The hurried signatures of Johnny Depp and Madonna are like gold-dust to film buffs and music fans desperate for the autographs of their idols.
But they have also proved a godsend to Stanley Gibbons, the stamp collecting specialist, whose increased sales of celebrity merchandise have helped mitigate falling revenues from its core business of stamps.
Mr Depp and Madonna were the top-selling autographs of last year at Fraser’s Autographs, a division of Stanley Gibbons.
“Heath Ledger was also incredibly popular,” said Michael Hall, chief executive of Stanley Gibbons.
“This year at the moment, Al Pacino for some strange reason, is the most popular signature and Michael Jackson is also making a bit of a race up the chart.”
The company maintains a list of the 30 top-selling autographs in the world, which it updates monthly. It has also acquired the typewriter of hard-drinking Nobel prize-winning novelist Ernest Hemingway, and put it on sale for £125,000.
For the year ending in December, pre-tax profit fell 18 per cent to £3.7m on revenues that slipped 4 per cent to £19.4m, the first-time sales and profits have declined since 2000.
Earnings per share slid 2 per cent to 13.19p. The final dividend of 2.75p made for a full-year dividend of 4.75p, up 6 per cent on 2007.
Sales of autographs and non-stamp memorabilia rose 16 per cent over the course of the year.
However, because these sales only account for 14 per cent of group revenues, they were not enough to compensate for the drop in sales from the group’s core business of stamp sales and sales of books and magazines for collectors.
Mr Hall attributed the drop in sales to increased nervousness on the part of investors who – via the group’s Guernsey-based business – account for 30 per cent of total revenues.
“These would be people who would like to take out a £100,000 investment in stamps, and we produce a portfolio of rare stamps, offer it to them on a portfolio and then they go into a fixed-term contract to hold them for a period of five years,” Mr Hall said.
“They send us a cheque and then the next day they phone us and say ‘I’ve changed my mind’ …When the Icelandic banks went bust, we had a million pounds worth of cancellations in one day on orders we were working on.”
Shares in Stanley Gibbons closed up 5.1 per cent or 4½p at 93½p.