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Mayfair is part of the Scholium Group Plc, an AIM listed company who specialise in Rare Books, Works on Paper and other Fine Arts.

MPA is currently seeking collections and fine single items for our forthcoming auctions, so please, get in touch if you would like to find out more about selling or consigning your collection.



And thus we boldly go into the third decade* of a new(ish) millennium. I recall as a kid in the early 1960s trying to imagine the year 2000 and what it might be like. So far in the future. I would have reached the incredibly old age of 47. Would we be flying round in helicopters? Perhaps living on the moon? Two shillings (10p) a week pocket money was wealth beyond the dreams of avarice. No “England Winners” stamp. Brexit was Brentry: UK politics was polarising over whether to join the EEC or not (the UK wouldn’t actually join for another 10 years). It was literally a different world. I’d quite like to live on the moon. All that green cheese. (* OK. There was no year zero, so technically the 3rd decade doesn’t begin till next year.)

Our little granddaughter Mia will be two in February. She can claim to be a Stampex baby, having been born to the (then) Stampex secretary during Spring Stampex 2018. The little one is now fully mobile and insatiably inquisitive. I’ve placed a standing order for a regular supply of 6-inch nails to help keep things in place. We won’t be able to let her loose on stamps in quite the same way we did with her mother. When mummy was small, part of our business was in stamp mixtures. One of the garden sheds (Fred, not Ted, Ed or Ned) was designated as the Mixing Shed. She and her friends used to love going in there to wallow in a large pile of stamps something like 2ft deep and to throw them about every which way. Since the point was to mix them up as best we could, it suited me down to the ground and they could make as much mess as they liked. Try it in your living room, some time. Use a leaf blower for added effect. That’s the other end of the stamp market from mint blocks of Penny Blacks.

Were there ever any rarities to be found in those mixtures? The odds are strongly against it. Common stamps are common and rare ones rare. Any lot of 10,000 random stamps is statistically unlikely to be full of goodies. That said, several finds were reported. At one point we had something in the order of 8 tonnes of mixture in stock -minimum one hundred million stamps – and I assure you that no attempt was ever made to sort them. Quite the opposite. They were bought, mixed together, weighed and bagged. That was it.

You may be knee-deep in something else when you read this. Snow. Not those living in the southern hemisphere, of course, for whom it is now high summer, but the rest of us who are staring at statistically the worst three months of the year. The Huffington Post, a seemingly unavoidable adjunct to our family AOL (e-mail) account and über-dependable archangel of doom and gloom, has been predicting the coldest, snowiest winter since … well, last year when I seem to recall it also predicting the coldest, snowiest winter ever. As it turned out, last winter ended up being one of the mildest, at least from a London-centric point of view. If your house is surrounded by white stuff and you can’t get out to the pub you could use the time rewardingly by sending us a few bids. (Note the clunky segue into cheap commercialism.) The simplest of emails* will do the trick. When it comes to doing business, we are incredibly open minded and won’t knowingly place any impediment in your path. (* God bless you Microsoft Word – auto-corrected “of emails” to” females” Echoes of the great Gerard Hoffnung and his “there is a French widow in every bedroom”.)

On the subject of dark days, the UK is set to have a general election on the 12th December. At the time of writing mid December is still a week or two away, so the result is unknown. If you believe in omens, here are two: the 12th is the date of the earliest sunset in London (15.51) and the next day is Friday 13th. Surely have to be a metaphor for something? The single issue of Brexit dominates, though whatever happens, the UK will still be an EU member when this sale takes place on the 23rd. On a day-to-day level that means it’s all “as you were” with terms and conditions.

At the beginning of May London hosts the big international stamp show of the year. There’s one such animal every year somewhere in the world and when the year ends in a zero (1980, 1990, 2000, 2010, 2020) it’s London’s turn. It is being held at the Business Design Centre in Islington, the same venue as for Stampex. Consequently, there is not a Spring Stampex in 2020. The autumn one goes ahead in September as usual. Team Mayfair will be on the stand, though not all of us every day. If you suffer from the strange need to meet with Tim Francis, best to check nearer the time if he will be there that day. Or try a 10-minute cold shower instead.

Professionally, I’ve never dome anything other than stamps. Never really wanted to, either. I’m quite good at eating, but I’ve never found anywhere looking for eaters, so that germ of a Plan B never took root (still, please do keep me in mind). When I first started back in the early 1970’s (or late 1960’s if active trading whilst still at school counts?) the philatelic market was a totally different place. There was a huge market in mixtures and kilowares, stamp packets and the like. There were at least five major wholesalers of new issues in the UK alone and there were lively debates about whether “unmounted” mint was here to stay, or whether it was just a short-term fashion blown in from the Continent. To keep a stamp business afloat, one has to go with the flow. If people want blue stamps, no point in having the world’s best stock of red ones. Stamp shops are now something of a rarity. Apparently there used to be something like 100 in the Strand area of London alone (now only two I can think of). Those businesses predominantly went mail order only and more recently many have morphed further to become internet-only based. From the trade side of the counter, economics plays a big part; sorting and selling stamps one by one is labour intensive and even with a minimum price of £1, it’s nigh-on impossible to work fast enough to stay in business - without also selling higher priced material - what with overheads, minimum wages, Vat and other taxes to pay. That’s not to make any political point; it’s a simple statement of fact. 

To fill those cheaper gaps, it’s worth thinking about using a stamp approvals service. It’s a market concept that’s over 100 years old, not much changed in that time and none the worse for it. In the 1960/70s era approval services were predominantly down-market and offered little but the cheapest “juvenile” stamps and colourful cto pictorials. The ones that are still going today are more upmarket in their approach and are probably a collector’s best bet for gap filling. Try the PTS website for details of suitable dealers (www.thepts.net).

If you’re like me and of a certain age plus mark-up (y pico [and a little bit more] as they say in Spanish) then you may remember television in the 1960s. 2 Channels, black and white only broadcasts for barely a few hours a day, with lousy programmes and worse reception. Of a Saturday evening, we’d watch Match of the Day. One game only. Take it or leave it. The BBC had an unerring knack of picking the day’s one and only 0-0 draw. Not that it mattered too much; red strips and blue strips look much the same in black in white. And by 10 in the evening the signal was usually so poor anyway that the picture resembled the view from the porthole of a cross-Channel ferry on a wet and windy late November afternoon, whilst the commentary regularly broke into Swahili, or Martian. Received pronunciation, of course. It was in the middle of one such bore-fest that the topic of a signal booster arose. My father scuppered the idea by pointing out that any widget needing a whole page of eulogy to explain its usefulness probably isn’t that useful after all. The acquisition of a left-handed, multi-speed, dwyl-flunking nurdle extractor probably seems of life-or-death urgency viewed through the prism of a Sky TV afternoon shopping channel. Yet, when unboxed “self-assembled” and played with the once, it will end up holding hands with the fondue set at the back of a shelf, gathering dust and credit card interest in equal measure.

Adverts are intended to help you “decide” that you do, in fact, need one of these life-unchanging extravagances. No one spends countless thousands of pounds on publicity other than to push you in their direction. Here’s a 16-point guide as to why our way is the best way to do things our way. There’s a Latin phrase cui bono, which roughly means, “who benefits.” It’s a good test to apply to anything. Often it’s just a case of an incomplete narrative: the truth and nothing but the truth (except not necessarily the whole truth). Car adverts highlight that a given model has the best this, that and third thing, yet make no mention of the fourth, fifth and sixth things, where it is eclipsed by its rivals. Is pricing something at 80p, instead of £1 a 20% discount, or would it be fair to say that the £1 price is 25% higher? Both are mathematically correct. Comments such our milk shakes don’t contain any engine oil are designed simply to make you wonder whose might. Our stamps are not coated with Strontium 90, by the way.

Peter, our group accountant, tells me I should devote less space to waffle and more to flogging stamps. He is wise and knows these things, so I shall comply. Of the 6,000 lots in this sale, slightly shy of 5,000 of them are being offered for the first time. Of the lots that belong to Mayfair, the bulk of the non-GB comes from one of two retiring dealers’ stocks we bought and have broken down. Our estimates average 78% of those dealers’ selling prices – an immediate equivalent saving of 22% – whilst reserves are lower still, typically about 85% of estimate – equal to a very worthwhile saving of 33%.  Immediately, now and straightaway, no coupons, no points and no credits. 

Rick Warren