A fascinating year for auctions

It appears that 2014 will go down in the records as a year of auctions.

Regular readers will know about the Ron Brigham sales, one of which had already been held, with more to come. Eastern Auctions and Gary Lyon have a pretty fascinating sale we covered in our previous issue, and later in the year the second of three-known two-cent green large queens on laid paper will be going on the block. It is pretty remarkable that two out of just three-known examples are being offered for sale in the same year.

Speaking of rarities, this year also saw the sale of three examples of the famous Jenny invert change hands in a short period of time, which we have reported in this issue of Canadian Stamp News.

Finally, how could I forget the sale of the British Guiana one-cent magenta, as part of the sale of the John E. DuPont collection, which I have written about previously a few times.

While it is not the rarest stamp in the world, or even the most valuable, the British Guiana stamp is easily the most celebrated. I expect it will also set a new world record. Currently that title is held by the Swedish Treskilling Yellow.

As wonderful as that stamp is, it just doesn’t have the fame and cachet of wonder as the one-cent magenta. DuPont sat on the stamp for several years, and I suspect that this time it will go to a collector of substantial means, and live in another collection for a decade or more before surfacing.

What does all this mean for the hobby?

Well for one thing, I haven’t seen any of these rarities going for bargain basement prices yet, and I seriously doubt that I will between now and the end of the year. Nor, am I seeing anything change hands at the inflated prices paid by speculators.

What I am seeing is that pricing is aggressive and fair. Great stamps, it seems, being sold into great collections at prices that reflect both the condition and rarity of the items, and the fact that the owner is not expecting to turn a profit.

Compare that to say, a decade ago, when the market was much more investor driven. Ironically, investors often pay more than a smart collector would. The reasons are first off, investors are working the money set aside for this purpose, while collectors are often diverting funds set aside for retirement or some other purpose, or even selling part of their collection to acquire a long-wanted item. The other factor is that investors are often thinking about what a stamp or cover will be worth in a few years, and may be prepared to overbuy now with hopes of a big payout in the future. Collectors rarely have that luxury.

Of course, when it comes to great rarities, each deal is unique. If two collectors with adequate resources both want a stamp that isn’t likely to come back on the market for some time, rather than wait they bid aggressively, and records get set.

To me, at least, the market seems to indicate that the collector is in charge, and that’s a good thing.

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