By Jesse Robitaille
As the country reels in response to the Bank of Canada’s recent studies on digital currencies and financial technology, there’s a philatelic parallel of particular interest to stamp collectors.
Coin collectors – also known as numismatists – are debating the impact of the decline of physical currency (a polite way of saying “the death of cash”) and the effect it might have on their hobby. If fewer people use cash, it might become less familiar, relatable and interesting, and fewer people will decide to collect it—or so the argument goes.
But what happens to philately if more countries – like Iceland, which is expected to end new issues by 2021 – kill their stamp programs? What if there were no new stamps issued?
Realistically, for collectors today and in the near future, the end of new issues wouldn’t be the end of their hobby, which is usually predominantly focused on anything but new issues.
Perhaps philately would even benefit from a stamp cessation. There’s a common belief the hobby is in such dire straits (with a decline in outward aspects of participation like being an active member of a stamp club or attending shows) specifically because of the high number of new issues – and formats – forced onto the market by postal services worldwide over the past few decades. Most traditional collectors dislike this aggressive approach to new issues, which has also seemingly failed to attract the next cohort of collectors.
As an aside, the end of new issues could also draw temporary interest from speculators who believe prices could rise as a result (but don’t bet on it, would-be investors).
More likely, if postal services stopped issuing new stamps, existing postage would truly enter the hipster zeitgeist and cement its position as a nostalgic reminder of a time when correspondence wasn’t sent with ones and zeroes but gummed paper and physical dispatches.
On the other hand, similar to the numismatists’ nervousness, if there are no new stamps being issued today, what will be left for the collectors – specifically the new collectors – of tomorrow? While there’s a fear (much like with coinage) if stamps aren’t being seen and used, they won’t have a tangible connection to most people; however, I’d argue this transition is well behind us, and it doesn’t seem to have had the debilitating effects our philatelic ancestors once thought.
Perhaps more interesting will be watching certain countries end their stamp programs – like Iceland – while others carry on undeterred. What impact might this have on collecting habits and trends as collectors are drawn towards or away from certain countries based on the vitality of their stamp program?
The coming transition away from postage will set the stage for the next era in philately—whatever that may be.
Beyond collecting, there are other ways the end of new issues will impact the hobby. This includes some cataloguers (again, specifically focused on updating the glut of worldwide new issues) but also the philatelic media, including CSN.
But I can say with certainty if Canada Post stopped issuing stamps today, the following issues of CSN would look and feel much the same. Overall, new issues account for so little of our reporting and commentary that I feel safe in saying we here at CSN will be around for the long haul.
We’ve seen many changes in the hobby since launching CSN in 1976 as an expansion of our numismatic publication, Canadian Coin News (which has been around even longer, since 1963).
As always, we’re excited about the future of philately and eager to see what the coming changes mean for collectors.