Stamp collecting has been a popular universal hobby since the first postage stamps were issued in 1840. For almost as long, it has had an investment focus driven by the desire by collectors to complete collections by acquiring stamp issues that have proven to be rare and elusive. Prices of the most famous rarities rise into the millions of dollars, witness the British Guiana which recently traded at auction for $9 million. Such rarities abound, albeit at five and six figure prices. They have caught the attention of wealthy individuals who have little interest in stamps as a hobby, but a lot of interest in making money or protecting wealth. More recently, we have had stamp companies go into investment advising and portfolio building for individuals for defined amounts of money and offering their expertise in product selection and grading so that one need know nothing about stamps to make an investment. This latest approach has various hazards since there is generally a large conflict of interest for those offering such services in that they are principally stamp dealers and/or catalog companies.
My company USID Inc, under the StamFinder name began in 1995 as the first multi-dealer stamp sales site on the Internet (Note USID is not a stamp dealer). Its goal was to take advantage of the Internet to increase the availability of stamps for collectors and to make the pricing transparent since multiple offerings were visible side-by-side allowing buyer to judge real time pricing based on a true market rather than the diverse catalogs. Along the way, we were also able to collect listing and sales information so that we could determine how frequently a particular stamp was available and how quickly it sold. Over the years we collected tens of millions of such transactions, giving us an unrivaled insight into stamps that only a country specialist could acquire after decades of stamp dealings.
Randy Neil, the editor of "The American Stamp Dealer & Collector" has offered me the opportunity to begin sharing this information with you on a regular basis and I have accepted. I will be producing a monthly profile of one or two countries selecting specific stamps which I believe to be good investment buys. This will be useful information to collectors who have a limited budget and wish to buy the best investment grade items from the many they are seeking. It will also be the only source of information for those who wish to buy stamps as an investment and have no particular preference, i.e. the stock picker mentality.
Our universe of investment grade stamps is narrowly defined, namely, we only consider stamps priced at $25 or higher issued prior to 1950. The reasons for this narrow a focus is that stamps that have achieved a $25 price before 1950 have already established a price history from which very few items decline. Our methodology tries to select those stamps which have had the best recent price history versus those which have a mediocre history or are just expensive space fillers. The selection of 1950 as a cutoff is because since that time, most postal services around the world have been gaming the issuance of stamps to maximize their ability to pick the pockets of collectors, who have been willing participants. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with this, but it provides little expectation that such stamps will prove to be good investments. As you will see from my future columns, the universe I have defined contains over 25,000 different stamps worldwide. This is enough stamps to make a sizeable market and enough history to make a market that is driven by reliable data rather than hype.
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