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Glen Stephens
Monthly "Stamp News" Market Tipster Column

September 2015





  World Record Price.



I promised I'd report back on the result of the Australia 2d Red KEVIII stamp auctioned by Phoenix Auctions in Melbourne on July 17, which took place just past last month’s column deadline.  

I'm pleased to report it obtained a world record price for a single stamp from the Commonwealth of Australia - yet another record, in a year of huge prices being set.

Historically low interest rates here, overheated real estate and stock markets, and a weak dollar, have seen better stamps moving out of dealer hands faster than they can buy them in lately.



Stamp invoiced for $A172,912.



Even at that kind of price I think it will prove a nice long term hold and I was close to buying it myself. At $145,000 plus 19.25% "fees" it cost someone $A172,912.50 on invoice.

The most valuable SINGLE stamp even sold from the Commonwealth of Australia I feel sure, after some checking around.

From the auction catalogue wording - "Note: Of the remaining five units, the vendor has advised that a block of 4 will be bestowed to an institution, with the vendor retaining the remaining single."


Block of 4 “Bestowed”.


The alleged “bestowing” of the block 4 is an unexplained mystery so far, to me and others. And if that actually transpires, it changes the equation from 6 in private hands, to 2 in private hands, hence my interest in buying it.

(Memo to those reading this - never use SCISSORS to separate rare stamp blocks, as some goose clearly did here down the left side in 1938!)   



The “Liberated” KEVIII Block 6.



The block of 6 stamps appeared first on the stamp market in October 2014 in London, with the sale of the impressive “Vestey Collection” of Australian stamps by Spink, and garnered a then world record price for any Australian piece.  

To this day I understand nothing remains in the Australia Post Archive collection. No stamps, and no proofs. And even stranger, NOTHING from this issue resides in the Royal Collection of Her Majesty The Queen.  For 60 years the existence of this block was unknown.

The person to whom then State of Victoria Governor Huntingfield mailed the 6 stamps to in 1936, is known to us now as none other than Sam Vestey's great-grandfather, Sir William Vestey - the First Baron Vestey.


Abdication came days too soon.


History tells us that King Edward VIII abdicated only days before this new stamp issue was to be released here. It was all printed and ready to sell.  Only the UK ever issued stamps depicting this successor to King George V.

At Fort Belvedere, on 10 December 1936, Edward signed his written Abdication notices.  The following day, it was given legislative form by special Act of Parliament: "His Majesty's Declaration of Abdication Act 1936".

Edward's abdication required the consent of each Commonwealth state, which was duly given. By the Parliament of Australia, which was at the time in session, and by the Governments of the other Dominions, whose Parliaments were in recess.


Governors make their own Rules!


 Upon this Abdication Act of December 11 passing, The Australian Post Office was caught on the hop, as a large number of these 2d red letter rate definitive stamps had been printed, starting in late September, and were just about to be issued.




Memos flew around everywhere here, and the edict went out that EVERYTHING connected to these stamps was to be totally destroyed "by smelting or burning".  Plates, artwork, proofs and all stamps etc.

All this to be done under the supervision and signed certificate of the Auditor General of the Commonwealth of Australia - very heavy duty high level supervision.

John Ash frantically wrote again the Victoria Governor’s Private secretary December 16, urgently asking that the freebie sheet of stamps he was given be returned, so they could be destroyed to comply with this new order.

The Australian Government at high level demanded the printer destroy all copies, proofs and plates of this stamp after the abdication, but clearly Governor Huntingfield did not try very hard (if at all) to obtain the stamps back.

The block 6 fetched about half what some VERY experienced observers had predicted, but still was invoiced for £260,000 - around $A500,000 at that time, as the dollar had sunk badly.  And has sunk a great deal more since then!

I spoke to the 2d red KEVIII block 6 buyer after the auction - well known Victorian dealer Mark Knothe, who has been prominent in the stamp trade for many decades.

Mark was happy to be named as being the buyer, acting on behalf of an expatriate Australian, now living overseas. Knothe flew over to London for the Vestey sale.



Swanning Around!


The Vestey Collection had a ton of great material, much of it not having been on the market for generations. All collectible markets love “fresh stock” and it generally gets very solid prices. 

To demonstrate that point,  a good used, 3 margin Western Australia 1854 4d Blue Swan "Inverted Frame" stamp sold earlier this year from that collection for around $A250,000.


Sold for around $A250,000.



 The Swan stamp sold for £122,400 at the Spink Lord Vestey sale of May 19, 2015 - around $A250,000 at the time.  More than DOUBLE their top estimate of £50,000-£60,000.   

My checking reveals that was a world record price for ANY single stamp from Australasia, from 1850, to the present day. Pretty amazing, and is WAY over full Gibbons catalogue of £90,000 for SG number 3H.  It was however, not a “Commonwealth” stamp.

That stamp I understand was secured via phone bid by retired Hong Kong physician, Dr Arthur Woo, adding this example to his absolute fistful of these stamps. He now owns near all the few examples of this classic “Bird” rarity NOT in Institutions or Museums etc.

Woo’s tally, among many other examples now, includes the “forged” example sold in 1980s by Christies in the “Isleham” collection for £31,000.  Some opinion now seems to lean to it NOT being forged.  And the damaged strip of 3 x 4d used stamps, showing part of an inverted frame on one!

So the single 2d KEVII stamp, despite getting less in dollars, still sets the price record for an Australian Commonwealth single stamp.  An unlikely contender, but that is how the cards have fallen.

The highest total figure paid from this region was the KEVIII Block 6, which is turn trumped the $A326,000 invoiced for the 1928 Kookaburra imperforate miniature sheet of 4, sold by Phoenix Auctions in Melbourne, December 2012.  


Sold by Phoenix for $A326,000



 That sheet had not been on the market for 44 years, since Hardy purchased it in December 1968, from the Ameer of Bahawalpur’s Collection in London, when auctioned by Stanley Gibbons.

Hardy paid only £210 at that SG auction. Can an accountant work out and let me know what annual % increase one gets starting with £210 ($A420) and ending up with ~$A326,000 in 2012?  Who said there was “no money in stamps”?

It is accepted that KGV was given the imperforate sheet of 15 Mini Sheets of 4 when he opened the 1928 Melbourne Exhibition - that he was the Patron of.  So it was never a PO “printer error” as such, and is a miracle it even got Gibbons listed really.  


Palace quietly sells sheets.


 The large sheet he was given was too long for the King’s album page it is understood, and The Keeper, Sir John Wilson tore off (not neatly cut off!) the three right hand mini-sheets. Positions 5 (Hardy), 10 and 15.

These 3 imperforate Miniature sheets were quietly sold by the Palace in 1953 to finance other pieces for the Royal Collection. They were not known to exist singly, until the first one appeared in a London Auction in 1953.


A$4 Million piece?!



 Like many other readers I was pleased to be able to view the REST of the sheet of 12 imperf units in the Royal Collection section of the “Australia 2013” International in Melbourne.

A stampboards member took the photo of the sheet through the glass and plastic covering the page, and that fuzzy pic is shown nearby. Apologies for murky shot.  It states “Complete Sheet” but of course 3 units had been torn off and sold.

The three miniature sheets sold off by the Palace were from positions 5, 10 and 15 in the full sheet of 15 sheets.  The “Hardy” corner copy was position 5 in the master sheet, from top right hand corner, as can be seen. 

Miniature Sheet position 10 was offered by Harmer’s of Sydney in March 1975, in the famous Charles Zuker sale.  Estimated at $2000/2500, it sold to Ron Hyeronimus for $A3,200.


Stolen and dumped in a creek?


 Sadly, the wonderful Hyeronimus collection was stolen in 1984, and is widely believed was thrown in a creek by non-philatelic burglars, and many great treasures of Commonwealth Philately were lost forever.

Corner sheet 15, was offered by Harmer's Of Sydney, in the Jill Nette sale of August 1971, when it sold to P.J. Downie for $2,500, and reappeared in his December 1971 auction. There it was estimated at $2,600, and sold for $A2,700 to Alan Munro of Melbourne.

Some eight years later, around 1978, Munro sold it to Melbourne collector Ray Chapman for an undisclosed amount. Chapman as most know, sold his Australia collection to Australia Post for a then massive sum, so the “Hardy” example is the only one in private hands, hence the large price.

As one single imperf mini sheet sold for $A326,000, a block of 12 would be nominally valued at about $A4 MILLION of course!  There is a way to raise some funds for the Queen - sell off 3 more!



$US207,000 Record Imprint Block.



 The Arthur Gray Imprint block 4 of the £1 Brown and Blue Kangaroo shown nearby was invoiced at $US207,00 - then $A265,000 in 2007, but again is 4 stamps, and not one.  At the time of that sale, it held the record price for a single item from the Australasian region.


Mossgreen auctions Arthur Gray “KGV”.


Some more huge prices are expected when Arthur Gray’s “KGV” Large Gold Medal Exhibit collection comes under the hammer this October at mossgreen auctions in Melbourne - a merger of Charles Leski and Prestige essentially. 

Arthur passed away on May 22, and this sale was in the pipeline well before that.  A huge loss to the Stamp World globally, and a summary of his stamp achievements and funeral is at -

Sadly the staff heavy mossgreen Empire do not have the dexterity that Prestige Auctions once had, and a request for scans and info on column deadline day, to a couple of senior stamp staffers got absolutely zero response.  So their loss, and I’ll cover more key pieces next month hopefully, if space allows. 

The Asian and London lot viewings will be all completed by then sadly. Mossgreen will have printed catalogues out soon, but again my question as to cost of those etc was not responded to, so stay tuned next month.

The Auction catalogues are hard cover “leather” look, much like the Shreves “Arthur Gray Kangaroos”, and I think I heard they were to be sold at about $A100 or so?  I’ll get a few in, as they like the “Kangaroos”, will be stand-alone reference works for decades.

There are enough “consultants” and staff listed on the mossgreen website, to run a Public Service department!  I have no idea of the pre-sale estimate totals either, but assume it is a few million dollars.  It will be a big sale, and an essential reference catalogue to have. 

I saw a final PDF proof copy of it, and I assisted with supplying some photos of Arthur that are used inside the catalogue, and caught one “clanger” caption, just as it was at the printers! 

Fortunately, Arthur’s good friend Geoff Kellow sent me some good scans of key pieces 5 months back, and a few of these are shown here, to give readers a tiny taste of the wonders of his International Large Gold collection before the Auction and the global viewing roadshow is upon us.

Kellow has penned a scholarly 11 page story with photos of the complicated and complex story of KGV head issue, Printer Politics, and a potted history of all the legendary collectors in Australia - a really wonderful read in its own right, in the Gray catalogue. is the detailed ongoing discussion on stampboards of this sale from March, and was the first report anywhere on this major event.  Many of the other stamp photos from Geoff are on that link for those interested.

The sale contains not only the KGV heads in huge depth, but all the KGV era Commemoratives, the 5/- Harbour Bridge in full sheet etc, many 1927 Canberra imperfs and corner Plate Numbers and retouches, and re-entries, and Officials etc. 

Arthur did not like “fly speck” varieties, or commercial covers (both like me!) and tended to focus on the major and readily visible and spectacular printing errors, and perf freaks, and liked them in positional blocks where possible.


 Unique in private hands Swan



1914 1/- Swan Colour trial.  The ACSC now regard this as not an “unissued stamp” but a plate proof of a colour trial. Nonetheless it has an estimate of $A125,000.  The 6d KGV of the same status is the previous lot in the sale with an estimate of $75,000.

Mossgreen assume the “Bird” will get a $50,000 higher bid than the KGV head design, despite identical ACSC values!  There is thematic or topical demand for you. They might have a keen “Bird” collector in mind somewhere as a buyer - you never know.  Woo Hoo!


Alerting all “Bird” Buyers!


These 2 colour trials will be offered separately and then together to see if they obtain a higher bid when offered jointly thus. They are unique in private hands, and will be keenly sought. The Royal Collection has a full mint sheet of each design! 

Rodney Perry suggested on stampboards that the Royal Collection might well have torn off 4 or 6 pairs of those, and sold them to fund the purchase of the 2d KEVIII Block of which they possess nothing at all. 

They were sold together as the front cover lot at the Harmers Of Sydney “H.F.McNess” sale in June 1979, where I was the under-bidder, at a FRACTION of today’s estimate.  I was a VERY large buyer at that sale, and it hardly seems 36 years ago! 

I still have Harmer stockcards of 1/4d KGV head imprint blocks I’ve never touched.  Always liked the “Thick 1” flaw!  McNess from WA was near THE biggest collector of Australia at that time, second only to the legendary Dr Les Ambromovich from Sydney.

In the McNess sale this pair sold for $20,500. Today it will fetch about 10 times that.  Major auctions then somehow managed to get by wonderfully with a 10% Buyer Fee, and still pay city rent, staff, ads, overheads, printed catalogues etc.  Fast forward to 2015, and the Buyer Fees are more like 20%, to cover the exact same overheads - on FAR higher realisations!


$2,250 to $60,000!



I was thumbing through that McNess catalogue tonight, and noticed an AWFUL lot of the Gray material was sourced from there.  Another piece that has done very nicely is the 1d Violet imperforate 3 sides.  Which sold for well under estimate at $2,250 in 1979.  It was described then as: “thin spots in selvedge, slightly soiled”. 

Neither blemish appears to warrant mention in 2015, and the estimate is now $60,000.  It is shown nearby.  As SG Cat is £50,000, and ACSC is $100,000, that appears to around the correct mark. $2,250 to ~$60,000 in 36 years is not too shabby!  

The KGV heads Die Proofs are very strongly represented of course, as Gray had chased down most on the open market.  Like many things, Arthur was buying scarce things when they were not terribly popular, and not very expensive by today’s standards. 

Indeed of all the Die Proofs of the KGV era Commemoratives, about 90% that exist in private hands are in this collection, Geoff Kellow’s preface advises.


Arthur Gray bought counter-cyclically.


His fondness for imprint blocks and most especially printer marginal monogram pieces was astute vision.  Whilst the Lemmings were all buying Decimal PSEs and FDCs etc in the 1980s, Arthur was socking away WWI era Monogram stamps and Proofs and Booklets for “peanuts”! 


 Very pretty KGV Die Proofs.


I really like the unique DUAL stamp State 2 proof, in red and black on glazed paper shown nearby - estimated $20,000.  I would not be surprised to see that go somewhat higher, as no other TWIN proofs are recorded.

In the issued stamps, all 1d Red collectors will salivate over the block of 6 of the “Rusted” or “Pre-Substituted Clichés”. The only mint block in private hands, and estimated at $A85,000.  Geoff Kellow regards it as “The greatest 1d Red item in private hands.”

Even single mint copies are rare, as the error was not noticed by the stamp fraternity for YEARS after being issued, the ACSC tells us.  Most Australian men in early 1917 when these were issued, were overseas fighting Germans in the midst of World War 1. 

The defacement of a steel cliché that was in storage was not noticed before the plate was put to press, possibly again due to the more experienced printers also serving overseas in the War. Only a small print run was made from these left plates late in 1916.


Printer Plate chewed by RATS?


The reason for the patches of “rust” on 2 stamps have never been known for sure.  Some reports are that rats chewed at the protective grease on the stored left plate, and the exposed metal got some surface rust. Other versions are that it was caused by rat urine!


Unique Pre-Substituted Cliché Block.


Anyway, whatever the cause, the corroded (white) sections of 2 stamps show readily to the naked eye, as you can see on the photo nearby on units 4 and 5.  Even USED they are scarce. The used pair in this collection I sold Arthur a few years back, as it was better than the ones he had. 

Anyway a great “Arthur Gray KGV” sale in the offing in October, with material to suit all budgets for sure, and hopefully I will be able to add some more highlights next month.  The text above focuses mainly on pricey pieces, but there are many $100 type lots in the sale.


Stamp Grading Craziness.


True great collectors like Arthur Gray focused on STAMPS, and not bits of accompanying paper.  In his entire $7¼ million “Kangaroos” collection, there was hardly a Certificate to be seen, and certainly no numerical grading!

And the “KGV” collection was not too different either.  Any Certificates he had, came with the stamp when he bought them generally.  His knowledge was the “Certificate”.  And “Ex Gray” will be a rock-solid provenance that will last for generations.

In fact, Arthur was not terribly condition conscious. If he did not have it he’d buy it - after fearsome negotiating of course, all dealers will wryly concede that, but he simply wanted one of everything he did not own.

Centering did not overly bother him, nor light foxing, short or fuzzy perfs, and other small blemishes etc. As long as he did not have it, and it was a serious piece, he’d work hard to secure it.  Mention “MUH” to him and expect an expletive laden banter reply!

Despite this, he was without a doubt THE foremost collector of Australian stamps in our 100 years of issuing them.  If he saw a better copy than what he had, he’d generally try and buy it.

A true collector, and was the top of his tree, as he collected stamps, and not the written opinions of others. Which brings me conveniently to our next stamp story!


Can YOU see much difference here??



Our dear cousins the Americans have this total obsession with stamp CENTERING.  An absolute manic obsession.  One that has reached insane heights in recent years.

The Scott “Specialised” catalogue goes so far as to “help” the novice, and publishes a chart to show all the great unwashed what it all means. Gawd help a newbie trying to get their head around it!

Part of that chart is shown nearby.  The idea is, you mail your stamp in to get a numerical grade. You pay $A50 or so and some whizzkid on a computer measures it all, and gives it a number grade out of 100.

100 is perfect and 50 is pretty bad centred.  That bit I can follow.  But then they obsess over whether they have an “80” or a “90” etc.  And trust me the prices between an 85 and a 100 can be 3 or 4 or more times higher.

Take a close look at this photo from Scott shown nearby - can you see ANY real difference between a lowly “85” and “98”?   Honestly, can you see any huge improvement?

Only the Americans could give 4 totally different grades to the NEAR exact same looking stamps. All 4 of these I'd gladly call "well centered" and price them all about the same if they were Roos.


Not a big hit with Americans!



I posted up the photo nearby of a nice £1 Grey Roo I’d sold that day off my Rarity Page.  I described it as “attractive and well centred”, and had several orders in a day.  NO “grading number”!  An American sniffily declared it was not even close to perfect centering!

Surely only a fool would pay 5 times more for stamp 1 than stamp 4 on this table, assuming the reverses were identical on all 4?  Yet another nutty American fad, like Hula Hoops, Yo Yos, and striped Bubble gum etc.  I pray that disease never spreads here.

Indeed if all 4 stamps were given to 100 professional dealers globally, who were asked to place them on a stockcard in strict order of centering, left to right, most would not end up with this order, showing the stupidity of these numbers.

Well centred is well centred.  Collectors all know that.  They’ve known that for 150 years.  No-one needs a $50 American number grade sheet of paper to tell them that. They really need to find a new hobby if they do!

My “Stamp News” colleague Rod Perry posted on the stampboards discussion on this today: -

“That Scott page may become the text book classic for How not to recruit budding new philatelists. In an era when Philately could and should be a haven for those seeking an escape from the complications of everyday life, who needs this unnecessarily complex introduction to minutiae?”









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