Stamp Collectors - Reasons To Be Cheerful
Many stamp collectors fear their long running financial investment in the hobby has been undermined with a large portion of the special sets issued unlikey to achieve their original face value when sold. That's cash that would have done better in the building society even with the pathetic interest rates of recent years.
Indeed, there's a lot to complain about and that adds up to a lot of reasons to jump ship and make funny cat videos on You Tube instead.
But, let me turn this all on its head and suggest to you why you might want to hang in there, or even increase your involvement in stamps.
Is the tangible stamp or cover really a dead collectable? Are we inevitably moving to an era where we simply collect images of the "old things" people used to use? While I believe there is significant doubt hanging over the long term prospects of the postage stamp as a means of paying for postal services, this doesn't go hand in hand with the demise of our hobby. There's already a vast pool of items to collect already in existence.
So will interest in owning tangibles such as stamps or postal history continue in future or will it fade in to obscurity? With the hobby largely dominated by grumpy older men at present, I believe the glass is well past half empty in most collectors opinions. But what reasons are there to believe the glass is only temporarily depleted and is, in fact, half full?
Trends are your friends! Take a look at them and you can see well in to the future. For example, Google know an awful lot about our future collective behaviour long before we, or many other businesses, do. This is purely because they know topical trends based on the search data we freely give them. Just let your mind dwell on that power for a moment. How would you like advance knowledge of the emerging new tourist resorts where land prices have yet to become inflated? How would you like several months advance knowledge of the really hot toy next Christmas? How would you like to know the people starting to trend toward an extreme point of view? The knowledge revealed by analysing a mass of something as simple as our Google searches is truly awesome (and I use that word in the regular english sense!).
So what has this trends malarkey got to do with stamp collecting? Well, broaden it out a little to collecting in general to get a better idea. Over the past 50 years the trend was toward abandoning tangible products for ownership of virtual copies. The music industry was the leader. The Sony walkman caused a revolution back in the day causing people to transfer their favourite tunes from vinyl to cassette. Those cassettes would soon wear out or get chewed up, but, still we loved the mobility and sense of personal control over the music we listened to, where we heard it and when. The Walkman was just as much the iPod of its day as the mobile phones that had all the characteristics of a breeze block are to the smartphones of today.
But there is now a marked change underway in the music format business. Vinyl is becoming the preference once again and, this is the important bit, because of the qualities possessed by the tangible product that digital copies lose. There is now an almost religious devotion to the art and content of album covers and young people are once again genuinely appreciative of the deeper, fuller sound quality achieved when a needle runs along a groove. Most importantly, they realise such tangible items have a monetary value. Take a look at the prices being paid now for LP albums we probably all had in our youth. The trend to own a tangible product compared to a digital copy is well underway.
Many stamp collectors, myself included, have predicted the future of our hobby as being largely a matter of Postal Museum or British Library online exhibitions where those amazing rarities will be displayed digitally in close up detail. Indeed that probably will be the future but it's only a modern way of exhibiting things. It will never replicate the buzz, the feel, the success or pride you feel when you get to actually hold and own a piece of history. If anything, it is more likely the philatelic institutions and formal exhibitions that are endangered rather than the longer term demand for the items worthy of exhibition.
Similarly, the internet has undermined the viability of many stamp shops and dealers unwilling to adapt. In many respects, all that has changed is the percentage of the price paid going to the actual owners of bread and butter philatelic material. It's only the plate 77s and similar rarities that you and I will never get a sniff at which can justify the fancy auction world where, in addition to full sales commission charges, hefty buyers premiums justify the glossy brochures carried by clients who are as much interested in flaunting their wealth as they are in what they buy.
Watch the kids. The trends are positive. Music is an obvious youth topic to analyse you may say but the same trend toward wanting the "real thing" is now evident with "vintage" video games. Kids actually want the ZX Spectrum or BBC Micro experience! Comic collecting is rising hand over fist once again, underpinned by the constant output of superhero movies by film producers with as much imagination as my left buttock.
I have recently met a collector of vintage My Little Ponies, she was 17. Take a look at the prices YOUNG people are paying for carded Star Wars action figures. The same can be said about other cult movies and TV programmes. It's not just modern subjects doing well, the market for British Coins has been progressing steadily for some time. The Google trend in searches for "coins" confirm this and the UK is the strongest search area.
So why are stamps and postal history lagging behind coins, comics, vinyl and toys? Personally I think this is the question Royal Mail and the stamp trade should start to ponder.
Every cloud has a silver lining so they say and, in my view, this is a good time to get in to stamps because the hobby is becalmed and drifting ruderless. The use of special postage stamps on snail mail is at an all time low, they're sold in an ever decreasing number of outlets and few people are bothering to collect them. Within the philatelic trade, many genuinely rare items are, in real terms, at historically low prices. For optimistic me, if ever there was a market to invest in, then this is it. When the movers and shakers of our hobby finally get a grip and start marketing the value of our stamps and their heritage for the modern world, then watch prices grow. This is particularly relevant to items produced in an era like now when production is way down and future supply could be drained by even the most modest growth in future demand.
Are we happy now grumpy man?
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