Thursday, February 18, 2016

Thoughts on the 94% Complete Big Blue Sold on eBay

As rarely as large Blue Volume One collections are offered these days (with my arbitrary definition of large as 20K plus), it is even rarer to know much about how the collections were formed and the details of their sale, much less to have photos of every page in the album. Nevertheless, the Big Blue gods are apparently in a good mood as we are now privy to such details about one collection recently sold on eBay. The information is on Jim Jackson’s Big Blue blog as a guest post by Bud, the collector who originally bought the album, removed the stamps he needed for his even more complete Volume One, and then enlisted eBay seller kenr2 to sell the remainder in country lots.

I have very little useful to add to Bud’s summary, Jim’s additions, and the many valuable comments, all of which make the above post a must read for Big Blue collectors. Not that this will stop me from trying to find something to say.

The pages in total brought almost $35K, considerably more than any other large Volume One that I am aware of, and twice as much as one first offered by H R Harmer as complete and then reoffered as “almost complete” in 2008 (admittedly that realization may have been low because it sold during the height of the recession). Even more extraordinary, unlike the H R Harmer lot, Bud’s album did not include US, which, if at a similar level of completion, would have surely swelled the realization by several thousand dollars.

While I too am convinced that “irrational exuberance” inflated the results this time around, it still isn’t clear by how much. One thing I tried, but only for a few countries, was to look at how many serious bidders there were. My methodology was to look at the final selling price and then count the number of bidders who bid at least half as much. I chose this approach because since the final selling prices were high, I think even 50% bids came from serious bidders as opposed to people lowballing.

Here are the countries I kept data on, the number in parentheses indicating the number of bidders making offers of at least 50% of the final selling price:

Latvia & Latakia (3)
Lebanon    (3)
Mariana & Marshall Island (2)
Mauritius (3)
Memel (3)
Persia BoB (2)
Persia     (3)
Prussia & Prince Edward Island [Penrhyn Ilands] (5)   
Paraguay (3) 
Papua New Guinea (4)
Orange River Colony (3)
Panama    (2)
Straits Settlement (3)
Surinam     (3)
Swaziland (2)
Switzerland BoB     (2)
Switzerland (5)

Thirty-one different bidders placed fifty-one bids that were at least 50% of the eventual selling price. There were only five lots where there were only two bidders above the 50% mark. All the rest had between three and five bidders.

Twelve different bidders won these lots. So even though two persons bid on at least five lots and were the high bidders on three, there was still plenty of opportunity for others.

While I admit my analysis of the above is still anecdotal,  I do believe the results suggest that even without irrational exuberance, the collection would easily have sold for $18K, still a record.

My two cents reinforced by this auction:
—selling by country or small groups of countries widens the appeal beyond worldwide collectors;
—taking the time to make quality scans of all pages pays off;
—clean collections show well and encourage higher bids (i.e., no stamps fallen off their hinges and laying in the margins, no stamps that aren’t relevant to the page, etc.);
—traditional auction houses generally do not do a good job selling large Big Blue collections: too few, if any scans, no accurate estimate of number of stamps or percentage completeness, no estimates of total catalog value, etc. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a big auction house even indicate the edition. All Blue Internationals are the same to them. From what I've read, these houses assume that serious bidders will be present or have an agent to personally examine the album.
—$35K is probably above the cost of the original owner to build the collection. Even if a similar collection in the future only realizes half that, I imagine it doesn't change that a savy collector could still hope to regain a significant amount of the cost to complete a Blue Volume One.