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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Phila-Trivia: The Pigeon Post of Great Barrier Island

Many modern city-dwellers are accustomed to thinking of pigeons as filthy nuisances- "rats with wings"- but the birds have played their part as useful messengers since the time of the Romans.
A pigeon postal service was established between Great Barrier Island, an isolated community 90 kilometers north east of Auckland, New Zealand, and the mainland in 1897. Formerly, postal service had been provided by a weekly coastal steamer, but treacherous seas wrecked the ship SS Wairarapa off the coast of Great Barrier Island in 1894, with the loss of 121 lives, leading to the establishment of two rival pigeongram companies, each of which issued stamps. The birds were sent over to the island on the weekly steamer, and then flew back to Auckland with up to 5 small messages attached to each bird's legs. Great Barrier's pigeongram service ended when the first telegraph cable was laid between the island and the mainland in 1908.

Today, the pigeongram stamps are eagerly collected for their novelty value, and some have become extremely valuable.

New Zealand 1997 Pigeon-Gram Centenary Commemoratives

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Stamp Investment Tip: Ethiopia 1949 National Exposition Semi-Postals (Scott #B6-10)

In 1949, Ethiopia issued a set of overprinted semi-postals (Scott #B6-10) commemorating the National Agricultural and Industrial Exhibition, held in Addis Adaba. Initially, 15,ooo sets were issued, but most sets were not sold, and 10,ooo of each of the low values and 5,000 of the high value were later overprinted again, creating the the 1951 Exposition set (Scott #B16-20). Consequently, B6-10 ultimately had a total quantity issued of 5,000. Scott '09 values B 6-10 unused at $ 49.00 and B 16-20 at $ 25.00, and I feel that both catalog values are absurdly low. Many similarly undervalued Ethiopian issues exist, however, and I intend to recommend some of them in the future.

Ethiopia is still a poor country, with an estimated population of over 85 million people, but it has one of the fastest growing economies in the world, with annual GDP growth of 9%-11%. It has the greatest water reserves in Africa, and is one of its most fertile countries. According to the New York Times, it has the potential "to become the breadbasket for much of Europe
if its agriculture were better organized."

Ethiopia has a fascinating philatelic history, and most serious collectors who specialize in Ethiopia are Europeans and Americans. I expect that this will change over the long-term, as it has for so many countries which have risen out of poverty.

Stamp Investment Tip: U.S. Offices in China Issues (Scott #K1-18)

From 1919 to 1922, the U.S. issued stamps for prepayment of mail despatched from the U.S. Postal Agency in Shanghai, China. I view many of these stamps as extremely undervalued, and list their printing quantities and Scott '09 Catalog Values for unused below:

1919 Issue:

K1 2c on 1c Green (355,000; $ $25.00 unused; $70.00 NH)

K2 4c on 2c Rose (355,000; $25.00 unused; $ 70.00 NH)

K3 6c on 3c Violet (113,000;$ 60.00 unused; $ 150.00 NH)

K4 8c on 4c Brown (113,000; $ 60.00 unused; $ 150.00 NH)

K5 10c on 5c Blue (113,000; $ 85.00 unused; $ 220.00 NH )

K6 12c on 6c Red Orange (113,000; $ 85.00 unused; $ 220.00 NH )

K7 14c on 7c Black (113,000;$ 87.50 unused; $ 225.00 NH)

K8 16c on 8c Olive Bister (13,000; $ 70.00 unused; $ 180.00 NH)

K8a 16c on 8c Olive Green (100,000;$ 60.00 unused; $ 160.00 NH)

K9 18c on 9c Salmon Red (113,000; $ 65.00 unused; $ 170.00 NH)

K10 20c on 10c Orange Yellow (113,000; $ 60.00 unused; $ 160.00 NH )

K11 24c on 12c Brown Carmine (50,000; $ 80.00 unused; $ 200.00 NH)

K11a 24c on 12c Claret Brown (8,000; $ 110.00 unused; $ 275.00 NH )

K12 30c on 15c Gray (58,000; $ 87.50 unused; $ 210.00 NH)

K13 40c on 20c Deep Ultramarine (58,000; $ 130.00 unused; $ 300.00 NH)

K14 60c on 30c Orange Red ( 58,000; $ 120.00 unused; $ 280.00 NH)

K15 $1 on 50c Light Violet (14,000; $ 575.00 unused; $ 1,300.00 NH)

K16 $2 on $1 Violet Brown (13,800; $ 450.00 unused; $ 1,000.00 NH)

K16a $2 on $1 Violet Brown, double surcharge (200;$ 8,500.00 unused; $ 14,000.00 NH)

1922 Issue:

K17 2c on 1c Green (10,000;$ 110.00 unused; $ 250.00 NH)

K18 4c on 2c Carmine (10,000; $ 100.00 unused; $ 230.00 NH)

K18a 4c on 2c Carmine, "SHANGHAI" Omitted (Unknown, probably 100 or fewer; $ 7,500.00 unused)

K18b 4c on 2c Carmine, "CHINA" only (Unknown, probably 100 or fewer; $ 15,000.00 unused)

The three overprint errors (K16a,K18a, and K18b) are the key stamps of this set, and they, along with the other better stamps should be expertized prior to purchase. The Offices in China Issues tend to have mediocre centering. I recommend obtaining graded certificates for those which are VF-XF or better, and which catalog over $100.

Many of the stamps issued by various nations for their offices and possessions in China have not experienced the same meteoric rise as the currently hot issues of the P.R.C.. Perhaps this is partly attributable to Chinese nationalism, as the foreign countries that had colonies or spheres of influence in China were there as imperial powers, attempting to suck the lifeblood out of the Chinese people via the opium trade, resource extraction, and other means. Nevertheless, many of the stamps issued by the U.S., Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Portugal (for Macao) and Russia for their Chinese offices/possessions are quite scarce and undervalued, and eagerly sought by the colonies collectors of those countries. Eventually, the Chinese market will take greater notice of them.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Stamp Investment Tip: Burma 1937-39 Officials

In 1937, the British declared Burma separate from India, and made it a self-governing unit of the Empire. The first stamps of Burma were George V definitives of India overprinted "Burma." A set of Official stamps (Scott #O1-14), for use by governmental officials, was also created by additionally overprinting the stamps "Official." In 1939, a new set of Officials (Scott #O15-27) was issued by overprinting some of the stamps from Burma's 1938-40 George VI issue.
Issuance quantity information is unavailable for these sets, but in all probability, 10,000- 20,000 (or fewer) of each were produced. They are of current interest to British Commonwealth collectors, and Scott ' values O1-14 at $ 497.00 for unused ($825.00 for NH)and O15-27 at $ 309.10 for unused ($ 420.00 for NH).

Now called the Union of Myanmar, this country of 50 million is ruled by a ruthless military junta which oppresses its people and mismanages and isolates Myanmar from the rest of the world. The junta has committed crimes against humanity, including the forced labor of approximately 800,000 of its citizens. Previous to the coup of 1962 in which the junta seized power, Burma was one of the most prosperous nations in Southeast Asia, rich in commodities and with a highly literate, hard-working population.

I view it as inevitable that the Burmese people will cast off their oppressors and return to democracy, and eventually, prosperity, but when this will happen, or at what cost, remain open questions. Until then, I suggest purchase of both of these sets, which should gradually increase in value based solely upon demand from British Commonwealth collectors.

Stamp Investment Tip: Egypt 1933 Railroad Congress Issue (Scott #168-71)

In 1933, Egypt issued a set of stamps commemorating the meeting of the International Railroad Congress in Heliopolis (Scott #168-71). The set pictures various locomotives from the 1850s on, and is an attractive Train topical issue. 52,000 sets were issued, and Scott '10 values it unused at $ 70.00 .

With an estimated 76 million people, Egypt possesses one of the most developed economies in the Mid-East, with a GDP growth rate of 5% -7%. The government is undertaking major economic reforms to further spur development, including massive investments in infrastructure and liberalizing economic and tax policies to encourage foreign investment. Egypt's main challenge in the years to come will be one of social and political democratization - how to assure that enough of the new wealth trickles down to the majority of the population to lessen the problems of poverty and political instability.

Stamp Investment Tip: Cape of Good Hope 1900 Siege of Mafeking Issue

During the Boer War of 1899-1902, the town of Mafeking was besieged by the Boers over a period of 217 days, and successfully defended by British forces commanded by Lieutenant General Robert Baden-Powell. Greatly outnumbered by enemy forces, Baden-Powell bolstered his troops by forming the Mafeking Cadet Corps, a group of boys aged 12 to 15, to act as messengers and orderlies. The Cadet Corps was later to be one of the inspirations for the Scouting movement, which Baden-Powell founded in 1907.

Mail delivery was among the tasks performed by the Cadet Corps, and since inventories of postage stamps had been depleted during the Siege, stamps of the Cape of Good Hope and the Bechuanaland Protectorate were surcharged, and new stamps picturing 12 year-old Sergeant Major Goodyear (later considered the "First Boy Scout") and Baden-Powell himself were locally produced.

All of the stamps of the Siege of Mafeking Issues (Scott #162-180) are scarce to rare, and both fake overprints and forgeries exist, so expertization should be a condition for purchase. I've listed the stamps, along with quantities issued and Scott '10 Catalog Values, below:

Stamps of Cape of Good Hope surcharged:

#162 1p on 1/2p Green (7,680; $ 240.00 unused, $ 77.50 used)

163 1p on 1/2p Green (5,280; $ 300.00 unused, $ 90.00 used)

164 3p on 1p Rose (6,000; $ 275.00unused, $ 60.00 used)

165 6p on 3p Red Violet (840; $ 42,500.00 unused, $ 300.00 used)

166 1sh on 4p Pale Olive Green (1,440; $ 8,000.00 unused, $ 425.00 used)

Stamps of Bechuanaland Protectorate Surcharged:

167 1p on 1/2p Vermilion (6,000; $ 240.00 unused, $ 77.50 used)

168 and 173 3p on 1p Lilac ( 1,800 total; 168: $ 1,000.00 unused, $ 105.00 used; 173: 1,050.00 unused, $ 90.00 used)

169 and 174 6p on 2p Green and Carmine (1,200 total ; 169: $ 2,250.00 unused, $ 90.00 used; 174: $ 1,300.00 unused, $ 90.00 used )

170 6p on 3p Violet on yellow (1,440; $ 2,250.00 unused, $ 90.00 used)

171 6p on 3p Violet (3,600; $ 450.00 unused, $ 80.00 used)

172 1sh on 4p Brown and Green (2,320; $ 1,650.00 unused, $ 95.00 used)

175 1sh on 6p Violet on rose (1,440; $ 7,250.00 unused, $ 105.00 used)

176 1sh on 6p Violet on rose (240; $ 55,000.00 unused, $ 900.00 used)

177 2sh on 1sh Green (570; $ 14,500.00 unused, $ 500.00 used)

Locally Printed Issue:

178 1p Blue on blue (9,476; $ 1,000.00 unused, $ 425.00 used)

179 3p Blue on blue, 18 1/2mm wide (6,072; $ 1,400.00 unused, $425.00 used)

180 3p Blue on blue, 21 mm wide (3,036; $ 10,750.00 unused, $1,500.00 used)

In 2007, Boy and Girl Scouts and Guides numbered 38 million members in 216 countries worldwide. Scouting Topical stamps are extremely popular internationally. The stamps of the Siege of Mafeking were the first such produced, and will remain key items within any Scouting collection. I strongly recommend purchase of these scarce stamps, conditional on obtaining expertization.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Stamp Investment Tip: People's Republic of China 1964 Peony Souvenir Sheet (Scott #782)

In August of 1964, about a year and a half before the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, the People's Republic of China symbolically fulfilled its broken promise to let a few flowers bloom, by issuing a set (Scott 767-81) and souvenir sheet picturing paintings of Peonies (Scott #782). Only 30,000 of these beautiful Flower topical souvenir sheets were issued, and Scott '10 values the unused souvenir sheet at $ 1,200.00 .

Most were sold to American and European collectors, because philately was discouraged in the P.R.C. at the time. Like the Ping Pong souvenir sheet (Scott #566a) tipped earlier in this blog, this sheet is white-hot right now, and tipping it is actually a boringly safe recommendation. Unless China has another revolution or the sky falls on it somehow, the Peony Souvenir Sheet will continue to soar, the only pertinent question being how far and how quickly.

Phila-Trivia: Bhutan's Record Stamps

Philately is replete with absurdity and interesting trivia.

Over the years, Bhutan, a kingdom in the Himalayas, has issued many "novelty" postage stamps, which have sold mainly to collectors and contributed to the country's economic development. In 1973, Bhutan issued a group of stamps that were actually small phonograph records which played the National Anthem and local folk songs.

In 2008, to celebrate the centennial of its hereditary monarchy and the crowning of its 5th king, His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, Bhutan issued the world's first CD-ROM postage stamp. The stamp commemorates on video the anniversary, crowning, and signing of the new constitution, and visually documents Bhutan's evolution as an emerging democracy.

For those who collect stamps on cover, attempting to insert a whole envelope bearing the CD-ROM stamp into your hard drive is probably not such a great idea.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Practical Advice: Auctions, Part II: Consigning and Selling

From the perspective of the consignor, the four types of auctions described in the earlier article on buying at auction (Practical Advice: Auctions, Part I - Bidding and Buying) are useful for liquidating different types of material. A few general questions regarding terms for consignors apply to all four, however:

  • What is the seller's commission? Most stamp auctions charge a 10%-15% commission of the gross realization from sellers, but some charge as much as 25%. If a consignment is large enough, many an auctioneer will reduce or even eliminate the seller's commission, because he is in competition with other auctioneers who also may wish obtain the consignment.
  • What is the buyer's commission? Most stamp auctions charge a commission to the buyer as well as to the seller. While the seller doesn't pay this commission directly, it does affect how much prospective buyers are willing to bid for his lots.
  • Does the auctioneer allow consignors to set minimum reserves on their lots? This is important because reserves eliminate the possibility of the consignor's lots selling for too little.
  • What are the minimum consignment values and minimum lot values?
  • Must the consignor pay lotting fees for unsold lots? Are there any other fees for which the consignor is responsible?
  • How many catalogs are sent out and how many are sent overseas?
  • What is the auctioneer's record when he has sold similar material in the past? It's always prudent to request the records of realizations from recent auctions in which the auctioneer has offered material similar to the consignor's. Many of the same bidders who have purchased this material will probably bid on yours.
  • How soon after the auction does the consignor get paid?

  • Is the auctioneer reputable? This can be determined by checking with the membership department of the philatelic society to which he belongs.
Each of the four types of auctions is appropriate for different types of consignment, and a fifth, auctions which specialize in a particular collecting area, can also be useful.

  • Premier Auctions require the highest minimum consignment and lot values. Lately, they've been trending towards charging high consignor's and buyer's commissions of 15% to 20%. Unless your consignment is extremely valuable, the premier auctioneer will be inflexible in maintaining his terms. On the positive side, premier auctions tend to achieve high realizations for better material, because their clientele tends to be very affluent.

  • Specialty Auctions focus on stamps of a particular collecting area. They're generally similar to premier auctions, and also tend to achieve high realizations, because their clientele specializes in the stamps which they're offering.

  • "Second Tier" U.S. and Worldwide Auctions neither specialize nor do they publish expensive catalogs. Commissions tend to be more reasonable at such auctions, and minimum consignment and lot values are lower. Frequently, the auctioneer will be more flexible as to terms if the consignment is of medium value or greater, or the consignor has established a relationship with the auctioneer. Realizations are across the board, and at most such auctions, there will be both bargains and gross overbidding.

  • Ebay reaches the widest possible audience, and is useful for selling inexpensive and medium-value single items, and low-grade collections or accumulations.Its main disadvantages are that it charges the seller an insertion fee whether a lot sells or not, and bidders don't tend to bid as much for individual high-value items as they would at a regular stamp auction, because they cannot physically inspect the lots. On the plus side, its total commissions (including Paypal fees) for lots that actually sell are considerably lower than those of regular stamp auctions, and payment is received much faster.

  • Local Antique Auctions are the best venues for dumping worthless junk. They are often attended by bidders who know very little or nothing about the stamp market, and who will pay real money for stamps that seem impressive to them because the stamps are beautiful, old, or from "exotic" countries. I do not condone blatant dishonesty when writing descriptions for lots for sale at an antique auction, but I see nothing wrong with presenting them in an attractive manner. A common tactic for antique auction sellers is to create a stamp "mystery box," a box of common stamps, recently received covers with interesting stamps attached, unwanted supplies, old auction catalogs, and other miscellaneous rubbish all thrown together in a lot for which the only true "mystery" is why anyone would want to bid on it. Antique auctioneers tend to charge a high seller's commission (usually 20%-25%), but they usually pay within 2 weeks after the auction. Local antique auctions are a great way to play the "ignorance market," converting garbage into real money which can then be re-invested in something of value. They are hit or miss opportunities, however, as sometimes sufficiently ignorant, gullible buyers do not show up to bid. Nevertheless, the risk of consigning to them is minimal or non-existent, given the quality of the material being unloaded.
The Stamp Auction Bidders and Consignors Union (SABACU) is a Facebook group which provides a venue for discussing stamp auctions and represents the interests of stamp auction bidders and consignors in their dealings with stamp auctioneers. All stamp collectors and dealers are welcome to join.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Stamp Investment Tip: Belgium 1957 Antarctic Expedition Semi-Postal Souvenir Sheet (Scott B605a)

In 1957, Belgium issued a semi-postal souvenir sheet to benefit its 1957-58 Antarctic Expedition (Scott #B605a). This pleasant souvenir features sled dogs resting at outside a Antarctic camp, and doubles as an Animal and a Polar Topical. 82,700 were issued and Scott '10 values the souvenir sheet at $ 175.00 for unused and $ 140.00 for used.

With a population of just under 11 million, Belgium is the world's 15th largest trading nation. Highly industrialized, educated, and affluent, Belgium has a sizable, vibrant stamp collecting community comparable to those of its Northern European neighbors.

This souvenir sheet is well worth accumulating, either VF NH or used. Attractively cacheted First Day Covers exist, for which Michel assigns a hefty premium over the catalog value for used. Fortunately, many dealers don't keep up with Michel, so it may be possible to find a B605a FDC at a very reasonable price.

Stamp Investment Tips: Mexico 1934 University Issue (Scott 698-706/C54-61/RA138)

In 1934, Mexico issued a beautiful compound set of stamps honoring its National University (Scott #698-706/C54-61/RA138). Showcasing Mexico's Aztec heritage in Art Deco style, it's rather pricey, so the constituent sets are usually sold individually (and even as individual values). 1,300 of the regular issue and 1,500 of the Airmail sets were sold, and the regular issue (Scott # 698-706) has a Scott '10 Catalog Value of $ 1,736.00 unused ($ 2,400.00 for NH) while the Air set (Scott #C54-61) is valued at $ 1,617.00 unused ($ 2,600.00 for NH). The postal tax stamp (Scott #RA138) is common.

I feel that the sets are grossly undervalued despite their apparent costliness, and should do very well in the years to come. Individual high values also are attractive: the 10p and 20p top values (706 and C61) with printings of 1,300 and 1,500, respectively (Scott Catalog Values of
$ 1,100.00 and $ 1,250.00), the 5p Offering to the Gods (Scott #705- 2,000 issued; $ 325.00), and the 5p and 10p Airs (Scott #C59 and C60; 3,000 and 2,500 issued; $ 75.00 and $ 240.00).

With a population of about 109 million, Mexico has experienced consistent annual GDP growth of between 3 and 5%. It has a diverse and developing economy, but modernization remains a slow and uneven process, and current challenges include addressing income inequality and corruption, upgrading the infrastructure, and reforming tax and labor laws. Stamps of Mexico are popular among collectors in the U.S. as well as in Mexico, and those who wish to learn more about Mexican stamps should consider joining the Mexico Elmhurst Philatelic Society International (M.E.P.S.I.). MEPSI provides many useful services for collectors of Mexico, including expertizing Mexican stamps.

Note that a rare unwatermarked variety exists of the 10p Aztec Worshiper (Scott #706a), of which only 200 were issued. Scott values the variety at $ 3,250.00 unused ($ 5,000.00 for NH) . Should you decide to cough up for one, it could certainly become one of the crown jewels of your philatelic investment portfolio.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Stamp Investment Tip: Uruguay 1929-43 Pegasus Issue (Scott #C27-60A)

Between 1929 and 1943, Uruguay issued a magnificent set of thirty-six airmail stamps, the Pegasus Issue (Scott # C27-60A). Each stamp bears the same design but in different colors, and the set has become a favorite among Horse and Animal topical collectors. Only 5,000 sets were issued, and Scott '10 values it unused at $ 417.90. Because of its length and the fact that it was issued over 14 years, the set has become increasingly difficult to find complete and in decent shape (F-VF LH or better). I believe it to be a bargain at full Scott if found F-VF+ NH, or discounted by 40%-50% for LH.

A related issue with the same design, the 1944 Surcharged Pegasus set (Scott # C106-12) is also worth targeting. It had a somewhat higher printing (15,000), but is also far less expensive (Scott '10 Catalog Value = $ 12.00) .

I hesitate to recommend the 1935 Pegasus set (Scott #C63-82), because Scott notes that counterfeits of this set exist. I have not seen examples of these counterfeits, so cannot comment on how convincing they are.

With a population of about 3 1/2 million people, most of whom are of European or mixed descent, Uruguay has a stamp collecting population which will probably approach European levels in the years to come. Uruguay is one of the most economically developed, politically stable and least corrupt countries in Latin America, and is moving away from its dependence on agricultural exports and toward development of commercial technologies, especially software.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Stamp Investment Tip: Marianas 1899 Spanish Handstamped Issue (Scott 1-6)

In 1899, Spain issued stamps for the Marianas Islands, which it had claimed as its possession since 1668, the arrival of Spanish Jesuits intent on Christianizing the local natives, the Chamorro, who were nearly wiped out by wars with the Spanish and diseases introduced by colonists over the next eighty years. Stamps of the Philippines, which Spain had just lost in the Spanish-American War, were crudely handstamped "Marianas Espanolas" and were used for only a single mail shipment that was transported off the island in December of 1899, before Spain sold the Marianas to Germany in 1900.

These stamps are extremely scarce, and the covers are about as rare as hen's teeth. They are occasionally offered at auction. Expertization is a necessary condition of purchase, because forged handstamps exist. Many of the Spanish Marianas stamps are poorly centered, so attempt to either select one that has F-VF or better centering, unlike the one pictured, or discount for mediocre centering or condition problems.

The quantities issued and Scott ' 10 Catalog Values are as follows:

  • 1 2c Dark Blue Green (500 issued; $875.00 unused, $ 325.00 used)
  • 2 3c Dark Brown (500 issued; $ 675.00 unused, $ 225.00 used )
  • 3 5c Carmine Rose (500 issued; $ 1,000.00 unused, $ 350.00 used)
  • 4 6c Dark Blue (50 issued; $ 6,500.00 unused, $ 5,000.00 used)
  • 5 8c Gray Brown (700 issued; $ 500.00 unused, $ 200.00 used)
  • 6 15c Slate Green (150 issued; $ 2,500.00 unused, $ 1,300.00 used)

Practical Advice: Auctions - Part I - Bidding and Buying

Stampselectors should view auctions both as opportunities to find bargains and as venues for selling (which will be discussed in a future article). This article will focus on bidding on and buying stamps at the four types of stamp auction: premier auctions, general U.S. and worldwide auctions, ebay and other Internet stamp auctions, and local antique auctions.

A few general rules apply when buying stamps at auction. Firstly, read the conditions of sale. Before bidding, it is important to know:

  • the buyer's commission - this may be as little as 10%, or as high as 20% (or more); it is necessary to be aware of the buyer's commission when placing a bid because it is a part of the cost of the lot won;
  • the costs of shipment, if you are not picking up lots - the shipment cost should be considered a part of the cost of the lot; note that certain auctioneers pad their invoices with very high "handling" charges in addition to the actual postage and insurance cost;
  • the terms governing the return of misdescribed lots - these cover two matters of importance: a description of the kinds of lots that cannot be returned, and the duration of the return privilege. Many auctioneers specify that lots containing over a certain number of stamps, such as long sets of stamps or collections, cannot be returned. As for duration of the return privilege, most auctioneers allow bidders to return misdescribed lots within 10 days after receipt.
  • the terms relating to expertization- almost all auctioneers grant an extension of the return privilege for the purpose of getting a stamp expertized. It is important to know how long this extension lasts, because experts can sometimes take up to 9 months to issue a certificate and send it back with the stamp. Some auctioneers will not grant such an extension if the auctioned stamp already bears a certificate that has been issued within the last 5 years. Others will grant an extension only if the extension is requested when bidding. Most auctioneers will refund both the cost of the stamp and the cost of expertization, up to a specified maximum amount, if the stamp receives a negative opinion from the expert. It is very important to know all of the expertization terms before placing a bid on any stamp which may require expertizing.
  • additional fees, such as sales taxes or value added taxes;

Secondly, it is best to establish accounts with stamp auctioneers which allow for inspection of won lots prior to payment (if not attending the auction), and if possible, "net in 30 days" payment terms. When establishing such accounts, the auctioneer will request that you provide references, including society or organization membership information and dealer or auctioneer references. I am a firm believer in inspection prior to payment because, in my experience, even the best auction houses misdescribe lots 10% to 15% of the time, and the worst- 1/4 to 1/3 of the time. Such lots must be returned to the auctioneer via insured mail, and if a lot is grossly misdescribed, the auctioneer should be held accountable for postage and insurance costs, both ways. "Net in 30 days" payment terms is convenient because it allows the bidder time to resell the lot before he has paid for it.

Descriptions of stamps should be read carefully, noting any condition problems which are included. If condition problems are noted but trivialized, treat the trivialization sceptically, as the stamp's defect may not seem so trivial when you try to resell it. View all photos of lots, when available, as frequently photographed lots may not not be returned on the basis of problems which are visible in their photos.
Different strategic approaches apply to different types of auction.

Premier stamp auctions are conducted by the prestigious international stamp auction firms, and often feature many lots from prize-winning specialized collections formed by advanced collectors over a period of decades. Premier auctioneers always publish expensive, glossy auction catalogs, and the stamps displayed within them generally bring top dollar. Often, many of the lots are from collections consigned by just a few major consignors, with whom the auctioneer has had to make deals, including allowing reserved minimums and reduced seller's commissions, so as to bag the consignment. Such auctions usually have few outright bargains, because so many of the lots are "reserved to the hilt," but give the bidder the opportunity to purchase stamps which are rarely offered, and which may represent good investments.
General U.S. and Worldwide auctions present greater opportunities for bargains, especially in the areas of neglected foreign issues and large lots, such as collections and accumulations. As many of these auctions represent a large number of small consignors, fewer deals are made, and fewer lots have reserves. Often, the best bargains will be had by those who are willing to devote time and effort to inspecting the large lots, as most bidders are discouraged by the prospect of spending many hours rummaging through boxes.
Ebay and other Internet auctions have revolutionized the stamp market, and collectibles markets in general, in that they have brought together greater numbers of sellers and buyers than have ever been connected before. So many collectors, investors, and dealers have become adept at using Ebay that it is amazing to consider that it has only been around for about 15 years, and that before then, a collector who wished to buy or sell material usually had to go through a middleman who took a large cut for his services, such as a dealer or auctioneer, or else hope to find something at his local stamp club. Taking the classical Hobbesian perspective of free-market capitalism, I think it fair to say that ebay has waged a successful war of attrition against many of the traditional "mom and pop" operations, appropriating most of their customer base and driving those who could not adapt out of business.

When bidding on ebay lots, it is important to check the seller's feedback in order to ensure that he is reputable. The bidder should read all terms within the lot description, especially the return provisions and shipping costs. The seller should offer shipping terms which allow the option of insured mail, or registered mail if the seller is outside of the U.S.. These costs should be taken into account when bidding on a lot. Payments should be made via paypal, because it is convenient, and because it guarantees a refund in the event of a return of a misdescribed lot, or non-receipt of a lot sent via accountable (registered, insured, or certified) mail. I find that there are many bargains to be had on ebay, especially in items of "medium" value, which are too inexpensive to appear in major stamp auctions.

Local antique auctions are "hit and miss" situations, because usually when stamps are advertised for such auctions, they turn out to be "wallpaper", or junk. Much of the philatelic material that is offered at local antique auctions is either "limited edition" collections (described in an earlier article) and common worldwide stamps - either packet material or post-1940 U.S.. Occasionally, however, you may find a diamond among the mountains of coal, and will probably be able to buy it quite cheaply. The only thing of which one may be sure when attending a local antique auction is that the vast majority of bidders will be utterly ignorant of stamp values, and will therefore bid far too much or far too little.

The Stamp Auction Bidders and Consignors Union (SABACU) is a Facebook group which provides a venue for discussing stamp auctions and represents the interests of stamp auction bidders and consignors in their dealings with stamp auctioneers. All stamp collectors and dealers are welcome to join.

Stamp Investment Tip: Greenland 1905-37 Parcel Post Issues (Scott Q1-11)

Between 1905 and 1937, Denmark issued parcel post stamps for Greenland, which was a colony until becoming an integral part of Denmark in 1953. Scott lists these issues as two sets (Q1-9 and Q10-11), but one could argue that they actually comprised three separate sets: the 1905 typographed, perf. 12 1/2 issue, the 1916-37 typographed, perf. 11 or 11 1/2 issue, and the 1937 lithographed, perf. 11 issue.

All of the Greenland Parcel Posts (with the possible exceptions of Q6 and Q6a) are undervalued, probably because they've been neglected as "back-of-book" issues, and I've listed their quantities issued and Scott ' Catalog Values for unused below:

  • Q1 1916 1 ore Olive Green (56,500 issued -$ 57.50)
  • Q1a 1905 1 ore Olive Green, Perf 12 1/2 (10,000 issued - $ 775.00)
  • Q2 1916 2 ore Yellow (37,500 issued - $ 325.00 )
  • Q3 1916 5 ore Brown (32,500 issued- $ 125.00 )
  • Q3a 1905 5 ore Brown, Perf 12 1/2 (5,000 issued- $ 750.00)
  • Q4 and Q4b 10 ore Blue (58,000 total issued - $ 40.00 and $ 55.00, respectively)
  • Q4a 1905 10 ore Blue, Perf 12 1/2 (10,000 issued - $ 950.00)
  • Q5 1916 15 ore Violet (28,000 issued- $ 200.00)
  • Q6 and Q6a 20 ore Red (344,000 total issued - $ 17.00 and $ 40.00, respectively )
  • Q7 and Q7a 1937 70 ore Violet, Perf 11 (16,500 total issued - $ 40.00 and $ 250.00, respectively)
  • Q8 and Q8a 1 krone Yellow ( 50,000 total issued- $ 40.00 and 52.50, respectively)
  • Q9 1930 3 krone Brown (40,000 issued- $ 140.00)
  • Q10 1937 70 ore Pale Violet (25,500 issued - $ 42.50)
  • Q11 1937 1 krone Yellow (Unknown quantity issued - $ 40.00 )
The Michel Catalog notes a 1937 70 ore ReddishViolet variety (1,000 issued) which is not listed in Scott, and it might pay to watch out for it. It is actually the scarcest stamp of the entire issue, and an unknowing seller might offer it as the regular 70 ore Pale Violet (Q10), which is 25 times more common.

Those interested in learning more about investing in stamps are welcome to join the Facebook "Stampselectors" group, which currently has over 1,600 members. The group provides a forum for discussion, and is also a useful venue for those who wish to buy and sell stamps and covers.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Stamp Investment Tip: Philippines 1926 10p Madrid-Manila Flight Issue (Scott #C15)

In 1926, the Philippines, then under U.S. Administration, issued its first airmail stamps (Scott #C1-15) to commemorate the flight of Spanish aviators Edwardo Gallarza and Joaquin Loriga from Madrid to Manila. All of the values of the 1917-27 regular issue were overprinted "Airmail Madrid-Manila 1926." In addition, two other values, the 1911 26c Blue Green and the 1914 1p Pale Violet, were also given the overprint (Scott # C16 and C17). In my opinion, all of the Madrid-Manila Airs are scarce and undervalued, as even the inexpensive low values have printings of under 10,000. However, fake overprints may exist and expertization is necessary, so it makes sense to concentrate on this issue's scarcest and priciest stamps, for which paying for expertization is worthwhile.

One such stamp is the 10 peso Deep Green with Violet overprint (Scott #C15), of which only 500 were issued. I have selected this stamp merely as a representative of all of the scarcest stamps of this issue; I believe they are all comparable as investments, and list them, along with their Scott ' 10 Catalog Values (for unused) below:

  • 16c Olive Bister with Red Overprint (Scott # C8)- 100 issued; $ 5,000.00
  • 2p Violet Brown with Red Overprint (Scott # C13)- 900 issued; $ 650.00, $ 1,200.00 NH
  • 4p Dark Blue with Red Overprint (Scott #C14) - 700 issued; $ 750.00, $ 1,300.00 NH
  • 10p Deep Green with Violet Overprint (Scott #C15) - 500 issued; $ 1,350.00
  • 26c Blue Green with Violet Overprint, watermarked single-lined PIPS (Scott #C16)-100 issued; $ 6,250.00
  • 1p Pale Violet with Violet Overprint (Scott #C17)- 2,000 issued; $ 225.00, $ 450.00 NH

As a newly democratic and newly industrialized country of 92 million which is transitioning from its centuries-old complete dependence on agriculture, the Philippines may 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%.

There are many scarce and undervalued issues of the Philippines, some of which will be covered in future articles. I favor the better Madrid-Manila Airs in particular, because they are sought after in three markets (the Philippines, the U.S., because at the time that these stamps were issued, the Philippines was a U.S. Possession, and Spain, because of interest in the historic flight). Also ,I feel that they are undervalued in part because of the perceived difficulty of obtaining expertization, a concern which is rooted in lack of experience.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Stamp Investment Tips: Japan 1934 Plane Over Lake Ashi Souvenir Sheet (Scott #C8)

On April 20, 1934, Japan celebrated Communications Commemoration Day, and issued a souvenir sheet (Scott #C8) at a philatelic exhibition in Tokyo. The four stamps in the sheet had the same design as the 1929-34 Airmail stamps (C3-7), which pictured a passenger plane of Lake Ashi. 20,000 sheets were issued.

Scott '10 prices the unused sheet at $ 1,400.00 (and $ 2,200.00 for Never Hinged), which seems expensive. It isn't, considering that Japan, with its 128 million people, is the second largest economy in the world, has a healthy stamp market on par with those of Europe, and has one of the most rapidly aging populations in the world. The percentage of Japanese aged 60 and over, which was 23% in the year 2000, is expected to rise 42%, an 82% increase, by 2050.

Stamp Investment Tip: Spain 1950 Stamp Centenary Issue (Scott #776-79,C127-30)

In 1950, Spain issued a set of imperforate stamps (Scott #776-79, C127-30) commemorating the Centenary of its first postage stamps. The "Stamp on Stamp" topical pictured the 1850 Isabella II issue, and 41,000 sets were produced. Scott values the unused NH set at $ 575.00 and the used set at $ 376.00.

I favor the scarce and undervalued issues of Spain and its colonies. The nation has 46 million people, the 9th largest economy in the world, and the most rapidly aging population in Europe. Philately will continue to flourish under such conditions.

I recommend purchase of the set - unused or used. First Day Covers with the complete set are also attractive, as long as the premium over the cost of a plain used set isn't exhorbitant.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Stamp Investment Tip: Cameroun 1940 Spitfire Semi-Postal set (Scott B10-13)

In June of 1940, France surrendered to Germany, signing an armistice which instituted a regime of collaboration, centered in Vichy. General Charles de Gaulle, then in London serving as an emissary for the defeated government, established the Free French Organization and gave a speech over BBC Radio calling for French resistance to the occupying German forces and their French collaborators.

Initially, many of the Free French forces were not composed of French nationals. Over 65% were West African conscripts. Shortly after the fall of France, the French Colonies of Cameroun and French Equatorial Africa (with the exception of Gabon) were the first to join the Free French.

In November of 1940, Cameroun overprinted four values picturing the Falls on the M'bam River from its 1939-40 regular issue with the word "Spitfire" and a surcharge, creating a set of semi-postals (Scott #B10-13). The 5 franc surtax was used to purchase Spitfire Fighters for the Free French Army. Only 4,000 sets were issued and the set has a Scott '10 Catalog Value of
$ 500.

This set is of interest mostly to collectors of France and Colonies, and will continue to remain so, unless philatelic investors decide to target it. Despite my belief that stamp collecting in the Republic of Cameroon will not take off in the near future, I feel that the scarcity of the set and its historical significance make it a worthy long-term holding.

By First World standards, the Republic of Cameroon is a poor country, although it is considered one of the more stable and prosperous nations of Sub-Saharan Africa. With a population of about 19 million and GDP growth of about 4% per year, it is heavily reliant on commodity exports - agricultural products, timber, oil, aluminum, and other metals. The government seems to be moving towards gradual reforms- countering corruption, moving away from authoritarianism and human rights abuses, encouraging economic development, etc. - but it is likely that progress will be slow.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Stamp Investment Tip: Singapore 1969 150th Anniversary of Founding Souvenir Sheet (Scott 106a)

In 1819, the British East India Company, led by Sir Stamford Raffles, established a trading post on the island of Singapore, then the site of a small Malay fishing village. Over time, Singapore became one of the most important commercial and military centers of the British Empire, and the hub of British power in Southeast Asia.

In 1969, four years after becoming an independent republic, Singapore issued a set (Scott #101-06; Scott '10 Catalog Value of $ 127.00) and souvenir sheet (Scott #106a; Scott '10 Catalog Value of $ 675.00 for unused ) commemorating the 150th Anniversary of its Founding. Both are scarce, as 14,312 sets were issued, along with 9,067 souvenir sheets.

Since independence, Singapore has built a prosperous, export-driven economy, heavily based on manufacturing and refining imported goods. With a population of about 5 million, it is the 5th wealthiest country in the world in terms of GDP per capita. In January, 2009, this small island's foreign exchange reserves stood at approximately $170 billion. It is likely that the economy will grow by at least 4%-6% annually over the next 10 years.

I favor scarce and undervalued issues of all of the "Asian Tigers," and the "Raffles Issue" is no exception. Not only will its value reflect the continuing economic growth of Singapore, but given the paucity of supply, the market for the issue could easily be inflamed by competitive buy-listing in the not-too-distant future.

General Commentary: The Aging Population and the Coming Stamp Market Boom

A 2007 UN Report describes global trends in aging, showing an "unprecedented, pervasive, and enduring" aging of the world population which will have "profound implications on many facets of human life." According to the report, those aged 60 and over comprised 8% of the world population in 1950, and this number increased to 11% in 2007. It is expected to double, to 22%, by 2050.

One of the "profound implications" of global senescence which has not been explored is its probable effect on philately. While no surveys or empirical studies have been done to determine the break-down of the "serious" stamp collecting population by age, it is commonly accepted that people start collecting stamps when they are young, set them aside for several decades, and then return to stamp collecting later in life, when they have the money and time to devote themselves to the hobby as serious collectors.

Consequently, we may expect a doubling of the "serious" stamp collector proportion of the general population in countries which have a substantial middle class. The effect will be less pronounced in less-developed countries. Overall, however, we may expect the global population of serious stamp collectors to swell by tens of millions over the next forty years, and continue to grow as the population continues to age. This will result in a stamp market boom, as a vastly expanded pool of serious stamp collectors competes for a static or diminishing supply of better stamps.

While a "rising tide may lift all boats," in this case, some boats will be lifted higher than others. Clearly, the aging trend should be factored into the equation when analyzing the growth potential of a particular country's better stamps. The UN Report cited above profiles the aging trend with a section that examines how it affects specific countries and areas (at the end of the report). A prudent stampselector might consider targeting issues from countries which have both growing middle classes and rapidly aging populations.

Those interested in learning about investing in stamps should read the Guide to Philatelic Investing ($5), available on Kindle and easily accessible from any computer.    

Stamp Investment Tip: Czechoslovakia 1934 National Anthem Souvenir Sheets (Scott #200a-01a)

In 1934, Czechoslovakia issued a set of two souvenir sheets of 15 stamps each (Scott # 200a-201a) commemorating the Centenary of the National Anthem, Kde Domov Muj? (Where is My Home?), written by composer Frantisek Skroup and playwright Josef Kajitan Tyl. 9,600 sets were issued and Scott '10 prices the set at $ 1,100.00.
With among the most developed industrialized economies in Eastern Europe, the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic have a combined population of about 16 million. They have privatized most of its formerly state-owned industries and have maintained annual GDP growth of around 4% over the past 5 years.
I view this set as a low-risk bet on the two republics' continued long-term economic development. It doubles as a Music Topical, and because the souvenir sheets were issued without gum, somewhat less attention need be paid to preservation. Forgeries of the sheets exist, however, so make purchase of the set conditional on receiving expertization.