Analysis

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Shanahan Stamp Auctions

Rory Egan

Published 19/11/2006 | 00:11

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THE reason we were told fairy tales at our mother's knee was not just to keep us quiet. Our parents chose each story carefully, making sure there was a moral to every tale. It's a pity we don't heed them more often.

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Take, for example, the unfortunate affair of Shanahan Stamp Auctions. Once upon a time, back in 1954, a man named Paul Singer decided to make his fortune in Ireland after his business collapsed in the UK. He approached a reputable family auction house run by the Shanahan family and persuaded them to join him in a new venture: buying and selling stamp collections.

On the face of it, Singer's plan was sound. His idea was to buy up a number of eclectic stamp collections, sort the various stamps into countries or 'First Day of Issue' albums and sell these specialist collections at a profit. He appealed to the 'Money in Grandma's Attic' in all of us by telling the Irish public that there was an insatiable appetite for the old Irish Free State stamps. But the smoke and mirrors really began when he encouraged the general public to invest as little as £10 in one of his syndicates, which he practically guaranteed would make huge returns.

One must remember that in those days the only way to make a fortune was to inherit or win the Sweepstakes. All of a sudden syndicates were buying stamp collections and selling them months later for profits of 20 or 30 per cent. It was possible to double your money inside a few years. People invested their life savings and for a while it seemed to be too good to be true. And it was. The truth was that most stamps sold at Shanahan's were bought by other syndicates run by Singer.

On May 9, 1959, a mysterious robbery occurred in Shanahan's, with over £300,000 worth of stamps stolen. All of a sudden, all the syndicates tried to cash out. Singer was arrested on fraud charges, but he was eventually freed on a technicality and promptly left the country.

Thousands of investors lost money, but the country learnt a lesson and we would never again allow ourselves invest in something that was so hyped up and inflated to unrealistic values. No, we're much smarter now - we put our money in property.

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