This stamp issue will cause a great deal of interest all over the globe.
The Greek Post Office (ELTA) decided to copy what Australia did for Sydney 2000,
and issue an ‘Instant’ digital print stamp for every Olympic medal winner the
following working day.
The design is even VERY similar to the Australian issues.
Like Australia, a few days after this digital issue, offset printed copies were
also to be printed of medal winner stamps and placed on sale.
I broke the story of that revolutionary Australian issue to the world, on the
front page of "Linn's Stamp News" and "Australasian Stamps":
This idea proved a great success in Greece, and the general public were the ones
primarily out there buying these issues for patriotic and souvenir reasons etc.
Only a small percentage of those will ever re-enter the stamp market in my
The controversial stamp was issued to honor Leonidas Sampanis, the Bronze Medal
winner in Men’s weightlifting in the 62 kilo weight class.
Sampanis won his medal on Monday 16 August and the digitally printed stamps were
on sale in a few Post Offices starting latter Tuesday August 17.
Sampanis was a seasoned performer who had won silver medals at the Sydney 2000
and Atlanta 1996 Olympics
Sampanis later failed his drug test (twice) and on Sunday 22 August the IOC
stripped him of his medal.
Consequently, later that Sunday ELTA memoed all post offices and ordered that
all remaining Sampanis stamps be taken off sale nationally, audited, and
immediately returned to their central office on Monday. It made very clear NONE
were to be sold.
These are the quantities (of A4 sheets) printed the day after the medal was
given to the winner, for each of the 5 cities that were involved in this digital
print campaign. Athens: 750, Thessaloniki: 500, Volos: 400, Patrai: 400,
Not large numbers at all. Nearly all stamp sales were to the general public and
tourists via this initial distribution. Many were used on mail and postcards as
the 65¢ rate covered airpost worldwide.
They were printed and issued in PO sheetlets of 20 - i.e. two ‘A5’ sheetlets of
10 separated by roulette type serrations, making a standard ‘A4’ sized paper
Stamp collectors worldwide, all ELTA standing order customers, all overseas
agents and even Greek dealers were caught totally unawares by this unexpected
weekend medal stripping development when Post Offices were closed on the Sunday.
Most of these parties were simply expecting to receive their entire pre-order of
Medal Winner stamps soon after the Olympic Games closing ceremony on August 29.
Why would any dealer or collector need to buy them one at a time during the
So the situation is most unusual. This was a legally issued stamp, and was on
sale at face value for 4 working days at Post Offices across Greece.
This stamp will certainly be listed and priced in all stamp catalogues, and a
space will be allowed for it in all printed albums worldwide.
History shows that demand will not be so much now, but from mid 2005 when
catalogues are issued and album supplements mailed to thousands of collectors
At this point virtually no-one in the stamp world outside Greece knows this
stamp is even withdrawn.
Interest in Australia in this issue will be especially strong as Melbourne has
the largest Greek born population outside of Athens and Thessaloniki, and a good
number of them are collectors.
In my view it could soon be the second priciest Greek issue for the past half
century. Right now the priciest distinction is held by the 1954 purple Ancient
Art top value - which even with a high million print run is catalogued at 270
Euros = $A465.
No-one yet has any idea exactly how many 65¢ Sampanis drug cheat stamps were
sold but I can certainly guarantee it was just a small FRACTION of a million
ELTA spokesperson Kyriakos Vlastarakos was quoted in the Greek press saying he
had no information on how many Sampanis stamps had actually been sold between
the Tuesday August 17, issue date – a day after Sampanis won his medal, and the
Vlastarakos was quoted in the Greek newspaper Ekathimerini stating that only
136,000 Sampanis stamps had been printed in total.
My educated guess based on input from a number of sources in Greece is that only
30,000-40,000 of these 136,000 stamps were sold, and the balance hastily
Nearly all those sold were to members of the public and tourists in sheetlets of
10 and 20, so they will be largely lost forever to philately.
The text at right reads: "Olympic Games Athens 2004 –
Greek Olympians - Leonidas Sampanis, Weight Lifting, Men's 62 kilo, Bronze
Medal, 28th Olympic Games, Athens 2004".
A good number of the Greek stamp issues from the 1940s and 1950s have very high
catalogue prices of course.
For instance, Greece issued a set of National Youth stamps and Airs in 1940 and
only allowed them to be on sale for postage use for 3 days, but retained sets on
sale at Post Offices for another 6 months for collectors.
Despite the length of sale of this set, the current catalogue price is €1,485 =
$A2,550. The Sampanis issue on sale for 4 days is a VERY interesting and valid
The supply situation on this drug cheat medal stamp has been very unusual. I
know for certain from an internal contact within the Greek PO that no single
source ‘cornered’ any large stocks. Not even smallish stocks.
Examination of internal records has shown there were only small routine sales of
this to post offices with nothing larger or more unusual than for the other 16
medal winning stamps.
I was alerted to this withdrawal very early in the piece, and have spent the
last month trying to track down some stock for sale. For all my efforts I
rounded up 200 stamps.
I emailed every dealer I could locate in Greece (a very small data base!) and
they were broadly in 2 camps.
They either had sold whatever stock they held for well over face value early in
the piece - assuming ELTA would later back down and issue the stamps to all
comers, and the price would normalise.
Or, they were (and are) sitting on any stocks they had, assuming these will be a
$100+ type stamp very soon. Many said they only had 10 or 20 stamps so would sit
back and watch prices move around.
The First Day Covers are very scarce of this Sampanis issue. Greece colour
catalogue producer, and leading dealer A.Karamitzos told me today: "These FDC
are really very rare. Maybe only a few hundred exist - possibly even less. I
have one in my current auction with a starting price of €150" (=$A250)
I bought a small stock of the stamps and offered them to clients via my website
and they have sold well at around $A45-$60 each.
The 2 other Australian dealers I am aware that that have stocks also report good
sales at around the $60-$70 level.
The key to the whole situation is what exactly ELTA - the Greek PO Bureau was
going to do about releasing these stamps in the future.
I am typing this in early October - and the Olympic Games concluded in August.
What I do know is via my bureau contact is that ELTA has about 13,000 standing
order customers on its books.
These customers are the backbone of all Bureaus, and they are ordinarily looked
after VERY well, to repay their loyalty - and the big money they spend each
ELTA planned to mail each of these 13,000 customers a sheetlet of 10 at face
value as a reward for being loyal customers with a standing order - and handing
them a very valuable stamp right from the get-go.
If ELTA had the only say on this, the stamps would have been mailed long ago - I
have no doubt at all.
However ELTA obtained 2 sets of legal advice, and my understanding is that was
strongly that these stamps simply CANNOT be mailed out in October or indeed at
any future time, or the IOC would explode and likely take punative legal action.
The stamp issuing reputation of Greece would also be badly injured or damaged if
they were to do this.
Many would not realise but as these stamps have the Olympic Ring symbols on
them, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) needs to approve all such stamp
The IOC I do know gave Australia Post Philatelic major headaches all during and
leading up to the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games for the same reason - they needed to
approve EVERY stamp before it was issued.
The IOC has a rock solid policy that there will be zero tolerance and zero
support for any identified drug cheats. Therefore the host country issuing
stamps depicting a disgraced drug abuser months after the games concluded would
raise the roof off the IOC headquarters in Lausanne.
It would clearly appear to many the IOC endorsed this behaviour if such stamps
were issued, and were profiting from it – as they receive a ‘royalty’ from all
Olympic medal winner stamps sold.
I could be proven wrong, but it is my belief that NO stamps will now be mailed
by ELTA depicting this drug cheat Sampanis.
Had they mailed them within a week of the drug ban, they could say: "sorry,
Sales Dept did it before we could recall them" and the matter would have rested
most likely. But months later no such excuse will hold water with the IOC.
ELTA has worked hard to placate their 13,000 best customers by offering them in
mid October a "test sheet" of the Olympic design stamp. This will depict a
former employee of Greek Post who competed in the 1980 Moscow Olympics in the
Aris Karayeorgos is pictured in a Greek tracksuit top, holding his Olympic
participation medal. The "test" stamp has a denomination of "€0.0" and across
the bottom left hand corner, printed in red is the Greek word DIAGRAFETE, which
means "cancelled" or "Specimen".
Only 20,000 of these sheets of 10 are to be released, and I have a number on
order. However, they are not issued stamps, are will not be priced in stamp
catalogues or be allowed for on printed album pages. And 200,000 is not a small
This will still leave at least 13,000 keen collectors of every Greece new issue
all needing at least one copy of the Sampanis stamp - and as many of them
collect sheetlets of 10, that is a massive pent up demand ready to explode on a
market with very few for sale.
Not to mention ‘Olympics’ is one of the most collected thematics/topical
subjects there is.
Mirela Maniani - one of the issued set of 16 Greek
ELTA website "under construction"
ELTA Philatelic Bureau is a disaster of Olympic proportions itself I really must
comment here, from my personal experience.
They have a totally non functioning website where you cannot even order their
other 16 Olympic medal winner stamps on-line in any way. You need to log in and
register with a password to ever SEE many stamp issues.
I recently emailed them off their website to order 50 sets of normal stamps
(rather sizeable order value €520) and got an unsigned note back September 24
"Dear Sir, Unfortunately our web side is under construction and it is not
possible to subscribe for the time being. If you wish you can send us your full
postal address to receive by letter all the relevant information materials and
So, instead of having a smooth, functional website up and running and fully
tested before the Games, hence to make extra millions of dollars selling Olympic
stamp products worldwide, we all need to now write off for a brochure.
And then pay them in cash, or Euro bankers draft - no credit cards possible! It
is hard to believe this hillbilly approach can be possible anywhere in a major
stamp issuing country in 2004, but it is.
I spoke to Max Stern many times before this article was written. Stern is the
official Australian agent for ELTA. At of October 5 - well over a full month
after the Games closing Stern had seen not a single Greek Olympic new issue
Medal stamp, and has no idea when he will receive any.
Stern does not expect to receive any Sampanis stamps at all from the Bureau, and
seems rather unhappy about both situations.
A rather ratty looking KGV cover has recently sold for approx $A6,300.
The 1928 cover has a pair of ½d orange KGV heads and is addressed to Chelmer
Queensland. The clear cancel is "Red Hill - 8 Nov 23 - Queensland."
The cover was torn and damaged along base, but that had now been neatly trimmed.
One of the stamps has a torn off corner.
The cover started with an opening bid of $US7.53. With a minute to go the high
bid was only $US15.60. The final bid was $US4,406.85 from an eBay user called 'austcovers'.
The underbidder at $US4,356.85 – who bid a minute or so before the sale ended,
was another Australian collector - 'blackwood-inn'.
Both these last two bidders typed in these huge figures when looking at a high
bid at that time of $US15.60.
These two collectors placed only one bid each. Such bidding technique take
nerves of steel. And a bank manager to match!
The item is a First Day Cover of the stamp, and the Australian Commonwealth
Specialists’ Catalogue (ACSC) erroneously lists the issue date as October 9.
This is a very common stamp used off cover. Of the various perforations and
watermarks issued of the ½d Orange up until the 1930s, there are no other FDC's
recorded or noted.
The existence of this cover was not known or recorded by specialists until this
I spoke to 'austcovers' - who is well known FDC collector Frank Pauer, based in
"I was determined to get this item and I will not tell you what my maximum
bid was, except it is obviously was a good deal higher than $US4,406!" he
told me with a laugh.
Pauer continued: "the cover is addressed to then keen cover collector S.
Sheard, in his very distinctive handwriting, and I am delighted to now own this
I checked the many other eBay cover items on offer from the vendor ‘hillstamps’
from Hamilton Ontario Canada. The ones that had bids were only for few dollars
The vendor clearly did not have a clue as to the rarity of what he was offering.
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