Thursday, October 21, 2010
In 1994, the U.S. issued a "Legends of the West" sheet of 20 stamps, commemorating America's westward expansion, and featuring portraits of prominent figures of the era. Unfortunately, a single stamp on the sheet honoring African-American cowboy and rodeo star Bill Pickett errantly pictured his brother, Ben. The Pickett family came forward and identified the error, and the Postal Service issued 20 million of the corrected sheet (pictured at left -Scott # 2869). To help defray the expense of producing the errors, the U.S.P.S. decided to hold a "lottery" and thereby allowed some collectors to purchase 150,000 of the recalled sheets (Scott #2870, pictured at right).
While the normal, corrected sheet is common and retails for about twice face value, Scott '11 prices the recalled sheet at $275.00 unused. Often it is sold for a slight premium if it is in its original U.S.P.S. envelope, but in my opinion, it should probably be removed from its envelope and kept separately. The envelope was intended for temporary storage, and it is possible that storing the sheet within it will damage it eventually, due to shrinkage of the plastic and acidity of the cardboard.
The Recalled Legends Sheet should do very well over time, as it appeals to both general U.S. collectors and collectors of the popular Western Americana topic. It represents a good barometer of the health of the U.S. stamp market in general, in that it is sought by both serious collectors and intermediate collectors who are progressing toward becoming more serious about philately.
Stamp collecting has declined in the U.S. over the last fifty years, but I feel that this regrettable trend will be reversed over the next fifty. I estimate that there are between 150,000 and 300,000 "serious" stamp collectors and perhaps 3 to 5 million beginning collectors in the U.S. today. For a modern, relatively affluent, democratic nation of about 308 million people, these figures represent a pathetically tiny proportion of the population devoted to the world's most popular hobby. Aside from my impression that the U.S. situation simply could not get any worse as far as stamp collecting goes, I believe that globalization, aging of the population, and philately's compatibility with Internet use will all tend to attract more people to stamps. Reforming or significantly improving the nation's lackluster system of education would also be beneficial, as the semi-literate do not make very good philatelists.