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Thursday, December 20, 2012

General Commentary - Does 3D Printing Mean Armageddon for Collectibles?

  In a recent article in The American Philatelist ("The Future of Forgery" - October, 2011 edition), Stephen Rose describes the probable future advances in 3D scanning and printing technology, and the possible implications for collectibles markets. With this new technology, a computer-aided design may be executed to produce a three dimensional object by "printing" a thin layer at a time. 3D printers have already been used to produce dental crowns, jewelry, and musical instruments.

3D Systems Z Printer 850
   The article describes a threat to collectibles markets in general (and to the stamp market in particular) brought about by a convergence in advances in computing power, scanning capacity, and 3D printing. If these technologies converge so as to allow a forger to produce a virtually identical copy of a collectible which is accurate at the molecular level, then it is possible that all collectibles may be rendered almost worthless. Should  the technology advance to the point where any collectible - be it a rare coin, stamp, Ming vase, painting, classic car, etc.- may be reproduced with near perfect accuracy such that authentication is impossible, then all collectibles markets will be decimated in short order. Museums housing what were once billion dollar collections will be converted to shopping malls, and the "Collectibles Bubble" will be compared to the Tulip Craze of the 17th century Netherlands.

   Of course, as with all radical projections concerning the future, the prediction that 3D printing will mean the end of the collectibles business currently seems about as credible as science fiction. While it is likely that the technologies which might be applied by a forger will develop over time and that costs of reproducing objects will decrease, the key questions are whether it will ever be possible to produce virtually identical copies of originals, and whether the science of authentication also advances to counter the threat. It will be interesting to see how the relevant technologies progress over the next decade or two.

Those interested in learning more about investing in stamps are encouraged to read the Philatelic Investment Guide ($5), available on Kindle, and accessible from any computer.


  1. From where they will bring original paper ? Technology will be developed to detect fakes/facsimiles. Indian feudatory stamps were printed about 20 years ago, but failed to befool philatelists.

  2. Sure , It is not possible to market/display any such forged copy of a rare stamp or document. The aging,creases and marks at rear are detectable with same advance technology as well.
    However I maintain that Philately is a dying hobby by itself as new collectors are not emerging after the advent of Internet and SMS .

  3. If replication technology ever reaches a "Star Trek" level of sophistication (i.e. the capacity to reproduce objects which are accurate at the molecular level), then authentication may then be problematic. If that happens, it won't be necessary to research or incrementally reproduce papers, inks, etc. - simply scan the object and print it.

  4. And as to the status of Philately, it's actually growing in popularity internationally, especially in the developing countries, and the stamp market is likely to experience a multi-decade boom worldwide due to global aging (seem my article under "Aging Population." It has experienced a long-term decline in the U.S., however.