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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Phila-Trivia: Wacky Recent Issues

Over the last few decades, technological advances in printing technology have made possible the production of philatelic items with interesting formats, including stamps and souvenir sheets printed on metal, as phonograph records, as holograms and 3-D images, and imbued with various odors.

In 2008, several countries issued stamps utilizing unconventional formats or methods of production.

Austria produced a number of novel issues, including:

-the first embroidered stamp, picturing a flower, the Clusius gentian;

- a stamp made of the same original material as the UEFA European Championship ball – a synthetic mix with polyurethane

- a revolutionary lenticular stamp to celebrate the UEFA EURO 2008. 48 images of a TV recording are superposed on the stamp. To the viewer, the optical effect is that of a film sequence of approx. 3 seconds.

Iceland released a series of stamps depicting the Imagine Peace Tower, which is dedicated to the memory of Beatle John Lennon. The stamp is printed in a traditional offset format and then overprinted with phosphorus in silk screen which causes the picture to accumulate light and then glow in the dark. When exposed to ultraviolet light, a picture of John Lennon appears on the stamp.

Aland issued a stamp that has red granite burnt into it. The stamp illustrates a winding red gravel road - a common sight in Aland.

Lithuania issued the first drop-shaped postage stamp for the EXPO Zaragoza 2008 Exhibition, the theme of which was "Water and Sustainable Development".

Finland issued a miniature sheet dedicated to Alpine skiing. The sheet has an illusion of movement thanks to the imaging and printing technology used.

Hong Kong issued a set of special stamps featuring jellyfish. For the first time in Hong Kong philatelic history, the stamps are being printed with a glow-in-the-dark effect.

Certainly such exciting innovations should attract new collectors to the hobby. Perhaps one day there will be a stamp on which the sender can write the receiver's address and record a message, thereby rendering letters obsolete.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Stamp Investment Tip: Newfoundland 1897 Surcharges (Scott #75-77)

At the beginning of 1897, Newfoundland's Colonial Secretary Robert Bond decided to issue a long set of stamps (from 1c to 60c) to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the discovery of Newfoundland by John Cabot. One stamp would be dedicated to Queen Victoria while the others promoted Newfoundland. Bond sensed a potential for increased revenue for the post office, with the U.S. Columbians and Canadian Silver Jubilee sets as models.

What seemed like a good plan became a disaster. The public ate up the 1¢ and 2¢ low values but eschewed the higher values. One could still buy the 60¢ at the post office in St. John’s as late as 1936. By September, the two low values were almost exhausted. The 1¢ was needed for drop mail, circulars, and other 3rd class use. With the plates gone, and few older 1¢ stamps to be found, Newfoundland had its first postal crisis. New 1¢ and 2¢ values were ordered but they would not arrive until early December and a fix was needed by mid-October.

As a solution, just under 40,000 of the 1890 3c Victoria stamps were locally surcharged "ONE CENT." Three different fonts were used, however, creating three different surcharged stamps. 32,000 of the most common stamp (Scott #75- Gothic letters), along with 5,600 of #76 (Sans-serif), and 1,600 of #77 (flat and sans-serif). Scott '11 prices the unused stamps at $60.- ,$225.- , and $750.- (slightly more than double for NH) , respectively. All three surcharges were used on each sheet, so blocks of four containing two #75s, a #76, and a #77 exist. These blocks of four are considered highly desirable.

I recommend purchase of these stamps, especially the two scarcer ones and the block. I believe that #76 and 77 have been neglected because they are surcharge varieties- after all, who cares about surcharge varieties except for anal retentive specialists? This attitude tends to diminish as demand for a particular country's stamps develops. As with all surcharges, I advise purchasing them conditional on obtaining expertization. Note that poor centering is typical for this issue, so attempt to purchase examples that are centered F-VF or better.

Many of the better stamps of Newfoundland were issued in modest quantities. I intend to revisit them in the future, as I am "doggedly bullish" (to badly mix metaphors) about better British North America in general. This area is very popular among collectors of both Canada and British Commonwealth, and the better 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.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Stamp Investment Tip: Mozambique 1939 Presidential Visit (Scott #289-92)

In 1939, Mozambique (then a Portuguese Colony) issued a set of stamps picturing a map of Africa, and celebrating the visit of the President of Portugal (Scott #289-92). 20,000 were issued, and Scott '11 prices the unused set at $41.50 .

The set has potential dual market appeal for Portuguese Colonies collectors and collectors in Mozambique, should a significant stamp market develop there. Even without that catalyst, I expect that the set will increase in value based on demand from Portuguese Colonies collectors alone.

With about 23 million people, Mozambique was described as a "paradox" in a 2007 economic report by the World Bank, combining a "blistering pace of economic growth" with massive poverty and rising child malnutrition. Improvements in infrastructure, especially related to agriculture, are needed; 75% of the population engage in small-scale agriculture, although over 88% of the arable land in the country is uncultivated. Also, Mozambique has valuable titanium reserves, which could economically uplift the country if exploited effectively. Obviously, there is a necessity for reforms which will allow a greater portion of the wealth to trickle down to the majority of the population. Annual GDP growth has averaged about 6.5% over the last 5 years.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Stamp Investment Tip: Cuba 1890-97 Alfonso XIII (Scott #132-55)

From 1890-97, the Spanish issued a long set of twenty four stamps for Cuba, picturing the Infant King Alfonso XIII (Scott #132-55). Only 10,000 were issued, and Scott '11 prices the unused set at $294.45 and the used set at $95.20. This is one of many scarce issues of Cuba which should be targeted for investment. It is absurdly undervalued, because it is unlikely that more than one or two thousand sets survive in any condition, and because it has multiple market appeal to collectors of Spanish Colonies, Cuba, and Latin America in general.

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.

I have begun a new blog, " The Stamp Specialist ", featuring my buy lists for stamps which I wish to purchase, including some Cuban stamps. Periodically viewing dealers' buy lists is an excellent way to remained informed about the state of the stamp market.
Those interested in becoming part of an international community of stamp collectors, dealers, and investors are welcome to join the "Stampselectors" group at Facebook. The group hosts lively discussions concerning stamp investment and practical aspects of collecting, and is also an excellent venue for those who wish to buy, sell, or trade stamps.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Stamp Investment Tip: Switzerland 1950 International Organization for Refugees Officials (Scott #6O1-8)

In a number of previous articles, I have expressed the opinion that the demand for U.N. Topicals will increase as the U.N. gradually gains credibility and becomes an effective institution for dealing with global problems. The organization will either gradually assume more importance, or grow in fits and starts as critical problems requiring global solutions suddenly and unexpectedly rear their ugly heads.

Official stamps were issued for use by various international organizations headquartered in Geneva. The earliest of these organizations were associated with the League of Nations, while the later issues were for UN organizations. I favor all of the scarce and undervalued stamps issued for these international organizations. As these issues are all overprinted Swiss stamps, much of the current demand for them comes from collectors of Switzerland. A far greater proportion of the Swiss population are stamp collectors than are Americans, and the level of interest there is comparable to that which exists Germany.

In 1950, a set of 8 stamps was issued for the International Organization for Refugees (Scott #6O1-8). 24,000 sets were issued, and Scott '11 values the unused set at $88.- ($150.- for NH). I view the set as a conservative investment, which should do well over the long-term.

Switzerland, a nation of 7.8 million people,is one of the richest countries in the world by per capita, with a nominal per capita GDP of $67,384. The country experienced slow growth in the 1990s and the early 2000s, and was hurt by the global financial crisis, which has resulted in greater support for economic reforms and harmonization with the European Union.

Those interested in becoming part of an international community of stamp collectors, dealers, and investors are welcome to join the "Stampselectors" group at Facebook. The group hosts lively discussions concerning stamp investment and practical aspects of collecting, and provides a useful venue for those who wish to buy, sell, or trade stamps.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Stamp Investment Tip: South Korea 1948 Pres. Syngman Rhee (Scott #90)

In 1948, Syngman Rhee was elected the first president of South Korea, and his inauguration was celebrated with the issuance of a stamp (Scott #90). 50,000 were issued, and Scott '11 values the unused stamp at $150.- ($300 for NH) . Many of the stamps were used and probably discarded, so it is likely that fewer than 10,000 remain in unused condition.

Many of the early stamps of South Korea were rather primitively produced, and mediocre centering, rough perfs, and gloppy gum are normal for these issues. Not many Koreans were collecting stamps in the late '40s and early '50s, and many of the stamps that were collected unused were probably purchased by U.S. and allied soldiers during the Korean War. The stamps have increased in value over the last few years as the market has developed within the country, and I expect that they will continue to do so.

South Korea, a nation of about 50 million people, is one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Currently, it is the world's 13th largest economy and eighth largest exporter. It's export-fueled economic growth has led to a miraculous explosion in its GDP, from almost nothing 50 years ago to about $1 trillion today. Annual GDP growth has averaged 4.2% over the last 5 years, reflecting a slowdown in 2009 due to the global financial crisis. Furthermore, South Korea may be the most rapidly aging nation on earth, as its 65+ population is expected to more than quadruple from 9% in 2005 to 38% in 2050. Obviously, this could pose economic challenges for the country, but it will almost certainly add to its stamp collecting population.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Stamp Investment Tip: Turkmenistan 1994 Repetek National Park Miniature Sheet (Scott #46a)

In 1994, Turkmenistan issued a set of stamps and a souvenir sheet honoring Repetek National Park (Scott #44-8, 49). Within the set, it issued a miniature sheet picturing a viper (Scott #46a). Only 5,000 of the Viper miniature sheet was issued, and Scott '11 prices it unused at $10.00 .
The miniature sheet is a scarce Animal topical, and I believe that focusing on scarce popular topicals is a prudent means of speculating on stamps of the newly independent nations of Central Asia. Whether or not demand develops within these countries for the stamps that they issue, there will always be worldwide demand for their most popular topicals.

A nation of 5.1 million, Turkmenistan is a largely desert country with nomadic cattle raising, intensive agriculture in irrigated oases, and huge gas and oil resources. It possesses the world's fourth largest reserves of natural gas, and is also the world's tenth largest producer of cotton. As in the Soviet era, central planning and state control pervade the system, although there is gradual progress toward greater privatization. Annual GDP growth has averaged over 8% over the last 5 years, mostly due to increasing demand for the country's oil.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Stamp Investment Tip: Uruguay 1959 Flight Monument (Scott #C182-92)

In 1959, Uruguay issued a set of airmail stamps picturing a statue symbolizing "Flight", part of a monument to fallen aviators (Scott #C182-92). 10,000 sets were issued, and Scott prices the set at $16.90 for unused.

As it is likely that most of the sets were used as postage and discarded, perhaps a a few thousand remain. It is grossly undervalued, especially considering that there are many collectors of Latin America who focus on the region as a whole.

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. Annual GDP growth has averaged a little over 3% over the last 5 years.

I have begun a new blog, "The Stamp Specialist", which will feature wholesale buy prices for stamps which I am interested in purchasing. It includes a buy list for Uruguay, and includes the set recommended in this article. Viewing dealers' buy lists every now and then is an excellent way to keep current on the vagaries of the stamp market.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Stamp Investment Tip: New Guinea 1931 Bird of Paradise (Scott #18-30)

In 1931, New Guinea issued its second set of stamps, picturing a Bird of Paradise (Scott #18-30). Only 2,550 of this attractive Bird Topical set were issued, and Scott '11 prices it unused at $ 423.- .

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 purchase of the better stamps of Papua, New Guinea, and Papua New Guinea based on the probable growth in interest among Australian collectors, and collectors of British Commonwealth.

Those interested in becoming part of an international community of stamp collectors, dealers, and investors are welcome to join the "Stampselectors" group at Facebook. The group hosts lively discussions concerning stamp investment and practical aspects of collecting, as provides a useful venue for those who wish to buy, sell, or trade stamps.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Phila-Trivia: The World's First Airmail Stamp (Issued in 1877!)

Many stamp collectors do not realize that the world's first airmail stamp was produced decades before the first mail plane took off, but that is indeed the case. In 1877, a 5c local airmail stamp (Scott #CL1) was privately issued by John F. B. Lillard, a Nashville reporter. The stamp was used to prepay postage for mail carried on a flight made by the Balloon "Buffalo" from Nashville to Gallatin, Tennessee, and piloted by balloonist Samuel Archer King. 300 stamps were printed, of which 23 are reported to have been used. Scott values the unused stamp at $7,500.- ($10,000.- for NH). Tete-beche pairs exist (as shown at right).

Although this was the first issuance of an airmail stamp, it was not the first time that mail had been carried by balloon. In 1870, during the Franco-Prussian War, ballons montes (literally "manned balloons") carried mail out of a besieged Paris. Although no special stamps were issued by the besieged Parisians, Ballons Montes covers are highly prized, and are listed and valued by balloon name, time of departure, and destination in the Scott Classic Specialized Catalogue.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Stamp Investment Tip: Syria 1920 Postage Dues (Scott #J5-8)

I'm initiating coverage of Syria by going straight to the "back of the book"- with the 1920 Postage Due set issued under French Occupation (Scott #J5-8). Only 7,000 sets were issued, and Scott '11 prices the unused set at $14.50.

It's likely that most of these stamps were used and discarded. The attraction of all better Syrian stamps issued by the French is that they have dual market appeal to collectors of Syria and French Colonies. As with many back-of-book issues, the Dues set has been overly neglected because of its relative obscurity.

It is unclear how the current turmoil in Syria will be resolved. Nevertheless, there are many scarce issues from the French period which should do well based on the growth of French Colonies/Area collecting alone. Should the country wind up with a more democratic government and more fully compete in the global marketplace, all of the stamps of Syria with low printings will skyrocket, including many of the modern issues with printings of 50,000 or fewer, which are dirt-cheap.

The Syrian Arab Republic, a nation of 22.5 million people, is a middle-income country, with an economy based on agriculture, oil, industry, and tourism. It has low rates of foreign investment, and low levels of industrial and agricultural productivity. Until the recent revolt, the somewhat corrupt and authoritarian government was slowly reforming its centrally planned economy in hopes of attracting new investment in the tourism, natural gas, and service sectors. Average annual GDP growth was a little over 4%, but the extent to which that growth benefited the population as a whole was unclear.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Stamp Investment Tip: El Salvador 1942 Eucharistic Congress Souvenir Sheet (Scott #588)

In 1942, El Salvador issued a compound set (Scott #587, C85) and souvenir sheet (Scott #588) commemorating its first Eucharistic Congress of the Roman Catholic Church. 50,000 sets and 5,000 souvenir sheets were issued, and Scott '11 values the souvenir sheet unused at $25.00 .

Over the last decade or so, a "stealth bull market" has developed for better Latin American material, especially for scarce issues with wide topical appeal. Supplies have been gradually depleted, and many items which formerly retailed for about 20%-30% of Scott are now selling for 60%-80%, and their catalog values have substantially increased as well. Frequently, Michel Values, which are usually much higher than Scott for Latin America, are used by auction houses when listing this material. As the region has cast aside its authoritarian dictatorships and become more democratic, it has experienced healthy economic growth and the concurrent development of a middle class.

El Salvador, a nation of 5.7 million, is a poor though steadily developing economy, which has experienced annual GDP growth averaging 3.5% over the last 5 years. In addition, there are between 500,000 and 1 million Salvadorans in the U.S., most of whom immigrated during El Salvador's "Dirty War" of 1979-92. Salvadorans in the United States are among the hardest-working immigrants, and send about $800 million back to their families in El Salvador every year. Although Salvadoran Americans toil in the lowest-paying sectors of the American economy, they are slowly but inexorably becoming more prosperous. They work long hours, save a great deal, and are gradually entering the middle class.

While I believe it may take a while for a significant stamp collecting population to develop among Salvadorans, this is mitigated by the fact that many collectors of Latin American stamps collect the region generally, rather than specializing in a particular country. Furthermore, the Eucharistic Congress issue is a Religion topical which may appeal to Catholic collectors worldwide, many of whom live in emerging market nations.

I have begun a new blog, "The Stamp Specialist", which will feature wholesale buy prices for stamps which I am interested in purchasing. It includes a buy list for El Salvador, including the set recommended in this article. Viewing dealers' buy lists every now and then is an excellent way to keep current on the vagaries of the stamp market.

Stamp Investment Tip: Kazakhstan 1997 Zodiac Souvenir Sheet (Scott #187b)

In 1997, Kazakhstan issued an interesting souvenir sheet picturing the twelve signs of the Zodiac (Scott #187b). Only 10,000 were issued, and Scott '12 prices the unused sheet at $7.50 .

Many of the new and newly resurrected nations of Central Asia and Europe have issued quite a few stamps and souvenir sheets in very modest quantities, and some of these represent interesting opportunities for speculation for those who wish to "get in on the ground floor." As these countries have only recently begun issuing stamps, their collector populations are minimal, although they are unlikely to remain so, especially if the countries prosper. The best way to play them is to target popular topicals with low issuance quantities, as these will have worldwide appeal, whether interest in the countries' stamps grows significantly or not.

A nation of 16 million, Kazakhstan is known to many outsiders from the somewhat demeaning film comedy "Borat." It is the 9th largest country in the world, with a territory greater than that of Western Europe, although its population density is less than 15 per square mile. Kazakhstan has plentiful reserves of oil, natural gas, uranium, chromium, lead, zinc, manganese, coal, iron, and gold. It also has a major agricultural sector, and is the seventh largest producer of grain. Annual GDP growth has averaged 6% over the last 5 years.

Those interested in becoming part of an international community of stamp collectors, dealers, and investors are welcome to join the "Stampselectors" group and organization page at Facebook. These host lively discussions concerning stamp investment and practical aspects of collecting, and are also excellent venues for those who wish to buy, sell, or trade stamps.