Friday, April 29, 2016

Are Philatelic "Rogue States" helpful or harmful to stamp collecting???? (Repost)

This is a repost from my orignial blog posted on 8 August 2015

Over at his excellent Big Blue 1840-940 blog as part of his post on the classic era stamps of St Vincent, jkjblue discusses some interesting data he crunched comparing stamp output to population for modern issues (he based his study on the issues of 1980 to 2012). His results were quite interesting based on the number of stamps released per 1 million people in population

"The Top 51
(Total Stamp issues 1980-2012 normalized for one million population )

1. Grenada Grenadines – 4410/.008* = 551,250
2. Grenadines of St Vincent – 3153/.009* = 350,333
3. Nevis – 2753/.009 = 305,888
4. Palau – 3256/.019 = 171,368
5. Antigua & Barbuda – 4423/.064 = 69,109
6. Grenada – 5528/.1 = 55,280
7. St Vincent – 6586/.121 = 54,429
8. Dominica – 3467/.065 = 53,338
9. Marshall Islands – 3056/.066 = 46,303
10. St Thomas & Prince – 4363/.155 = 28,148 
11. Micronesia – 2408/.13 = 18,523.
12. Maldives – 4011/.3 = 13,370
13. Guyana – 7606/.7 = 10,865
14. Gambia – 6293/1.1 = 5,720
15. Guinea-Bissau – 5855/1.2 = 4,879
16. Comoros – 2535/.6 = 4,225
17. Liberia – 4990/2.6 = 1,919
18. Guinea – 8750/7.5 = 1,166
19. Mongolia – 2591/2.6 = 996.5
20. Sierra Leone – 5204/5.3 = 982
21. Central Afr. Rep. – 3205/3.4 =942.6
22. Togo – 3202/4.3 =744.6
23. New Zealand – 2178/3.7 = 588.6
24. Nicaragua – 2430/4.4 = 552.3
25. Libya – 2259/5.0 = 451.8
26. Mozambique – 5569/16.5 = 337
27. Cuba – 3189/11.1 = 287.3
28. Portugal – 2330/9.9 = 235.4
29. Belgium – 2283/10.4 = 219.5
30. Hungary – 2197/10.2 = 215.4
31. Ghana -3372/18.1 = 186.3
32. North Korea – 4128/22.2 = 186
33. Cambodia – 2110/11.6 = 181.9
34. Australia – 3188/17.9 = 178.1
35. Tanzania – 4806/31.3 = 154
36. Romania – 2992/22.6 = 132.4
37. Uganda – 2742/21.6 = 126.9
38. Taiwan – 2442/22.1 = 110.5
39. Venezuela – 2175/23.3 = 93.3
40. Spain – 2297/39.2 = 58.6
41. France – 3080/59.0 = 52.2
42. Bulgaria – 2213/42.9 = 51.6
43. Philippines – 3481/68.6 = 50.7
44. Great Britain – 2741/59.1 = 46.4
45. Japan – 4870/126.2 = 38.6
46. Thailand 2305/60.6 = 38.1
47. Vietnam – 2567/77.3 = 33.2
48. USSR/Russia – 3030/147.1* = 20.6
49. Brazil – 2296/157.1 = 14.6
50. United States – 3518/281.4 = 12.5
51. China – 2915/1,246.9 = 2.4"

Source : Big Blue 1840-1940 Blog

The top 20 nations are of course nations that have huge stamp outputs and small populations, and are dominated by nations represented by a few (in-)famous philatelic agents who release issues in the names of these nations depicting all sorts of topical themes, from Cats and Dogs to Pop Stars and everything (and anything) in between.

To a large percent of the stamp collecting community, these -stamps- are little more than glorified wallpaper being peddled under often questionable circumstances with little relevance to the nations they purport to represent, all in the quest to part (mainly topical) collectors from their coin.

Exploitative stamp issues released with an eye to cashing in on collector interest is of course nothing new. The United States Columbian Exposition Commemorative of 1893, an issue of 16 stamps in a range of values from US$0.01 to US$5,00 (which in 2015 dollar purchasing power, would be well over US$130 today!), resulted in howls of protest from the philatelic media of the day, and the issue would not really begin to sell over face value for the high values until the 1930s when a whole new cadre of collectors entered the hobby in wake of both the Great Depression and the high profile philatelic activities of both a British King (George V) and an American President (Franklin Roosevelt).

In the 1970s the American Philatelic Society, which at one time included global new issue listing in its journal The American Philatelist, created the "Black Blot Program" program to list new issues its editors felt were exploitative to the collector community, often issues of a topical nature from developing nations in Africa, Asia, the Pacific Basin and the Caribbean.  In the end the APS would end listing global new issues altogether, and the Black Blot program was soon just a memory.  Interestingly enough, many of those 1970s issues that received Black Blots have gone on to appreciate in value somewhat more (and sometime very much more) than their face value at release than stamps whose release were not seen as a threat to the philatelic wallet.

Since then the tide of new issues has truly become an antidiluvian flood of issues, and not just from countries who have "sold their philatelic souls to agents." Japan now regularly tops 300 stamps per year, while nations as respectable as New Zealand, the United States, Australia and Great Britain routinely have more than 100, and total cost due to much higher face values means keeping up with new issues can be a challenge financially for many collectors. A large percent of the collector community shun modern-day issues as a result.

At the same time though, if there was not a demand for the -wallpaper- issues of Saint Vincent, Central African Republic and the like, why do nations continue to allow these agents to issue stamps in their name.  There must be some benefit to at least someone in the issuing nation (even if not to the budget of the issuing nation or the general population as a whole) and the market must be large enough to keep demand for these issues growing. There must be a large enough cadre of "casual collectors" purchasing this material because the images on the releases appeal to the them enough to pay hard cash for the stamps. What perecent of this group moves beyond the occasional purchase of the latest Formula 1 stamps from Mozambique or Obama stamps from Saint Vincent is hard to qualify,

In the end collectors collect what they like, and they determine what they want to collect.  As I have been working on French colonial issues the last couple years, I have also begun collecting stamps from the independent successor states.  While one can often quibble that there was no reason for, say, Cameroun to honor Space Achievements as it did on a series of issues in the late-1960s, I would argue that at least in comparison to much of the production today (both by countries represented by agencies and nations that still control their new issue programs) the quality of design was much higher (many of these issues were produced in France by the French post office printers by multi-color engraving, and are really stunning pieces of artwork). And in comparison to face value at time of release, some of these "international" topical issues (though not all, to be fair) have appreciated quite nicely in the intervening decades.

Cameroun's 1968 Satellite Communication issue. Directly relevant to Cameroun, not really, but design-wise quite beautiful and a nice example of the growing "internationalization" of culture in the 1960s.

In today's interconnected global village, the idea that there are topics that are "irrelevant" to certain societies is an increasing difficult assertion to maintain.  Vintage American films, Japanese anime, British pop music are as much enjoyed and appreciated in Freetown, Sierra Leone or Georgetown, Guyana as they are in any Western city.  The number of stamps issues per year may make it difficult for collectors raised on the traditional -collect the country- model to keep up with, but personally I do not think these philatelic "rogue states" are harmful in and of themselves,  unless those buying the issues believe they are making an investment that will pay off in the future.  Stamps only are a good investment in terms of leisure time to relax and discover the world. Financially a collector *might* make a financial gain from the expenses put into the hobby over time, with a bit of luck. But more often than not that does not happen. However, I've never really seen any advertising from these agencies touting their productions as an investment tool, something that can not be said for other retail branches within the world of organized philately.

Personally I do not really collect the post-1980 generation of stamps produced by agencies for these "rogue states" - their design ethos for me is just not appealing - but I can see how they can become a "gateway" to attract new collectors into the hobby. I think perhaps a bit less "pooh-pooh"-ing of the issues and a bit more outreach to these casual collectors to show them the vast variety and diversity of the hobby would be a wiser approach when these issues come up for discussion.

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