Sunday, March 28, 2010

Stamp Investment Tip: Mahatma Gandhi Topicals

The stamp market is heating up in India, and as vast numbers of upwardly mobile Indian converts to the insidious cult of Philately enter the fold, their focus has been on topicals. It should come as no surprise that among the most popular topicals in India are stamps featuring Gandhi.
As all of the Gandhi stamps issued throughout the world are modern, the vast majority of them are still extremely inexpensive - two major exceptions to this being India's 1948 Mourning set (Scott #203-06) and the accompanying set of overprinted officials (Scott #O112A-12D) , both of which I tipped on September 16th of last year.

However, Gandhi topicals have been so hyped recently that minor, unlisted errors (commonly known as "freaks"), which only a few years ago might have brought only slight premiums over the prices of the normal stamps, have sold for absurdly high prices. Normally, I'd consider such sensational "lemmings-to-the-sea" type of behavior to be a sign of a stamp market bubble for the issues affected, similar to the short-lived mania for Lady Diana issues following her tragic death.

In my opinion, this situation is somewhat different, because the future of philately in India is very bright indeed, and because the topic is Gandhi, who many Indians view as being like Washington, Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Jesus rolled into one.

However, it often pays to hedge one's bets, and in this kind of situation, a good stampselector
will survey the relevant issues in order to determine which seem the most undervalued. Such stamps will soar if the speculation pays off, and will hold up better than the frothier items if the bottom falls out of the market.
As yet, I've found two issues that I particularly like. Both commemorate the Centenary of Gandhi's Birth.

In 1969, Hungary issued a normal, perforated stamp picturing the Mahatma (Scott #2005 ; 582,000 issued; Scott '10 Cv= $ 1.25 for unused) which I am not recommending, along with an imperforate version of the same design (Scott #2005Note; 6,500 issued; $ 8.00 for unused or used), which I am. Hungary has issued relatively low quantities of imperforate versions of many of its stamps. As the imperforates were produced solely to generate foreign exchange by milking collectors, they were held in contempt until the fall of the Iron Curtain and the resurrection of capitalism in Hungary. The normal, perforated stamp might do well, but the imperf represents a far better value. When purchasing the Gandhi imperf, the buyer should be somewhat careful, because since the common, perforated stamp has wide margins, its perfs could be trimmed off by an unscrupulous seller in order to make it appear imperforate. Probably the safest way to buy the imperf is to buy it in pairs or blocks, or tied to a First Day Cover. As many dealers are still unaware of the Gandhi craze, you may stumble upon such a cover in a dealer's dollar box.

In 1970, Cyprus issued about 188,000 sets of two stamps (Scott #338-39) which Scott '10 values at $ 1.00 for unused. It's certainly inexpensive enough to accumulate in large quantities, and enough sets are available to make it susceptible to market manipulation.
Attractively cacheted First Day Covers of Gandhi topicals are popular, so if you can locate FDCs for these issues at a slight premium, they're worth purchasing. Resist any temptation to pay astronomical prices for minor errors or "flyspeck" varieties.

(Note: the Hungarian Gandhi stamp pictured is the normal, perforated stamp; I could not locate an image of the imperforate version.)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Stamp Investment Tip: France - Offices in China

As with the other colonial powers smuggling opium into China, bribing corrupt officials, and generally making a mockery of Chinese sovereignty during the 19th and early 20th centuries, France maintained "spheres of influence" within China, and maintained post offices there. Initially, French stamps were overprinted "Chine" and used throughout the Middle Kingdom, but after the Boxer Rebellion (1898-1901), France also issued stamps for its post offices in various Chinese cities, overprinted with the city names.

Many, if not all, of the better foreign offices in China stamps are grossly undervalued, because most Chinese collectors disdain them as relics of foreign imperialism, which they are. Nevertheless, I feel that they are excellent investments solely on the basis of growing demand in their home countries, and because I believe that eventually, the Chinese will bid them up as well. Many of these issues are undervalued to such an extent that they are currently selling for less than P.R.C. souvenir sheets and Cultural Revolution sets which are at least 30 to 100 times more common. When reticence begins to replace rage, and perhaps 1/100th of a percent of the collectors in China start buying these issues, they will zoom upward at a rate that will shock and amaze the the vast majority of collectors who unwisely neglected to read this blog.

All better foreign offices in China stamps are overprints, and should be purchased conditional on expertization. I've listed a few of the France-Offices in China general issues below (along with printing quantities and Scott '10 Catalog Values for unused and used). I'll consider some of the stamps issued for the individual cities in future articles.

France- Offices in China:

- 1900 25c on 1fr Bronze Green on straw (Scott #13; 3,000; $125.- ,$75.- )
- 1901 2c on 25c Black on rose (Scott #14; 900; $1,000.- , $ 325.-)
- 1901 4c on 25c Black on rose (Scott #15; 600; $ 1,250.-,$ 450.-)
- 1901 6c on 25c Black on rose (Scott #16; 900; $1,000.- ,$ 375.-)
- 1901 16c on 25c Black on rose (Scott#17; 2,400;$ 300.-,$ 190.-)
- 1903 Handstamped Postage Dues (Scott #J7-30; Est. fewer than 2,000 of each; all are scarce to very rare- only known used; Scott '10 CVs range from $ 225.- to $ 2,250.- for used)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Stamp Investment Tip: Canada 1926 Provisional Surcharges (Scott #139-40)

In July of 1926, Canada reduced its domestic postal rate from 3c to 2c per ounce or fraction thereof, and the rate on letters to the United Kingdom and the British Empire from 4¢ to 3¢. At this time, the post office had in stock almost 130 million of the 3¢ Carmine Admiral stamps- enough to last for 25 years. A decision was made to surcharge the 3¢ Carmine by adding the overprint "2 cents" and to use the surcharged stamps to help meet the expected demand for 2c stamps. Two types of surcharged stamps were issued: single- and double-line (Scott #139 and 140), of which 50,000 and 103,500 were issued, respectively. Scott '10 values #139 at $ 60.00 for unused ($100.- for NH) and #140 at $ 30.- ($50.- for NH).

As an investment, I prefer #139, although it should be noted that there are also scarce surcharge varieties of both stamps, all of which are good. As with all overprints, there is the risk of fakery, necessitating expertization. While the surcharge varieties are all pricey enough to make expertization practical, #139 is not, unless, of course, it is purchased and submitted as a multiple, preferably as a block of 4 or more stamps.

With a population of about 31 million, Canada is one of the world's wealthiest countries, and one of the world's top ten trading nations. GDP growth has averaged 2.2% over the past five years, which takes into account the 0% growth of 2009 due to the global financial crisis. Canada's population is expected to age significantly over the next decades, thereby bolstering its population of serious collectors. Canadians over 60 are projected to increase from 16.7% of the population in 2000 to 27.9% in 2025, and 30.5% in 2050. Consequently, in the future, many more Canadians will be spending time working on their stamp collections on cold winter days.

Those readers who are on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Ebay are welcome to join the newly created "StampSelectors" groups, which will focus on philatelic investment and the stamp market. To get to them, simply search "Groups" under "StampSelectors."

Monday, March 22, 2010

Phila-Trivia: New Zealand's Dangerous Teddy Bear

In 1996, New Zealand issued a two Children's Health Semi-postal stamps of the same design, picturing a child sitting in a vehicle holding a Teddy Bear (Scott #B154, B155). Unfortunately, the inclusion of the stuffed animal facing forwards indicated that the infant was improperly buckled in, rendering the stamp "dangerous" because of its potential influence. In New Zealand ,the law states that child car safety seats must face backwards - not forwards. The withdrawn design clearly shows the seat-belted Teddy Bear, hence the child capsule is also pointing forward, contravening New Zealand's child safety rules.

All but approximately 1,000 copies of #B154 and 500 of #B155 (the self-adhesive version) were withdrawn by the New Zealand Post, which then issued a new stamp (Scott #B151), picturing the child properly buckled in, sans Teddy Bear. Scott '10 values the perforated, gummed error stamp at $1,000.00 and the self-adhesive error at $1,750.00, making these not merely the most dangerous and illegal Teddy Bears ever created, but also the most expensive.

Incidentally, I believe these particular stamps will do more than "hold their stuffing" over time as investments. Teddy Bears on stamps have topical appeal, partly on their own and partly as a subgroup of Animal Topical collecting.

New Zealand is a modern, prosperous nation of about 4.3 million people, with a GDP of $115 billion. Over the last 10 years, annual GDP growth has averaged about 3%. The economy was hurt by the recent global financial crisis, and is beginning to recover. In 2005, the World Bank praised New Zealand as being the most business-friendly nation in the world. Stamps of New Zealand are collected both domestically and by British Commonwealth collectors worldwide . The nation has a stamp collecting demographic similar to Great Britain's, and the demand for better material should increase dramatically as population aging accelerates. The percentage of New Zealander's aged 60 and over will rise from 18% in 2009 to 29% in 2050.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Stamp Investment Tip: Brazil 1949 Ouro Fino Bicentenary Souvenir Sheet (Scott #687a)

Like Jim Cramer and many other investment analysts, I favor the "BRIC" countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China), but as a stampselector, my take on them is somewhat different. Certainly an investor should endeavor to profit from the economic growth of these countries by investing in mutual funds or by prudently picking stocks, but should he be familiar with stamps, then why not diversify into them as well? After all, unlike a publicly traded company, a stamp (or in this case, a souvenir sheet) can't be nationalized, lose its value due to mismanagement, fraud, dilution, or competition, or go bankrupt. In fact, a stamp's supply must either remain static or diminish over time, so in effect, all are subject to "stock buybacks" by the Fates or Father Time.

In 1949, Brazil issued a souvenir sheet picturing the Church of Sao Francisco de Paula, and commemorating the Bicentenary of the city of Ouro Fino (Scott #687a). Only 10,000 were issued, and Scott '10 values this religion topical at $62.50 for unused and $30.00 for used. As an added "bonus feature," the s/s was issued without gum, making preservation less of a headache. The '49 Church souvenir sheet is, in my opinion, grossly undervalued, and a likely candidate for hoarding and price manipulation in the not-too-distant future.

With 191 million people, Brazil is the largest economy in Latin America, and the world's eighth largest. Political and economic reforms have given the country a brighter future than it had in the bad old days of oligarchical dictatorship. The Brazilian economy is diverse, the country is aggressively investing in its future by generously funding technological research and education, and exports are booming. Annual GDP growth has averaged a little over 5% over the last 5 years.

There are a number of undervalued Brazilian issues with printing quantities of 10,000 to 100,000, some of which have topical appeal, and recommending them for accumulation seems a no-brainer. Brazil looks destined to become an economic superpower, and even if it mirrors the philatelically anemic U.S. and only one out of a thousand Brazilians become serious stamp collectors and one out of a fifty become "unserious" ones, they'll be competing for their nation's better stamps, only to find that the cupboard is bare.

Note: I've never seen a First Day Cover of #687a, and it's possible that they are rare, because the sheet was issued without gum.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Stamp Investment Tip: Gabon 1886 Surcharges (Scott #1-5)

In 1886, Gabon, then a French colony, issued its first postage stamps, by handstamping surcharges on French Colonies general issue stamps of 1881-86 (Scott #1-5). All five stamps are scarce, and as with most valuable overprinted issues, should be purchased conditional on obtaining expertization. I've listed the stamps, along with their printing quantities and Scott '10 Catalog Values below:

- 1886 5c on 20c Red on green (Scott #1; 900: $ 525.00 unused, $425.00 used)
- 1886 10c on 20c Red on green (Scott #2; 900;$ 525.00 unused, $425.00 used)
- 1886 25c on 20c Red on green (Scott #3; 10,500; $ 87.50 unused; $75.00 used)
- 1886 50c on 15c Blue (Scott #4; 300; $ 1,450.00 unused, $ 1,900.00 used)
- 1886 75c on 15c Blue (Scott #5; 300; $ 1,800.00 unused, $ 2,000.00 used)

Stamps of this issue tend to have terrible centering, so try to select examples which are centered Fine or better, if possible, or else discount for average centering. Mediocre centering is commonplace for many early stamps of the French Colonies, to such an extent that Average-centered stamps are often called "Fine for issue."

These stamps should do well based upon increasing demand for French Colonies, but they also make an interesting play on Gabon as a developing economy. With a population of 1.5 million, Gabon has a per capita income of four times the average for Sub-Saharan Africa. The low population density together with abundant natural resources and foreign private investment have helped make Gabon one of the most prosperous countries in the region. Annual GDP growth has averaged just under 3% over the last 5 years.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Stamp Investment Tip: Falkland Islands 1948 Silver Wedding (Scott #99-100)

The Falkland Islands, an archipelago in the South Atlantic off the coast of Argentina, is a self-governing territory of the United Kingdom. While Falkland Islanders comprise a tiny but very affluent population of about 3,000, from a philatelic investment perspective, the Falklands are of interest because they appeal to both British Commonwealth and Antarctic territories collectors.

In 1948, the Falklands issued a set of two stamps celebrating the Silver Wedding of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother). The set (Scott #99-100) is one of the scarcest of the Silver Wedding Omnibus issues, as only 5,000 were issued, and Scott '10 values it unused at $ 111.25 . As a popular topic for British Commonwealth collectors, it's hard to beat the Royal Family, with a stick, sceptre, or other appropriately heavy object, and banking on such loyalty can pay interest.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Stamp Investment Tip: German States- Lubeck 1859 Arms Issue (Scott #1-5)

Before Otto von Bismarck unified Germany in 1871, the country was divided into individual states, some of which issued their own stamps. A few of these stamps are rare and extremely valuable, but in many cases, prices of German States stamps have lagged, because as a collecting area it is a minefield of reprints, fakes, and forgeries. With the exception of the rarities, many German States stamps often can be purchased in F-VF+ condition for 25%-35% of Scott. Better items which seem questionable should be purchased conditional on obtaining expertization, preferably by a reputable German expert.

Having taken that necessity into account, however, I believe that over time, the "cream" (by which I mean the better, undervalued German States stamps which have been expertized) will rise to the top.

Lubeck's first stamps (Scott #1-5), issued in 1859, provide a lesson on how to navigate the treacherous maze of German States philately. I've listed these stamps, along with their printing quantities and Scott '10 Catalog values, below:

-1859 1/2g Gray Lilac (Scott #1; 40,000; $ 400.00)
-1859 1s Orange (Scott #2; 20,000; $ 400.00)
-1859 2s Brown (Scott #3; 138,600; $ 17.00)
-1859 2 1/2s Rose (Scott #4; 50,000; $ 35.00)
-1859 4s Green (Scott #5; 149,900; $ 16.00)

Reprints and fake cancels exist for this issue, and given the cost of expertization, I think that it makes sense to buy only #1 and # 2, with certificates.

Germany, an affluent nation of about 82 million people, is the world's fourth largest economy, and both the second largest importer and second largest exporter of goods. Since the age of industrialisation, the country has been a driver, innovator, and beneficiary of an ever more globalised economy, and is recognised as a scientific and technological leader in several fields. Annual GDP growth has averaged about 2% over the last five years, reflecting the recent global slowdown, and the gradual progress being made in absorbing the less developed former DDR.

Germany has long been known as a center of philately, and both the hobby and the stamp business there exhibit a markedly higher level of sophistication than what exists in the U.S.. There are three million philatelists in Germany, which makes it the second biggest stamp collecting nation in the world.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Stamp Investment Tip: U.N.T.E.A. 1962-63 Issue (Scott #1-19)

"UNTEA" is not a popular beverage, but an acronym for a UN organization which administered territory and issued stamps.

Following the recognition of Indonesia's independence by the Netherlands, Western New Guinea became the focus of a political dispute between the two countries. Indonesia claimed the territory as its own while the Dutch side maintained that its residents were not Indonesian and that the Netherlands would continue to administer the territory until it was capable of self determination. Indonesia landed paratroops onto the territory of Western New Guinea in 1961, which prompted a political crisis between the Netherlands and Indonesia. The United Nations stepped in and mediated, resulting in an agreement whereby the UN temporarily administered the territory. In May of 1963, Western New Guinea became a province of Indonesia, later known as Irian Jaya.

During the period of administration by the U.N.T.E.A. (United Nations Temporary Executive Authority), a set of 19 stamps was issued by overprinting "UNTEA" on Netherlands New Guinea stamps of 1950-60 (Scott #1-19). The basic set had a modest printing and has appeal in three growing philatelic markets (Indonesia, the Netherlands, and UN), but what makes the story even more interesting for stampselectors is that the UNTEA set had four printings, with four easily distinguishable overprint types. I've listed these, along with the quantities issued and Scott '10 Catalog Values, below:

-1962 First Printing (Scott #1-19; overprint 17mm x 3mm long; 45,000; $ 60.00 )
-1963 Second Printing (Scott #1a-19a; overprint 17.5mm x 3mm long; 108,000; $ 35.75)
-1963 Third Printing (Scott #1b-9b; overprint 14mm x 2.5mm long; 3,500; $ 178.50 )
-1963 Fourth Printing (Scott #1c, 5c; overprint 19mm x 3.5mm long; 1,500; $ 175.00 )

The third and fourth printings may seem undervalued, but there are a couple of factors which render them speculative. First, fake overprints exist (and may even exist for the first printing as well), and based upon the current values of these stamps, it generally would not be practical to spend money on getting them expertized. Secondly, the third and fourth printings may not have been "regularly issued"; in other words, they may have been produced solely for stamp collectors. Scott lists them, but questions their status.

My feeling is that while the "status question" may put a drag on the two better printings in the short run, it will diminish in importance over time. The risk of buying a faked stamp is of far greater concern, so I'd recommend steering clear of the Third Printing for now, and purchasing the Fourth Printing stamps conditional on obtaining expertization for #5c (Sc.'10 CV = $130.00), even if it seems somewhat expensive relative to the cost of the stamp. Buying #1c and 5c in blocks and getting 5c expertized would be more economical, but blocks might be hard to find.

The three relevant sources of demand for this issue are collectors of the Netherlands, Indonesia, and United Nations. With about 16.6 million people, the Netherlands is the 16th largest economy in the world, and its annual GDP growth has averaged about 2.5% over the last 5 years. Indonesia is a developing, though still poor, country of 230 million people, with an annual GDP growth rate hovering around 5%-6%. Like most emerging market nations, it faces serious challenges which will have to be addressed, including corruption and major inequities in the distribution of income. The market for UN stamps (as well as those issued by its forerunners) should grow over the very long haul as institutions of world government develop in order to take on serious (and possibly existential) problems which can only be coped with globally. Despite the present inadequacy, corruption, and ineffectiveness of the UN, I view its reform and gradual strengthening as a gradual but irresistible trend.

Furthermore, global aging trends in both the Netherlands and Indonesia should bolster the population of serious stamp collectors in both countries in the coming decades. The Netherlands' population of citizens age 60+ is projected to rise from 18.3% in 2000 to 32.8% in 2050, while Indonesia's 60+ age group is expected to almost triple, from 7.6% to 22.3%.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Stamp Investment Tip: Hawaii 1883-86 Definitives (Scott #42-49)

Between 1883 and 1886, the Kingdom of Hawaii issued a set of definitives picturing members of its royal family (Scott #42-49). Only 17,350 sets were issued, and Scott '10 values the unused set at $ 797.75 ($ 1,884.- for NH).
It is surprising that there are still many undervalued stamps of Hawaii, given that it is the most popular U.S. Possession among U.S. collectors, and that it is an important cultural and economic nexus between the U.S. and the Far East.

Many of the definitives of the Kingdom Period and the later Provisional Government overprints may be found quite well centered. As the P.S.E. (Professional Stamp Experts organization) now grades U.S. Possessions stamps, I advise selecting for condition and centering when purchasing them. Should the current grading fetish persist, Hawaiian stamps that grade XF-90 or higher will sell at auction for multiples of their catalog value.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Stamp Investment Tip: Ecuador 1929 Plane (Scott #C8-15)

In 1929, Ecuador issued its second airmail set, picturing a plane over the River Guayas (Scott #C8-15). Only 2,000 sets were issued, and Scott '10 prices the unused set at $ 169.70 . This is yet another example of an absurdly undervalued Latin American issue, which should do very well as the economies of the region continue to grow.

Many of those who collect Ecuador also collect stamps of South America, Central America, or all of Latin America, so demand tends to be more generalized than usual. This is not to say that there isn't demand originating from collectors focusing on the individual country as well, but rather that the tendency to collect the whole region is an important factor to consider.

Ecuador, a democratic republic of 13.6 million people, is considered a medium-income country, with about 38% of its population living below the poverty line. Ecuador's natural resources include petroleum, fish, shrimp, timber and gold. In addition, it has a prosperous agricultural sector, producing bananas, flowers, coffee, cacao, sugar, tropical fruits, palm oil, palm hearts, rice, roses, and corn. While Ecuador's economy suffered during the 2008-09 financial crisis, weathering a default and repurchase of its debt at a discount, it seems to be recovering. Annual GDP growth over the last 5 years has averaged almost 5%.

Friday, March 5, 2010

General Commentary: The Bull in the China Shop

Recently, a prominent Chinese dealer published an extensive buy list for stamps of the P.R.C., with buy prices which significantly increased the wholesale values of key P.R.C. stamps. The most dramatic increases seem to be for many of the better souvenir sheets and for issues of the Cultural Revolution. The question is: does this represent a pivotal event for the P.R.C. market, and perhaps for the global stamp market as a whole, comparable in its implications for the stamp market to the effect of the failure of Lehman Brothers on the stock market (except, of course, that the new buy prices represent a positive development rather than a negative one)?

It's quite possible that the buy list was simply an attempt to manipulate prices upward, so as to increase the value of a dealer's inventory. But does this even matter? The Chinese stamp market has been hot for a while now, and it would be surprising if price manipulation was not utilized as a catalyst every now and then.

It's also possible that the new buy list is evidence of a bubble.

"The Entire Nation is Red" Design Error (Scott #999A)

To attempt to get a better idea of what is going on in the market for better P.R.C., I've done a little research, comparing buy prices of a few key items over the last 6 years. These quotations are approximate representations of wholesale value, and not by any means comprehensive, in that they do not take into account all P.R.C. buy lists for any given period.

(Prices are for VF NH)

1958 Kuan Han-ching s/s (Scott #357a):

2004: $ 65.00
2006: $ 75.00
2007: $ 85.00
2008: $ 130.00
March, 2010: $ 215.00 ; April, 2010: $ 340.00

1961 Table Tennis s/s (Scott #566a):

2004: $ 180.00
2206: $ 225.00
2007: $ 225.00
2008: $ 275.00
March, 2010: $ 800.00; April,2010: $ 1,180.00

1962 Mei Lan-fang s/s (Scott #628):

2004: $ 1,800.00
2006: $ 2,500.00
2007: $ 3,000.00
March, 2010: $ 10,000.00; April, 2010: $ 11,000.00

1964 Peonies s/s (Scott #782):

2004: $ 400.00
2006: $ 500.00
2007: $ 500.00
March, 2010: $ 2,000.00; April, 2010: $ 3,650.00

1967 Thoughts of Chairman Mao- unfolded strip of 5 (Scott #948a):

2004: $ 325.00
2006: $ 750.00
2007: $ 750.00
March, 2010: $ 2,500.00; April, 2010: $ 3,300.00

1967-68 Poems by Chairman Mao (Scott #967-80):

2004: $ 475.00
2006: $ 800.00
2007: $ 800.00
2008: $ 1,300.00
March, 2010: $ 2,200.00; April, 2010: $ 3,000.00

1968: "The Entire Nation is Red" (Scott #999A):

2004: $ 8,000.00
2006: $ 10,000.00
2007: $ 10,000.00
March, 2010: $ $ 60,000.00; April, 2010: $ 75,000.00

1978 Science Conference s/s (Scott #1383a):

2004: $ 140.00
2006: $ 150.00
2007: $ 160.00
March, 2010: $ 400.00; April, 2010: $ 490.00

1979 Study Science s/s (Scott #1518):

2004: $ 300.00
2006: $ 510.00
March, 2010: $ 1,600.00; April, 2010: $ 1,950.00

1980 Year of the Monkey (Scott #1586):

2004: $ 100.00
2006: $ 215.00
2007: $ 200.00
March, 2010: $ 800.00; April, 2010: $ 975.00

The gains are astounding, to the extent that they defy analysis. In certain respects, the situation certainly looks like a bubble. As the expression goes: "If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck." The only problem is that in this case, we're dealing with Peking Duck, a bionic "superduck" powered by tens of millions of Chinese collectors.

On the one hand, I can not advise buying many of the dramatically revalued items at their new stratospheric levels. On the other, I've been bullish about the Chinese stamp market for decades, and will not bet against it. In the long run, even the items which are currently being hysterically bid upward may turn out to be good investments. My recommendation is to wait until at least some of the dust has cleared, and the shock has at least partly worn off, and then target better items which have not been as hyped, and which haven't experienced such rapid increases in value. They represent safer bets, and their day will come.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Stamp Investment Tip: Republic of China 1954 Silo Bridge Souvenir Folder (Scott #1095a)

In 1954, the Republic of China, otherwise known as Taiwan, celebrated the first anniversary of the completion of its Silo Highway Bridge with the issuance of a souvenir booklet containing a souvenir sheet (Scott #1095a). Only 10,000 booklets were issued, and Scott '10 values it at $ 1,375.00.

Better stamps and souvenir sheets of the R.O.C. have done well over the last few decades, but the market has been cooler than that for stamps of the People's Republic. I believe that as capitalism and incremental democratization take hold in the P.R.C., relations between the "two Chinas" will gradually improve, as will demand for stamps of the R.O.C.. The process of thawing may have already begun: as of 2008, more than $ 150 billion have been invested in the P.R.C. by Taiwanese companies, and about 10% of the Taiwanese labor force works in the P.R.C., often to run their own businesses.

In the meantime, most of the demand for stamps of Taiwan will originate from collectors in Taiwan itself and among overseas Chinese (of which there are approximately 35 million). Taiwan, a nation of 23 million people, is one of the four "Asian Tigers," and has experienced explosive economic growth and industrialization over the last 5 decades. Annual GDP growth has averaged about 4% over the last 5 years, but this reflects the zero growth of 2009, a result of the global financial mess.

Stamp Investment Tip: Great Britain- Offices in the Turkish Empire 1906 1pi on 2p Green and Carmine (Scott #25)

Perhaps the rarest of all of the stamps issued for Great Britain's Offices Abroad (excluding varieties) is the 1pi Beyrouth Provisional Surcharge of 1906 (Scott #25). Despite the tiny issuance of 480 stamps, Scott '10 prices it at $ 1,500.00 for unused and $ 700.00 for used. Part of the reason for the undervaluation might be that fake surcharges exist, necessitating expertization (optimally by either the British Philatelic Association* or the Royal Philatelic Society of London).

A "crown jewel" of British Offices philately, the stamp makes an excellent stand-in for all British Offices in the Turkish Empire stamps, which appeal to collectors of British Commonwealth and the Mid-East, two growing markets.

Those interested in joining a lively and growing community of "stampselectors" are welcome to join the "StampSelectors" group on Facebook. The group offers the opportunity to meet and communicate with other collectors, investors, and dealers from all over the world, buy and sell stamps, and discuss investment recommendations and the content of this blog.

* I could not find the url of the B.P.A.- Mea culpa.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Stamp Investment Tip: Sweden 1920 Airmails, Wmk. 180 (Scott #C4-5)

In 1920, Sweden surcharged a portion of its 1910-19 Official stamps, issuing its first airmail stamps (Scott #C1-3, C4-5). The normal set (Scott #C1-3) is fairly common (570,000 issued), and comprised three surcharged officials of the 1910-19 issue, which bore Watermark #181 (Wavy Lines). However, a few of the officials of the 1910-12 issue, of the same design as the normal stamps but with a different watermark (Wmk. #180 - Crown) were errantly surcharged, and are extremely scarce. The 20o on 2o Orange and 50o on 4o Violet with Wmk. 180 (Scott #C4 and C5) were issued in quantities of 100 and 500, respectively, and Scott '10 values them unused at $2,250.00 and $ 160.00.

I believe these stamps to be grossly undervalued, both because they are watermark varieties and because fake surcharges exist, necessitating expertization. Nevertheless, the values of these airmails should ascend impressively as interest in stamps of Sweden and Scandinavia in general continues to grow. It is important to note that there is considerable demand for stamps of Scandinavia outside of Scandinavia. In the U.S. alone, there are approximately 11.7 million Scandinavian-Americans, including 4.4 million of Swedish ancestry.

With 9.2 million people, Sweden is an affluent, export-oriented nation, ranked by the World Economic Forum in 2009-10 as the 4th most competitive economy in the world. Annual GDP growth has averaged about 3% over the last 5 years, reflecting a slowdown in 2009 (0% growth that year) due to the global financial catastrophe, from which Sweden, like much of the rest of the world, is slowly recovering. We all wish that life could be like Swedish magazines, but unfortunately, it's not always the case.

Stamp Investment Tip: British Honduras 1882-87 Issue (Scott #13-17)

Between 1882 and 1887, British Honduras issued a set of Victoria definitives (Scott #13-17), of which the 6p and 1sh high values are quite scarce. Only 1,200 of each of #16 and #17 were issued. Scott '10 values the complete set unused at $812.50 unused, and the top values at $ 325.00 and $ 300.00, respectively.

The stamps of British Honduras have a potential dual market among both collectors of British Commonwealth in general and British Honduras/Belize in particular, but I believe that for the foreseeable future, most of the demand for its better stamps will come from the Commonwealth collectors.

Belize is a small, developing country of about 320,000 people, with an economy based largely on agriculture, although tourism, construction, and oil production have recently assumed greater importance. Annual GDP growth has averaged about 3.5% over the last 5 years.

If purchasing one of the two high values, attempt to obtain it in the best condition possible, or try buy a slightly defective example with an F-VF or better appearance at a deep discount. It would not surprise me at all if fewer than 200 of each of these stamps remain, in any condition.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Stamp Investment Tip: New South Wales Diamond Jubilee Semi-postals (Scott #B1-2)

In the late 19th Century, before the advent of antibiotics, those infected with tuberculosis were isolated and treated in sanatoria, also called "consumptives' homes." The infected poor were pressured to enter sanatoria that resembled prisons, while consumptives of the middle and upper classes were placed in more comfortable homes which provided excellent care and constant medical attention. Whatever the purported benefits of the fresh air and labor in the sanatoria, even under the best conditions, 50% of those admitted were dead within five years.

In 1897, the Australian State of New South Wales issued a pair of semi-postals in celebration of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee (Scott #B1-2). These attractive, Art Nouveau-style stamps cost 1sh and 2sh6p and had a postal value of 1p and 2 1/2p, and the difference between the cost and postal value was donated to a fund for a home for consumptives. 40,000 of the 1p(1sh) and 10,000 of the 2 1/2p (2sh6p) stamps were issued, and Scott' 10 values the set at $ 362.50 for unused.

These semi-postals are often either poorly centered or have condition problems, so endeavor to purchase the set in sound, Fine or better condition if you run into it. I will continue to focus on better, undervalued stamps of Australia and it states, as their values have nowhere to go but upward. Both the country's economy and its stamp collecting population are set for a multi-decade rise.

Australia is a prosperous nation of 22 million people and a diverse economy, with thriving service, agricultural, and mining sectors. Annual GDP growth has averaged 3.6% over the past 15 years. Recently, there has been considerable growth in mining and petroleum extraction, in part due to increased exports to the resource-hungry Chinese market. It is likely that Australia's stamp collecting population will grow significantly as the nation ages. The percentage of Australians over 60 is projected to rise from 16% in 2000 to 24.8% in 2025, and 28.2% in 2050. Many will find playing with their stamps a pleasant diversion while "camped by a billabong, under the shade of a coolibah tree."



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