Saturday 20 August 2016

810. Philatelic Collectibles - Teaching An Old Dog New Tricks.

  I have always believed that since I was a seven year old boy I have collected postage stamps. Now I realise that I have become mainly a collector of philatelic collectibles and that something has to change.

  My Damascence conversion came in a blinding light of recognition a couple of hours ago when I got round to mounting my Royal Mail-issued miniature sheet on the subject of Animails - a preposterous and expensive piece of self-adhesive paper - in my latest album of "British stamps". It really is just rubbish. And there has been so much of the stuff recently. It's a madness. We've also just had 6 stamps and a 4 stamp miniature sheet and a 10 stamp sheetlet to commemorate the 50th anniversary of an old popular music group becoming professional (a moment to be forever recalled in the annals of history - no, I don't think so) - it wasn't as if it it was The Beatles or The Rolling Stones or David Bowie - and we will soon be faced with a set of stamps to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first publication of some true British, er ..... classic modern literature - the Mr. Men books.

  Royal Mail has issued " limited edition" (naturally) Collectors sheets or Commemorative sheets or whatever they're called, sold at well over double face value, to mark the 80th anniversary of more literary classics such as Oor Willie and The Broons and a record number of Prestige Booklets have found their way on to the market - Beatrix Potter, the First World War 2016, The Queen's 90th Birthday  and the 500th anniversary of Royal Mail - all worthy subjects but 4 of them in the short period of 6 months - they're "'avin' a larf" aren't they?

  Let's not even mention Post And Go labels and Counter booklets and miniature sheets

  Let's be honest. These are NOT postage stamps. Yes, of course they are valid for postage but they rarely turn up if at all on everyday mail sent by ordinary members of the public who have no philatelic interest nor knowledge. These are purely collectable products intended to give pleasure to those who buy them usually because they depict subjects which interest them and to increase financial income to Royal Mail. These two outcomes are wholly satisfactory but just because these outcomes occur, it does not mean that a postage stamp collector should feel pressurised by his or her inbuilt need for COMPLETENESS of their collection to go out and buy these items - they should see them for what they are - philatelic, and not necessarily postal, collectibles which are unlikely to be used to any substantial extent to indicate the pre-payment of postage, which, I think, is how a postage stamp is defined.

  Good, I am a collector of postage stamps and not philatelic collectibles. Therefore I do not need to spend vast amounts of money on all the products pouring on to the market at this time. I acknowledge that postage stamps serve other roles - they commemorate great events or anniversaries or important people in a country's history or culture, past and present, and can be used to project a national image to the rest of the world, boast of its triumphs and moarn its disasters and losses. I am happy to collect the items which fulfill those roles but I am not happy to spend money on the trivial and the ephemerally popular or populist. I am happy to collect stamps which project the nation's image - its industry, its history, its art and science, its wildlife and perhaps, most importantly, its people. 

  So, Royal Mail and its really quite horrible "Animail" sheet has finally pushed me into a new road for my stamp collection. I gave up collecting what were then still known as Smilers sheets in 2009; I have reduced greatly the number of Post And Go labels that are admitted to my collection and now its time to go further. For a year or two, I have given up buying most stamps from prolific entities such as Australia Post, Jersey Post, Isle Of Man Post Office, Guernsey Post and Royal Gibraltar Post Office - I only have their definitives and new stamps which commemorate truly significant national events and anniversaries - and of course I do not buy stuff from Stamperija and most of the IGPC and Philatelic Collector Inc. products - and now I add Royal Mail to my list. 

  I like the Prestige booklets but there are just too many of them now so they're out; only special stamps commemorating significant national events and anniversaries will find their way into my collection, definitives will still be obtained, only Post And Go stamps obtained from kiosks freely accessible to members of the general public (NCR in post offices and IAR in enquiry offices) will be collected. It will be hard to stick to my new plan at first but I know that it will soon feel like being released from a completist prison. And just think what I can do with all the money that's saved. 

  So, Mr. Men stamps -  you'll have no home in my collection and I suspect that much of the stuff
planned for 2017 is likely to be equally homeless. 


  1. Well said. I wonder if some day in the future, that genuinely postally used postage stamps will command a higher value than the NH mint stamps of the past twenty, thirty years or so when the flood of wall paper really took off. At that point, all of these stamps from Stamperija et al, will be seen for what they are, supplemental postal collectable window dressing to supplement the real collection.

    1. Hello, thank you for your comment. I wonder what stamp collecting will be like in 20 - 30 years time. It's hard to imagine that Post Offices will have any need to produce postage stamps by then or that postal services will exist in their current form. From what's happening here with Amazon, it sounds as though the skies will be full of drones delivering parcels and ordinary mail then will surely be entirely electronic.
      So stamps are likely to interest antiques collectors rather than people who feel the need to keep up with the latest item appearing on the market. Genuinely postally used stamps, especially on cover, will interest such future collectors as items with historical value. I honestly cannot see that the vast flood of philatelic collectables, limited editions or not, will hold anything but limited interest to anyone who will have an interest in stamps in 20 - 30 years time.

  2. The number of new issue buying stamp collectors is declining fast, due to too many issues and ever increasing postage rates. And of course old age. Royal Mail and other postal companies are trying to squeeze the last money out off them while they still can.
    Other postal companies allready gave up on collectors. The costs of issuing stamps are higher than the profits they would make. I think this is what is happening in those African countries which allmost don't issue stamps anymore.
    Unfortunately these countries are an easy prey for Stamperija and IGPC. This year Stamperija obtained the right to print the name Djibouti on a part of their products. Which countries will follow in the near future?

    1. Dear Stewie1911, thank you for your, as ever, interesting comments. You sum up the situation perfectly.
      It's interesting to speculate which postal administrations are in danger of falling into the hands of The Dark Side - you know who I mean. It seems to me that the 11 remaining territories which are supposed to be clients of CASCO are not well served by that agency - publicity is poor and stamp issues are infrequent - most I'm sure will retain their respectability and hopefully in time try out the services of Pobjoy Stamps which really seems to know how to do the job to the apparent satisfaction of their client territories and to collectors. CASCO doesn't seem to know what's going on with its own clients - has anyone seen an illustration of Saint Lucia's single stamp issued in July 2015 to commemorate the Centenary of Sir Arthur Lewis or actually seen it being offered for sale by a philatelic dealer? Nauru has not issued a single stamp, as far as we know, for several years - presumably because of the costs outweighing the benefits as you point out - and I wonder if Nauru might be a postal service vulnerable to one of those agencies which make up The Dark Side of philately - a number of its Pacific neighbours have fallen prey to these entities.

      The rest of Commonwealth Africa seems safe,I think, bar some skipping from one agency to another - frying pan to fire - as we saw with Sierra Leone shifting from IGPC to Stamperija. Perhaps some of the Caribbean territories under the aegis of IGPC might be vulnerable to Stamperija making them an offer they can't refuse ... Grenada perhaps (with everything that's going on there with these strange Chinese-produced issues which I recently reported). Frankly, I don't think it matters too much which faction of The Dark Side a territory has fallen to - they're all pretty awful.

      Some territories don't even have to resort to using the services of these exploitational agencies - places like Jersey, Isle Of Man and Australia are pouring out enough excess stuff without any need of help from IGPC, Stamperija, Philatelic Collector Inc. and so on.

      Wouldn't it be really nice if one or two territories turned away from The Dark Side? the release of no stamp issues is better than allowing themselves to have the name of their country dragged through the mud and to become a contemptible joke to stamp collectors. But where there's money being offered there's someone about who'll sacrifice their reputation to lay their hands on it. Yes, I know these postal administrations are poor and have more important things to worry about than stamps and stamp collectors but stamps are national ambassadors which contribute to selling a country's national image and that's a point worth thinking about.
      Pompous? Moi?

  3. It has occurred to me that one African territory is in danger of being seduced by The Dark Side - Lesotho - which, as far as is known, has not issued a stamp since 2009 unless there are some pesky unreported surcharges lurking around somewhere. Of course Lesotho is an old client of IGPC so it has a previous track record. This year marks the country's 50th anniversary of Independence so we should really expect an issue for that important national anniversary but no news of such an issue is, as far as I know, so far forthcoming. Does anyone have any information about any recent Lesotho issues? I sent a query to the Lesotho Post Office but received no reply (they obviously have much more important things to bother about).

    1. All modern postcards I found online are franked with stamps from the 1990s.
      Lesotho's last issue was the SAPOA joint issue 'WC Football South Africa 2010'.
      Another country in danger is Rwanda. They also issued their last stamps in 2010. Modern covers and postcards are franked with these stamps and older stamps, some of them dating back to the 1980s!
      I think these countries use their old stamp stocks and when these stocks run out they will find another solution. Meter marks, labels or new stamps. We hope new stamps of course!

    2. Thank you for your further comment. Rwanda's quite interesting,I agree, but I feel less worried about its philatelic future as things are at the moment, certainly while Paul Kagame's government holds on to power - it seems to be guiding the country along the right lines.

      Its most recent stamp issues are indeed very few, if I remember rightly, there was a single issue in 1999, 1 in 2003 and 2 in 2010 and none since. Despite only issuing 4 sets in 17 years there has been no hint of it allowing one of The Dark Forces to muscle in on its stamp issuing and there seems no reason to expect a change in the foreseeable future. Interestingly, we might have expected an issue in 2012 to commemorate Rwanda's 50th anniversary of Independence from Belgium but no such issue was released. Internet auction sites do often feature numerous horrible bogus issues with Rwanda's name printed on them.

      Maybe fewer stamps get used in Rwanda because Kagame's government has placed a lot of stress on modernisation and getting the people to use electronic communications which I guess reduces the usage of traditional postal services.

      So, for the moment at least I feel optimistic that Rwanda's stamp issues will not be taken over by The Dark Side.