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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Stamp Investment Tip: Azerbaijan 1998 Chess Championship Issue (678A-79, 680-81)

It is common knowledge among marketers of new issue stamps that combining two or more popular topics in a single issue can significantly enhance its demand among topical collectors. Were it feasible to issue a stamp or souvenir sheet featuring Elvis playing Baseball with Gandhi and Lady Diana on the Moon, with astronauts in the outfield, in the midst of birds, butterflies, flowers, and fish, then topical stamp collections might eventually come to resemble accumulations of outsider art created by schizophrenics in insane asylums.

In 1998, Azerbaijan presented the philatelic world with a taste of such madness by combining two utterly unrelated popular topics (Chess and Disney) on sets of stamps (Scott #678A-79) and souvenir sheets (Scott #680-81) honoring the World Rapid Chess Championship. The first set is actually a set of nine stamps, because #679 is a sheet of 8 different stamps picturing Disney characters. Though the issue may seem inane, investing in it does not necessarily mean that one is as stupid as "Goofy" or "Dumbo." Only 13,000 of each set was issued, and Scott '11 prices the unused sets at $51.90 and $50.00, respectively.

Both sets make interesting and low-risk speculations based on their appeal as ridiculous combined Chess/Disney 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.

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