Bidding at big-time sales will be telling

The reopening of Brigham Auctions got me thinking about the nature of the Canadian stamp market. As with most collectibles, the market sometimes defies easy labelling. For one thing, stamps are tangible assets that are often purchased for intangible reasons. In other words, both investors and collectors are involved and influence the market, but they often make their purchasing decisions for very different reasons. To an investor, the purchase price of a stamp is tempered by the fact that the owner ultimately wants to make a significant profit when the time comes to sell. While no collector likes to lose money, many will dig as deep as they can for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

However, very few collectors have unlimited funds, and the general state of the economy can stress the will and resources of all but the most fortunate of us when it comes to buying stamps. Of course, it is not anywhere that simple. Even stipulating that collectors have different interests and objectives does not cover how diverse they are. The market has many collectors of modest means. Most of these collectors don’t ever expect to own an Inverted Seaway, or any of the other great rarities. There are thousands of collectors who may never spend a significant amount on a single purpose, yet they are just as enthusiastic and sincere. Generally, they have a goal that often puts completeness first. Their role in the market, while important, is fairly constant. The stamps they collect hardly ever change in value.

There is yet another group whose interests are so specialized that they may spend hours looking for something very specific. They may get excited about a purchase their peers consider ordinary. Their specialized knowledge allows them to spot gems and perhaps make some really good buys. A further complication is that many collectors are retired. They have the advantage of some stability, but may be worried about meeting rising costs on a fixed income.

All of this means that trying to predict the stamp market is a bit of a guessing game. A year ago it seemed as if the top end of the market had entered hibernation and most rarities would be off the market for some time while owners waited for a better time to sell. More recently, we have seen a couple of high-value sales, and I expect that we will be hearing about a few more over the summer. Does that mean that collectors are opening their wallets, or does it mean that owners have stopped waiting and are testing the waters? Only time will tell.

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