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Glen Stephens
Monthly "Stamp News" Market Tipster Column

June 2009




Jumbo Gems go TROPO!


The 6¢ purple USA stamp illustrated nearby caught my attention at a recent American public auction held by Shreves, on May 8.

The answer as to what it sold for is at the end of this section, but please take a guess NOW as to what it was invoiced for, before you read any further!

Our American cousins call such stamps - “JUMBO GEMS”. is an on-line poll asking that same question, that ran recently on 

Even with simple multiple choice bands to guess from, VERY few of the 51 members voting got it right.

And many of those voting were Americans who SHOULD have been far more accurate in their guesses.

Take a look at the poll results - rather interesting reading as it progresses, along with the comments of those voting - 

Under $A25 - 0% [ 0 ]

$A25-$A50 - 6% [ 3 ]

$A50-$A100 - 6% [ 3 ]

$A100-$A500 - 16% [ 8 ]

$A500-$A1,000 - 16% [ 8 ]

$A1,000-$A5,000 - 16% [ 8 ]

$A5,000- $A7,500 - 16% [ 8 ]

$A7,500-$A10,000 - 4% [ 2 ]

Above $A10,000 - 22% [ 11 ]

None Of The Above - 0% [ 0 ]

Total votes : 51


Catalogue $22 - -sold for ........ ?


This is a fairly common USA 6¢ purple 1893 Columbus.  It has no plate or printing flaws, or varieties whatever. 

There is nothing odd about the shade, or the perforations, and this issue is unwatermarked - so there are no watermark variations possible!


A $22 Stamp



It is quite simply an attractive used example of Scott 235, with a catalogue of $US22 a stamp.

There is nothing special or rare whatever about the slightly smudgy oval parcel cancel.

In short it is simply a very nice looking, well centred, 1893 6¢ purple Columbus stamp.

The most basic, basic, collections of USA all contain this very same stamp. When dealers like me sell them on, we leave it on the page. As I would leave this exact one on an album page - to this day.

This same stamp had over 4.7 million copies sold. It is quite common.

I have a stock book of 100s of heavily duplicated used Columbus issues from 1¢ to 50¢, with stamps this well centred among them I am sure, that will sell for mere $100s the lot, i.e. - a small % of Scott cat value.

As I keep writing in my columns - VERY fine used early Australian stamps are absurdly undervalued right now, and the result of this auction underscores that view!

I sell complete sets of Roos and KGV heads in all the watermarks in this attractive type top grade, for about $A1,000 a set, and simply can't keep up the supply of them.

As a good comparison, the 6¢ Columbus stamp has a Scott catalogue value of less than the First Watermark 6d Kangaroo of 1913 - $US25 - Scott 8, SG 9.

That 6d Roo stamp, as a valid guide, has a Richard Juzwin retail price in Australia of $A20, and I too sell FU copies for that figure, and absolutely superb examples for $A40-$50. As do most dealers.

The question is ... that you need to guess at NOW, is what was the invoice price in $A for this similar cat value 6¢ Columbus stamp above - before postage and insurance etc were added?


1913 6d Kangaroo VFU

That 6d Roo stamp, as a valid guide, has a Richard Juzwin retail price in Australia of $A20, and I too sell FU copies for that figure, and absolutely superb examples like the one above for $A40-$50. As do most dealers.

The question is ... that you need to guess at NOW, is what was the invoice price in $A for this similar cat value 6¢ Columbus stamp above - before postage and insurance etc were added?

Some Guidance


As for some slight guidance possibly, the same auction had this truly SCARCE value shown nearby from the same set ... the $3 green Columbus, in very attractive VFU, and quite superb colour.

This rare stamp had only 27,650 copies sold, a pittance for a large population country like the USA. 

Scott catalogue for this stamp is $US1,000, and it was invoiced with all buyer fees added, for $US1,380.


Sold for 38% more than Scott



That  $3 green is the “£1 Roo” of this set, in relative scarcity. 

Indeed our 1913 £1 Kangaroo had 10 times more copies sold,  and the later 3rd Watermark £1 Roo had FORTY times more copies sold.  In VFU, both sell for around this price level.

So to the question -  WHAT did the 6¢ purple sell for? 

Invoice price before shipping was $US6,425 - and at the then exchange rate of 1.33 that came to $A8,564.00.

That is near THREE HUNDRED TIMES full Scott catalogue value.

A crazy price.  I do know I just sold these superb MUH "ABC" setting strips of 3, £1 Roo block, for a LOT less than that.


An easy choice for me

  And I know in 10 years time, which one I'd rather be betting on, to get the higher price at a major auction.  

Hundreds Exist


Hundreds more perfect centred 6¢ Columbus stamps almost certainly exist out there globally, but I bet few if any other blocks like this NWPI do.

Clearly so FAR no-one else has bothered to pay money to get a piece of paper saying "allegedly perfectly centered" on those other far flung 6¢ values.

When 50 or 100 x 6¢ Columbus stamps all eventually have such a piece of paper,  the retail value will likely be around a few $100 each - not $A8,500 each.  

Still, better than the few dollars I'd presently (as would most local dealers)  allow for this stamp when pricing a collection, as the cat is only $22. 

However the block of £1 Roos above, or other clearly RARE pieces will continue to rise in price – as history shows they always have. 

In 5 years time if you handed me 2 Hagners - one with that Roo block of 6, and one with FIVE x 6¢ used Columbians, all beautifully centred, and asked me which I've prefer to have, the answer is simple.  The Roos every time.

Indeed using the SAME sale, you could have bought about FIVE of the lovely VFU $3 Columbus shown above, for around the same money as the single 6¢ got.  Quite crazy.


Back To Reality


Nothing silly about paying a SENSIBLE premium over catalogue price for superb copies of popular stamps of course.

Quality costs money.  300 TIMES catalogue as these mad Americans just paid is as usual, a USA fad bubble waiting to be burst.

However paying several times catalogue for a gem copy of a truly scarce stamp is money often well spent.

One stamp I saw this week I could not resist listing up here is shown nearby.

ESPECIALLY as May is the “Birthday” of the world’s first 2 stamps – both officially issued on May 6, 1840.



“Happy Birthday”!


The stamp I saw was a lovely looking GB 1840 2d blue, with a deep and perfectly struck vibrant red Maltese Cross cancel.

It was in an article that came with the new GB “Concise” catalogue, where UK classics dealer Mark Bloxham was commenting on quality and rarity etc.

I asked Mark what he sold it for, and the reply was: “I paid £2000, and sold it for £2600.”   That is just a few times full SG, and for a “one in a thousand” eye popper like this, a very sensible price in my view.

Do the Americans grade it “JUMBO SUPERB” .... I really do not know - or care.  Would it ever be worth 300 times Gibbons – of course not.

However again - offer me 2 of that stamp, or one of the 6¢ Columbus for the same price, and I’ll knock you down in the rush to take the 2d Blues!


Lights - Camera – ACTION


Earlier this year I got our local “Neighbourhood Watch” community leaflet – which contains a local Police Report of crime in the area, for the last calendar quarter.

There were 39 “Break-Enter-Steals” recorded alone, for my sleepy little backwater suburb in that quarter. Mostly opportunistic druggies, grabbing anything not nailed down, but reported crimes all the same.

A sobering thought, and as it is tax deductible for me, I recently decided to heavily beef up my security systems.

For a few $1000 you can these days get a mind boggling system covering the outside of your home.

The system I had was very good I thought, and also having licensed firearms and a dog on premises is a very major deterrent, but my old set-up was 5 or more years old, and boy is there some amazing choice THESE days!

Star Wars Stuff!

I urge ALL readers to give it some thought. The things you can buy these days are amazing, and all the movements detected are all recorded on high definition hard drive back-ups.

Even in total darkness these things work well - right down to .01 Lux light readings. In total pitch darkness at 3am I can literally count blades of grass on the lawns due to the 45 separate Infra-Red lights on each cameras.

You can now have at home very affordably, something that the FBI/CIA only dreamed about owning a few years back.

I got 8 of these new release Sony cameras, that record high resolution 550 line images, via an AC/DC power base.

45 lights in each one


EACH camera has *45* separate little infra red LED lights built into them, that automatically illuminate and record a viewing area up to 80 metres away, even in the pitch darkness.

These new technology 4 point LED’s each last 20,000 hours each. They are brighter and run far cooler, versus the 5,000 hours of night viewing of the universal style they replace. That is only 18 months max, and the LED’s start to burn out – at $450 a camera.

The installer set up 4 readily visible cameras, and 4 hidden, which was quite cunning I thought.

They are vandal and tamper proof, via the clever fully encased wiring and special mounting lugs, and of course fully weather-proof.

You can record potential burglars on DVR before they even get out of their car down the street.

These cameras hook up to an 8 channel high resolution DVR, that has a split screen real time recording panel for each camera that allows zooming and replaying at will.

You get a large 17” flat panel TV screen to look at, wherever you want to set it up, showing all action on all cameras, day and night.

Anything activating any camera sends you and up to 6 other nominated email addresses an alert, as well as the back to base pager which has been standard for years.

Each camera can be set to set off an audible beep inside the house as well, so you know it has been triggered.

I had the tech install bright 500 watt halogen movement lights as well, for all cameras to really liven up things!

Naturally the best part is you can now get all the alerts, and indeed run and manage the entire system, via any 3G mobile phone or computer – from anywhere in the world.

And a live feed of the images in real time is on my laptop, anywhere I am, or I can log into any computer anywhere, and see them, and replay them via a dedicated web server page.

You can zoon and rewind and fast forward at will, and take screen captures of anything you wish just by hitting the “Prnt Scrn” button on your keyboard.


Run it worldwide from a phone

The tech adjusts the cameras and sensors, so that anything like pets and wildlife and moving branches etc do not trigger them.

All recorded for 21 days on the DVR back-ups. And my webmaster is setting up a 24/7 back-up of all images, to his server in Tulsa Oklahoma in case the DVR is stolen or fails.

It was all “Star Wars” stuff to me, as I am not tech savvy at all, and had no idea this hardware was on the market so widely, and quite so affordably.

And I thought my old “back to base” alert was state of the art! With wireless internet technology, these things are now mind-boggling in their functionality, flexibility, and low cost.

Quite amazing that you can get this kind of sophistication on a domestic level. With that, and a colour video intercom, also with a digital tape back-up, readers with valuable collections, or stamp stock, can sleep a LOT sounder.

Be Secure

I know of clients with collections (and dealers with stock) valued into SEVEN figures, whose security system right now consists of a ricketty wire screen door, dead-locked windows, and an occasional prayer.

In 2009 this “fingers crossed” old method of keeping things secure simply does not work – SORRY.

None of us WANT to step up security measures, but sadly it is a necessity of modern life.

I had quotes from several large companies who were TOTALLY over the top on price. AND they sent out confusing gibberish spouting reps, out who frankly had no idea what they were quoting on.

And these guys kept on adding and adding and adding extras when quizzed on exactly WHAT they were offering.

I found one local guy who does it all himself, knows this stuff backwards, is neat and tidy, and strung up for me over 50 METRES of conduit with 4 cables in each, to link it all together.

He gave me a firm quote, and stuck to it despite various unexpected glitches occurring along the way. He moved and hooked up my modem to the DVR so I could access it worldwide.

He also had fast follow up to setting adjustments etc. If you live in the Sydney area let me now, and he can quote or suggest a colleague in your interstate area who uses the same importer.

For a few thousand installed get the same set up as I have - it is the best money you’ll ever spend in your life for peace of mind, and REAL security.

I paid this guy AFTER all the work was done, and the large companies wanted much of the money up front.

The importer worked closely with him on the tech side, and both came to see me a week afterward installation, to fully clear up focus issues with these brand new spec 20,000 hour cameras.

This is a "live" shot from the weekend of just Cameras 1- 4

  Four cameras is tons for most homes, and with this chap you avoid the insane quotes places like Chubb and Cage and other large outfits come up with - for often identical equipment from the same importer.

Remember if you spend a few $1,000 on such a system, and furnish evidence of it, your insurance company will VERY likely offer a large rate reduction. You are then a FAR more safe and secure risk for them.

Not only for your stamps, but for your entire household and building contents – and your family members personal safety of course.

I saved $350 a year by doing just that, and after a while the whole system pays for itself ... not to mention your own peace of mind.

Ponzi Ponderings



Disgraced USA financial guru Bernie Madoff is facing a 150 year prison sentence for perpetrating the biggest "Ponzi" scheme in history.

In March 2009, Bernie Madoff pleaded guilty to defrauding investors of $US65 BILLION - not million!

Oddly, this matter seems to have attracted surprisingly little press outside the USA.  Madoff will be sentenced on June 16.

The word "Ponzi" isn't some technical financial jargon – it was somebody's name. 

And his scheme involved UPU stamp Reply Coupons and stamps.  I only found this out a few weeks back.

Charles Ponzi was an Italian immigrant living in Boston during the First World War.

Ponzi, who had previously served time in a Canadian prison for forgery, stumbled upon a loophole in the postal system regarding International Reply Coupons - IRC’s.


Heart of the “Ponzi Scheme”



He found that he could buy IRC’s in countries with weak currencies, and exchange them for USA Postage stamps at a FAR higher face value than what he paid.  Many times his cost.

In fact you can do exactly the same thing today - quite legally.  Australia Post sells them for $A2.90 each.  When I was in Burma last year they cost just a few cents each at PO’s when paying in local currency as a fake dual exchange rate regime is in place.

The Burma ones - or IRC’s from Libya (illustrated), Bolivia, Zambia or Belarus etc, you can redeem at any Post Office here and receive a $A2.05 stamp.

Ponzi went to several of his friends in Boston with this story, and promised that he would double their investment in 90 days. 

The massive arbitrage returns available from Postal Reply Coupons, he explained to them, made such incredible profits easy – and legal.

Word spread quickly and investors were being paid out impressive rates, encouraging yet others to invest.


The “Ponzi” scheme was born.


By May 1920 Ponzi had made $US420,000 - about $US5 million in 2009 terms.

The scheme collapsed in 1921, and Ponzi spent three years in federal prison, and another nine in state prison. 


1920’s prison mug-shot of Ponzi



The exact amount that Charles Ponzi bilked his investors for remains unknown.  However, at the height of the scheme he took in $US1 million in three hours according to the SEC.  In the end, he only ever actually bought $30 worth of IRCs.

He fled to Italy in the 1930s after his jail sentences.  Benito Mussolini gave him a job in the financial section of his government! 

However, he mismanaged things so badly that he was forced to flee to South America - but not before taking an undisclosed amount from the Italian treasury.


Died Penniless


Ponzi died penniless in a charity hospital in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on January 18, 1949.

Some people never learn from history.  It was only a few years back that people in Spain and Portugal were duped of BILLIONS by a postage stamp investment “Ponzi” scheme run by Afinsa, and Forum Filatelico.


Spanish Police outside Afinsa



Afinsa was the third largest trading collectibles dealer in the world, after Christie's and Sotheby's.  Some things never change.

It was a massive Ponzi/Pyramid scheme using postage stamps, that bilked approximately 400,000 unsophisticated investors out of about 5 BILLION Euros ($A10 Billion) when it went belly up - as all such schemes eventually do.

Lurid stories of 10 MILLION EUROS in cash being seized in police raids etc of those allegedly involved, ensured it got a LOT of press - none of it good for the stamp hobby sadly. 

I wrote extensively on this matter in mid 2006.  Police needed to guard their deserted offices as hordes of furious investors descended upon them, to try and get their money.


Greg Manning Charged



Well known USA dealer, and stamp identity, Greg Manning was recently charged by the American Securities Exchange Commission lawyers, (SEC) in the US District Court, with a 42 page indictment over matters related to Afinsa and the Spanish scams etc. contains the fascinating indictment evidence link, and an interesting discussion on the matter on stampboards.

I've met Greg Manning several times, and have nothing against him whatever, and he has done no harm to me at any time, and is of course innocent until a court determines otherwise.

However that said, the hour I took to read this massive evidence dossier simply gob-smacked me.

Buying stock for $US850,000,  and allegedly re-valuing it on the books of a public listed company at $778 MILLION takes my breath away.

Many major and very famous stamp auctions were owned by this Manning/Escala group.

The group's North American operations included huge names like the Greg Manning Auctions division, Ivy & Manning Philatelic Auctions, Greg Manning Galleries, Greg Martin Auctions, Spectrum Numismatics, Teletrade, Nutmeg Stamp Sales, Superior Sports Auctions, Bowers and Merena Auctions, Kingswood Coin Auctions, and H.R. Harmer.

In Europe, the leading stamp auction houses affiliated with the network were Auctentia Subastas (Afinsa Auctions) of Madrid Spain, Corinphila Auktionen of Zurich Switzerland, and the Koehler group of auction companies of Berlin and Wiesbaden Germany.

In Asia, Escala's auctions operations were conducted through John Bull Stamp Auctions Ltd, the oldest philatelic auction house in Hong Kong.


Cyprus Price Sensation


The common looking Cyprus stamp illustrated nearby sold at auction earlier this year for over $A75,000.

This is a world record price for a British Commonwealth Queen Elizabeth II era stamp sold at auction.

The “Aphrodite” Collection of Cyprus stamps & covers was sold 24th February 2009, at Spink in London.


World Record Price for QE2 stamp



Star item for many was the Queen Elizabeth II 1960 Republic Issue stamp, a fairly average used looking copy of the otherwise common 30 mils, with overprint double. 

A bidding war for the item ensued, and the hammer fell at £31,000 (£35,750 with Buyer’s Premium) = or $A75,075 at that time.

The sale was a truly global event, with bidders participating over the phone, over the internet, and in the sale room - including numerous collectors from Cyprus.








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