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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Phila-Trivia: Got A Rocket in Your Pocket? The Missile Mail Fiasco

Be thankful that one of the U.S. Navy's late-1950s solutions to the problem of slow mail delivery never caught on because, if it had, you could be ducking unarmed cruise missiles right now. On June 8, 1959, the U.S. submarine Barbero conducted the first and last test of so-called "Missile Mail," a concept that involved using a warhead-less Regulus cruise missile to carry postal containers.

The U.S. Postal Service devised the Missile Mail test as a combination experiment and publicity stunt in the hopes of finding alternative uses for military technology and more expeditious methods of delivering the mail. At the time, U.S. Postmaster General Arthur Summerfield hailed Missile Mail as "the first known official use of missiles by any post office department of any nation… [and an event] of historic significance to the peoples of the entire world." Summerfield went on to predict that "before man reaches the moon, mail will be delivered within hours from New York to California, to Britain, to India, or Australia by guided missiles. We stand on the threshold of rocket mail."

Clairvoyant, Summerfield was not. Considering the absurdity of using cruise missiles for civilian purposes during the Cold War, to say nothing of the inherent danger of firing weapons over civilian locations at regular intervals, or the high probability that the four-cent (domestic) and eight-cent (international) stamps on the rocket-powered postage didn't exactly cover the cost of using high-priced ordnance to pick up the delivery pace, it should come as no surprise that Missile Mail was a one-time-only affair.

Covers from the Barbero test are now quite valuable, and sell for $300 - $ 500.

This article contains quotes from the article "Geek Trivia: Air (and Space) Mail" by Jake Garmon of the Geek Trivia Newsletter

Stamp Investment Tip: Costa Rica 1941 Soccer Championship Issue (Scott # 201-08/C57-66)

In 1941,Costa Rica issued a compound set commemorating the Caribbean and Central American Soccer Championship (Scott #201-08/C57-66). 5,000 sets were issued, and Scott '10 prices the unused set at $ 121.35.

As with most of Latin America, Costa Rica has issued many stamps which I feel are grossly undervalued. This set has a very strong topical appeal, as soccer is widely considered to be the most popular sport in the world. Millions of people regularly go to stadiums to follow their favourite teams,while billions more watch the game on television.

This small nation of 4 1/2 million people is unique as the only Latin American country to have escaped the plague of repressive dictatorships and oligarchies endemic to the region. Costa Rica has generally enjoyed greater peace and more consistent political stability than many of its fellow Latin American nations. The government offers generous tax exemptions to those investing in the country,and in recent times electronics, pharmaceuticals, financial outsourcing, software development, and ecotourism have become the prime industries in Costa Rica's economy. High levels of education among its residents make the country an attractive investing location. Annual GDP growth has averaged 5.6% over the last 5 years.

Note that a rare "Flags Omitted" error exists of the 5c Green regular issue (Scott #201a; Scott '10 CV= $ 200.00). I advise requiring expertization as a condition for purchase when buying this error stamp.

Those interested in joining a community of stamp investors are welcome to join the "Stampselectors" group on Facebook. The group provides a valuable forum for those who wish discuss this blog, as well as trade or communicate with stamp collectors, dealers, and investors from all over the world.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Stamp Investment Tip: Venezuela 1944 Baseball Issue (Scott #C189-97)

In 1944, Venezuela issued an airmail set commemorating the 7th World Amateur Baseball Championship Games, held in Caracas (Scott #C189-97). Only 10,000 sets were issued, and Scott '12 prices it at $ 42.50 for unused.

This overlooked issue is extremely attractive as an investment, as it combines scarcity, low price, a growing worldwide topical interest in Baseball, and an issuance country which is prospering and likely to continue to prosper for the foreseeable future. Furthermore, there is a general tendency among many stamp collectors to focus on Latin America as a region, which further adds to its appeal.

With a population of about 26 million, Venezuela is resource-rich, and consistently ranks among the top ten oil producers in the world. Annual GDP growth has averaged 3.5% over the last 5 years, which reflects a deceleration due to the recent global financial crisis. Under Chavez-style quasi-socialism, the percentage of Venezuelans living below the poverty line decreased from 48% in 2002 to 30% in 2006. The country has begun diversifying its economy away from its current near-total dependence on petroleum exports, and has spawned a rapidly growing manufacturing sector.

Varieties exist for stamps of this set, including imperforates and overprint varieties. Perhaps the rarest is the double overprint of "AEREO" on the 45 centavo Rose Violet (Scott #C193), which is listed in Michel, but not in Scott. These varieties are considerably rarer than the normal stamps, but since they are not Scott-listed, it is possible that you will find them priced at only a modest premium.

Stamp Investment Tip: Suriname 1941 Arms/Inscription Semi-Postals(Scott #B34-36)

In 1941, Suriname issued a set of semi-postals to purchase fighter planes for the Royal Air Force of the Netherlands based in Great Britain (Scott # B34-36). The inscription reads "Netherlands Shall Rise Again, " referring to the struggle against German occupation. 10,000 sets were issued, and Scott '10 prices the unused set at $ 33.50.

The set has a potential dual market among collectors of Netherlands Colonies and Suriname.

With about 1/2 million people, Suriname is rich in natural resources, especially bauxite, athough it will be necessary to fund infrastructure projects to exploit them without destroying the environment. GDP growth has been robust, averaging 5% over the last 5 years. The country maintains close ties to the Netherlands, its primary trading partner.

In my opinion, most of this set's future growth will come from collectors of Netherlands Colonies, although it will receive an added boost if a stamp market develops in Suriname.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Stamp Investment Tip: Albania 1939 Definitives (Scott #310-23, C46)

In 1939, Italy invaded and occupied Albania, and issued a compound set featuring Albanian costumes, scenes, and Italy's King Victor Emmanual III (Scott #310-23,C46). Scott errantly does not list these stamps as a compound set. 40,000 of the regular-issue set were issued. Printing quantity information is unavailable for the key stamp (Scott C46), but in all probability, 10,000 to 20,000 were issued. Scott '10 prices the compound set at $115.75 for unused.

This set has a dual market, appealing to both Italian Area collectors and collectors of Albania.

A nation of 3.2 million people, Albania is poor by Western European standards, but has experienced healthy GDP growth, averaging 6% over the last 5 years. Foreign investment has increased but has been dampened somewhat by the country's inadequate infrastructure. Modernization will be Albania's main challenge over the next decade.

Stamp Investment Tips: Angola 1949 Scenes (Scott #319-24)

In 1949, Angola, issued a tourist set featuring scenes of the country (Scott #319-24). 50,000 sets were issued, and Scott '10 prices the unused set at $ 143.85 ($ 200.00 NH). Most were used as postage and discarded.

Angola, a nation of 18 1/2 million people, won its independence from Portugal in 1975, but was the scene of an intense civil war until 2002. The country has the fastest growing economy in Africa, averaging 15.5% over the last five years, largely driven by oil production. However, it faces huge social and economic problems as a result of the 27-year Civil War, and widespread corruption and poverty.

I favor the Scenes set based on its scarcity and interest to Portuguese Colonies collectors. Should Angola progress toward reconstruction and reform more quickly than is likely, the set will receive an added boost from from collectors within the country.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Stamp Investment Tip: Cuba 1953 Airliner Issue (Scott #C75-78)

In 1953, Cuba issued a set of four airmail stamps picturing Lockheed Constellation Airliners (Scott #C75-78). Only 10,000 sets were issued, and Scott '10 prices the unused set at $ 86.00 . Many of the sets were used as postage and discarded, as the 2p and 5p high values were used for shipping packages to the U.S..

This is one of many scarce issues of Cuba which should be targeted for investment. I believe it inevitable that Cuba will join the fold of more-or-less free nations, and that tourism and trade will explode as a result. Currently, the average wage of each of the 11 1/2 million people living in this "socialist utopia" is under $20 per month, and GDP per capita is 107th in the world. Annual GDP growth has been high, averaging 6.4% over the last 5 years, but given the levels of corruption and favoritism shown to high ranking Communist Party members, it's an open question whether much of that new wealth has been filtering downward. Eventually, something will have to give.

The current market for Cuban stamps, especially of the Pre-Castro Period, is bolstered by interest of stamp collectors within Cuban-American community, currently about 1.6 million strong, and far wealthier than their compatriots on the island. Interest in Cuban stamps is likely to increase, especially given the likely prospect of a replacement of the stale, "gerontocratic" regime within a decade or so.

Stamp Investment Tip: Newfoundland 1910-11 Guy Issues (Scott #87-97,98-103)

In 1910, Newfoundland issued a handsome lithographed set of 12 stamps commemorating the tercentenary of its colonization by John Guy (Scott #89-97). Six of the stamps were re-issued as an engraved set in 1911 (Scott #98-103). 10,000 of each set were issued, and Scott '10 prices #87-97 unused at $ 487.30 ($ 950.00 NH), and #98-103 unused at $ 412.50 ($ 750.00 NH).

I recommend both sets in VF NH, LH, or Used condition. Stamps of Newfoundland (and British North America in general) are popular among collectors of Canada and British Commonwealth. Better B.N.A. 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.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Stamp Investment Tip: French Morocco 1928 Airmail Semi-postals (Scott #CB1-10)

In 1928, French Morocco issued a set of airmail semi-postals picturing scenes of Morocco (Scott #CB1-10). 51,237 sets were issued, and Scott '10 prices the set at $ 47.50 unused.

Now an independent kingdom of about 32 million people, Morocco has enjoyed annual GDP growth averaging about 5% over the past 5 years. The services sector, especially tourism, accounts for over half of GDP, and other industries include mining, manufacturing, and agriculture. Since the early 1980s the Moroccan government has pursued an economic program toward accelerating real economic growth,reforming the financial sector and privatizing state enterprises.

Better issues of the French Protectorate period have a potential dual market. Currently they are mainly sought by collectors of French Colonies. I expect that they will rise significantly as the stamp market develops within Morocco itself.

Those interested in becoming part of a community of stamp collectors, dealers, and investors are welcome to join the Facebook "Stampselectors" group, which currently has over 1,600 members.

Stamp Investment Tip: Egypt 1933 Aviation Congress (Scott #172-76)

In 1933, Egypt issued a set of stamps honoring the International Aviation Congress, which was held in Cairo (Scott #172-76). 52,000 sets were issued, and Scott '10 prices the set at $ 76.50 unused. The set has appeal to Aviation and Zeppelin Topicalists as well as collectors of Egypt.

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.

Practical Advice: How to Use Buy Lists

A stamp dealer will create and publicize a buy list for one of two reasons:

  1. to purchase stamps so as to re-sell them to his customers, or
  2. to "pump up" the market value of stamps which he has hoarded, and which he intends to re-sell, or "dump."

Generally, buy lists reflect a genuine demand for the stamps listed. Those which are issued for purposes of "pumping and dumping" usually will list only the few stamps that the dealer has hoarded, and there will be little or no competition from other dealers' buy lists. The use of a buy list to manipulate the market for particular stamps is completely legal, as long as the dealer publishing it fulfills his obligation to purchase the stamps that he is advertising to buy. However, most buy lists note that the dealer reserves the right to limit quantities purchased, so if a listing seems dubious, it may be prudent to contact the dealer in order to determine what quantity of a listed stamp that he is willing to buy.

Vest-pocket dealers often study and save buy lists because they provide useful information on the minimum values of various stamps. It is often possible to purchase a stamp from one dealer for less than another dealer is offering for it, because it is unlikely that a dealer will know the current market value of every stamp in his inventory. Clipping buy lists and organizing them by country and date of publication in a portable notebook gives one the opportunity to profit from this kind of arbitrage when visiting stamp shops, attending shows, or bidding at auctions.

Stampselectors interested in targeting stamps of particular countries for investment should familiarize themselves with the buy lists for those countries, and consider keeping a file of them, as well.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Stamp Investment Tip: Peru 1935 Founding of Lima Issue (Scott #C6-12)

In 1935, Peru celebrated the 400th Anniversary of the Founding of Lima by issuing a set of airmail stamps (Scott #C6-12). Only 6,000 sets were issued, and Scott '10 prices the unused set at $ 62.20.

Peru has issued a number of scarce sets which I intend to recommend in future articles.

With a population of 29 million, Peru is an emerging market nation which has experienced significant economic growth over the last 15 years, and annual GDP growth averaging 7.5% over the last 5. Poverty has steadily decreased, although great inequities in income distribution persist. As the trend continues and more Peruvians join the middle class, the country's better stamps should do very well.

Stamp Investment Tip: Qatar 1965 Fish Set (Scott #69-85)

In 1965, Qatar issued a beautiful Fish set (Scott #69-85). 20,000 sets were issued, and Scott '10 prices it at $194.25 for unused. The set appeals to Animals topical collectors, as well as collectors of Qatar.

Stamps picturing animals remain the most popular topicals among stamp collectors worldwide. The number of Flora/Fauna thematic collectors will probably continue to increase, as interest in "Eco-topicals" grows.

With a population of 1.4 million, Qatar has experienced rapid economic growth over the last five years, with annual GDP growth averaging 9%. The country has 15 billion barrels of oil reserves and natural gas reserves estimated at between 80 trillion to 800 trillion cubic feet - enough energy reserves to make every Qatari a centimillionaire or billionaire. Gilding the gilded lily, Qatar is also funding the development of a "knowledge economy," establishing the Qatar Science and Technology Park and Education City. It has also established Doha Sports City, and plans to build an "entertainment city" in the future, in case Qataris become bored with their other leisure activities, such as collecting stamps.

Those interested in being part of a community of stamp collectors, dealers, and investors are welcome to join the Facebook "Stampselectors" group, which currently has over 1,600 members.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Stamp Investment Tip: Brazil BRAPEX Souvenir Sheet (Scott #C53)

In 1943, Brazil celebrated the centennial of its first postage stamps by issuing a "Stamps-on-Stamps" topical souvenir sheet (Scott #C53) at the BRAPEX Philatelic Exhibition. Brazil was the second country (after Great Britain) to issue postage stamps , and the designs pictured on the souvenir sheet somewhat resemble the Brazilian "Bull's Eyes" issued in 1843. 20,100 sheets were issued, and Scott '10 prices it at $ 50.00 for unused.

With 191 million people, Brazil is the largest economy in Latin America, and the world's eighth largest economy. Political and economic reforms have given the country a brighter future than it had in the bad old days of oligarchical dictatorship. The Brazilian economy is diverse, the country is aggressively investing in its future by generously funding technological research and education, and exports are booming. Annual GDP growth has averaged a little over 5% over the last 5 years.

There are a number of grossly undervalued Brazilian issues with printing quantities of 10,000 to 100,000, some of which have topical appeal, and recommending them for accumulation seems a no-brainer. Brazil looks destined to become an economic superpower, and even if it mirrors the philatelically anemic U.S. and only one out of a thousand Brazilians become serious stamp collectors and one out of a fifty become "unserious" ones, they'll be competing for their nation's better stamps, only to find that the cupboard is bare.

Stamp Investment Tip: Poland Stratosphere Flight Souvenir Sheet (Scott #B31)

In 1938, Poland issued a souvenir sheet in advance of a proposed stratosphere flight (Scott #B31). 60,000 sheets were issued, and Scott '10 prices it at $ 55.00 unused ($110.00 NH). The souvenir sheet is an attractive Aviation topical, and I strongly recommend it as an investment.

With 38 million people, Poland is one of the fastest growing economies of all of the post-Communist countries, with annual GDP growth averaging about 5.5% over the past 5 years. The nation has steadfastly pursued a policy of liberalizing the economy, and was not severely impacted by the recent global financial crisis.

Better stamps of Poland will rise in value as the country prospers and the population of Polish stamp collectors increases. Interest in Polish history and national pride are important elements in the culture of this oft-conquered people, and there are some 10 million Polish Americans with ties to the country.

Stamp Investment Tips: Portuguese India Lady of Fatima Issue (Scott #481-88)

In 1948, Portuguese India issued a Religion topical set to commemorate an alleged miracle which occurred in 1917, the apparition of Our Lady of Fatima (Scott #481-88). 25,000 sets were issued, and Scott '10 prices it unused at $ 67.75 . The set was part of a Our Lady of Fatima Omnibus of stamps issued by Portugal and its colonies.
I favor the better stamps issued by the three colonial powers in India, as such stamps have dual markets in their home countries and in India, where I feel that the stamp collecting population will grow exponentially over the next decades.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Stamp Investment Tips: Russia 1932 2nd Polar Year Issue (Scott #C34-35)

In 1932, Russia issued a set of stamps commemorating the 2nd International Polar Year (Scott #C34-35). 50,000 were issued, and Scott '10 prices it at $ 150.00 unused and $ 40.00 used. The set is of interest to collectors of Polar Topicals.

The market for better Russian stamps from the Czarist through Stalin periods is very hot right now. With 142 million people, Russia is the 8th or 9th largest economy in the world, with vast reserves of natural resources and a highly educated population. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has experienced several major economic crises in its transition to capitalism, although annual GDP growth has been strong over the last 5 years, at around 7%. The country is still plagued by corruption and organized crime, making it somewhat reminiscent of America during its "Wild West" and Robber-Baron periods. Nevertheless, the middle class has grown from just 8 million people in 2000 to 55 million in 2006.

I favor all scarce sets of Russia, as I believe that it is likely both its economy and stamp collecting population will grow substantially over the next decades.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Stamp Investment Tips: Papua New Guinea 1960 Postage Dues (Scott #J1-14)

In 1960, Papua New Guinea issued two sets of postage due stamps, as well as an individual stamp which collectors consider separate (Scott #J1-5, J6, and J7-14). The quantities issued and Scott '10 values are given below:

J1-5 1960 Surcharge (15,165; $ 74.75)
J6 1960 6p on 7 1/2p Red Surcharge (800;$1,100.00)
J7-14 1960 Numeral (55,696; $ 15.70 )

All of these dues are worthwhile investments. I believe that they have been ignored because they are back-of-book issues.

Papua New Guinea is richly endowed with natural resources, but exploitation has been hampered by the rugged terrain and the high cost of developing infrastructure. Agriculture provides a subsistence livelihood for most of the population of about 7 million. Annual GDP growth has increased dramatically over the last 5 years, from 1% in 2005 to about 7% in 2009.
Still, the majority of the population is extremely poor, and I do not foresee the development of a significant collecting population within the country for some time.

Most of the collectors of Papua New Guinea are British Commonwealth collectors or Australians, because the country was administered by Australia until 1975, and maintains close ties with that nation. I recommend the Postage Due issues on the basis of the prospect of growth in those two collecting areas.

As forged overprints exist of #J6, I advise requiring expertizaton as a condition for purchase.

Stamp Investment Tip: Argentina 1935 Philatelic Exhibition Souvenir Sheet (Scott #452)

In 1935, Argentina issued a souvenir sheet (Scott #452), reproducing the San Martin design of 1923-24, at the Buenos Aires Philatelic Exhibition. 14,579 of these "stamp on stamp" topical souvenir sheets were issued, and Scott '10 prices it at $ 75.00 unused and $ 35.00 used.

With a population of about 40 million, Argentina benefits from rich natural resources, a highly literate population, an export-oriented agricultural sector, and a diversified industrial base. Historically, Argentina's economic performance has been uneven, as periods of high economic growth have alternated with severe downturns. Over the last 5 years, annual GDP growth has averaged a whopping 8.5%. However, over the last 20 years Argentina has weathered several major debt crises and recessions.

Regardless of what Argentina's economic see-saw will look like over the next few years, I am convinced that the 1935 Philatelic Exhibition souvenir sheet is undervalued, and a possible target for hoarding and market manipulation. I recommend purchase of it in VF NH, LH, or Used condition. When purchasing unused sheets, avoid those with gum bends, which are common on this issue.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Phila-Trivia: Delusions of Grandeur in Victorian New Brunswick

In December of 1859, Charles Connell, Postmaster General of New Brunswick, contracted with the American Banknote Company to produce a set of five postage stamps. Issued in October of 1860, the set included designs featuring a locomotive, a steamship, and portraits of Queen Victoria and the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII).

Accompanying these stamps honoring progress in transportation, the Queen, and her son, was a 5c stamp picturing Connell himself, who had managed to keep the stamp designs secret until the shipment was received. This was to be his most notable achievement as Postmaster General.

Before the stamps were to be issued, information on their designs was leaked to the press, igniting a series of vitriolic attacks on Connell and the stamp bearing his image. The Executive Council and Lieutenant-Governor of New Brunswick responded by ordering the destruction of the Connell stamps, and their replacement with a 5c Yellow Green stamp picturing Victoria, similar in design to the 10c stamp. Connell resigned his from his position, mentioning deteriorating relations with members of the Council, but offering no explanation for his portrait appearing on the stamp.

Almost all of the original shipment of 500,000 Connell stamps was destroyed. Connell reputedly gave sheets of a 100 to each of his two daughters, and a few samples to close friends. The rare stamp occasionally turns up at auction, and Scott '10 prices it at $12,000.00.

Stamp Investment Tip: Australia 1932 Sydney Harbor Bridge Issue (Scott #130-32)

In 1932, Australia issued a set of three stamps celebrating the opening of the Sydney Harbor Bridge (Scott #130-32). 72,800 of the high-value, the 5sh Gray Green, were printed, and the Scott '10 values the set at $507.00 unused ($1,211.00 for NH) and $ 307 .00 used. The 5sh Bridge stamp is the key commemorative of Australia, and is frequently sold alone.

Australia is a prosperous nation of 22 million people and a diverse economy, with thriving service, agricultural, and mining sectors. Annual GDP growth has average 3.6% over the past 15 years. Recently, there has been considerable growth in mining and petroleum extraction, in part due to increased exports to the resource-hungry Chinese market. It is likely that Australia's stamp collecting population will grow significantly as the nation ages. The percentage of Australians over 60 is projected to rise from 16% in 2000 to 24.8% in 2025, and 28.2% in 2050.

I strongly recommend purchase of either the set, or the 5 shilling Sydney Bridge stamp alone, in VF NH, LH, or used condition. It represents a blue-chip investment which will reflect the growth of Australia's economy and stamp market.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Stamp Investment Tips: Jordan 1966 King Hussein Issue (Scott #528-28M,C43-45)

In 1966, Jordan issued a compound set of seventeen stamps honoring King Hussein (Scott # 528-28M, C43-45). Most of the 20,000 sets issued were used as postage, and Scott '10 prices the unused set at $ 44.65.

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 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.

I consider it prudent for stampselectors to consider not only the more "prestigious," pricey issues for investment, but also overlooked, inexpensive sets with low printings from emerging market countries. Such sets may seem speculative, but in fact, the risk of loss is quite low, and when the stamp market favors a particular country, the inexpensive issues tend to rise quickly, because of their affordability to most collectors.