This year is the centenary of Australia's Kangaroo and Map stamps, which were first released in January 1913. These stamps are now one of the most popular items for Australian collectors and they will be celebrated at the World Stamp Expo at Melbourne's Royal Exhibition Building from May 10-15.
One of the highlights will come on the day before the expo, when Phoenix Auctions sells the celebrated Kangaroo collection of the late Stuart Hardy, an Adelaide pharmacist. Phoenix estimates that the total results for the sale should be about $1.4 million. This shows how valuable Australian stamps have now become, providing they are rare and in the very best condition. This is far from the highest total achieved.
In 2007, the Australian collection of Arthur Gray was sold through Shreves auction house in New York for more than $7 million. Among the spectacular results was the $265,000 paid for a block of four 1919 £1 brown and blue Kangaroos. This is the world record price for any Kangaroo item sold at auction. The record for a single Kangaroo stamp is $176,930, again at the Arthur Gray sale.
These records are unlikely to be broken in May, although David Wood from Phoenix Auctions expects several lots from the Hardy sale to fetch about $100,000, including the feature item, a block of 24
£2 grey and rose-crimson Kangaroos. Interestingly, their value is increased by some minor printing errors, including a white flaw on the kangaroo's leg. The estimate of $100,000 is thought to be conservative. Another highlight is one of only three known imprint blocks of four of the £2 grey and rose-crimson Kangaroos, with the imprint of John Ash. The estimate is $60,000. Arthur Gray's similar example sold for $109,000 in 2007.
The most expensive single stamp to be offered next month is a £2 black and rose with short Spencer's Gulf, code for another minor printing flaw that greatly increases its value. The estimate is $35,000.
This is the second part of Hardy's collection to be sold.
In November 2012, Phoenix sold part one, concentrating on Commonwealth stamps produced during the reign of George V. That auction grossed more than $1.17 million, exceeding pre-sale estimates of $786,000. Every item listed sold.
The signature item was a 1928 imperforate 3d. Kookaburra miniature sheet, a small section removed from the 15 panes printed at the 1928 Philatelic Exhibition at the Melbourne Town Hall and presented to George V - a keen philatelist - for inclusion in the royal collection.
Hardy bought this rarity at a 1968 Stanley Gibbons auction in London for £210. In November, seven bidders were after the stamp and pushed prices until it sold to an Australian phone bidder for $326,200. This is the world record price for any Australian philatelic item at auction.
Auctioneer Mark Knothe said he hadn't seen such ferocious bidding in more than 40 years in the business. Phoenix is hoping for similar results on May 9, as are Hardy's four children and, the ultimate benefactors, their own 12 children.
While Hardy was a true collector, he was also aware of the monetary value of his collection. He was an astute money manager who had grown up in the Depression era, where he saw his own father's real estate business collapse. As his children grew older, he talked to them openly about the potential value of his asset and advised them of the best way to sell it after he died. He couldn't face selling it while still alive.
His children have been involved in setting up the auction and will be there to watch the sale, a bitter-sweet experience no doubt. For those who have a serious collection, this seems an ideal way to pass on the benefits.
The Stuart Hardy auction of Kangaroo stamps will be held on May 9 at the RACV Club, 501 Bourke Street, Melbourne. Viewings will be available from May 2 at the offices of Phoenix Auctions, 170 Queen Street, Melbourne.