Thursday 19 March 2015

538. Many More New Issues Relegated To Gibbons Catalogue Appendix Section.

Grenada's Downton Abbey issue - doomed to spend eternity in the Catalogue Appendix Section.
 In the April supplement of Gibbons Stamp Monthly the editor of Stanley Gibbons Commonwealth Stamps Catalogue has pleasingly increased the number of excessive stamp issues from various Commonwealth philatelic entities to be placed in the Appendix section of the catalogue. This month 7 issues from The Gambia,  22 issues from Grenada and 4 issues from St. Vincent And The Grenadines have been consigned to the Catalogue appendix, doomed to exist without a formal catalogue number, and this represents the first real recognition by the Gibbons editor that many of the issues produced by the US-based agency, IGPC, should not be included in the part of the catalogue which lists "proper" stamps. This brings its listing of IGPC products very much into line with the way it approaches the listing of Stamperija products.
 The Catalogue editor deserves immense praise for this new approach to excessive issues by these abusive philatelic agencies but....

  There remains a debate to be had about what is and what is not finding its way into the Appendix. The editor's approach as to which issues are placed in the Appendix at the very least can be said to be inconsistent. The Catalogue states that issues are relegated to the Appendix if they "are either issued in excess of postal needs, or have not been made available to the public in reasonable quantities....." but let us examine what has happened in the Catalogue Supplement section of the latest (April 2015) edition of Stanley Gibbons Stamp Monthly.
  The catalogue listings of, as mentioned above, The Gambia, Grenada and St. Vincent And The Grenadines have been updated covering the periods August - December 2013, July 2012 - April 2014 and November 2013 - July 2014 respectively. It is not hard to see whymost of the issues exiled to the appendix have suffered that fate - quite obviously the subject matter of most of the stamps has little or no relevance to the countries whose names are printed on them. 
  Those issues which are given Catalogue numbers and listed in the main body of the work often have direct relevance to the issuing territory although sometimes the relevance of the subject matter is rather more tenuous. However the listed stamps and appendicised stamps seem to have been allocated their type of listing not so much on the grounds normally stated by the Catalogue editor detailed at the end of the last paragraph but rather more on the grounds of relevance which therefore becomes a new criterion for relegation to the appendix.
  I say this because some of the fully listed items are as equally issued in "excess of postal needs" as those included in the appendix. Let us look at some of the stamps which are fully listed and some which are appendicised. 
  Despite the editor's apparent worthy attempt to include in the main listing only stamps which are relevant to the country of issue, he does tend to include stamps of regional rather than strictly local relevance and these frequently have no local relevance at all. One such set is that which is made up of 4 stamps and 1 miniature sheet from Grenada on the subject of "Turtles". Wikipedia tells us that there are 4 local species of turtle in the waters around Grenada but this set of stamps depicts only 2 of them while the other 3 species are not found in Grenada (local but not featured:- Caretta caretta, Chelonia mydas, local and featured:- Eretmochelys imbricata and Dermochelys coriaceia, non-local but featured:- Chelus fimbriata, Trachemys Terrapen and Lepidochelys Kempis). Sixty percent of this issue is therefore irrelevant to Grenada and might as well also be relegated to the appendix. The pattern is repeated with other issues.

Grenada Turtles issues.

  Worst of all is the full listing of the set of 12 parrot stamps of 2014 from Grenada because there is not a single local species of wild parrot on the island (see Blog 322). The subject of these stamps is completely irrelevant to Grenada but it does pose a problem since these parrot stamps seem to make up the new definitive series and of all the issues featured including many which appear in the main listing these 12 stamps are the ones which are most likely to be used on mail. So we can hardly complain about their inclusion in the main catalogue listing even if the subject matter of the entire set is irrelevant to Grenada (it would be the same if the next Royal Mail definitive set featured "Wildlife of China"). 

  But I do think the editor could be even more strict about assigning issues to the appendix - why for instance would the following "Taekwondo of South Korea" issue from St. Vincent And The Grenadines find a place in the main list while "Elvis Presley in Canada" and the "World's Most Famous Trains" do not?:-

  A catalogue listing is so very important because there are many collectors who feel their collections are not complete if they are missing a stamp given full listing in a reputable catalogue whereas a justified relegation to an appendix will make them feel far less anxious about not including the item in their collection. 

  And why are only Stamperija and IGPC issues being singled out as candidates for the appendix? It is difficult to argue that many other territories such as Jersey, Guernsey and The Isle Of Man are not involved in releasing a number of issues "in excess of postal needs" and it is about time that the editor took action against some of the stamps from those postal administrations. Of course it's a problem for Gibbons since those offshore British islands advertise considerably in the Gibbons magazine and may not like to see their products sinking to the depths of the appendix. Still, what's sauce for the goose....

  Maybe it's time for the editor to get even braver and not only place some of the excessive issues of small island states in the appendix but also recognise that some of the bigger countries are equally guilty of releasing issues "in excess of postal needs". Australia Post springs to mind as does, sadly, Royal Mail. It will be interesting to see how the listing of new issues goes forward.

   I think collectors need a new approach to the collection of new issues - many stamps are no longer issued by countries - instead they are released by postal businesses which may be privately owned with national governments having varying levels of influence over them or by private philatelic agents which have contracts with certain postal administrations who may or may not have any say in what stamps the philatelic agents release with the names of the clients printed on them. So really it is quite inaccurate to label stamps as being issued by "Great Britain" - they are issued by Royal Mail (usually royally approved admittedly) or Universal Mail United Kingdom (these receive no recognition in Gibbons Catalogue at present). 
  Likewise "Australia" does not issue stamps - that is the role of Australia Post just as Australia Post also issues stamps on behalf of Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Christmas Island. Now we really should not have separate sections in our albums for new issues from Australia, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Australian Antarctic Territory and Christmas Island rather we should have a single combined section titled "Australia Post" - that is the stamp-issuing entity for all 4 philatelic entities. 
  In the case of Mozambique, Solomon Islands, Maldives and Uganda, almost all of their issues are released by Stamperija and see no use at all on ordinary mail in the 4 countries so it is illogical to label most new issues which appear on the stamp market from these territories as anything other than being new issues from the entity "Stamperija" rather than from, say, Mozambique or Maldives. 
  It is rare or even close to unknown to find Stamperija-produced stamps being used on non-philatelic postal items from the above 4 territories - an example of this is illustrated by 2 covers I recently bought from Steven Zirinsky which are genuine postal items from Solomon Islands - the first dated 05-09-13 and the second dated very recently on 18-11-14. Old, even very old stamps, have been used on the covers with not a hint of a Stampeija-produced "stamp" being fixed to the covers. 
  There are several other similar covers from Solomon Islands to be seen on Steven Zirinsky's website and none of them have had a stamp originating from the Stamperija stable applied to them. There has to be a reason for that and it is likely to be that the Solomon Islands Post Office has to use up stocks of old stamps for use on ordinary mail because the hundreds of philatelic items produced by Stamperija are not available in ordinary post offices for use on mail sent by the general public. Certainly I observed this to be the case in Uganda a couple of years ago when I found that their Stamperija-produced "stamps" were actually only sold at the philatelic counter in the main post office in Kampala.

  Stamps are used increasingly less often on mail, even by Stanley Gibbons itself (see Blog 500 - "Stamps....The End"), and it is arguable that the majority of new stamps which appear on the market are being issued "in excess of postal needs" because most new issues are never used for genuine postage reasons. This is a dilemma for the Catalogue editor and what eventually ends up in the main listing of the Catalogue and what turns up in the Appendix is ultimately the matter of opinion of the editor but it is an opinion which has great importance to collectors of new issues - on that single opinion hundreds or even thousands of collectors may base their decision as to whether or not to spend money on a new issue. Stamp-producing departments of postal administrations and philatelic agencies could be made or broken on the decision of a single influential catalogue editor.
  Or it is possible that stamp issuers could be influenced in a positive way not to issue excessive and ridiculously irrelevant stamp issues when they find that collectors are not buying their products because they are not included in the Catalogue's main listing:- no Catalogue number - no sale. It is pleasing to find that the Stanley Gibbons Catalogue editor is being more ardent in excluding excessive issues from the main body of the catalogue and it would be even more pleasing to find some of the undoubtedly excessive issue from larger countries being treated in the same way. Hopefully we will eventually return to a more reasonable situation for purchasers of new issues and this more brisk use of the catalogue appendix may help to bring forward that day.

  Meanwhile, a promotion from Isle Of Man Stamps And Coins shows us to what ridiculous lengths some postal administrations are being driven to unload their philatelic items on to collectors. The promotion depicted below offers the first 100 buyers of a new cover on the subject of the solar eclipse some free Jaffa Cakes (a type of biscuit)! (this promotion did not appear on April Fool's Day). The pressure for sales to bolster the failing fortunes of the Manx Post Office must be enormous but this promotion smacks of desperation and is could say that it "takes the biscuit". 
  That is the real problem with new stamp issues at this present time - people with a marketing background are much more likely to influence what philatelic products appear for sale rather than people who know what stamp collectors want - stamp collectors themselves. The Jaffa Cake Cover is an excruciatingly daft example of how far the stamps and collectables market has sunk - if you need to give away biscuits to sell an item then really you ought to think twice about issuing it. Maybe the Gibbons Catalogue editor's greater use of the Appendix section can help to stem the flood of new issues for which these marketing experts are responsible. It would be helpful if the editor began to consider seriously if some of the issues of these British offshore islands should be listed in the Appendix rather than automatically placing them in the main body of the Catalogue.

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  1. As this is an issue that is close to my heart, and that I was mentioned in it, I thought I would comment.

    As one can see by my website, I maintain a stock of modern commercial mail. I have a decent understanding of what countries are using what stamps in their mails at any moment in time. I also have had discussions with government officials of various countries as to how the system and stamp production has been working (and no I will not cite specifics) to satisfy their needs to move the mails.

    There are several issues here-

    1. Criteria for a stamp to being listed. If it has been able to be used for postal purposes and was available for use, it counts. If Tonga (for example) decided to issue a stamp honoring the worlds best snowboarders that would be fine- as long as it was available for local purchase and use. Sometimes the locals will grumble that the issues available they dont relate to, or that there arent the right stamps at the counter to make up the proper rate (such as needing a 50c stamp when there are only $1 stamps available). Sometimes issues are available at the Philatelic Bureau and not allowed at the post office- these I would not consider valid. The reason for this is often times the post office and the Philatelic bureau have split up and it is different monies.

    2. Stamps as monetary instrument. We collectors forget that stamps are a monetary instrument. Maybe it costs 1c to make and it has $10 printed on it. To the government it is worth $10. It is accountable paper. It is just like currency. The government Auditor looks very differently at stamp stock than collectors do. Which is why the old stock sits in the vaults. Some countries like the Solomons and the USTT ( Marshalls, Micronesia and Palau) are swimming in old stock and do what they can to use it up on the current mail. I have plenty of examples of this. Then there are other countries, such as Fiji, that took a different approach. They had $F5,000,000 sitting in stock of current definitive stamps and were watching the mail volume plunge as the internet took hold. The Post Office decided on a ban on the use of meters and revalued a lot of stock so as to reduce this liability. The Solomons do have the Stamperjia stock and it does get used, but their preference is to use the older material first.

    Hope I have clarified or at least added to the discussion.

    1. Dear Steven, Thank you for your extremely interesting and helpful input.I am very interested to read that the Stamperija products do get used in the Solomon Islands and I look forward to seeing examples used on ordinary mail eventually nevertheless is it a tolerable situation in which a small country issues several hundred stamps per year just for them to be added to a large backlog of stamps which they already have in stock and which they are struggling to use up? And who gets the main financial benefits from the sale of such items - the postal administration or their foreign agent?
      Your comment is most valuable and interesting and I thank you again. Best wishes.

  2. I certainly agreed with Steven's comment and insight and as a collector I always remind myself to seek for stamps from the island nations, African and Asian countries during their colonial period only or if there is a need for new issues, go thematics but with caution as this is the most "abused" area of collection. For example,if you collect birds theme, would you still buy stamps on penguins issued by a land locked African or Asian country?My take is stick to the basic of the good old days or years of collecting and if you must, avoid new issues.