year of the ETA Peanut Butter promotion - free stamps with their product. The album with the Spanish galleon on the cover was available for sale at all newsagents for 6d.

Millions of stamps were given away. This started a boom here that lasted a year or two. Battered childhood ETA albums still turn up all the time, even today.  I made annual trips to the UK via the USA buying and selling.


A battered ETA album.



In 1937 I moved to the (old) Royal Arcade in Sydney and was the first stamp dealer there.  Others soon followed including Max Cohen, John Shaiak, Otto Kugel and A.W.Townsend.  Alf Campe senior was then operating in the Sydney Arcade and was one of the biggest dealers in Australia (and I don't only mean weight-wise!)  Campe followed us into the Royal Arcade in 1941.

A Mr Moore followed as did others.  The Royal Arcade in those days was truly the "Nassau Street" of Australian stamp dealing with 6 well stocked dealers all located in one small arcade. The Sydney Hilton Hotel now occupies this famous site. 

Alf Campe Senior used to accuse me of price cutting which I'm sure was true.  One day he said that he'd put me out of business in three weeks.  Alf then promptly took a shop in the Royal Arcade.  Well, he died 50 years ago and I'm still here!  


Amy Vickery

I remember Miss Amy Vickery who formed the finest collection existing of NSW "Sydney Views" - now residing in the Powerhouse Museum.  The Vickery family had immense wealth.  I acquired a large selection of "Views" from a dealer one day, rang her and was cordially invited to her grand family mansion in Strathfield.

Miss Vickery looked at them for a time then said politely that she could not buy them as they were her rejects and "lesser copies" that she had recently given to Campe to sell!  I departed very downhearted, and got "stuck" with the collection for quite a time.
Later I found out that she only dealt with Alf Campe.  Alf Campe junior, a well known Sydney dealer to this day, says Miss Vickery always believed he had been named in her honour and this greatly pleased her.

I first met Kevin Duffy when he was a schoolboy at Christian Brothers College, Waverley.  He had a stall in the playground after school and he knew then he was always destined to be a stamp dealer.
Kevin later moved to a kiosk in the Dalwood Arcade and afterwards purchased Seven Seas Stamps from Bill Hornadge in 1971. At one time Kevin and I ran a stamp auction in Sydney in the late 1960s.

This was styled "Baker and Duffy Auctions" and was located in Castlereagh Street opposite the present location of the Piccadilly Arcade. We later sold this to Phil Downie for a nice profit.  Kevin went on to run large stamp Auctions through the local magazines.
His later sale of Seven Seas Stamps to Reader's Digest in 1980 for around $4 million was the biggest transaction in Australian stamp dealing history. Then or now.  We still keep in touch, and had lunch only last week.   

Dubious Bulolo Airmails


I would source material from all over the globe. Melbourne dealer Rodney Perry recently showed me an envelope with my handwriting I posted to the PO at Gilbert and Ellice Islands ordering £4 of current stamps in 1940.  The boat carrying it was the "Triona".  She was sunk by the German Navy.  A few pieces of sodden mail were recovered and marked with: "sunk by raider and recovered".

Rod tells me he sells these pieces today for $1000's.  That is a lot more than the face value of £4 of Gilberts new issues I was ordering!  By the way, many months later my order for those New Issues was filled by the PO, as the mail was forwarded on, even in the midst of World War 2.




I served three years in the army (two years in the Torres Strait) during which time my shop was managed by Elsie Bell.  I returned in 1944 and married her in 1945.  At this time there was a large quantity of mint £1, £2 and £5 New Guinea Bulolo airmail stamps in the Australian market. 

It transpired that they had never been near New Guinea, but emanated from stocks which were supposed to be destroyed in Melbourne.  A prosecution was launched but it fizzled out. These are very valuable stamps today, but could be obtained in the trade around that time for below face value.

Stamps were really booming at this time. One Saturday morning the cash register rang up 400 sales!  In fact we sometimes had to close the door while we served customers already in the shop.  In 1948 I took on Sydney solicitor Bernie Moloney as a partner, forming the Baker & Moloney dealership that flourished for 20 years.

Bernie, Leo Rose and I also ran an auction, "DKL King & Co" for some years.  We later sold this to Harmers. They wanted us off the auction scene! 


Best Australian Collection.


I dealt with most of the major collectors as clients, one of whom was wealthy grazier Jack Kilfoyle - who put together arguably the best collection of Australian Commonwealth ever formed.  I first met Jack in 1947. 

Kilfoyle didn't think much of the £50 collection I showed him, but I knew John Shaiak next door had a far better one for £4,000 on consignment. This was the wonderful Kitson collection.

The owner Kitson was a Victorian MLC, the Parliamentary member for Ballarat as I recall.  When the sale was clinched Shaiak insisted on cash, so I accompanied Jack to the bank to seal the deal. This was a truly vast sum 60 years ago, especially being all in cash!  This transaction started a long and successful client/dealer relationship with Kilfoyle.

In 1948 Harmers of London offered the T.E. Field collection at auction and I promptly showed Kilfoyle the sale catalogue.  There were pages of high value mint Kangaroos in blocks of 4 (or often much larger) including blocks of the £2 in every watermark, and many more £1 Kangaroo bi-colours in blocks, imprints, and monograms etc, etc.

There were very extensive die proofs and essays, including all the key Kangaroo issues, and even complete sheets of KGV proofs.

Field also owned most of the known printing errors and rarities of Australian stamps as well.  I said: "there are some rather nice pieces in here Jack, some of which may interest you".  He simply replied:  "Yes Ken, but I'd actually like to own the entire book - just buy them for me".  He was a very wealthy man!

It was then decided that we should make an immediate offer by telegram of £7,500 for the entire auction sale - which was accepted.  When I made the offer Harmers were holding almost no bids, and were more than a trifle nervous the sale would not be a success. This was the only auction ever cancelled by Harmers of London and caused quite a stir at the time.

The bid forms came flooding in by the hundreds from keen collectors after I had secured the lot by telegram. There were no faxes or email then, and phone calls were horrendously expensive to Europe. The rudimentary "air mail" on the 10,000 mile journey to England was rather slow by today's standards.

We beat the wad of Australian based collector bid sheets by several days. Had the auction proceeded, Harmers said it would have grossed a great deal more than £7,500.  That same collection today would sell for many millions. I would describe Kilfoyle as a stamp collector rather than a philatelist, but his collection was worth seeing nevertheless. 

I still have all the letters from Harmers confirming the sale, and the printed leaflet they sent to very irate collectors advising we had purchased the entire auction intact.

Tête-Bêche Pair for £250

I bought other choice pieces for Kilfoyle such as the 1928 Kookaburra mini sheet imperforate.  Today this is catalogued by the ACSC at $200,000.  However, it fetched only £105 at the Kilfoyle sale in 1961. 

I also sold on two separate occasions the unique KGV head 2d tête-bêche pair for £250 each time.  I really should have kept it  ....  today the ACSC lists it at $A250,000.  Who says there is no money in stamps?!  The same comment applies to items such as the 1920 Ross Smith vignette sheets which I have sold for a minute fraction of today's retail levels. 


 Sold for £250 


For instance, a Mint block 4 of the first watermark 1913 £2 Roo sold for only £185 on an estimate of £200 in the 1961 Harmers sale of the Kilfoyle material.  A single MUH example of that stamp sold for $A22,500 at the Arthur Gray auction in 2007.

In the late 1940s I bought a large collection of Kangaroos, exclusively values 5/- and up.  There were about 400 of the £2 values alone, many mint, with imprints and monograms.  It cost me £3,000, a great deal of money in the early post war years. Today it easily would fill an entire major auction catalogue broken down into suitable lots.

Jack Kilfoyle purchased it intact off me.  When Kilfoyle retired to London his collection comprised some 300 stamp albums.

Kilfoyle's collection was offered by Robson Lowe in 1961 by private treaty for £35,000, but did not sell.  It was then sold at auction by Harmers and I was able to buy back many of the items at less than what he paid.  Kilfoyle had owned a large property called "Rosewood" of nearly one million acres in Western Australia.  We do things big in Australia. 

Many years later my wife and I were on holidays in the Northern Territory and W.A. and drove out to this property but there was nothing left of the homestead.


Pane of £2 Roos


From 1958 to 1970 I dealt in stamps from Sydney.  I lived first at Doonside and later at Darling Point.  I met many collectors there, including the young Stewart Wright from Ballarat, now owner of Status International Auctions, and a national string of large numismatic outlets.  I also had a shop at the top of King Street near Queen's Square for some years.

One of the major collections I bought was the Holbeach collection, except for his blocks of specimen Kangaroos - Arthur Gray later secured most of them, and they sold for a fortune earlier this year. 

Holbeach had probably the third best collection of Australia ever formed, and was later the basis of the Abramovich, Nette and Stuart Hardy collections.


 Sold for $A142,500


Stuart Hardy is still alive and well in Adelaide and I imagine still has the record part sheet of 36 x mint £2 Roos I sold him.  If so it would almost certainly be the most valuable Australian individual stamp piece in existence.  My elderly mother bid on my behalf for the complete MUH pane of sixty £2 stamps at Robson Lowe Auctions for me in 1961.

She told me afterwards Robbie Lowe was: "very courteous, and even arranged for me a nice cup of tea and a front row seat in the sale room."  I paid £1,200 for this pane of 60, which at £20 per MUH small multiple watermark £2 Roo was a good buy I have always thought.  I urged Mother not to exceed £1,500 so was very pleased with her novice bidding skills.

Today these stamps nice unmounted mint sell for about $A8,000 apiece.  In fact an Imprint block of 4 sold for $A142,500 in the Arthur Gray auction.  Stuart Hardy chose not to buy the complete pane, but offered me £30 each for the lower portion of the multiple.  I recall him saying a block of 36 (6x6) fitted very neatly on to his album page.

He was clever enough to select the lower block, bearing the Ash imprint on the selvedge. I feel sure he now wishes he'd spent the other £720 and bought them all!  To tell the truth, selling the balance at £30 each was not easy in the early 1960s. How prices have changed.  I do recall selling a block of 12 to Dr. Les Abramovich.

I moved to Norfolk Island in 1970 and stayed there for about 2 years, still dealing in many things including stamps. Unfortunately my wife's health deteriorated and she died soon after we moved back to Cooma in 1974. 


The “Boom” Years


I married my present wife Mona in 1976 and lived in London during the "boom" years of the late 1970s. These were very busy times, there were sometimes two large auctions on the same day - luckily there were two of us to bid!



Owned a full sheet


I remember some of the big deals I did in those times - sheets of each value of the Great Britain "Seahorses" for £52,000 including the only complete sheet of £1 in existence.  A few months later those sheets were worth about five times that sum.  Even Royal Mail tried to obtain the £1 as they did not have a full sheet in their archives.

John Curtin of Royale Stamps in London rang me one day to say that an Iranian had sent him a cheque for £250,000 but they were almost out of good stock. Needless to say I helped them out with an array of choice Pacific region material. That was a VERY large sale.

In 1981 I returned to Sydney and I sold much of my stock through Status and Downie Auctions, but kept trading actively.  Until a few years back I took out buying ads every day in the Sydney Morning Herald "Stamps and Coins" classified section.   

I also enjoyed inspecting many of the lots on offer at the Gibbons and Status Sydney auctions, and located the odd modest bargain.
At one point in this period I purchased Alan Jones' entire stock (who bought the famous M.C.Cohen business and premises) and I traded from his former shop for some months. During my dealing lifetime I must have bought out dozens of dealers and many very important collections.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my stamp dealing career spanning over 85 years, and the good relationships formed with collectors and dealers around the world.

We are all involved in what is truly the "King Of Hobbies".








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Full Time Stamp Dealer in Australia for over 25 years.

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Full Time Stamp Dealer in Australia for over 25 years.

Life Member - American Stamp Dealers' Association.  (New York) 
Also Member - Philatelic Traders' Society.  (London)  ANDA. (Melbourne)  American Philatelic Society, etc

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