Monday, May 30, 2016

Some Novel Approaches to Stamp Collecting

Most people who collect stamps, start off collecting the whole world. While this is a lot of fun and there is no end to the amount of interest and scope available, many collectors soon find that they want to specialize and limit the scope of their collecting.

One of the most common lines along which collectors specialize is by country. The collector will most often choose a country, or group of countries in which to specialize and then collect only those stamps. Their goal is usually to obtain a representative example of each stamp issued by the country or group of countries. Most often they will choose the country in which they are from, but often will collect something completely different. I, for example have collected Nigeria for the past 10 years, and I have one of the largest collections in the world, even through I am not from Nigeria. How I came to collect Nigeria is the subject of another post.  There are several ways that collectors can choose a group of countries, but the two main ones are:

  • Geographically - i.e. Benelux countries (i.e. Belgum, Netherlands and Luxembourg), Western Europe, Southeast Asia.
  • Politically - i.e. British Empire, Spanish Colonies, Portuguese Colonies, French Colonies.
This often still proves to be a very large amount of scope and may not appeal to collectors whose budget is limited, or who are primarily interested in material from a certain era. 

However, I feel that one of the wonderful thing about this hobby is the infinite possibilities that it affords in how you can specialize and organize a collection. In this post, I want to suggest some outside-of-the-box ways to structure your collection. These can appeal to those of you with broad interests and limited budgets, where you have 30 years to collect, but can't spend more than say $10-$20 each week or month on a hobby. So here are my top ten creative ways to collect:

1. Worldwide souvenir sheets
2. Worldwide, but only for one particular year, say your birth year. 
3. All the stamps of a certain colour. 
4. By printing process - i.e. all the engraved stamps of the world. 
5. By stamp type - i.e. only airmail stamps, only postage due stamps etc. 
6. By shape -i.e. all triangular stamps.
7. By topic - i.e. ships on stamps, flowers on stamps etc. 
8. Stamp booklets. 
9. The first stamps of the world - i.e. a copy of each #1 of every country in the world.
10. By some technical detail such as all imperforate stamps, or watermarked stamps. 

The first option is interesting in the sense that souvenir sheets are quite beautiful usually and make a nice display on an album page. A souvenir sheets is a small sheetlet that usually contains some stamps from a particular issue and then a large decorative border. In the early days, they were often only available at stamp exhibitions to customers holding a ticket to the exhibition. However in recent years, they have been issued by post offices to appeal to collectors. The oldest souvenir sheets go back to the 1910's, so collectors wanting to avoid costly 19th century material are served well here. However, there are some very expensive sheets from the 1010's through to the 1950's. Since the 1950's there have been tens of thousands of souvenir sheets issued around the world, so there is plenty of scope. 

The second option should be extremely popular but isn't. I think it is a very affordable way to collect the world in a way that is very relevant on a highly personal level. For pretty well anybody born after 1945, it is a very affordable way to collect and promises plenty of scope to keep you occupied for a lifetime. 

If you are passionate about a particular colour such as orange or purple, then collecting by colour might be the thing for you. Imagine trying to get one of each orange stamp issued around the world and trying to see how many different shades of orange you can find. It could be a lot of fun. 

Other collectors find that they like stamps printed using a particular printing method more than others. For many collectors the top pick would be those stamps that are engraved, or those that employ engraving in tandem with some other printing process like modern photogravure. You could decide that you want to trace the origins of the printing process itself. For example you might be interested in following the development of modern 4-colour multicolour photogravure printing. This journey would take you back to Lichetenstein and Switzerland in the early 1930's when the first stamps printed using this process were issued, followed by Great Britain and then more and more countries until we get to the modern era, where nearly all stamps are printed this way. Or you could decide to collect stamps with holograms on the design, or self-adhesive stamps, which first appeared in the 1960's and did not become mainstream until recently. 

Besides regular postage stamps, many countries issued stamps that were required for particular purposes, such as those used for airmail, special delivery, parcel post, war-tax, postage dues, revenues and so forth. These can form an interesting basis for specialization. If your budget is limited, you can stick to those stamp types that only appeared for the first time in the 20th century, such as airmail stamps, or if you are adventurous, you could choose a field like postage dues which go all the way back to the 1850's for some countries in Europe. 

Other people like unusual shapes. Until the 1930's the vast  majority of stamps were either rectangular or square in shape. However, as early as 1853 some countries were issuing triangular stamps. By the 1960's some countries such as Tonga and Sierra Leone began issuing stamps in odd shapes resembling objects, such as a map of the actual island, coins or a bunch of bananas. This could form a very affordable and novel way to collect a portion of stamps from the world. The beauty of this one is that it can include very expensive stamps from Cape of Good Hope, while containing plenty of inexpensive sets. 

Collecting by topic has been popular for decades and is continuing to grow in popularity. As the number of stamps issued worldwide has exploded, some of these topics such as ships on stamps have become too broad for many collectors. However, you can make your collection more manageable by narrowing the topic. One advantage is that if you are a collector whose budget is limited now, but you expect your budget to increase, some of these topics can be made to go all the way back to the 1860's and can thus include some rare and expensive material in addition to all the less expensive modern material. One disadvantage to collecting this way is that there are a lot of sets in the world where only one stamp from the set depicts the topic. In these cases, it may be difficult to buy just the stamp you need, as most dealers don't like to break sets to supply just one stamp. 

Complete booklets containing small panes of stamps, that were usually sold through vending machines for convenience are an innovation that dates back to the turn of the 19th century. It is an often overlooked field of collecting, but it is not cheap when you get back to the 1940's and before. However, if you limit yourself to modern booklets issued since 1945, you can build an interesting collection without breaking the bank. 

Another novel idea is to collect a particular numbered stamp from each country. A popular one is the first issued stamp of each country, but it could be any stamp like the 100th stamp or something like that. This is ideal for someone who really wants to collect the ultra-classic period and wants quality but cannot afford to collect all the classic issues and has to limit themselves in some way. 

Finally, another way to collect is by some other technical detail. For example: watermarks. For many years many countries in the world attempted to foil counterfeiting by printing their stamps on watermarked paper. What is a watermark? It is a design impressed into the paper during manufacture. If you've ever handled some kinds of writing paper, you may have seen writing within the paper that only becomes visible when held up to the light. This is a watermark - and it is usually put there by the papermaker to mark their brand. The same was done with papers used to print stamps from all over the world. There must be hundreds of different watermark designs used over the years, and obtaining a reconstructed image of all the different watermarks would make for a fun and interesting project. Or you could focus on stamps with no teeth and only straight edges. These are called imperforate stamps. They were the standard until the first perforated stamps appeared in the mid 1850's. Or you could collect the first perforated stamps from each country. 

Hopefully you can now see possibilities for collecting that you may not have thought of before. The most important thing is to have fun by choosing a topic that is most interesting to you. 

Friday, May 20, 2016

Canada's New Star Trek Stamps - A Good Investment?

One topic that comes up in the minds of people who know about stamp collecting centres around what stamps are ultimately worth on the resale market. This is yet another benefit to being a stamp collector: while enjoying your hobby, you can build a property of significant resale value. However, it is by no means guaranteed that this will happen.

How do you as a collector decide what to buy in order to make a gain later when the time comes to sell? Well you have to buy a stamp item that has a scarcity factor and then you have to be lucky enough to see the demand for that stamp go up.

For a long time, the new issues released by post offices around the world since about 1960 have not been considered as a good investment. Why? Well the main reason is that the printing quantities of most issues up to the 1990's was in the tens or hundreds of millions, and sometimes even more, for very large countries like the US. These quantities were more than enough to meet collector demand many times over. Indeed, the conventional wisdom even well into the 1990's was that if you were collecting material issued after World War II, you should only consider it a hobby and not an investment.

However, one interesting thing began to happen around that time. The postal administrations have drastically cut issue quantities for everything that isn't the regular definitive issue. Instead of tens or hundreds of millions, it is not uncommon to see issues where the quantity released is less than a million, and sometimes less than 100,000. Comparatively speaking these are minuscule quantities. So many of the new issues, especially those in the last 10 years do have a scarcity factor. The question is, will demand ever pick up to the point that the issues become scarce to rare?

My own feeling is that it will, for the issues that speak to the younger generation. The new stamps celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Star Trek Series are an example of an issue that I can see having a lot of appeal among younger people. Below is an image of a stamp booklet that Canada Post has issued this month:

Star Trek Stamps Canada Post 50th Anniversary Postage Stamps x 10 Booklet

Stamps that depict popular culture are where its at for the younger generation I think, and thankfully, the postal administrations are beginning to realize this. They are resisting the many protests of the older collectors who generally loathe these types of issues and are finally issuing stamps that younger people potentially would actually be interested in collecting.

However, they are not doing it in very large quantities.A quick check of Canada Post's website reveals that they have only issued some 300,000 of the above booklet and something like 170,000 of the souvenir sheets of two stamps and another 300,000 of the lenticular souvenir sheets. Lenticular stamps are those whose design changes as the stamps are tilted back and forth in the light - a really cool new innovation. Well actually, not so new, as Bhutan was issuing lenticular stamps in the 1960's, but certainly new for a major western country like Canada.

It is hard to say whether these will ever be valuable. On the one hand, I can see with the immense popularity of this series, that many of these items will be bought up and saved, which means that they will be popular but not rare. On the other hand, Canada Post has, in my opinion gone overboard and issued something like 20 different variations of collectible. As a stamp dealer, this hit me when I went to go place an order for stock. I wanted 5 of everything and only 1 of the uncut press sheets. The bill came to almost $900 and I abandoned the purchase. I suspect that most people will want one of everything, but will find that they can't afford everything. In that case, people will choose that which is most cool to them and ignore the less cool items. It is those less cool, or harder to find items that I think you should buy because I think people will overlook them. In this regard, my picks are:

  • The Lenticular poster, as there are only 3,500 issued. Yes it is bulky and will not fit in a standard album, but because it costs a whopping $140, I don't think many will sell and they will become quite rare. 
  • The sealed pane of 5 stamps. This has already sold out at Canada Post because only 75,000 were issued. I think they have been bought up by dealers and collectors, but because of the very low issue quantity and the number of Canadian stamp collectors around the world, this one is going to go up in value for sure. 
  • The coil stamps. These are the closest thing to regular stamps, so I don't think people are going to bother with them. My understanding is that there are only 50,000 rolls of 50 being issued, which is nothing for a coil stamp issue. Since the only people that usually buy coils are people who mail a lot of letters, coils usually get used up fast, making mint ones scarcer. Usually for most definitive issues, the quantities are so large that most coils never become rare, but in this case, the quantity - 2.5 million stamps all told is about 1-2% of the normal issue quantity for a coil stamp. So the chances of this becoming a better item are pretty good. 
The other items I would buy just to have for the hobby aspect, but I wouldn't get your hopes up of seeing any major appreciation in value. Let's see what happens. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Check Out My Boards on Pinterest

In order to illustrate the amazing variety of topics and subjects that exist on stamps, I have created 33 boards on Pinterest,each of which contains images of stamps that feature different subjects. I am in the process of editing the pin descriptions to add notes about the subject matter, but the images are available for your enjoyment.

Beautiful Canadian Stamps

This is my largest board with over 400 pins. The stamps are mostly from the classic period before 1960. I created this to show the beautiful colours and workmanship that defined our early stamps. To view this board, click on the following link:

Canadian History on Stamps

Many of Canada's stamps issued since the 1950's depict events that shaped Canadian history, places or important figures. I created this board for those stamps. It only has 31 pins, as I have just started posting the modern stamps, but there will be many more in the coming months:

Architecture on Canadian Stamps

I created this board for those stamps that feature architecture or famous Canadian buildings:

Sports and Recreation on Canadian Stamps

There are many stamps from our country that depict sports or otherwise commemorate specific sporting events. This board was created for those stamps:

Art on Canadian Stamps

Canada's large number of artists have featured heavily on Canada's stamps over the last 50 years. This board was created to showcase the stamps that feature their work:

Toronto History Depicted on Stamps and Postal History

Some of Canada's stamps depict aspects of Toronto's history and there are many postal history items that have survived, such as business envelopes from early in the city's history that give us a glipmse into the past. I created this board to share images of those items:

Ontario History Depicted on Stamps and Postal History

I created this board mostly for postal history and postcards that show images from other locations in Ontario:

British Columbia History Depicted on Stamps and Postal History

Many readers would be surprised to learn that prior to 1872, British Columbia had its own postage stamps. Vancouver Island was also a separate colony. Afterward, it used the stamps of Canada, so I have created this board to showcase those stamps as well as early postal history of that province:

Newfoundland  History Depicted on Stamps and Postal History

Newfoundland did not join Canada until 1949, and so it had its own stamps for over 80 years, issuing more than 250 different designs during this time. The stamps of this province are some of the most beautiful ever produced anywhere, and are scarce to boot. I created this board to showcase these stamps:

New Brunswick History on Stamps and Postal History

Like BC and Newfoundland, New Brunswick also had stamps of their own for a brief time until they joined confederation in 1867. The first issues of this small province are some of the rarest and most valuable in all the British Empire. At the same time, the Cents issue of 1860-1867 is very affordable in mint condition. This board will illustrate these stamps and other aspects of New Brunswick's history as seen on postage stamps:

Nova Scotia History on Stamps and Postal History

Nova Scotia had very similar stamps to New Brunswick originally, and like its Acadian cousin, the first issues are very rare and valuable. The second issue, also called the Cents Issue covering the same time period is also very affordable and is probably one of the few issues that you can still find in full sheets of 100. This board was created to show those as well as aspects of Nova Scotia's history shown on Canada's stamps after confederation:

Prince Edward Island History on Stamps and Postal History

Even Prince Edward Island, Canada's smallest province had their own stamps until 1873. This board was created for those stamps and other stamps that show the history of the province:

The History of Transportation on Postage Stamps

The history of transportation in the form of ships, planes, trains and automobiles has been a popular topic that has featured on many tens of thousands of postage stamps. This board was created for those of you who are interested in transportation related topics and would like to see what the world of stamps has to offer:

These are just a few of the many boards that I have created for you to check out. I hope you enjoy them. My next posts will look at some of the interesting and cool stamps from various countries around the world.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

How My Love Affair With Stamps Began

These little pieces of paper that we use to send mail became my first love for reasons that I have never been able to fully comprehend. However, it is a common trait for those of us on the autistic spectrum to fixate on a particular interest and to obsess over it. The interest is usually something inanimate. For some it can be model trains, bottle caps or stamps like me. Sometimes the obsession is with a human innovation or development like the world’s subway systems. And then sometimes it can be an obsession with other living creatures like insects, dogs, cats or birds. Unlike neurotypicals who are often interested in other neurotypicals, other people are not something we usually obsess over, except for those close to us. It is not that we don’t like or enjoy the company of other people – we do – very much. It’s just that we can become over-stimulated after a while and need some time to ourselves. In that respect we are very much like cats. I think that most people do not understand cats at all. Many think that cats do not love and are aloof and detached. I beg to differ though after raising my male cat Viktor from the time he was a kitten. I think cats have very deep emotions and love their owners deeply. But I have noticed that if you pet them too much or hold them too tight, they become overstimulated and need to get away. But there are so many times that Viktor seeks me out and wants to be with us, that I can see that he cares for us deeply. It’s just on his own terms. And so it is with those of us who are on the spectrum.

I was a handful for my parents. I was always curious, easily bored and always needed to have something to do or collect. By the time I turned 6, mom was getting really tired of having to throw out all the crap I had accumulated in my room, and then having to deal with my epic meltdowns that would inevitably follow. Little did they know that soon, I would be consumed in by a world that left far less of a mess and was much easier to manage. They were about to know a different Chris from the one who bounded around the house and bounced off the walls – a Chris who would sit for hours fully engrossed, never making a sound.

My mom and dad had a large rosewood dresser in their bedroom. On top of that dresser sat my mother’s jewelry box, and beside that sat a large dish in which she kept various things like pocket change. One day, while I was in her room and standing by the dresser I was greeted by a sight that fascinated me: staring back at me was an orange portrait of Sir John A MacDonald, who I would later learn was Canada’s  first Prime Minister and next him was a green portrait of Wilfred Laurier. These pictures, were on some then current Canadian 1 cent and 2 cent stamps. The year that I saw these was 1977. The scans below show these two stamps:

           Image result for 2c wilfrid laurier stamp

I was captivated by the engraving and the artistry inherent in the late David Annisley’s sketches. To me they were beautiful works of art. I would soon learn that these two stamps were only part of a set that included sketches of the other prime ministers of Canada, all in different colours. I wanted to have them all and to see all the neat colours. My interest in collecting stamps had begun. There was something about the thrill of the hunt – going through bags of stamps on paper trying to see how many different stamps there were and looking at all the different designs and colours that would occupy me for hours. That thrill has never left me. The rest of the set is shown below:


Image result for 6c Lester pearson stamp       Image result for 7c Louis St. Laurent stamp

Image result for 7c Louis St. Laurent stamp

What do you think? They are kind of neat aren't they? I certainly thought so at 6 years old.

My first foray into this fascinating hobby was with a little plastic sack of stamps on paper and a paper back world stamp album that I bought at Coles bookstore with my parents shortly after I found those stamps on my parents dresser. Shortly after that, I celebrated my 7th birthday and for my present, my parents gave me a Harris Canada album. It was a big sturdy printed album housed in a two post vinyl binder that had spaces for every stamp ever issued by Canada up to that point. Then we went to Coles and bought a large pack of 100 different Canadian stamps and some hinges. I had hours of fun taking each stamp, placing a hinge on the back and then looking for the matching picture in the album. Eventually as I ran out of stamps to place, I gravitated to the local stamp shop in Kelowna, which was run by a Mr. Millpacher, a stocky man with a large beard and a nice wife, who was happy to give me the missing 3 cent Borden and 4c McKenzie King stamps from that first prime minister’s set for free. Every week, I would take my $2 weekly allowance and ride my bike down to the stamp shop – a good hour away by bike. The shop was located in a small strip mall that had a Dairy Queen. In those days, Dairy Queen hamburgers were the best – juicy and charbroiled, not the dry excuses for burgers that they are today. For my $2 allowance, I could have a small burger and a drink and then head over to the stamp shop where Mr. Millpacher had a 2c box. I would have enough money left over to pick 25 stamps out of his 2c box. This was my weekly routine until we moved from Kelowna when I was 8.

Whenever we would move to a new city, my first order of business was to locate and visit the nearest stamp shop. I was always successful in finding one. However, most did not have a 2c box and by the time I was in my teens, I had a larger allowance to work with, but I also had other concerns that competed for my money, mainly my desire to be accepted by girls. Despite these competing demands, I never lost my love of stamps and I never stopped collecting.  Not long after I started collecting, I would dream of becoming a stamp dealer. It was a dream that would fall by the wayside in my teens and would be briefly revived again when I turned 18, before falling back into obscurity until just this year.

I will never fully understand why stamps hold such appeal for me. Sure, I can say that it is because I love the artistry and the colours, but that doesn’t really cut it when it comes to understanding how I can love something so completely that I cannot be happy without it in my life. There comes a point though where I believe that we can accept ourselves as we get older without having to fully understand every force that drives us. That is the point where I am at now: I accept my love for stamps unconditionally and seek to have my life center in sharing the magnificence of this hobby with the rest of humanity. I owe everything that I am today to these wonderful paper objects: my knowledge  of the world – its places, its people and its cultures comes almost exclusively from stamps. If I didn’t directly learn about it from stamps because I saw it on a stamp, then I was inspired to go look it up because of what I saw on a stamp.