Max Stern

Max Stern
(1921 - 2016)

Max Stern was still going into his stamp shop and offices in the Port Phillip Arcade in Melbourne, Australia when he became a nonagenerian and gave up playing soccer professionally—the oldest registered player in the southern hemisphere—not long before that. He died two weeks short of his 95th birthday for which the Australian Philatelic Traders Association was preparing a big party.

If he was an odd sportsman to encounter on the soccer field he was in many ways not your popular conception of a stamp dealer either. He was highly entrepreneurial and his philately was not of the scholarly kind. His knack was sourcing material and placing it in the right spot. While keeping his eye on the bottom line he was not your introverted accountant type. He had been a member of the American Stamp Dealers Association since 1948.

While old bones are not unusual in the stamp industry—another eminent stamp dealer Ken Baker died at 104 only a month ago—he survived/escaped the evil of Auschwitz—but still ended up losing most of his family. His luck was being in the right place at the right time—and the big stakes which paid off at the casino.

He owed a lot to stamps including possibly his life. Sales of stamps to a German officer helped secure his continued freedom. He has shared the story with the world in his book The Max Factor: My Life as a Stamp Dealer, which is a good yarn for an industry where men spend much of their time slumped over a table fiddling with the tiny bits of paper with magnifying glasses and stamp tongs. Sales of stamps to neutral countries from his native Slovakia during the World War II to raise foreign exchange brought him small mercies.

Stern owes his place in the history of global collectibles largely through the stature he earned in the stamp trade as the Australian agent for the post offices of the world from the largest, such as the UK, to small independent territories, some of which relied upon them for economic viability. He was a bulk buyer and distributor persuading big companies to give away postage stamps as promotions. He surprised himself when he discovered the size of the cheques paid out for the stamps given away for the kids at Ampol service stations in the 1960s. He endorsed and managed that program.

Max had a long lasting happy marriage to Elva, establishing a family in post war Europe. She helped out in the business from their early days, putting stamps into cellophane packets and more. His family spanned four generations and for a whole year when she was in hospital he took his work in there and stayed from dawn to dusk. He is survived by two daughters, Judy and Ruth while the business is now being run by his son-in-law Sam Siegel.

[Writeup on our good friend and member Max Stern from Terry Ingram of Australia’s Antiques Reporter.]