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Glen Stephens
Monthly "Stamp News" Market Tipster Column

November 2008





“Knowledge Is Power”



I have not kept a record of how many times I have typed this manta over the last 3 decades in my columns and on stamp bulletin boards.

It must be HUNDREDS of times.  However the message never dates.   If you are just a few % better informed than those around you,  the cards always fall your way.

Not everyone can know everything about stamps ..... not even stamps from their own country, or even area of specialisation.

There are doubtless hundreds, if not thousands of scarce pieces I have blissfully sold on without having a clue what I was doing.  And that would be true of all larger dealers.

One simply cannot know every scarce postmark, every constant plate flaw, every die, every perforation variety, or every slightly unusual shade etc.

The buyer off me who DOES know, will always have the advantage.

And so it follows that when you buy off anyone armed with more knowledge than the seller, you'll be in the strong position.

Do NOT skimp on buying specialist catalogues and reference books, as that is where your knowledge is gained.

My column next month will illustrate boring looking South Australia Railway parcel stamps that are worth $1,000 each.  Cost of the long awaited catalogue – $25!

One mission statement of these columns is to show readers things that are quite valuable, but to the casual collector or dealer, may not appear to be worth even a second glance.


Guess the value?


“Knowledge Is Power”.  See these illustrated items in a club auction, small postal auction, or dealer's window and you can pounce on them IF you know they are scarce! 

Please glance at the photo nearby of a block of 4 common 5c stamps licked onto a white card.

Do you know what they are called, or what they are worth?  99% of readers will honestly answer "NO" to both questions I'd imagine.

Then let me ask, if you saw ten different cards like this in the window of an antique or book dealer for $A200 - would you buy them?

A well informed reader would buy them so fast at $200, their credit card would have friction burns!  They are worth around TEN times that.


Publicity Cards


It is a Post Office “Publicity Card”, and the out of date “Australian Commonwealth Specialists’ Catalogue” (ACSC)  has these cards valued at $A150-$200 each retail.  

The ACSC lists way over 100 similar cards for each new issue of the era.  They all readily sell from informed dealers,  at or around those prices.

The leading Australian specialist collectors - with one exception, still do not have complete sets of these - or anything like complete sets I understand. 

I bought 52 different cards this month, and could have almost held a private auction among a few leading collectors to dispose of them as a group, for a pretty decent 4 figure sum.

I mailed them to the first person I mentioned them to, but several others would have gladly taken them.

Until very recently no-one knew much about these "Publicity Cards" and most cared even less. 

Leading auctioneer Gary Watson chuckled when I asked him about the value of them in early September.

 "You mean those white postcard thingies with common blocks of 4 licked onto them?   We have a few in our next auction actually"  Gary said rather dismissively. 


The $2,450 hand-writing


One of these lots was a block of 4 of the 1958 2/- Qantas.  The card had a hand amended issue date, and was in the September 13 Prestige auction with an unaltered card - estimate $400 the pair. 

After fierce bidding It was invoiced at around $A2,450, which might well see Gary Watson develop a far more respectful view of these, than a $400 lot.  

At least his presumably delighted vendor will have a new-found fondness for them!  That figure exceeds the price of many mint higher value Kangaroos.

A blurry image from the Prestige website is shown nearby of this card ….. the value here being the handwritten note, where the issue date had been changed from that printed on the card.




Licked down blocks


These cards had normal issue sheet stock blocks of 4 licked down, when the issue was a single stamp. 

Single stamp new issues were often the case pre 1975 -  like the 1970 5c Grasslands card shown nearby. 

One card I had of the 5c Christmas 1968 had 4 singles of the same stamp licked down.

And a single stamp of each value  was affixed to each card when a set of stamps was issued. 

The stamps issued in sets of two generally had 2 pairs on a card like the ‘Expo 70’ pair shown nearby, but some sets I had, showed 4 singles, 2 of each design.

In the case of things too large to fit neatly, like the 1971 Christmas set of 7, only a block of 4 was licked on, not a block of 7 different designs.

The only person I know of with a complete set of these cards is cover collector Frank Pauer from Melbourne. 

Frank told me this week he got most of them in a junk carton lot from Prestige Auctions for "nothing" as they were not even mentioned as being in there!

So again it does show NOT all dealers or auctions know everything, and those like Frank, who are students of a field always hold the advantage over us.

Pauer told me he sold the “spares” from that lot to another auctioneer, and it near subsidised his entire collection of Publicity Cards.

These cards were issued from 1952 until the mid 1970s for all new issues.  The ACSC now lists and prices each issue that is known.  Which is why the demand now exists.


Vertical Pairs.


The ACSC prices are either $150 to $200 for each card, and the lot I bought had the AAT and Cocos issues for the 1967-1973 period in there too.

Even if only 5 new collectors of these official PO emissions emerge worldwide, prices could double or triple, as most dealers have never seen these, much less have any in stock.

One experienced collector told me about five to ten of each card would be his best guess as to numbers surviving. 

If that is the case, adding a zero to current prices might be more in order.

These cards appear to have gone nearly entirely to overseas embassies – one per office.  Apparently to alert travelling citizens, and immigrants, what new stamps we had issued!


Condition problems


I am advised quite a few in collector hands have pin or staple holes in each corner.

These had evidently been roughly affixed to lobby notice boards etc, with thumb tacks, for the display purpose they were sent.

Others appear to have been mounted in frames to show a montage of recent Australian stamp issues.  

A small lot I once saw had been ruined, as strong double sided tape had been used to affix them, and some cretin had roughly peeled them off, heavily thinning each one.

The few others I've seen over the years have mostly had bad foxing/spotting, as many are over 50 years old now, and the cardboard backing is not PH neutral. 

The card they are affixed on appears to be the rather acidic general printer stock.  Not unlike the board stock Asian stockbook pages are made from.  If so, foxing really takes hold in humid storage areas.

Diplomatic staff generally have brief postings to any one location, so this may well explain why full sets or even longish runs are virtually never seen. 

Just bits and pieces here and there, that staffers kept or “liberated” - possibly as little souvenirs of the posting.

Presumably most were tossed away after display, as the stamps being licked down had no more "value" to staff than stamps licked to an incoming piece of mail.

And the value, even if the stamps were floated off,  was just 20c in the typical one shown nearby.

To steal that from the Commonwealth and possibly risk being sacked if detected, would have little appeal to career diplomats I imagine!

Hence the rarity of these cards.  Leading collector Arthur Gray told me assembling these sets is a real "needle in a haystack" endeavour - one here, one there, once or twice a year. 

Then a few turn up somewhere else,  but you already have half of those, making a full collection run of way over 100 different cards a really tough project.  


New Gibbons Catalogue


For about 100 years SG published the "Part One" - a detailed priced listing of all Commonwealth stamps issued from 1840.

It got thicker and thicker with all the coloured wallpaper new issues from places like Guyana.

From where literally dozens of pages were filled with un-necessary new issue junk,  and all of us needed to pay for a thick section of catalogue listing that we never looked at.

The books got to be 2 massive hard cover volumes - so Gibbons simply stopped printing them.  And had no plan "B" in mind.

The last set of these that I have been using in my office is dated 2003, and it is falling apart.

For a while afterwards all one could use to look a 1953 Commonwealth definitive set, was to lug out the huge Simplified world catalogue, from one of 4 or 5 hard to handle huge soft cover volumes.

There  were no mini sheets listed, no perf varieties, no watermark errors, no booklets, no "on cover” rates etc.  Near useless for many users.

Then someone at SG finally had the bright idea to issue a single volume for all stamps 1840 to 1952. -  i.e. pre QE2.

Handy and welcome, but it still did not cover the VERY popular early QE2 issues..

The prices for early QE2 booklets, errors, and perf vars, had therefore not in most cases been updated since 2001 when the "2002" cat was priced.


At LAST - a new SG !


This all changed with the way overdue issue last year of what I suggested 3 years back - a 1840-1970 single volume.


The new 2009 SG Part 1.


Which contains the usual detailed information on this reign.  The new "2009" edition will arrive into Australia late October.  

The dreary black and white photos, printed on grey/yellow paper stock have now been upgraded to full colour photos on bright white paper.

SUCH  an improvement, when I compare the 2 issues side by side, for only 6 years difference in time.


Colourful and vibrant


The SG is now printed on a nice crisp fresh white paper stock.  Cheery and "alive" compared to my already VERY yellowed 2002 SG pages with sad grey illustrations.

Lots of constant flaws are now listed.  Lots of inverted watermarks - find just ONE, and the entire book could be readily paid for!  Indeed some are worth many times the cost of this book.

So bottom line, go and buy one -  in case some 25 year old pimple faced SG MBA decides not to make them for another decade!

It is a good compromise making it up to 1970.  It can be price updated each year or so hopefully,  and yet not affect the book size or weight.

An 1840 to 2009 set would easily run 3 or 4 volumes, and no-one could afford to buy it.

Personally if I ever need to look up modern Guyana (and I never have!) I'll do that via "Stamps Of The World".

The new release is a huge hard covered book, and is way over 600 huge format pages thick.  It is not cheap, but trust me you'll do well to invest in one.

This catalouge is about the size and weight of a Sydney telephone book.  

If you have not sighted one before, the extra detail now in the SG is most welcome. 

Not only all the known inverted and sideways watermarks, and all booklets etc, but a TON of retouches, and dies, and constant plate flaws etc.


LOTS of new detail.


Even for the Australian States, SG have done a large amount of work improving and updating this area. 

As you can see from the close-up shot nearby I took of part of the Queensland listings.

The one thing Australian buyers can be delighted with, is that the retail price of this was set in September, when the $A was soaring against £ Sterling.


Cheaper than importing


Australian SG agents Renniks were able to lock in the then wonderfully weak exchange rate, and REDUCE the retail price heavily over the previous edition.  From $A250 to $A220.

SINCE then of course the $A has sunk like a brick, dropping about 20% against the £ Sterling in a month or so.

So if you only update your catalogues every few years, this might be the ideal year to grab one!

Buying from a local dealer costs LESS than getting one direct from SG in the UK.  One almost never sees that occur.

In England the retail is £70 with £25 unregistered shipping to Aust/NZ - with no stamps used - disgraceful policy from Gibbons.  £95 as I type this is near $A250.

And you may incur all kinds of customs and import hassles as well of course, on top of that.


 Now in full colour.

So buying off a local dealer will be $A30 cheaper than getting direct from the UK, if our dollar stays weak.  In the past, local retail was always a lot higher, due to freight and GST etc.

I've pre-sold quite a few this week so you can bet the importer stock will sell out sooner rather than later, so grab one of these now if you need to update!

All large dealers will have ordered copies, and seamail stock from England should just have arrived into Australia as this column goes to press.

I have a carton pre-sold to clients already, so this will be a big winner for the local agents.  Highly recommended.


Dynamic Dealers!


My recent column and photos of a youthful Max Stern running around the Beijing "Olympex 2008" Exhibition at age 87 garnered quite a few incredulous comments as to where he gets the energy. 

Licking the gum of stamp hinges must have some special longevity properties!

I am advised that one of Max's long time associates - Bill Hornadge, turns 90 in early November, so here is a ‘Happy Birthday’ wish to Bill!

This photo nearby was taken in Melbourne in 2004, with Bill blowing out the huge  "Golden Anniversary"  cake made for "Stamp News".


Happy Birthday Bill!

Hornadge gave Max Stern, the newly arrived eastern European migrant his first big break in the trade, sending him overseas with a blank cheque to secure the many millions of stamps urgently needed for the vast "AMPOL" petrol giveaway promotion.

I am sure the ‘tall but true’ stories the two of them could tell would be best sellers, if Bill ever committed them to paper, and secured a good defamation lawyer! For those who are not aware, Bill Hornadge founded "Stamp News" in 1954, and went on to found Seven Seas Stamps.

Under his stewardship, Seven Seas went on to become one of the best known dealers locally for decades.


$4 Million sale


Reader's Digest purchased Seven Seas Stamps off then owner Kevin Duffy in 1980 for $A4 million - a phenomenal sum of money back then. Hornadge made Dubbo, New South Wales the de-facto philatelic capital of the Southern Hemisphere for quite a period.

Bill is still a tireless worker, and publishes a vast range of niche books, on all kinds of quirky subjects, but most have an Australiana theme. He still has a now dwindling stamp stock, and I am regularly buying and breaking down much of Bill's material. Only last month I placed a couple of cartons of it, and seeing the variety of it reminds one of what a great marketer Bill Hornadge was.

One of the great characters of the Australian stamp business, and I have a hunch Bill has several dozen books still in him yet!


100 sets exist


"Stamp News" did a special set of covers in 2004 for their 50th Golden Jubilee, signed by both the then and now Editors - Hornadge and Kevin Morgan.

These had the special gold overprinted imperforate 'Australia 99' mini sheets on them, (themselves a $40 set!) and only 1,500 sets of sheets were overprinted, and about 100 of so of those sets went onto these special covers.

They sold out rapidly, and were unusual, as the underlying mini sheets themselves are very scarce. 

A nice specialist item, and I get a few covers back in the  collections I buy from time to time, and they sell fast at $90 the pair, the sheets for $50 a pair.


Sold these TWICE


Another Sydney dealer still going strong is the legendary Ken Baker who is nearly 97.  In my feature piece on him in July 2007, he assured readers he was well on track to getting his "Queen's Telegram" in a few years!

He is proud of his Member Number "1" plaque from the Australasian Stamp Dealers' Association - now known as APTA.  
Baker formed that Association in 1948, and like Bill Hornadge, took a very keen and vocal and similar interest in the recent events there.

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 – both in the UK and Australia. 

Baker bought and sold nearly EVERY rarity this country had.  Some, like the unique KGV head 2d tête-bêche pair shown nearby he sold twice - for £250 each time. 

He really should have kept it  ....  today the ACSC lists it at $A250,000, and SG 99ac is £120,000 = $A300,000.  Who says there is no money in stamps?! 


Ken and Mona Baker







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