by Glen Stephens
The just completed "Australia 99" World Stamp Expo was easily the biggest most successful stamp show ever held in the southern hemisphere. I have yet to hear from one person who can nominate a show anywhere in the WORLD to have been as successful and friendly on all fronts.
Any reader of this article who meant to go, or forgot to go, will be annoyed with themselves for quite a time. It was an event that will probably never be duplicated in your lifetime.
I spent my time "walking the floor" and taking hundreds of photos of pretty near everything that moved. Everyone I spoke to at dinners, booths, and functions said it was the best show they have ever attended. These were often hardened dealers and officials who had "seen it all" over 40 years.
Any other big show I've been to you hear lots of complaints. This is human nature and almost inevitable when you involve 100s of dealers and tens of thousands of people. Not so with "Australia 99". People at every level just kept saying: "this is a very friendly, very efficient, very well organised show in every respect."
The show, which ran from March 19-24, attracted about 100,000 visitors, who spent up big with about 180 trade standholders. Many experienced dealers had fantastic results. Michael Eastick from Melbourne is a show junkie, and takes a booth at big shows all over the world. He is doing shows in Dallas, Texas and London as this is written. Michael knows what figures a good show should bring him. He told me he tripled this most optimistic budget at "Australia 99."
Michael said: "Australia Post did a sensational job on this show, and I really can't think of one tiny thing they could have done to improve the venue, the facilities, the running of the show, or the size of the crowds. Let this show be an object lesson to both Royal Mail in the UK and to the USPS."
Renniks/Lighthouse were equally enthusiastic. Managing Director Alan Pitt had not only the Lighthouse accessories stand, but one for Stanley Gibbons Publications as well. "We have never seen sales like we did at this show," Alan told me. "We went down with a large semi-trailer full of stock, and I nearly could have flown back with what we had left unsold, in my briefcase. A brilliantly organised event from start to finish."
Held in Melbourne, the sunny weather attracted thousands of visitors from the USA and Europe. The nice weather combined with the dirt cheap airfares from the USA and Europe tempted a lot of foreign visitors to make the long journey "Down Under." March is always airline "low season" for overseas travelers.
I hope not too many of these visitors dealt with the official travel agent for the show, CTS Events, who from my limited experience with them were quite hopeless, and my own movements were quoted at a great deal more than they should been have due to their alleged "expertise." They were the only weak link I encountered in the entire organisational structure.
As a direct comparison, "Pacific 97" in San Francisco attracted a similar number of visitors, but that 11 day show ran nearly twice as long as the 6 day "Australia 99." I attended both these mega events, and the shorter show really is the way to go for everybody concerned.
Stanley Gibbons (Australia) Pty Ltd was the "official" auctioneer to "Australia 99" and paid a very substantial sum to be accorded that distinction. This seems to have paid off, as they then smashed Rod's short lived Australian auction record in the afternoon with a sale realising about $1.57 million.
This shows just HOW strong the stamp market is at present. Adding in the Spink/Christies sale just after the Exhibition which included the Professor Bombieri Tasmania stamps, these 3 sales alone took some $4,500,000 from collectors, and yet this did not seem to affect the dealer takings at the show at all.
Due to the weak Australian currency, prominent US based dealers like Greg Manning Inc. and Colonial Stamp Company flew out representatives who bought up heavily at these auctions. So did British and European firms. Prices were strong - Management of both these US companies told me the realisations were often above what one would achieve in the USA, when the dollar amounts were converted.
OPENED BY GOVERNOR GENERAL
The Expo was opened on March 19th by the Governor General Of Australia, Sir William Deane. He was followed on stage Dr. Ed Druce, head of the APF, and then by Mr. Graeme John, Managing Director of Australia Post.
Sir William was presented with a sheet of the new Australia Post world first - "Your Photo On A Stamp" issue. The impending issue of these stamps had been a VERY closely guarded secret within Australia until their March 19th issue date. Australasian Stamps was the very first monthly magazine anywhere in the world to report on and illustrate this unique new innovation, in its April issue.
Also receiving a sheet of the personalised stamps was the Prime Minister of Australia, and the Premier of Victoria. The Premier visited the show on Saturday March 20, and was, I understand, overheard to ask David Maiden, head of Australia Post Philatelic, why such a huge show could not be held each year!
Victoria premier Jeff Kennett was impressed with the sheer size and scope of the show, and like all good politicians felt it would be good for State Tourism to run it each year, following as it did, a week after the popular Grand Prix Formula One motor race. David Maiden's response is not known. I suspect everyone at Australia Post wants to have a long break, and not think about stamp shows for QUITE a while!
"Australia 99" was held in the vast Melbourne Exhibition Centre on the banks of the Yarra River in downtown Melbourne. The historic rope rigged wooden sailing ship the "Polly Woodside" is moored outside, and was the site of one of the evening cocktail parties for trade guests.
The "Polly Woodside" was depicted on the 45c domestic letter rate stamp issued for the show, and some of the special joint issue souvenir sheets with other countries such as Ireland. The same ship was featured on all the "personal photo" stamps.
"Australia 99" had a strong Maritime theme. Dealer stands were in oddly shaped "boats", each with huge canvas sails. Each boat had a pointed fore and aft end, and six stands were housed in each such "boat." A tremendous look, and what a visual change to normal trade shows.
These "boats" radiated like a fleet at sea from a central point, the entry doors. This created a novel feel to the hall, and not the familiar "grid" layout used for "Pacific 97" and most other large shows. Large companies taking "Super Booths" such as Max Stern, IGPC from New York, and the Stanley Gibbons group, thus had six stands in their own "boat."
The hall was simply enormous -- more like a small town than an Exhibition Hall. There were pockets that I did not reach despite 4 or 5 days of walking around pretty well most of the time, from opening until close.
The collectors who were filling up the "Philatelic Passports" had a real marathon. It must have meant walking miles to complete them! I gather it cost about $100 to complete this "Passport" and plenty of people seemed to be out there doing it. Some had 5 or 10 clutched in their fists. This was the most heavily policed show on Earth about what went into the passports. No Railway Cinderellas, and no rip-off non-existent "countries" were permitted. Penalty - instant confiscation of stamps. It worked.
COURT OF HONOUR
The Court of Honour had collections from three Royals, and from one very much non-royal but nonetheless "Queenlike" identity. Extensive material of course was on display from the unsurpassed Australian collection of her majesty Queen Elizabeth II. The Thai Royal family and Prince Rainier of Monaco collections also were represented in the same room.
The surprise addition to this trio was a basically philatelically worthless childhood collection that was formed by Freddie Mercury. Best known for his role as lead singer of the heavy rock band Queen, the late Freddie Mercury was a keen stamp collector in his youth. He later died of the AIDS disease. I would pay probably $20 if you bought this album to me to sell.
The "provenance" is everything of course. Mercury's childhood stamp album was auctioned in the UK for about £3000 and was purchased by the National Postal Museum in London. I was astounded to note on the three times I entered the Court of Honor that more people were studying the $20 Mercury childhood album, than the priceless gems in the Queen Elizabeth collection situated only feet away.
This does illustrate that for stamp shows to be relevant into the next century, they must include material the general public wishes to see. Whether this is pop star stamp albums, or indeed the exhibit of "Titanic" material from the Smithsonian in Washington, which also drew larger crowds than the Royal Collections. So did the Diana Princess of Wales stand. Having Olympic stars like Dawn Fraser to launch the Olympic $1.20 issue is the same story. It involves the general public.
The presentation of the Prince Rainer material was a disgrace. Nowhere on the frames or anywhere surrounding them was there any indication whatever of whom the material belonged to. Seeing the written descriptions were in French, little wonder most people I observed walked right past.
The difference between "Australia 99" and an APS "STAMPSHOW" or an ASDA Mega Event in the USA, or a "STAMPEX" or TrevPex in the UK is simple: Australia Post ran this show. Make no mistake about that. Yes, there were representatives of the national collector and dealer bodies on the committee.
However the bulk of the committee were comprised of Australia Post Philatelic division employees. They controlled the money, the publicity, the trade booths, the whole organisation. And it worked just fine. Perfect, in fact. They had a group of employees working on this show for years it seems prior to its commencement. The volunteers for "Sydpex 80" and "Ausipex 84" had no such backup infrastructure. This showed.
Headed by David Maiden, the Australia Post team comprised experienced staffers like Danny della Bosca, who seemed to be simply everywhere (and had more mobile phones, pagers and beepers on his belt than Bill Clinton's bodyguard) Jo Monie, Robyn King, and with lots of help from a big back-up team. Dealer Paul Walker has great experience with the large ANDA shows, and Paul was always looking busy using his skills to smooth small problems.
ARMIES OF SCHOOLCHILDREN
Schoolchildren were organised to visit in large numbers on the weekdays via lengthy negotiations with the education authorities. All were given very generous "goodie bags" by Australia Post and other donors. I have no idea how many kids were there, but if you said 15,000 you'd get no argument from me! They were everywhere. Like a mice plague. Whether these free entries to children were included in the official attendance figures, I have no idea, but, boy, the organisers certainly did a great job of arranging them to be bussed in en-masse.
If only 5% of those children now takes a rudimentary interest in stamp collecting, the hobby will grow because of it. There were lots of things laid on for the children to do. A vast Internet centre. Pirate Pete's playground, the Perfin Pirate Ship and "Treasure Island." Popular TV figure Humphrey B. Bear made an entry one day. All terrific stuff for the future of the hobby. Many talk about involving children in stamps. This show did it, big time.
Yes, the organisers and Australia Post spent a fortune on TV ads, radio and newspaper ads, professional PR campaigns and the like, but it attracted around 100,000 people, nearly all of whom (probably excluding the children) paid an admission fee. That fee was $5 at the venue, or $2.50 if pre-purchased at a post office. The Australia Post mailing list for the "Stamp Bulletin" comprises some 500,000 persons. They did a special edition focusing entirely on "Australia 99", showing the special products, and the highlights of the show.
Let no one reading forget this point. If the post office makes a big dollar, they will back shows to the hilt, and everyone associated also basks in that success. A profit for the PO means they plough back a lot into making the show world class. Every official function was superb: Massive sit-down dinners in stunning venues for 700 people. Big bands, endless food and drink. This makes a superb impression on the overseas dealers, official guests and judges etc. Yes, this all costs money, and it will not be spent unless the issued exhibition material is a success with collectors.
400 IN LINE FOR "STAMP PHOTOS"
Australia Post made a substantial profit on the show. The lines of collectors to get their "photo on a stamp" stretched for 400 people much of the time. Most collectors took advantage of the five-sheet maximum costing $A50 to use on philatelic mail or season's greetings cards. I bought ten sheets. Clients have already offered to buy them off me, as they were not present. One cheekily wanted a large discount as it was my face on it, and not his! As the stamps were processed in about one minute, do the math for yourself. Huge dollars right there.
Australia Post had a quite massive "Mother Ship" in the centre of the Hall. There seemed to be dozens of cash registers, and often there looked to be lines of people 10 deep at each. Add to that the mail order follow up, via ads in magazines like this, and the Bulletin, and AP did fantastic turnover, and they deserve every dollar of it.
National Manager of Australia Post Philatelic is David Maiden. David told me today that the show was an unqualified success. Takings for his product were exceptional, and he was delighted. However, all large stamp dealers I spoke to said the same thing. David and his team represent the new face of Australia Post: Keen, savvy, and great "can do" merchants.
When they do things, they get done properly, with style and class and efficiency. When I think of some of the senior officials who held the posts of people like David Maiden and Danny della Bosca when I started in this industry, I shake my head in disbelief at the memory. Things have come a long way in 20 years, let's put it that way! Thank goodness.
I used as my base for much of the show the Australasian Stamps magazine booth. Staffers Narelle Hosford, Jennifer Sandilands, and Richard Breckon also helped out, along with Bill Harley, Murray Shannon, and Andrew McEachern and we were all were delighted by the response from collectors and the encouraging comments given to the way this magazine is now looking.
We took along 10,000 recent magazines to give away at "Australia 99." Pallet loads of them weighing several tons. I fully expected a few thousand would be left over, but better to have too many than too few. By Tuesday night all had gone, every single one, with one day still to go of the exhibition.
Most who took one had never before seen a glossy colour stamp magazine. They had no idea such things existed. These are among the 500,000 people on the Australia Post mailing list who call themselves "collectors" but in truth are hoarders of modern new issues. By giving away 10,000 magazines we will convert a percentage of them into serious stamp collectors. About 100 have signed up already from these giveaway copies. This is good for the future of the hobby, and for all those dealers who advertise in this magazine.
A huge printing press was actually printing the special Navigator souvenir sheets at the show in full colour and $1 Butterfly issues. Another special hand press allowed collectors to take these newly printed Navigator sheets and have them hand perforated on a small "one at a time" press.
This type of official item available in a pre-announced limited quantity creates excitement in the market, in much the same way the imperf Bugs Bunny pane did in the USA which sells now for $US100 ($A165). Remember that there were 118,000 of those "Bugs" panes, a lot more than 15,000 Navigator special perfins.
One evening I attended the reception for "World Stamp Expo 2000" slated for Anaheim, California, July 7-16. Dickey B. Rustin is a senior official with the USPS. (He took over in the show area from our USA columnist Les Winick in 1989) Rustin is also a director of "World Stamp Expo 2000." He has seen quite a few big shows in his time.
Rustin told me: "You guys just raised the bar of the high jump. To get the Gold Medal now, we all gotta jump a little bit higher."
That neatly summed up "Australia 99" I think. Everyone agreed it was the most friendly, well run large show they have ever attended. This came from dealers who have done shows for 40 years, from senior collectors, and even directors of upcoming major shows like Dickey Rustin. Roll on Anaheim!
Photos courtesy Australasian Stamps
Glen Stephens is a stamp dealer and philatelic journalist, based in Castlecrag, Sydney, Australia. For more information on contents, rates, all the $40 of FREE Mint stamps and how to enter a subscription to the superb Australasian Stamps glossy magazine, check the magazine icon on his website www.GlenStephens.com.
©1999 Glen Stephens