The earliest known New Zealand stamp collectors were active from the mid-1880s. The Philatelic Society of New Zealand began in Wellington in 1888. Societies also formed in Dunedin (1891), Blenheim (1894) and Auckland (1895). Stamp collecting was popular with children and adult men especially from the 1930s, while women have generally been less avid collectors.
Collectors bought and sold from each other and from dealers, and also swapped stamps. Some people collect by theme, others by country, and the serious collectors by rarity or value. First day covers are also collected – these are stamped envelopes postmarked on the first day that the stamps are issued. In the 2000s stamp collecting was less popular with children than it had been in the previous century.
A 1906 one-penny claret
One of the rarest New Zealand stamps is the 1906 New Zealand Exhibition Christchurch ‘one-penny claret’ stamp. It was originally printed with deep claret-coloured ink, which the exhibition committee deemed to be too dark. It was reprinted in a brighter vermilion red and all the claret stamps were destroyed, except one sheet, which somehow entered into circulation. In 1993 an envelope containing three of the claret stamps sold at auction for $44,000.
Stamp value is firstly determined by the rarity of the stamp, and then by the individual stamp’s quality. Because of the economic depression of the 1930s, the 1931 health stamp issue only sold 74,802 of the one penny and 111,929 of the twopenny stamps. The 1935 health stamp sold 1,275,057 – this largely explains why pre-1935 health stamps are more valuable.
Through the 1970s speculators drove up the price of rare stamps. Prices declined or held steady over the 1980s, before rising again in the 1990s and 2000s. As an investment, it is only rare stamps in fine condition that appreciate greatly in value. One of the most expensive stamps sold in New Zealand was a 1903 fourpence ‘Taupō’ stamp in which the centre was inverted. It was bought by New Zealand Post as an investment in 1998 for $125,000. There is only one known example. The highest price paid for a New Zealand stamp was $185,000 for an 1855 one-penny full-face queen, which was sold in 2006 by Sotheby’s in London.
New Zealand’s first commemorative stamps printed for the New Zealand Exhibition in Christchurch in 1906 raised the ire of the editor of London’s Gibbons Stamp Weekly. He felt it was ‘impossible to congratulate either artist, engraver, or printer on such shoddy work, nor the pettifogging Government that stoops to this sort of postal buffoonery.’1
The first New Zealand stamp dealer, Wilcox Smith and Company, began in Auckland in 1871 and was sold to Dunedin interests in 1883. It was the largest stamp firm in the country for decades. In 1965 Christchurch dealer Laurie Franks bought the firm and its 3.5 tonnes of stock. The stamp world was staggered at the price of $68,000 ($2.4 million in 2010 terms). Two of the previous Dunedin owners – William Hooper and then George Kitchin – had been hoarders. Within a year the company had paid off its borrowings and 20 years later still held some stock.
Pim & Co was established in Auckland around 1935 by Frank Walrond. In 1947 it employed 23 full-time staff and six part-timers, making it the largest stamp dealer in the southern hemisphere. Campbell Patterson was the editor of the company’s highly successful catalogues. He left Pim & Co in 1949 to set up his own firm. ‘CP’, as he was known, even did work for Stanley Gibbons, the leading international stamp company, in the 1960s and was awarded an MBE in 1979 for his contribution to philately.
In 1968 there were only 10 full-time stamp shops; import licensing introduced in the late 1950s had hit dealers hard with restrictions on importing stamps and stamp accoutrements. Within a year of de-licensing in 1968 the number of shops doubled, and in 1969 the New Zealand Stamp Dealers Association was formed.
Initially, dealers sold most stamps through postal orders. Since the advent of the internet, selling stamps online became more common. Mowbray Collectables of Ōtaki, New Zealand’s largest dealer, has been a publicly listed company since 2001.