|Traded as||LSE: SGI|
|Headquarters||Jersey, Ringwood & London.|
|Michael Hall - Chief Executive|
The Stanley Gibbons Group plc is a company quoted on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM) of the London Stock Exchange and which specialises in the retailing of collectable postage stamps and similar products. The group is incorporated in Jersey but with offices in London, Ringwood in Hampshire and Guernsey. They have also recently opened new offices in Hong Kong and Singapore. The company is a major stamp dealer and philatelic publisher. The company's philatelic subsidiary, Stanley Gibbons Limited, has a royal warrant from Queen Elizabeth II.
History of the company
The business started when, employed as an assistant in his father's pharmacy shop in Plymouth, Gibbons set up a counter selling stamps. In 1863 he was fortunate enough to purchase from two sailors a sackful of rare Cape of Good Hope triangular stamps.
In 1891 a shop was opened at 435 Strand in addition to the Gower Street premises, and in 1893 the shop and offices were amalgamated at 391 The Strand where the company's retail premises remained for many years until they moved to 399 The Strand.
A new issue department was opened in 1906.
In 1956 the company celebrated its centenary with an exhibition at the Waldorf Hotel opened by Sir John Wilson. It is in that year that Queen Elizabeth II grants her Royal Warrant of Appointment to Stanley Gibbons Ltd as her philatelist.
In 1967 the firm expanded into the United States in a joint venture with Whitman Publishing. A magazine and catalogues were produced.
In 1968 the previously privately held Stanley Gibbons Limited was floated on the stock market through a tender arranged by S.G. Warburg & Co. Ltd. The offer was a huge success and was oversubscribed five times. The shares were sold at 20 shillings rather than the minimum tender price of 12 shillings and six pence. It was estimated that there were 30 to 35 sharesholders before the offer and they still owned 66% of the equity after the offer, worth at least £1.8 million before trading began. Prices subsequently slipped back, however, later in the year.
In 1977 Stanley Gibbons acquired the stock of the firm Chas Nissen, once run by the eminent stamp dealer and philatelist Charles Nissen.
In 1979 Gibbons was bought by Letraset for £19 million in an attempt to diversify away from their dry-lettering business, but the acquisition did not go smoothly and like Flying Flowers later, Letraset faced difficulties integrating Gibbons into its core business. The Chairman of Letraset blamed "indiscriminate expansion" and "imprudent" investment decisions for the problems at Gibbons and was quoted in The Times as saying "We significantly overpaid for what we got." The US$10 million paid by Gibbons for the Marc Haas collection was also questioned.
In 1981 Letraset was taken over by Esselte after Esselte fought a takeover battle with Mills & Allen International for the company. Letraset had been fatally weakened by losses sustained in its Stanley Gibbons subsidiary. Later the same year Gibbons was put up for sale by Esselte as they said it did not form a logical part of their long-term development.
In 1981 Gibbons bought the stock of the late H.F. Johnson.
In 1982 Clive Feigenbaum staged a management buy-out followed by an application in 1984 for a listing on the UK's Unlisted Securities Market in order to raise funds for new acquisitions. Following the buy-out, Feigenbaum, the Chairman, had owned over 50% of the shares with the others owned by the rest of the board. The listing went ahead but the shares were suspended within moments of their debut even before trading had begun, following concerns about Feigenbaum's background highlighted in an article in the Sunday Times. The suspension was said to be the fastest on record at that time. The concerns had surrounded Feignebaum's expulsion from the Philatelic Traders Society for breaching their code of ethics and his sale of "23 carat gold" stamps of no postal validity from the island of Staffa. U.S. government tests had shown the stamps, sold at £10 each, to have a gold value of about 5c each. The debacle was said to have caused considerable embarrassment, not just to the company but also to its USM brokers Simon & Coates. Shortly afterwards, Feigenbaum resigned as Chairman and was bought out by a consortium of institutions and individuals for £3 million. A further attempt at a listing was planned for 1985 but did not go ahead.
In June 1998 the company was sold for £13.5 million to Flying Flowers. Paul Fraser took shares in Flying Flowers instead of cash and was left with an 8% stake in the enlarged company following the deal. The merger was not a success and in 2000 the two companies were demerged again after a series of profits warnings and trading problems. Paul Fraser's stake was reduced in value from £13.5 million to £4 million. The de-merged Stanley Gibbons became Communitie.com and was listed on AIM. The chairman of Flying Flowers was quoted as saying the deal "...was at the wrong price and at the wrong time."
In August 2007, Paul Fraser resigned as Executive Chairman and in April 2008 he sold his remaining shares to focus on Paul Fraser Collectibles. Bob Henkhuzens became Interim Chairman and the current Chairman is David Bralsford who works in a non-executive capacity. The company is currently led by Mike Hall as Chief Executive. On 20 September 2010 the company announced it had acquired the trade and assets of the Benham first day cover and collectibles business from Flying Brands Limited.
The first Stanley Gibbons stamp catalogue was a penny price list issued in November 1865 and reissued at monthly intervals for the next 14 years. The company produces numerous catalogues covering different countries, regions and specialisms; many of them are reissued annually. The catalogues list all known adhesive postage stamp issues and include prices for used and unused stamps.
Unlike other dealers' catalogues, Stanley Gibbons state that their catalogue is a retail price list. In other words, if they had that exact stamp in stock in the exact condition specified, the current catalogue price is the price that they would charge for it. This contrasts with most other catalogues which are produced by firms that do not sell stamps and therefore base their pricing on an average of market values in the country where the catalogue is published.
In practice, the actual price charged by Stanley Gibbons for an individual stamp may be different from the catalogue price because the specimen for sale is of a different grade, the market conditions have changed since the catalogue was produced, the firm has a plentiful or restricted supply of that stamp, or for a variety of other reasons.
Gibbons Stamp Monthly is a magazine that lists new issues and publishes articles of interest to philatelists. Gibbons have published a number of journals over the years but only settled on Gibbons Stamp Monthly as their core magazine in 1927. On 23 January 2009, Gibbons acquired the philatelic trade magazine The Philatelic Exporter from Heritage Studios Limited.
Retail stamp business
As well as publishing, Stanley Gibbons is a stamp dealer with a retail business located on the Strand in their Central London offices offering both older stamps and new issues and fulfilling customer want lists. They produce their own line of other philatelic products, such as albums, stock books, and other accessories.
The company is also a philatelic auction house and has held thousands of international sales since it was established in 1901.
Since around 2000 the company has actively offered stamps as investments and has set up a special office in Guernsey for this activity. The company had offered a similar service in the early 1970s on a small scale. Sales of investment products have been strong in Asia and the Middle East and through the company's email database, however, sales in the United Kingdom have been hampered by the fact that the company's philatelic investment products are not regulated by the UK Financial Services Authority and therefore UK financial institutions and financial advisers have been reluctant to recommend the products as investors would not enjoy the same level of protection they receive when investing in regulated products. Gibbons have stated that they intend to launch a regulated investment fund in order to overcome this obstacle.
As recently as 2002 the company's attitude to philatelic investment was that stamps were purely a hobby. Many in the stamp business still had unpleasant memories of the excesses of the 1970s bubble.
Some financial advisers and stamp dealers have doubted the wisdom of investing in stamps due to the relatively high prices charged by Stanley Gibbons compared to other dealers and the experience of the 1970s when many investors lost out after a speculative bubble in stamps burst. The relatively high initial costs have also provoked comment, estimated at not less than 20% compared with less than 5% for many retail mutual fund type investments. Gibbons have responded by emphasising the high quality of their items and the long-term nature of their investment proposition.
In 2007 financial news website Bloomberg announced it would publish the SG100 Stamp Price Index, an index based upon retail and auction prices for the top 100 most frequently traded stamps in the world.
In 2008 a complaint was made to the UK Advertising Standards Authority that the guarantees offered by Gibbons in the advertising for their investment products could not be substantiated. After investigation the complaint was not upheld, as no portfolios had yet reached their maturity.
The company's accounting year ends on 31 December and in the year ended 31 December 2009 it had total sales of over £23.4 million and a profit before tax of over £4.1 million.
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- "75 Years of Gibbons Stamp Monthly" by Michael Briggs in Gibbons Stamp Monthly, October 2002, pp.77-81.
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- "Fraser's Autographs - About Us". www.frasersautographs.com. Retrieved 2009-07-07.
- "Stanley Gibbons Group Ltd. Audited Results for the year ended 31 December 2009." (PDF). 2009-03-20. Retrieved 2010-09-29.
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