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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Phila-Trivia - A Brief History of the Early Chinese Postal System

China was one of the first countries to have a postal service system – starting early in the Zhou dynasty (1111-255 BC).

In the beginning the postal service was used for official documents only, primarily military in nature. A system of daks, or stations, was developed to aid in transferring the messages.  All messages were transferred by couriers, who would travel from dak to dak. Upon arrival at a dak, the first courier would hand off the message to a new courier who would begin the next leg of the journey, and so on.

In the Qin dynasty (221 – 206 BC), small kingdoms were brought under unification and a nation-wide postal system was developed. Though the period of peace and unification did not last long, the postal system components remained in use regionally and could be easily be brought back together during a new
Fish-shaped Envelopes, Qin Dynasty

In the Han dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD), the postal system reached the Roman Empire via the silk road, demonstrating its vast network. The postal system continued to expand and develop, with couriers traveling by land and water to reach their destinations.

Express tallies, Sung Dynasty
During the prosperous Tang dynasty (618-907), the postal system was flourishing along with country itself.  There were more than 1600 daks at this time. Couriers had set schedules and efficiency increased. Under the Sung dynasty (960 – 1270), ‘express’ mail was created, primarily in response to the frequent wars and invaders on the north and west borders. Mail was ranked using three categories called tallies:  gold, silver, and copper depending on the urgency. Mail with a gold tally should be sent at 250 km per day, silver at 200 km per day, and copper at 150 km per day.

By the time the Yuan dynasty rolled around in the late 13th century, the mail system was so vast that Marco Polo was compelled to comment on its scale and efficiency.

During the majority of the postal system’s history, the mail was used for official government communication and military use. It wasn’t until the 15th century that private post offices appeared, and traders began to use the private post as a way to communicate and make payments.

In the late 1800s, the system began to be influenced by those in Western countries. The government issued
its first stamps in 1876, the Imperial Dragon set. By the time of the 1911 revolution, the Chinese government closed all daks to make way for more modern and efficient means, and had brought the majority of the private post companies under control of the government.

(from an article by Meg Doherty) 

Information concerning printing quantities of stamps is often useful in determining which may turn out to be
good investments. The StampSelector Scarce Stamp Quantities Issued List (SSSSQIL) currently includes over 9,700 listings of stamps and souvenir sheets with issuance quantities of 100,000 or less.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Stamp Investment Tip: U.S. 1935 3c Byrd Antarctic Imperf., Cross Gutter Block (Scott #768)

   In 1933, the U.S. issued a 3c stamp honoring Admiral Richard E. Byrd's Antarctic Expedition (Scott #733). The stamp is notable in that it's design is based on a sketch by America's most famous Philatelist-President, Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The design was replicated in two later issues, an imperforate souvenir sheet of 6 issued at the National Stamp Exhibition of 1934 (Scott #735), and as an ungummed imperforate stamp - one of the notorious "Farley Issues" of 1935 (Scott #768).

    The Farley Issues are interesting because they can be collected as positional pieces, the most popular of which is the cross gutter block. The Farley version of the Byrd Antarctic Stamp (Sc.#768) was issued in panes of 25 sheets of 6, and each pane contained 16 gutter blocks. 267,200 of #768 were issued, so about 28,500 blocks were possible. 

   As these stamps were not gummed, it is likely that most were collected unused, rather than used and discarded, but it's also likely that many of the panes of 150 were broken up and collected as sheets of 6, mimicking the format of the earlier souvenir sheet. Scott '13 values the cross-gutter block unused at $20.00, which seems cheap to me, even if all of the original 28,500 survive.

    Furthermore, the issue has appeal as a Polar/Antarctic topical and as a Map topical.

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

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Stamp Investment Tip: Natal 1877 Surcharges (Scott # 59-60, 61-63)

    In 1877, the British issued five surcharged stamps for Natal, including two that were Perf. 14, and a set of three that were Perf. 12 1/2 (Scott #59-60, 61-63). Scott #59 and 60 had a combined printing of 23,760, and #61-63 had a printing of 56,540. Scott '13 values the #59 unused at $37.50, #60 at $100.- , and # 61-63 at $205.-. There are also a number of surcharge varieties, most of which catalog in the hundreds of dollars. They are very scarce to rare, and I recommend purchase of them conditional on obtaining expertization. In my opinion, this issue has been neglected because to many collectors, the stamps are just boring surcharged issues from a dead South African state.

The colony was integrated into the Union of South Africa in 1910, and the main sources of demand for stamps of Natal are British Commonwealth collectors and collectors of South Africa, both of which I view as growing markets. A recent Price Waterhouse report projects that South Africa will be one of the world's fastest growing economies over the next 40 years.

As a a middle-income country of about 49 million, South Africa has an abundant supply of resources, well-developed financial, legal, communications, energy, and transport sectors, a stock exchange that ranks among the top twenty in the world, and a modern infrastructure supporting an efficient distribution of goods to major urban centers throughout the entire region. South Africa is ranked 25th in the world in terms of GDP. Annual GDP growth has averaged about 2.5% over the past 5 years.

However, the country has a two-tiered economy- one rivaling other developed countries and the other with only the most basic infrastructure, similar to a Third World nation. Unemployment is extremely high and income inequality is approximately equal to Brazil. Also, there is an 18% HIV infection rate among South African adults, among the highest in the world.

Given the somewhat mixed picture that South Africa presents, I feel that better stamps from the country and its related issuing entities should be viewed mainly as conservative plays on the growth of British Commonwealth collecting. I am hopeful that over time, most of South Africa's worst problems will be ameliorated or solved, but whether that will require years or decades is an open question.

Note that as with many early British Commonwealth perforated issues, the perf holes are often close to the design. When purchasing these stamps, attempt to select for Fine or better examples in which the perfs clear (or barely touch) the design.

Those interested in learning about investing in stamps should read the Guide to Philatelic Investing ($5), available on Kindle and easily accessible from any computer.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Stamp Investment Tip: Panama 1952 Isabella I (Scott #382-85, C131-36)

In 1952, Panama issued a compound set of ten stamps honoring Queen Isabella I of Spain (Scott #382-85, C131-36). 10,000 sets were issued, and Scott '13 prices the unused set at $13.30.

As with all Latin American stamps, there are many collectors who focus on the region as a whole, which supplements demand for the stamps of the individual countries.

A nation of 3.4 million people, Panama is the fastest growing economy and the largest per capita consumer in Central America. Panama's economy, because of its key geographic location, is mainly based on a well developed service sector heavily weighted towards banking, commerce, tourism, trading. The handover of the Canal and military installations by the United States has given rise to large construction projects. Tourism has grown rapidly during the past 5 years due to the government offering tax and price discounts to foreign guests and retirees. The country also has valuable copper and gold deposits, which are beginning to be developed. Annual GDP growth has averaged over 7% over the last 5 years.

 "The Stamp Specialist" blog features buy prices for stamps which I am interested in purchasing. I've posted a buy list for Panama, including the set and souvenir sheet recommended in this article. Viewing dealers' buy lists every now and then is an excellent way to keep current on the vagaries of the stamp market.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Stamp Investment Tip: Iceland 1930 Gyrfalcon Air Official (Scott #CO1)

In 1930, Iceland overprinted 24,000 of its Gyrfalcon airmail stamps, producing its first and only Airmail Official (Scott #CO1). Scott '13 prices the unused stamp at $ 22.50  .

It's reasonable to question whether it's prudent to invest in stamps issued by a country in which the economy is in a shambles, and I offer three reasons for doing so. Firstly, I believe that Iceland will eventually recover from its current economic problems, and as I commented in an earlier article, often the best time to invest is when there's "blood in the streets." Secondly, there are many stamp collectors who focus on Scandinavia as a region, so demand for stamps of Iceland is broad- based. Thirdly, the stamp is a Bird Topical.

   While I usually recommend obtaining expertization when purchasing scarce overprinted issues, it's not necessary in this case, because the basic airmail stamp is worth about the same as the air official.

   A nation of  about 320,000, Iceland has been hard-hit by the European Debt Crisis. Prior to the recent economic contraction, Iceland was the seventh most productive country in the world per capita (US $54,858), and the fifth most productive by GDP at purchasing power parity ($40,112). Except for its abundant hydroelectric and geothermal power, Iceland lacks natural resources; historically its economy depended heavily on fishing, which still provides 40% of export earnings and employs 7% of the work force. It was hit especially hard by the ongoing late-2000s recession, because of the failure of its banking system and a subsequent economic crisis. Before the crash of the country's three largest banks,  their combined debt exceeded by approximately six times the nation's gross domestic product of €14 billion ($19 billion). Since then,  the government has instituted some financial reforms, and by June 2012 managed to repay about half of the debt. Average annual GDP growth has been flat over the last 5 years, but seems to be recovering.
 The Stamp Auction Bidders and Consignors Union (SABACU) is  a forum for discussing stamp auctions and represents the interests of stamp auction bidders and consignors in their dealings with stamp auctioneers. All stamp collectors and dealers are welcome to join.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Stamp Investment Tip: Macao 1984 Postage Stamp Centenary Souvenir Sheet (Scott #488a)

  In 1984, Macao issued a souvenir sheet celebrating the centenary of its postage stamps (Scott #488a). 50,000 were issued, and Scott '13 prices the unused souvenir sheet at $40.-.

   The souvenir sheet appeals to Stamp-on-stamp topicalists.

In my opinion, all of the better stamps of the European and other foreign Colonies/Possessions in China should be considered for investment, as they have dual markets both in their former home countries and in China.

In 1999, Macao became a special administrative district of the People's Republic of China. With a population of about 500,000, Macao's economy is dependent upon tourism, much of it geared toward gambling, although important secondary sectors include apparel manufacturing and financial services. Annual GDP growth has been high, averaging over 9% over the last 7 years. The fact that much of Macao's economic growth has been driven by a regional monopoly on gaming is a little worrisome, because obviously there is no guarantee that the People's Republic won't relax restrictions on gambling in the rest of China, allowing more competition. Nevertheless, I feel that certain scarce issues of this former colony are grossly undervalued, given the number of collectors who will be bidding for them.

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

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Stamp Investment Tip: Azerbaijan 1994 Aliyev 70th Birthday Souvenir Sheet (Scott #394b, 394c)

 In 1993, Azerbaijan issued two souvenir sheets celebrating the 70th birthday of President Heydar Aliev (Scott # 394b, 394c). The scarcer of the two sheets (Scott #394b) contains a spelling error: the President's birth city, Naxcivan, is mispelled "Haxcivan" on the map pictured on the second stamp. 4,000 of the error sheet and 25,000 of the normal sheet (Scott #394c- pair from sheet shown) were issued, and Scott '14 prices them at $90.-  and $15.- , respectively.

I believe that both sheets are worth accumulating, although the error sheet is the more promising of the two. It's worth keeping an eye out for the error sheet mis-classified as the normal one.

Azerbaijan is an oil-rich nation of about 9 million people, which also has significant reserves of natural gas and various minerals. Agriculture and tourism are also important to the Azerbaijani economy. The country shares all the problems of the former Soviet republics in making the transition from a command to a market economy, but its energy resources brighten its long-term prospects. It has begun making progress on economic reform, and old economic ties and structures are slowly being replaced. Annual GDP growth has averaged a stellar 16% over the last 5 years, largely based on the frenetic development of the country's oil wealth - an estimated 7 billion barrels of reserves.

Those interested in learning about investing in stamps should read the Guide to Philatelic Investing ($5), available on Kindle and easily accessible from any computer.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Stamp Investment Tip: Peru 1938 Scenes (Scott #C49-61)

  In 1938, Peru issued a set of thirteen airmail stamps picturing various scenes, buildings, and monuments (Scott #C49-61). 10,000 sets were issued, and Scott '13 prices the unused set at $107.90. It is likely that most were used as postage and discarded.

Peru has issued a number of undervalued sets which I intend to cover in the future. Demand for the country's stamps is boosted by the tendency of many collectors to focus on Latin America as a region.

With a population of 29 million, Peru is an emerging market nation which has experienced significant economic growth over the last 15 years, and annual GDP growth averaging 7.2% over the last 5. Major exports include copper, gold, zinc, textiles, and fish meal. In 2010 Peru's per capita income was about $10,000. Poverty has steadily decreased since 2004, when nearly half the country's population was under the poverty line, although great inequities in income distribution persist. As the trend continues and more Peruvians join the middle class, the country's better stamps should do very well.

I have begun a new blog, "The Stamp Specialist", which features wholesale buy prices for stamps which I am interested in purchasing. I've posted a buy list for the Peru, and it includes the set recommended in this article. Viewing dealers' buy lists every now and then is an excellent way to keep current on the vagaries of the stamp market.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Phila-Trivia: By Gum! It's Stuck!

In The Philatelist (London) for January 1939, L.N. and M. Williams traced the variety of adhesives used to mount stamps to pages.


By Gum! It’s Stuck

By dint of much experimenting and infinite care the philatelist has reduced the mounting of stamps to a fine art.

The affixing or one part of the mount to the stamp and the other portion to the album page so that subsequent removal will result in neither tearing the mount nor damaging the page, is an operation requiring patience plus skill plus a good mount.

It was not always so. Once upon a time the most barbaric methods were used for mounting stamps. That is why many old stamps bear evidence to having been maltreated in their youth. A substance widely used by early collectors for affixing stamps in their albums was gum arabic. According to “An Amateur,” writing in 1866, this adhesive had many advantages over paste, chief among them being that it was more fluid and would keep fresh for a long time. However, its use on India paper was not recommended because “it soaks through to the upper surface and completely spoils the stamp. The best thing to use for India proofs seems to be a paste made with the flour of rice.”

Gum arabic was not used by everyone, and some collectors preferred to affix their stamps more firmly to the page. One of the substances strongly recommended by another writer was liquid india-rubber. The writer extolled its virtues and praised its cleanliness, adhesiveness, ease of removal, and the fact that it left no stain. The economy of its use also was mentioned, and its advocate stated that a shillingsworth would last for years. It seems doubtful, however, whether a stamp mounted with it more than once would retain its freshness “for years.”

Another adhesive used quite extensively was gelatine. A method of purification before use was suggested, as the gelatine was obtainable in long, thin slips which were to be boiled in water. It was recommended that the resultant liquid be passed through a sieve of linen.

Although the strength of the preparation cannot be doubted, it would seem, from the description given, to have been endued with magic powers. “Whenever it is required for use,” wrote its supporter, “it must always be warmed, and a small quantity of it applied with a brush on the back of the stamp, which fixes itself at once on the book.”

The need for an efficient adhesive attracted the attention of chemists, and a Mr. S. Ray, of Stockport, advertised a glue of his own manufacture. He called the substance “coagaline,” and marketed it at sixpence a bottle. He claimed that, being perfectly colorless, it would disfigure neither the stamps nor the album.

A somewhat similar concoction, of French origin, was sold under the name of “coll en batons.” In writing of it, the editor of Stamp Collectors’ Magazine stated that the gum was very different from the sticky-glue of English bazaars; for which fact present-day philatelists should be truly grateful.

A suggestion for quite an appetizing preparation was put forward early in 1867. It was made by a philatelist who stated that he was a collector also of monograms, and always used the adhesive for mounting them in his album.

The substance consisted chiefly of the white of an egg, carefully kept clear when being separated from the yolk, and put into a small bottle together with half a teaspoonful of the best brandy. The proposer was emphatic concerning the quality of the brandy, and this may have been prompted by some ulterior motive. At any rate, there must have been a strong temptation to apply the gum to the tongue instead of to the stamps it was intended to mount.

Considerably less appetizing was the potato starch recommended consistently by one stamp journal. However, collectors were warned to use the starch sparingly otherwise the stamps on which it was used would adhere only too well to the album page. One of the earliest suggestions for mounting stamps by means of folded strips of gummed paper, after the manner of hinges, was put forward in Stamp Collectors’ Magazine, dated January 1869. Although the use of gummed paper had been advocated earlier, the previous suggestions had been that the paper be folded twice, the part where the two edges met to be fixed to the stamp, the other side to be fixed to the album page. This resulted in the stamp’s becoming an almost permanent fixture.

The new hinge was suggested in the correspondence column, in answer to a reader’s query, and was accompanied by a rough diagram. The use of stamp edging was suggested as the gummed paper. Astonishing at it may seem, this idea did not catch on at once, and as late as March 1 1870, a writer in the same magazine recommended gum arabic as being superior to any other adhesive for mounting stamps.

Not until a year or two later was there a general move towards the mounting of stamps with strips of thin, semi-transparent paper, and the days of the stamp’s martyrdom were over - but were they? When considered carefully the use of even the stamp mount seems rather barbarous.

Perhaps some day a philatelist with a brilliant turn of mind will arise and forever banish even that small remnant of a gummy age. Then, and only then, will a mint specimen be able to retain its pristine glory until the end of time.