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Thursday, October 1, 2009

General Commentary: The Topic is Topicals!

Topical, or thematic, collecting (the formation of stamp collections based on the themes pictured on the stamps) is probably growing worldwide. Unfortunately, as is true of stamp collecting in general, no hard demographic data exists on the number of topical collectors in the world, or the breakdown of the population of topical collectors by country, topic, or level of "seriousness" as collectors.

The American Topical Association (A.T.A.) conducted a survey in 2008, and determined that the following topics (listed in order of popularity) were the most widely collected by A.T.A. members:

  1. Animals
  2. Famous Men
  3. Sports
  4. Medical/Nursing
  5. Flora
  6. Religion
  7. Birds
  8. Railroads
  9. Americana
  10. Ships
  11. Fairytales/Folktales/Disney/Mythology
  12. Marine Life
  13. Space Exploration
  14. Insects
  15. Geological Features
  16. Music
  17. Fine Arts
  18. Literary Subjects
  19. Military Subjects
  20. Aviation

The survey is useful as far as it goes; certainly, some notion concerning the popularity of a topic should be taken into account when attempting to evaluate the investment potential of a stamp.

The dearth of demographic data regarding this and other areas of the stamp market illustrate one of the differences between investing in stamps and investing in equities. While information concerning the supply of a stamp may sometimes be known or estimated, getting anything clearer than a fuzzy, nebulous view of demand trends is usually impossible. A philatelic investor who knew how many "serious" collectors specialized in particular topics and which topics were growing in popularity, and by what rate, would not have to make "educated guesses." Contrast this with stocks, which are frequently analyzed based upon a veritable feast of numerical and technical information. With stocks, tragedies occur only as a result of mistaken analysis, hysteria, or when the numbers reported by a company turn out to be lies.

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