While it has become somewhat fashionable to talk about how stamp collecting is a dying hobby, the actual market has a very different indication.
Logic would tell us that since the number of stamps isn’t going down, a smaller collector base would mean less competition for stamps, and a weak market with prices dropping like a rock. That’s not what I have seen. Recent stamp auctions, such as Eastern Auctions’ sale a few months ago, and Daniel F. Kelleher Auction’s recent New York sale, show us that demand is strong for high quality stamps, with great prices being seen on both sides of the border.
It would be easy to dismiss this as investors just getting excited, but investors usually don’t get excited about such obscure fields as postal history and Maritime bisects. They want the flashy stamps with high rarity and predictable demand along with some liquidity. When a collector buys high end stamps, he may be hoping for a payback when he sells, but that is secondary to his collecting goals.
Recognizing that great rarities are not the realm of the average collector, I have seen the same level of interest in all parts of the hobby. The demand for modern stamps, postally used, while not price-driven has remained strong. The combination of that demand, with reduced supply, has meant that the price of kiloware and mixtures has held its own.
At a typical auction, bulk lots, and other lots priced under $1,000, the area where most collectors are active has also remained stable for most of the past 10 years. What’s more, I hear that the demand is strong in other parts of the world. Collectors in Asia and Europe are interested in the historically significant area of British North America, those stamps issued by parts of Canada before Confederation. That makes sense, because the field has been well-researched, and has a definable start and finish, both popular with collectors.
So in terms of the current health of the hobby, I just don’t buy into the theory that the end of the world is around the corner. I do think the number of really young collectors is down. We can’t deny that in the 1960s stamp collecting was big with youngsters, who could purchase cheap albums and bags of stamps at the local five and dime. But the thing to remember is that, even back then, those collectors had almost no impact on the market.
I was one of those young stamp collectors. While I spent hours with my album, my entire collecting budget, including the album, hinges, and stamps, amounted to probably less than five dollars. And that is over the entire three or four year period I spent building my collection. Granted, five bucks went a lot further back then, but I’m pretty sure my investment in bags of mixtures had a totally insignificant impact on the stamp market. That’s the truth about young collectors, no matter how much enthusiasm they have; most just don’t have a lot of free cash to spend on their hobby.
As far back as 30, or even 40, years ago, the stamp hobby was dominated by middle-aged collectors who had the time, the money and the desire to build a collection. What’s more, just as it is today, collector activity was focused on out of issue stamps. That’s what I see when I look at old issues of CSN, and that’s what I see today.
Today, the hobby has changed. The Internet has made collecting information available for free online and that presents challenges for traditional organizations, including stamp magazines, but it has also allowed a globalization of the hobby.
Today, great Canadian stamps are appreciated and sought after in Canada, the United States, Europe and Asia. Those stamps will be just as interesting and just as collectible a generation from now as they are today. Even while other collectors talk about how things are going downhill, and collecting isn’t the way it was back in the glory days of the mid-1900s.
As for me, well the good news is that my $5 stamp collection won’t have lost much of its value.