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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Stamp Investment Tip: Niger Coast Protectorate 1897-98 Victoria (Scott # 55-63)

The Niger Coast Protectorate, a territory originally known as the Oil Rivers Protectorate, was a typical colonial "company territory" managed by the Royal Niger Company, which controlled the land, its resources, and its people, for the betterment of its shareholders. The company surrendered its charter to the Crown in 1899, and the Protectorate was incorporated into the two new territories of Northern and Southern Nigeria, which were combined to form the colony of Nigeria in 1914. During its seven-year existence, the Protectorate issued 63 stamps (plus varieties), including some notable rarities. Among the more affordable and accessible is its last issue, the 1897-98 Definitives (Scott #55-63), the third such issue with a design portraying an elderly Queen Victoria. Only 5,500 sets were issued, and Scott '10 values the set unused at $ 193.25 .

Stamps of Niger Coast Protectorate have the potential for dual market appeal among collectors of British Commonwealth and Nigeria.

A nation of over 154 million people, Nigeria is an an emerging market country, and is rapidly approaching middle income status, with an abundant supply of resources, well-developed financial, legal, communications, transport sectors, and a stock exchange which is the second largest in Africa. It is the eighth largest exporter of petroleum in the world. GDP growth has averaged almost 6% over the last 5 years. However, the country also has major problems, including corruption, human rights abuses, grossly unequal distribution of income, and internal religious and tribal conflicts.

Based purely on the growth of demand from British Commonwealth collectors, the set represents a conservative investment with little downside risk. Should Nigeria develop even a modest base of stamp collectors, the set will soar.

Those interested in becoming part of an international community of stamp collectors, dealers, and investors are welcome to join the "Stampselectors" group at Facebook. The group hosts lively discussions concerning stamp investment and practical aspects of collecting, as is also an excellent venue for those who wish to buy, sell, or trade stamps.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Stamp Investment Tip: India- Convention States- Nabha 1885-87 Overprint Issue (Scott #11-25)

During the Raj period, the Convention States of Chamba, Faridkot, Jhind, Nabha, and Patiala had postal agreements with Great Britain, allowing their stamps franking power throughout all of British India. Stamps of the Convention States were all overprinted stamps of British India, in contrast to the stamps of the Indian Feudatory States, which were issued independently, and which were only valid within the issuing states.The stamps of the Convention States are rich in varieties and errors. Typical errors include inverted overprints, spelling mistakes in English or Devanagri, errors of omission and capital letters than the normal types.

I initiated coverage of the Indian Convention States a while back by tipping Chamba Sc. #1-15. As I believe that this is one of the most undervalued areas in Indian Philately, I now continue to focus on it, by recommending the 1885-97 Overprinted Issue of Nabha (Scott #11-25). The top three values of the set (2r to 5r, Sc. # 22-24) had printings of only 572 each, and Scott '10 values the set unused at $ 352.35. While fake overprints may possibly exist on the high values, this does not represent much of a risk, because the difference in value between the stamps overprinted for Nabha and the basic stamps of British India are not enough to justify faking them.

Until the last decade or so, most of the demand for stamps of India's Convention and Feudatory States has come from British Commonwealth collectors and specialists outside of India. With India's economic rise, its stamp market has been heating up considerably. I am confident that in the coming years, the center of demand for these collecting areas will shift to India, as the number of stamp collectors there will number in the millions, if not tens of millions.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Stamp Investment Tip: Spain 1940 Virgin of the Pillar Issue (Scott #B109-22,CB8-17,EB2)

In January of 1940, having just won the Spanish Civil War, the Royalist government of General Franco engaged in a bit of sanctimonious whitewashing and justification of its responsibility for that 3 year bloodbath, issuing a compound set commemorating the 19th Centenary of the Virgin of the Pillar, the patron virgin of Spain and the Hispanic peoples (Scott #B109-22,CB8-17, EB2). The surtax was used to restore the Cathedral at Zaragoza, which had been damaged during the Civil War, in order to help promote a spirit of national healing under a brutal, pietistic, pro-Fascist dictatorship. 85,000 sets were issued, and Scott '10 prices the unused set at $ 399.85 ($ 775.00 for NH).

On the bright side, the set is a beautiful Religion topical issue, and has potential appeal to Catholic collectors in all of Spain's former colonies. Furthermore, the current financial mess in Europe has lowered the value of the Euro and softened demand for better issues of many European countries, including Spain. For those who invest for the long haul, now is a good time to buy.

I strongly favor all scarce and undervalued issues of Spain and its colonies. The nation has 46 million people, the 9th largest economy in the world, and the most rapidly aging population in Europe. Philately will flourish under such conditions over the long-term, despite any temporary economic crises.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Stamp Investment Tip: U.S. 1909 Hudson-Fulton Imperforate (Scott #373)

In 1909, the U.S. issued two stamps celebrating the tercentenary of the discovery of the Hudson River, and the centenary of the Clermont, the first commercial steamboat, built by Robert Fulton (Scott #372-73). The perforated stamp (#372) is by far the more common, as about 72.6 million were issued, and I am not recommending it for investment. However, I am recommending the imperforate version (Scott #373), as only 216,480 were issued, and Scott '10 prices it unused at $ 20.00 ($ 42.50 for NH).

The stamp is not only a beautifully engraved Ship Topical, but it is of local interest in New York and New Jersey. In my opinion, the best formats in which to purchase the issue are as a plate number block of 6 (CV = $ 240.00; $ 375.00 as NH) or as a center line block of 4 (CV = $ 210.00; $ 360.00 as NH). The stamps were produced in sheets of 60 (with one plate block and one center line block per sheet), yielding only 3,608 of each of these positional blocks. A much higher proportion of the imperforate Hudson-Fultons were retained by collectors than were the perforated stamps, so I am guessing that between 700 and 1,500 of each remain.

Gum bends are very common on #373. Endeavor to purchase examples which are free of them, especially if purchasing blocks.

Those interested in joining a community of stamp investors are welcome to join the "StampSelectors" group on Facebook. The group provides a valuable forum for those who wish discuss this blog, as well as trade or communicate with stamp collectors, dealers, and investors from all over the world.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Phila-Trivia: Postage Before 1840

While it is common knowledge that in 1840, Rowland Hill created the first postage stamp, Great Britain's "Penny Black," and that William Mulready created the first postal stationery, most stamp collectors are unaware that earlier attempts were made which resulted in some notable forerunners.

The earliest item similar to a postage stamp was created and used by a Frenchman, M. De Velayer, in 1653, during the reign of Louis XIV. He set up mail boxes and delivered any letters placed in them if they used envelopes that only he sold. Letters were wrapped with a slip of paper bearing the inscription (in translation) "post-paid______day of_________1653." An enemy of De Velayer's put live mice into the letter boxes and ruined his business. Unfortunately, none of De Velayer's "postage strips" are known to remain.
De Velayer's mail box
In 1818, Sardinia issued stationery which may have been used postally, and which bore imprinted images of a nude horseback rider blowing a trumpet. There were three values - 15, 25, and 50 centesimi - and the letter paper was sold at post-offices and by tobacco vendors. Use of the stationery was discontinued in 1836, due to a change in postal regulations. There is some debate regarding whether the amounts charged for the stationery actually paid for postage, as some argue that the Sardinia sheets were sold to raise taxes.
Sardinian stationery of 1818
In the early 1800s, some Swedish letter writers attached feathers to their covers with red wax seals, in order to imply that the letter should "fly to its destination." Obviously, these feathers bore only a slight resemblance to stamps in form and function, but they are interesting, nonetheless. A few Swedish "feather covers" still exist, and occasionally are sold at stamp auctions.

A Swedish "Feather Letter"

                                                        A 40 lepta Black stamp was issued in Greece in 1831. Covers exist bearing the stamp; however, there is some dispute over whether it was an actual postage stamp, or a charity label issued to raise funds for Greek refugees from Crete. A March 13, 1831, government decree requested that every citizen contribute 40 lepta or more for the welfare of recently arrived emigres from Turkish-controlled Crete to the liberated mainland, and ordered that billets be issued to donors. It is possible that these "stamps served to reward or document donations.
1831 Greek Postage Stamp or Charity Label (block of 4)

It is clear that Rowland Hill built on early innovations of the previous two centuries. These had failed mostly because initially, postal services served only a wealthy, literate elite. The issuance of postage stamps and the organization of a large and complex postal system coincided with the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, which rendered the establishment of an efficient and inexpensive mail service for the general public both necessary and progressive.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Stamp Investment Tip: Iran 1957 Baden-Powell Centenary (Scott #1073)

In 1957, Iran issued a stamp honoring the Centenary of the Birth of Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts (Scott #1073). 85,000 stamps were issued, and Scott '10 prices it unused at $ 8.50. I continue to favor Boy Scout Topicals, especially those issued by countries for which I feel bullish about the stamp market. Worldwide membership of the Boy Scouts is estimated at 25 million, and Scouting topicals are extremely popular internationally. The Boy Scouts of America even promote the hobby with a stamp collecting merit badge.

Note that a common defect found on many Iranian stamps of the '50s is badly toned, "gloppy" gum. When purchasing #1073, endeavor to select examples with clean gum.

Stamps of Iran are not widely collected at present, partly for political reasons and partly because of the ubiquity of fakes among the early overprinted issues. Nevertheless, it is an oil-rich nation (ranked second in both oil and natural gas reserves) of 76 million people, and there are signs that many of them are becoming fed up with the corrupt and reactionary theocracy that is isolating Iran from the rest of the world. Furthermore, it is beginning to diversify away from its dependence on oil into other industries, such as biotech, nanotech, and pharmaceuticals, and it has the potential to develop a thriving tourism sector, should it institute reforms and begin to improve its image.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Stamp Investment Tip: British Columbia and Vancouver Island

British Columbia and Vancouver Island, a British colony which joined the Canadian Confederation in 1871, issued eighteen stamps between 1860 and 1869. All are scarce and worthy of consideration as investments, as the market for Canada and B.N.A. looks very bullish long-term. The Canadian provinces are particularly interesting, as they appeal to both collectors of Canada and British Commonwealth.

Quantities issued are known for some of the issues, including the 1869 Surcharged Colony Seal stamps (Scott #14-18), of which only 4,800 of each were issued. Scott '10 Catalog Values for these, unused or used, range from $ 725.- to $ 1,750.-, and covers are especially rare. The designs for these stamps were narrowly spaced when they were printed, so centering tends to by abysmal. Expect to pay a premium for stamps with the perfs clear on all four sides. Considering the low printing for this 140 year old issue, and the fact that most of these stamps are poorly centered, it is likely that no more than a few hundred of each exist in sound, Fine or better condition.

With a population of about 31 million, Canada is one of the world's wealthiest countries, and one of the world's top ten trading nations. GDP growth has averaged 2.2% over the past five years, which takes into account the 0% growth of 2009 due to the global financial crisis. Canada's population is expected to age significantly over the next decades, thereby bolstering its population of serious collectors. Canadians over 60 are projected to increase from 16.7% of the population in 2000 to 27.9% in 2025, and 30.5% in 2050. Consequently, in the future, many more Canadians will be spending time working on their stamp collections on cold winter days.

Those interested in learning more about investing in stamps are encouraged to read the "Guide to Philatelic Investing" ($5), available on Kindle, and easily accessed from any computer.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Stamp Investment Tip: Venezuela 1899-1901 Bolivar Issue (Scott #142-49)

From 1899-1901, Venezuela issued an attractive set of definitives honoring Simon Bolivar (Scott #142-49). Fewer than 1,000 of the 2b Orange high value (Sc. #149) were issued, and Scott '10 prices the unused set at $ 375.00. I strongly recommend either the complete set or the high value for investment. It is yet another example of a grossly undervalued issue of Latin America, which should do very well as the region continues its economic development.

With a population of about 26 million, Venezuela is resource-rich, and consistently ranks among the top ten oil producers in the world. Annual GDP growth has averaged almost 10% over the last 5 years, although it has been decelerating recently due to lower oil prices. Under Chavez-style quasi-socialism, the percentage of Venezuelans living below the poverty line has decreased from 48% in 2002 to 30% in 2006. The country has begun diversifying its economy away from its current near-total dependence on petroleum exports, and has spawned a rapidly growing manufacturing sector.

Those interested in joining a community of stamp investors are welcome to join the "StampSelectors" group on Facebook. The group provides a valuable forum for those who wish discuss this blog, as well as trade or communicate with stamp collectors, dealers, and investors from all over the world.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Stamp Investment Tip: Annam and Tonkin

Before the French began issuing stamps for its colony of Indochina in 1889, it initially utilized French Colonies stamps, and later surcharged these stamps for use in Annam and Tonkin (now Northern and Central Vietnam) and Cochin China (Southern Vietnam). I favor all stamps of both Annam and Tonkin and Cochin China, as well as the better issues of Indochina, as they have appeal to collectors of both Vietnam and French Colonies.

Focusing on Annam and Tonkin, since the A & T stamps are handstamped surcharges (and therefore subject to fakery, as are all overprinted stamps), I recommend those which are costly enough to purchase conditional on expertization. These include some of the better surcharge varieties, the "Hyphen between 'A' and 'T' " Surcharges (Scott #7-9, which range in Scott '11 Cat. Value from $ 210.- to $ 550.-), and the rare unissued 5c on 2c Brown on buff (Scott #9Note- Scott '11 CV = $ 7,500.-). Printing quantity information is unavailable for these stamps, but it is likely that fewer than 2,000 of each of Sc. #7-9 were issued, and that fewer than 100 the unissued 5c on 2c were prepared.

Vietnam is a nation of 86 million people which is in transition from a command economy to a market-driven one. It is still a relatively poor country, with an annual GDP of $ 280 billion. Deep poverty, defined as a proportion of the population living under $1 per day, has declined significantly and is now proportionally smaller than that of China, India, and the Philippines. Annual GDP growth has been impressive, averaging about 7.5% over the past five years, and it is likely that Vietnam will have one of the fastest growing economies over the next several decades. Manufacturing, information technology, and high-tech industries are rapidly growing sectors. Though a relative newcomer to the oil business, Vietnam is now third-largest oil producer in Southeast Asia, with an output of 400,000 barrels per day.

Interest in the better stamps of Indochina and Vietnam has been upstaged by the recent feeding frenzy of the Chinese stamp market. This relative neglect represents a buying opportunity.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Stamp Investment Tip: Bangkok 1877-85 Issues

Between 1882 and 1885, Great Britain issued stamps for use by British personnel in Bangkok, initially by by overprinting "BRITISH CONSULATE BANGKOK" on stamps of Straits Settlements, and later by overprinting Straits Settlements stamps with a "B." Most of the the 29 Bangkok stamps are scarce to extremely rare (with #12 and #14 being the exception) and quantities issued for each ranging from under 100 to about 8,000. Being overprints, all Bangkok stamps should be purchased conditional on obtaining expertization.

I favor all stamps of Bangkok that are expensive enough to warrant expertization, including the overprint varieties. These rather dull looking stamps are sought by collectors of both British Commonwealth and Thailand, two growing markets. The stamp market in Thailand is particularly hot right now, and I feel it will remain strong for decades.

A nation of 63.5 million, Thailand is considered one of the newly industrialized "Asian Tiger" nations, exporting over $105 billion worth of goods and services annually. It is still mainly an agricultural nation, and is the world's #1 exporter of rice, although the relative importance of agriculture is declining as other industries develop. Over the last five years, annual GDP growth has averaged about 3%, reflecting a recent slowing due to the global financial crisis.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Stamp Investment Tip: Saudi Arabia 1934 Proclamation Issue (Scott #138-49)

In 1932, the Kingdom of the Hejaz and Nejd was renamed the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and in 1934, it issued its first stamps under that name, a set proclaiming Emir Saud as Heir Apparent (Scott #138-49). 4,000 sets were issued in both perforated and imperforate form, and Scott '10 prices either at $ 2,266.00 for unused.

Although betting on the economic development of Saudi Arabia is not without risk, I feel that the potential returns from investing in its better stamps vastly outweigh the threat of an overthrow of its monarchy and a radicalization of the country. It seems probable that the government will continue its policies of gradual reform and co-opting or corrupting its potential adversaries with oil money.

An extremely affluent nation with an estimated population of 28 million, Saudi Arabia officially has 260 billion barrels of oil reserves - about 24% of the world's total proven reserves. Though currently almost wholely dependent upon the petroleum industry, the Kingdom is attempting to diversify by building "economic cities," which will focus on pharmaceuticals, tourism, finance, education and scientific research. Annual GDP growth over the last 5 years has averaged about 5%, and it is likely that, barring the potential for disruption due to political instability, Saudi Arabia will continue to sustain high growth over the next decades. The threat of instability is real, as the Saudi government is rated the world's seventh most authoritarian regime, according to The Economist's Democracy Index. As a monarchy sworn to govern on the basis of Islamic Law, Saudi Arabia maintains a legal system which may seem feudal to many people, prescribing capital punishment and various forms corporal punishment, including amputation, for actions which are not even considered crimes in most countries. Intra-family rivalries and the heady mix of religion, politics, greed, and regional militarism make for a potentially explosive combination, but this is nothing new, and the House of Saud has proven its resilience time and time again by surviving and maintaining its primacy over the last hundred years.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Stamp Investment Tip: Poland-Exile Government Monte Cassino Issue (Scott #3K17-20)

During World War II, the Polish Government in Exile, based in London, issued stamps for letters posted from Polish merchant ships and warships. In June of 1944, it issued a set of four stamps honoring the final capture of Monte Cassino by Polish forces (Scott #3K17-20). The Battle of Monte Cassino was actually a series of four costly battles fought by Allied forces (from many different nations) so that they might seize Rome. The pivotal role played by the Poles in the final fourth battle against the Nazis gave hope to those fighting for Polish Independence. Only 55,000 sets were issued, and Scott '10 values it at $ 30.00 for unused ($70.- for NH), and $ 80.00 for used. Philatelic covers bearing the whole set exist, and these are quite desirable.

The set has dual appeal to collectors of Poland and World War II topicals. I have little information regarding demand for the set in Italy, but there is a potential for that to become significant, as well.

With 38 million people, Poland is one of the fastest growing economies of all of the formerly Communist countries, with annual GDP growth averaging about 5.5% over the past 5 years. The nation has steadfastly pursued a policy of liberalizing the economy, and was not severely impacted by the recent global financial crisis. It is likely that Poland will be one of the world's fastest growing economies over the next several decades.

Better stamps of Poland should rise in value as the country prospers and the population of Polish stamp collectors increases. Interest in Polish history and national pride are important elements in the culture of this oft-conquered people, and there are some 10 million Polish-Americans with ties to the country.