Search This Blog

Sunday 11 September 2011

Dr Ron Zelonka Ukraine: a million dollar collection

The bare facts are these: on 6 September, Corinphila of Zurich, offered Dr Ron Zelonka's Ukraine collection in 400 lots. It took five hours to sell, the pace slowed by competition for most lots. Start prices totalling just under 400 000 CHF turned into hammer prices of 900 000 CHF with only 10% of lots unsold. Many of those were bought immediately after the sale at the start prices. Add Corinphila's commission to the hammer prices and you have a sale comfortably in excess of a million US dollars.

The sale was important for Ukrainian philately in a number of ways.

Ron Zelonka's was probably the largest Ukraine collection ever formed. It was larger than Dr Seichter's since Zelonka bought Seichter's collection (it was unsold in a 1990s Swiss auction)and incorporated it into his own, except for some of the duplicated material which Ron Zelonka sold to me.

For a major international auction house to take on the Zelonka collection and offer it for sale, broken down into 400 lots, was a considerable risk. With no real precedents to rely on, it was simply not known if the buyers existed to absorb such a large offering at prices which were, at a minimum, sensible.

Of course, it was known that Carpatho-Ukraine is popular and likewise Western Ukraine. But it was also known that Tridents were not popular and the Tridents were central to the collection. And the collection was so big ...

The risk paid off for the auction house. From their perspective, to achieve in total over double your start prices with virtually everything sold is a good result when - as in this case - the total achieved is on the scale which you expect for an afternoon's work (see footnote *). And this has been achieved in a difficult economic climate and amidst uncertainty about currency exchange rates,

This auction will help boost Ukraine as a serious collecting area. There is now a respectable auction record for a single stamp (CHF 44 000 hammer for the rarest stamp of Western Ukraine). There are also prices right through the auction results which begin to recognise just how rare are some of the stamps and postal history of Ukraine. Take a look at the Corinphila on-line auction catalogue while there is still a chance to see all the illustrations (many more than in the paper catalogue) along with the hammer prices.

There are still areas where collectors hesitate. For example, the sale contained some of the finest available examples of local Tridents on cover and, more often, transfer cards. Yet a superb Cernihiv transfer form (Lot 121) did not sell until after the auction and the splendid Konstantynohrad form (Lot 126) sold at the start price of 1000 CHF.

The auction catalogue tried to draw attention to the rich historical and political context of the available philatelic material. I wrote about 80% of the catalogue descriptions, and I wrote hoping it would encourage more collectors to think about putting together not only private collections but exhibits for national and international shows. If those exhibits start to appear in future years, some of the finest items will be marked "Ex Zelonka".

It remains to be seen whether the material just sold now reappears, broken down further, in other auction sales or whether it has gone straight into collections. It will also be interesting to see if other Ukraine collections now come on to the market, rather in the way that Zemstvos suddenly appeared after the successful 1999 Corinphila sale of Faberge's collection. But even if they do, I am sure they will not match the quality of the Zelonka collection

*Corinphila normally has one auction a year, lasting one week. That auction has to generate enough to cover the cost of everything, not only catalogues and publicity, but also the year-round operations of the company, including salaries of permanent staff.

Added February 2020: Most of my Ukraine-related Blog posts are now available in full colour book form. To find out more follow the link:

1 comment:

  1. I had no idea you were the chief lotter on this collection! Outstanding job, I felt the lotting was sensible and the starting prices realistic. The prices realized truly shocked me - never seen it before for Ukraine. Then again, has there ever been an auction for a collection like this? Will there ever be one again?