Reminiscences - Part XXXI
by Michael Rogers
Leo Scarlet, the former ASDA president who recently passed away, famously observed that dealers will purchase a collection every seven years that will change the course of their life. I’d become a China dealer with the Bateman acquisition in October 1982. December 1989 set into play a series of events that proved Leo clairvoyant!
Last week of December, Brayton Meyer Jr contacted me. My eyes opened wide because I recognized the name. His daddy wrote for the Asia Stamp Journal in Shanghai 1939-40. Brayton Jr offered me the chance to purchase his father’s collection. Not being a collector, Brayton Jr. couldn’t describe the contents beyond the number of albums. Still, I was hooked.
I fantasized about the collection. His father had money, opportunity and knowledge, the key ingredients for forming a wonderful collection. Shanghai was the hub of Chinese philately.
There was an immediacy to it. Another dealer was aware of the collection, so I needed to leave pretty quick. Problem was, Brayton Jr lived outside Buffalo N.Y., and this was the dead of winter. I had an ace up my sleeve, a new hire named Richard Ostlie. As he was a retired Army sergeant, I knew I could count on him getting me there. Guys like him thrive on a "Can Do" spirit—so we were going.
We flew to Buffalo, and of course! Gray clouds greeted us upon landing. The ground was covered with a light dusting of snow. We needed to drive to inspect the collection.
Wow—it was every bit as grand as I imagined. His passion was Chinese blocks—I still remember a stunning set of Large Surcharge on Small Dragon (Scott 75-7). China, smattering of Asia and U.S. On the top of over a thousand covers were two PRC North China 1938 Running Soldier tied to envelopes. These last, worth $600 then, would probably fetch over $10,000 today.
It’s a given that every old time China collection is going to be hinged—no problem there—but this one was stuck rock solid to the page. It was a wonderful collection but every unused block, either by gluing them or later on by exposing the collection to humidity and heat, were stuck down as if the stamps had become the page. What a disaster!
So what was the collection worth? The conundrum was figuring out a fair price to offer without knowing whether the stamps were glued down or simply stuck.
I pondered the numbers and offered $17,000. Brayton Jr was firm on $25,000. It was either walk away or write the check now. Glancing over to Rick, who was furiously shaking his head "No!" I thought about that $8,000 spread. It was both a profit margin if things worked out well and a cushion if the stamps were glued down and thus damaged. I wanted to know how things would work out so I agreed to his price. Brayton and I shook hands, then I did the paperwork, and handed him a check.
An aside here: What I didn’t do with Brayton was point out that the stamps were stuck, thereby reducing the value. That was my problem, not his. Since Brayton Jr wasn’t a collector, he wouldn’t have understood my concerns, other than make him feel bad.
We were greeted at the hotel with the unhappy news that, with an impending storm threat, we were stuck in Buffalo for the next three days. Without the pressure of having to make a decision, I rethought the collection, coming to the realization that maybe buying this one had been too big of a risk. The game shows and soap operas of daytime TV didn’t appeal so I chatted up some philatelic friends on the phone. Inevitably, the conversation came around to my $25,000 purchase.
Larry Gibson was over at Apfelbaum’s, the famous Philadelphia auction house. Confident and charismatic, Larry knows Chinese philately. He was amazed at both the description of the collection and that I was anxious.
I guess I piqued his curiosity for quite unexpectedly, Larry showed up at our hotel room the next morning, smiling wide, enveloping me in his arms. After a careful examination of the collection, Larry asked whether I would like to sell it.
The measure of this man’s character is reflected in the $45,000 offer he made. A vulture would have said $25,000, knowing it was what I’d paid, and that I was regretful. Larry said Apfelbaums had the talent who could remove the stamps from the pages. His money, his gamble.
As Larry packed up his purchase, I pointed out the pile of covers Rick and I had set out on a round table in one corner of the room. As Larry had not seen it, he graciously waved them off, saying they weren’t part of his purchase. Finally, the insecurity and second guessing were gone from my train of thought—buying that China collection and unexpectantly reselling it turned out rather well!
When Rick and I returned to Winter Park, I sat him down and cut him a bonus check for $1,000. He said he didn’t deserve it for he tried to warn me off from buying the collection. I wanted him to have the money, saying whoever accompanies me on a successful road trip benefits, because without his contribution, this might not have happened.
The Brayton Meyer collection was certainly a game changer for me. Because of Larry’s sense of honor in the way he handled this important transaction, I knew he was the one who I wanted as Vice President of Kelleher & Rogers in 1996. He guided my company well, leaving for another opportunity in mid 2002. Now Larry is the co-Chairman of Daniel F. Kelleher Auctions, LLC. An enduring relationship.
I knew better than to apply for a table to next year’s show. Is it any wonder that I have migraines?
This article is edited differently from the magazine version.
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