Thursday, September 30, 2010

Stamp Investment Tip: Newfoundland 1896 1/2c Orange Red (Scott #57)

Between 1887 and 1896, Newfoundland issued three half cent stamps picturing Newfoundland Dogs (Scott #56-58) in Rose Red, Orange Red, and Black. The scarcest of the three is #57, printed in Orange Red, of which only 20,000 were issued. Scott '11 prices it at at $ 75.00 for unused and $45.- for used.

Aside from being yet another example of an undervalued B.N.A. issue, I like this stamp because it's a Dog Topical. In fact, the Newfoundland Dog stamps were the first stamps picturing dogs ever issued. Animals are the most popular stamp collecting topic in the world, and since pet ownership is growing, especially in the emerging market nations, I think that Dog and Cat topicals will become more popular as well. A recent article about pet ownership in China cited research showing that the percentage of Chinese owning dogs increased by 40% from 1999 to 2004 (from 5% to 7%). It seems reasonable to assume that as the middle class grows in developing countries, more people will be able to afford keeping a pet, and therefore more stamp collectors will collect dog and cat topicals.

Many of the better stamps of Newfoundland were issued in modest quantities. I intend to revisit them in the future, as I am "doggedly bullish" (to badly mix metaphors) about better British North America in general. This area is very popular among collectors of both Canada and British Commonwealth, and the better items represent solid investments, as interest in stamp collecting in Canada is much stronger than it is in the U.S. .

With a population of about 31 million, Canada is one of the world's wealthiest countries, and is 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. 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.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Stamp Investment Tip: Philippines 1984 Summer Olympics Issue

In 1984, the Philippines issued a set of six colorful stamps and a souvenir sheet in celebration of the Summer Olympics, held in Los Angeles (Scott # 1699-1704, 1705). 20,000 sets and 15,000 souvenir sheets were issued, and Scott '11 prices them unused at $18.00 and $15.00, respectively. Imperforate versions of the set and souvenir sheet were also issued, in quantities of 3,000 and 5,000. These are noted by Scott, which prices them at $100.00 and $50.00. The Philippines has produced imperforate versions of popular sets every now and then, and while it is certainly true that such were issued mainly to appeal to collectors and were not intended to serve as postage, they're issuance quantities are much lower than those of the regular stamps, and they are therefore worthy of consideration.

From the perspective of philatelic history, the Philippines is interesting because it has issued stamps under Spanish dominion, U.S. Administration, Japanese Occupation, and as an independent nation. It is also compelling as an area of research for the philatelic investor, because of its rapid economic growth, and because it has issued a number of scarce yet overlooked issues, including some modern popular topical sets, such as the Sports/Olympics topical issue featured in this article.

As a newly democratic and newly industrialized country of 92 million which is moving away from from its centuries-old complete dependence on agriculture, the Philippines could turn out to be one of the most successful emerging markets in the Pacific Region. The government tends toward fiscal conservatism coupled with long-term economic planning, and annual GDP growth has been around 6%-7%. Barring extreme political instability, it is likely that the Philippines will be one of the fastest growing economies over the next decades.

I have begun a new blog, "The Stamp Specialist", which will feature wholesale buy prices for stamps which I am interested in purchasing. I've just posted a buy list for the Philippines, and it includes the set and souvenir sheet recommended in this article. Viewing dealers' buy lists every now and then is an excellent way to keep current on the vagaries of the stamp market.

Those interested in joining a community of stamp investors, dealers, and collectors are welcome to join the "Stampselectors" group at Facebook. The group provides a useful venue for those who wish to buy, sell, and trade stamps, and discuss philatelic investing and practical aspects of stamp collecting.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Stamp Investment Tip: Rwanda 1967 Birds Issue (Scott #239-48)

In 1967, Rwanda issued an attractive Birds set (Scott #239-48). 37,500 were issued, and Scott '11 prices it at $18.40 for unused. Animals on stamps are among the most popular of topicals, and increasing in popularity. Also, as a former Belgian colony, Rwanda has some appeal among collectors of Belgium and Area.

While I do not believe that Rwanda will develop a significant domestic stamp collecting base in the near future, I am more sanguine about the prospect long-term. A nation of 10.7 million people, Rwanda received considerable international attention due to its 1994 genocide, in which an estimated 800,000 people were killed. Since then, the country has made a recovery and is now considered a model for developing countries. In 2009, a CNN report labeled Rwanda as Africa's biggest success story, having achieved stability and economic growth. The country is still largely dependent upon agriculture, with coffee and tea being the main exports, although the government has taken an active role in bolstering a growing manufacturing sector. Average income has tripled in the past ten years, and annual GDP growth has been impressive, averaging almost 7% over the last five years.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Stamp Investment Tip: French Legion 1941 Anti-Bolshevism Souvenir Sheet (Michel Block I)

Among the stamps that the Scott Catalog neglects to list are many German Occupation issues of World War II. Until the day that the publishers at Scott relent, correct the error, and list these stamps with "N" numbers in each country's back-of-book section, we shall have to turn to Michel's Germany Specialized Catalog in order to find information on them.

In 1941, the Germans issued a semi-postal souvenir sheet to help fund the Legion of French Volunteers Against Bolshevism, a collaborationist French militia which later fought in support of the Germans on the Eastern Front. The sheet is quite attractive, and pictures a sword striking the Russian Bear (symbolizing Bolshevism). 5,000 were issued, and the latest Michel prices it at Euros 650.- for NH.

The sheet is an important relic of World War II, and primarily appeals to both French and German collectors, and secondarily to Animal topicalists. It is undervalued in part because of the "tail wagging the dog" effect of being ignored by Scott along with many other WWII occupation issues, a disservice which results in most U.S. collectors being kept in the dark about them.

Note that expertization is recommended as a condition for purchase, as counterfeits exist.

Those interested in joining a community of stamp investors, dealers, and collectors are welcome to join the "Stampselectors" group at Facebook. The group provides a useful venue for those who wish to buy, sell, and trade stamps, and discuss philatelic investing and practical aspects of stamp collecting.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Stamp Investment Tip: Republic of China 1952 Chiang Kai-shek Return to Presidency, imperforate (Scott #1052-56 Note)

In 1952, the Republic of China (also known as "Taiwan") issued a set of stamps commemorating the second anniversary Chiang Kai-shek's return to the presidency (Scott #1052-56), and also released an imperforate version of the set (Scott #1052-56 Note) for the collector market. 180,000 of the normal sets were issued, along with 20,000 imperforate sets, and Scott '11 prices the unused sets at $180.50 and $ 460.- respectively.

Both versions of the set are worthy of consideration. Although the imperforate set had a much lower quantity issued, none were used as postage and discarded, while I'd estimate that at least 80-90% of the regular set were. I also recommend te 1953 4th Anniversary of Chiang Kai-shek's Return to the Presidency set and its imperforate baby brother (Scott #1064-69 and 1064-69 Note), of which 290,000 were issued, along with 10,000 imperforate sets (Scott Values for unused are $ 289.50 and $ 460.- , respectively). It's interesting to note that the crusty but not always benevolent dictator was considerate enough to repeatedly remind his people to celebrate his glorious return.

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.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Stamp Investment Tip: Jordan 1933 Scenes (Scott #185-98)

In 1933, Jordan (then a British Mandate territory known as Trans-Jordan), issued an attractive scenes set (Scott #185-98). All of the stamps but the top 1 pound value (Scott #198), which portrayed Amir Abdullah ibn Hussein, featured sites of historic and cultural interest. Most of the set's value is in #198, as only 1,095 were issued. Scott '11 values the unused set at $901.60, and #198 at $600.00 .

I recommend purchase of either the complete set or the high value alone. The better stamps of the Mandate period have dual market appeal to collectors of British Commonwealth and Jordan.

Jordan is a small country of 6.3 million people with limited natural resources. Nevertheless, it is an emerging market nation, largely due to its liberal economic policies and relative political stability compared to many of its neighbors, and it has maintained an annual GDP growth of 5% -6% over the last 5 years. Currently, its main industries are fertilizers, tourism, and banking, but it also has a developing "knowledge economy," which is contributing to its nascent aerospace, defense, pharmaceutical, and ICT sectors.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Stamp Investment Tip: Honduras UN Issue (Scott C222-30)

In 1953, Honduras issued an airmail set honoring the United Nations (Scott #C222-30). Only 10,000 were issued, and Scott values the unused set at $36.60.

The main reason that this set remains cheap is that Honduras is still a very poor country, and few of its citizens can afford to collect stamps. As far as philatelic investing goes, it qualifies as a "ground floor opportunity" (as described in one of my "general commentary" articles last year), for which the best strategy is to minimize risk by buying stamps of the country which have worldwide appeal, such as rarities and popular topicals, and then hope for additional increases in value as the country's situation improves. To some extent, Honduran stamp values are sustained by the tendency among stamp collectors to collect Latin America as a region, rather than focusing on individual countries.

I continue to like the U.N. as a topic, long-term. The market for U.N.-related topicals 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 U.N., I view its reform and gradual strengthening as a gradual but irresistible trend.

Honduras is a nation of about 7 1/2 million people, which has recently undergone a coup d' etat and constitutional crisis and may revert to being a dictatorship. The economy, which is largely dependent on agriculture and mining, has continued to grow, but the distribution of wealth remains very polarized, with average wages remaining low. 50% of the population still remains below the poverty line. Should the dictatorship succeed in solidifying its position by relying on the tried and true methods of harassing, imprisoning, torturing, and murdering labor organizers, journalists, and political activists, then Honduras will go back to being an asset of parasitic multinational corporations, which will extract its minerals, deforest it for lumber, and endeavor to ensure that most Hondurans remain impoverished, servile farm laborers, willing to spend their lives toiling in the fields for about a dollar a day.

Annual GDP growth has averaged 3.5% over the last five years, reflecting a 3% contraction in 2010 due to the reverberations of the global financial crisis. Obviously, the key question is whether GDP growth will translate into prosperity for most Hondurans over the next decades,
and that will depend upon whether the country regresses, reforms, or revolts.

I have begun a new blog, "The Stamp Specialist", which will feature wholesale buy prices for stamps which I am interested in purchasing. I've just posted a buy list for Honduras, and it includes the set recommended in this article. Viewing dealers' buy lists every now and then is an excellent way to keep current on the vagaries of the stamp market.

Those interested in joining a community of stamp investors, dealers, and collectors are welcome to join the "Stampselectors" group at Facebook. The group provides a useful venue for those who wish to buy, sell, and trade stamps, and discuss philatelic investing and practical aspects of stamp collecting.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Phila-Trivia: The Stamp That Moved a Canal

In 1902, the U.S. Congress was considering legislation to fund a canal across Nicaragua to connect the Pacific Ocean with the Caribbean Sea. However, engineer Philippe Bunau-Varilla opposed the idea as impractical, and successfully argued against it by presenting a certain stamp as evidence.

M. Bunau-Varilla worked for a French company that had attempted to build a similar canal across Panama. However, engineering crises, financial mismanagement, and deadly yellow fever epidemics eventually bankrupted the company and prevented it from completing the project. Still believing that Panama presented the best way for such a canal, Bunau-Varilla attempted to influence Congress to change its plans, claiming that Nicaragua’s terrain was too unwieldy. In the spring of 1902, nature worked in favor of Bunau-Varilla. Mt. Momotombo, a volcano in Nicaragua, erupted.

Bunau-Varilla knew that publicizing the incident would alter the American canal vote. Nicaraguan officials immediately began denying reports of the volcanic eruption, and Bunau-Varilla was left struggling for a way to counter the Nicaraguan cover-up. Luckily, he remembered once seeing a Nicaraguan postage stamp featuring Mt. Momotombo, which conveniently depicted with smoke rising from the top. After rummaging through stamp shops in Washington, D.C., he found the one he was looking for and promptly purchased 90 copies. Bunau-Varilla actively campaigned throughout the Northeast, carrying pictures and postage stamps of Nicaragua's Mt. Momotombo spewing ash and lava over the proposed route.
All 45 U.S. senators received the Mt. Momotombo stamp, complete with Bunau-Varilla’s caption, “An official witness to volcanic activity in Nicaragua.” This volcano, they were told, would threaten the canal route.

On June 19, 1902, the Senate voted to change the location of the canal, and the Panama route won. $ 40 million was appropriated to the Buneau-Varilla's New Panama Canal Company, under the Spooner Act of 1902.

However, another obstacle remained. At the time, Panama was a department of the Republic of Colombia. Colombia signed the Hay–Herran Treaty in 1903, ceding land in Panama to the United States for the canal, but the Senate of Colombia rejected ratification. Bunau-Varilla's company was in danger of losing its $40 million from the Spooner Act, so he drew up war plans with Panamanian juntas in New York . By the eve of the war, Bunau-Varilla had already drafted the new nation's constitution, flag (design shown at left), and military establishment, and promised to float the entire government on his own checkbook. Bunau-Varilla's flag design was later rejected by the Panamanian revolutionary council on the grounds that it was designed by a foreigner. Although he prepared for a small-scale civil war, violence was limited to the death of a single laborer. As promised, President Roosevelt interposed a U.S. naval fleet between the Colombian forces south of the isthmus and the Panamanian separatists, ending the conflict and giving Panama its independence.

Bunau-Varilla, as Panama's ambassador to the United States, was invested with plenipotentiary powers by President Manuel Amador. Lacking formal consent of the government of Panama, he entered into negotiations with the American Secretary of State, John Hay, to give control of the Panama Canal area to the U.S.. No Panamanians signed the resulting Hay–Bunau-Varilla Treaty. Bunau-Varilla had received his ambassadorship through financial assistance to the rebels, he had not lived in Panama for seventeen years, and he never returned. Many Panamanians long resented his betrayal of the trust put in him by the new Panamanian authorities. The treaty was finally undone by the Torrijos–Carter Treaties in 1977.

Parts of this article are copied or derived from the Ashley's Stamps site.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Stamp Investment Tip: Bermuda 1865-74 Victoria (Scott #1-6)

Initiating coverage of Bermuda, it seems logical to begin at the beginning, with the first issue of 1865-74 (Scott #1-6). Actually, the very first stamps issued in Bermuda are world-class rarities which sell for over $100,000 each - the Hamilton Postmaster Stamps of 1848-56, also known as the "Cottonreels " because they resemble the circular labels that were affixed to bales of cotton. However, as the Cottonreels are local postmaster provisionals, and unaffordable by the vast majority of collectors, I'll ignore them for now.

Of the six stamps in the first set, the scarcest are the 2p Blue (Sc. #2- 83,400 issued; Scott ' 11 CV = $ 450.- for unused; $ 30.- for used), the 3p Buff (Sc. #3- 31,640 issued;$ 600.-; $80.- for used ); the 6p Brown Lilac (Sc. #4; 22,080 issued ;$1,100.- ; $90.- for used ), and the 1sh Green (Sc. #6- 92,820 issued; $450.- ; $ 67.50for used). A 3p Orange variety exists, which is probably 5-10 times scarcer than the normal stamp. I estimate that at least 85%-95% of the first issue stamps were used and discarded. As used examples of the better stamps of the set catalogue only 7%-14% the value of the unused, they are even more undervalued than the mint.

I think that in future, growth in demand among British Commonwealth collectors will be the basis for value increases for better stamps of Bermuda, as the territory's population, though affluent, is probably not large enough to sustain a significant base of collectors.

With about 68,000 people, Bermuda has an thriving economy, with finance as its largest sector, followed by tourism. As a result of its its low direct taxation on personal or corporate income, Bermuda is an offshore financial center. As the offshore domicile of many foreign companies, Bermuda has a highly developed international business economy; it is an "exporter" of financial services, primarily insurance, reinsurance, and investment funds. Finance and international business now constitute the largest sector of Bermuda's economy. As of 2007, Bermuda's GDP was $5.85 billion in 2007, or $91,477 per-capita, giving it the highest GDP per capita in the world. Annual GDP growth has averaged 5% over the last 5 years.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Stamp Investment Tip: 2005 Azerbaijan Orchids Souvenir Sheet (Scott #792a)

In 2005, Azerbaijan issued a set and souvenir sheet picturing Orchids (Scott #789-92 and 792a). 20,000 sets and 10,000 souvenir sheets were issued, and Scott '11 prices them each unused at $6.75. Both make interesting and low-risk speculations based on their appeal as Flower topicals, and as bets on the economic growth of Azerbaijan and the development of a stamp market there. This recommendation is consistent with my belief that one of the best ways to play the new and newly resurrected countries of Europe and Asia is to focus on popular topicals with low printings.

Azerbaijan is an oil-rich nation of about 9 million people, which also has significant reserves of natural gas and various minerals. Agriculture and tourism are also important to the Azerbaijani economy. The country shares all the problems of the former Soviet republics in making the transition from a command to a market economy, but its energy resources brighten its long-term prospects. It has begun making progress on economic reform, and old economic ties and structures are slowly being replaced. Annual GDP growth has averaged a stellar 21% over the last 5 years, largely based on the frenetic development of the country's oil wealth - an estimated 7 billion barrels of reserves.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Stamp Investment Tip: Uganda 1895-96 Typewritten Stamps (Scott #1-53)

Among the ugliest of valuable stamps are the first issues of Uganda (Scott #1-53), which were typwritten on thin, tough white paper by Reverend Ernest Millar of the Church Missionary Society, an organization dedicated to saving the souls of native Africans from what it viewed as barbaric heathenism by converting them to Christianity. The first 34 of these stamps were typewritten in black. In late 1895, the black ribbon was replaced by a violet one, which was used to create #s 35-53.

This issue raises the question of why anybody would want to collect the visually uninspiring typewritten stamps of Uganda, a set which best illustrates the fundamental absurdity of philately - that when all is said and done, stamps are basically just worthless pieces of paper (and sometimes even look like worthless pieces of paper), yet there are many people who are willing to spend quite alot of money on some of them. Quantity of issue information is unavailable for the set, but in all probability, fewer than 300 of each stamp were produced, with the most valuable among them being extremely rare. The stamps range in value from $275.00 to $ 8,750.00, per Scott '10.

The current primary market for these stamp is, of course, British Commonwealth collectors. At worst, these stamps will remain what they have been thusfar - boring, steadily rising conservative investments. However, I think that eventually, a collector base will develop among Ugandans, which will help these ugly ducklings fly much higher. Forgeries exist, so they should be purchased conditional on obtaining a certificate from either the Royal Philatelic Society of London, or the British Philatelic Association.

Uganda is a nation of over 32 million people, with great poverty but also immense potential. It has substantial natural resources, including fertile soil, regular rainfall, and sizable mineral deposits of copper and cobalt. The country also has largely untapped reserves of both crude oil and natural gas. Since 1986, the government (with the support of foreign countries and international agencies) has acted to rehabilitate an economy devastated during the regime of Idi Amin and subsequent civil war. Inflation ran at 240% in 1987, 42% in June 1992, and 5.1% in 2003. Economic growth has been impressive but has not always led to poverty reduction.
The challenge of promoting equitable growth, so that prosperity may be shared among a larger portion of the population, is common to much of the developing world. The countries which best rise to the challenge are most likely to enhance their political stability and economic prospects by sustaining a well-fed, educated middle class. Uganda's recent annual GDP growth has been healthy, averaging 5% over the last 5 years.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Stamp Investment Tip: Estonia 1936 Arms Issue (Scott #B28-31)

From 1936 through 1940, Estonia issued five semi-postal sets picturing the coats of arms of its major cities. All are worthy of consideration as investments. The first set (Scott #B28-31) had the lowest printing quantity of the five - 19,424, and Scott '10 values it unused at $27.50 ($47.50 for NH) .

There are many items of the Baltic States which I consider grossly undervalued that should do well now that these nations are no longer under the Soviet thumb, and are open for business. Their citizens are strongly nationalistic, well-educated, and industrious, and it is likely that each of these countries will develop a base of stamp collectors which is on par with Scandinavia, in terms of proportion of the total population. Demand is additionally enhanced by the tendency of many stamp collectors to collect the Baltic States generally, rather than focusing on the individual countries. Furthermore, the issuance of new stamps by these newly resurrected countries should bolster interest in the older issues.

Estonia is a nation of about 1.3 million which was once described as a "Baltic Tiger" due to its rapid economic growth. Since re-establishing independence, Estonia has styled itself as the gateway between East and West and aggressively pursued economic reform. Oil, telecommunications, textiles, chemical products, banking, services, agriculture, fishing, timber, shipbuilding, electronics, and transportation are key sectors of the economy. Annual GDP growth has averaged about 2% over the last 5 years, but this reflects contractions of 4% in 2009 and 14% in 2010, partly due to the global financial crisis.

Those interested in joining a community of stamp investors, dealers, and collectors are welcome to join the "Stampselectors" group at Facebook. The group provides a useful venue for those who wish to buy, sell, and trade stamps, and discuss philatelic investing and practical aspects of stamp collecting.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Stamp Investment Tip: Laos Accession of King set (Scott 25-26, C13)

In 1954, Laos issued a compound set of stamps picturing Laotian temples, in honor of the 50th Anniversary of the Accession of King Sisavang-Vong (Scott #25-26, C13). This is the key set of Laos, and is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful modern engraved sets. The airmail is the scarcest stamp in the set, and although printing quantities are not known, I'd guess that fewer than 20,000 were issued. Scott '10 values the unused set at $ 237.50.

The set has multiple appeal to collectors of Laos, Indochina, and to collectors of French Colonies/Area. While I do not believe that demand for stamps of Laos will increase among Laotians in the near future, I do foresee a growth in the number of collectors of French Colonies/former colonies and Indochina in general.

A nation of 6.3 million, Laos is a poor, though rapidly developing nation which is heavily dependent upon trade with its neighbors, China, Thailand, and Vietnam. Subsistence agriculture still accounts for half of the GDP and provides 80 percent of employment. However, the mining and tourism industries are growing rapidly, and the government is taking steps to significantly upgrade the country's infrastructure, with the help of foreign aid. Annual GDP growth has averaged over 7% over the last 5 years.

Those interested in learning about stamps of Indochina (as a French colony), Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia should consider joining the Society of Indochina Philatelists.



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