Friday, February 15, 2013

Vanishing value

kw: stamp collecting, philately

I was at the Dutch Country Stamp Center yesterday, and I sure wish I'd had a camera with me. I had been talking with their stamp expert about some of my duplicates, and whether to auction them. On our way out, he said he had something to show me. In one room a large crate was near a sorting table with stacks and stacks of sheets of unused stamps. The crate was still half full. An elderly woman had been buying sheets for more than 50 years, in hopes they'd have more value some day. He said, "I have the sad duty to burst her bubble."

In my collection I have a small binder with some plate blocks. This image is an example, a block of 4 (some collectors prefer 2 or 6 or 8 or 9), with the printing plate number attached. In 1941 this block cost $1. For a short time, when regular postage was 6¢, these "Postal Savings" stamps were actually sold as an investment. That didn't last long, because they are a poor investment.

This block is in excellent condition, so a collector of plate blocks might actually pay $1 for it, but probably not. Unused stamps of all the common issues typically sell for half to 3/4 of their face value! Entire sheets seldom sell for more than 50¢ on the dollar.

The stamps in that crate probably cost this dear lady thousands of dollars over the years. Their value as collectibles is only about half that, if they will sell at all. Thirty years ago, I was told that whole sheets were selling at 70-75¢ on the dollar. Stamp collecting is a less popular hobby than it used to be. The "market" is smaller, and prices are lower.

For most of the last half century, passbook savings earned 5% per year. For the first 30 years, the money she spent on stamps, if put in the bank, would have more than quadrupled in value. Even since then, it would have grown another 30-40%. Instead she has a 50% loss.

If you are a new stamp collector, don't be discouraged. Collections of any kind are not investments. They are for fun, for learning, and for the enjoyment of completing a set. In about 55 years of stamp collecting, I have had one instance of getting a couple of "valuable" stamps. In a box of German stamps (all were used, that is Canceled, stamps), there were two copies of a commemorative from the 1950s that is rather rare. I put one in my collection, and the other among my German duplicates. At a stamp club "share" event, a fellow member spotted the stamp, and said, "Hey, that stamp is worth $8. What would you sell it for?" I let him have it for $1, since it wasn't in top condition.

Heck, the acrylic sheets I use for my collection cost $1 per page! I reckon the main value of my collection is the display pages, not the stamps they contain!! That's OK. It is a fun hobby.

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