The multimillion-dollar business of Australian stamp collecting

The Arthur Gray Collection of King George V stamps image www.collectibles-au (1)

The Arthur Gray Collection of King George V stamps.

The Arthur Gray collection of King George V stamps is the most extensive and most valuable of its kind, suggests Gary Watson, Mossgreen’s head of philately and numismatics.

“It’s better than what’s in the Queen’s Royal Collection,” he says.

Watson’s prediction is that, when the Gray collection is sold on October 30 in Melbourne, this will be biggest stamp sale ever held in Australia.

The Arthur Gray Collection of King George V stamps image www.collectibles-au (2)

In February 2007, he sold his massive Kangaroo collection through Shreves auction house in New York. The 849 lots achieved a total of A$7.158 million, setting numerous world records including the highest total ever achieved for a single stamp issue. This record still stands.

Watson expects the KGV collection to sell for a little less. His conservative total estimates are $2.5 million, his expectations are up in the $3.5 million to $4 million range. He’s confident records will again be set.

The most expensive single items are a King George V twopence (estimate $75,000) and a shilling swan ($125,000), both unissued. These will be sold individually, or as a pair. The only other examples known are in the Australia Post collection.

Philately at this highest level can be both an absorbing hobby and a multi-million dollar investment. Gray was certainly aware of the second option.

The question is, who was Arthur Gray (he died in May this year) and how did he accumulate two of the best collections in the world?

Gary Watson knew him well, and liked him, although he admits some others in the tight network of philatelists might not have shared his opinion.

“Like a lot of collectors,” he says, “he had an avaricious streak, but he had the deep pockets to go with it.”

The deep pockets came from a successful career as a corporate lawyer, initially with BHP, then as a merchant banker – which may account for the avaricious streak – and finally as owner of a chain of health food stores in Sydney.

This gave him the financial clout to retire and embark on a spectacular career in stamps. He was known as a tough negotiator and fearless bidder at auctions, which may have earned him a few enemies along the way.

He took great pleasure in exhibiting his various collections. He scored numerous awards for his King George V Heads and his Commemoratives on the international circuit, one not that far removed from Formula One, with similar levels of egomania.

“You’ve got to the follow the rules of engagement, which are very complicated,” says Watson. “Arthur played the game to the utmost.”

The stamps that won him gold medals are included in the sale. These will attract international bidders, some of whom have already booked their tickets to Melbourne. Watson suggests that Arthur Gray was perhaps better known internationally – certainly after the Shreves auction – than he was here.

The collection is enormous, so large that this sale represents only the cream of the crop. The leftovers are sitting in a very heavy suitcase that will rate a separate auction in the near future. Watson’s estimate is that these will generate another million dollars or so.

The Arthur Gray Collection of King George V Issues takes place at Mossgreen Auctions in Armadale, Melbourne, on October 30. First session (335 lots) starts at 10am, second session (156 lots) at 3pm. Details and online catalogue on the Mossgreen website. A printed catalogue is also for sale.

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Henry Sapiecha

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