Lucky Auction Purchase

In the 1970s Public Auctions were much more frequent (and there were far more philatelic auction companies) and there was no Internet. Auction firms sent out a thousand or so auction catalogs to their best customers and mainly solicited bids by mail. There was no email or fax machines, few phone bids and no live computer bidding  Because of these factors there was spotty coverage at many auctions and many lots really did sell cheaply.

 In 1976, I was in London bumming around a bit after college. I supported myself by doing a bit of stamps, going to auctions. But life then didn’t require much support- Europe for an American in those days could be very cheap. I was sitting at a H R Harmer auction in London. Harmer was one of the “venerables”- one of several old line English auction firms that went back to the earliest days of our hobby. Their auctions were stuffy affairs and I was the only person in the room that day under the age of 100 and who didn’t smoke. The Canada section began and it was this that I was interested in. In those days one could usually buy certain countries in Europe for profitable resale in the United States. For instance, the Scandinavian catalogs listed Iceland for far less than Scott in those days and you could buy often buy Iceland for resale. Canada had a long trading history with Great Britain in the nineteenth century and there were far greater quantities of early Canada  in England (from the mail that was sent) than in the US and so you could usually buy Canada profitably for resale.

 So I was ready for the Canada section of the Harmer sale. But I wasn’t ready for the the 12 Penny Canada when it came up. The 12p is Canada’s rarest stamp (and one of the rarest stamps in the hobby) with some fifty copies estimated to exist in collectors hands. It cataloged  $20,000 then (it catalogs $135k today). It opened at 2400 Pounds which was the just a bit over $4000. Before I could think I had put up my hand and before anyone else could think the auctioneer had knocked down the lot to me. Within a week I had sold the stamp for $15,000 (roughly $70,000 in today’s dollars!).

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