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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Stamp Investment Tip: Straits Settlements 1907 Overprint (Scott #134A-44)

With this article, I am initiating coverage of stamps of the Straits Settlements, a former British colony which once comprised the settlements of Malacca, Singapore, and Penang.

In 1907, the Brits issued an overprinted set (Scott #134A-44) for the Straits Settlements by overprinting eleven stamps from their 1902-03 set issued for Labuan, an island possession off the Northwest coast of Borneo. Only 4,000 sets were issued, and Scott '11 values the set unused at $553.25 .

Better stamps of the Straits Settlements are attractive because they have multiple market appeal to collectors of British Commonwealth, Singapore, and Malaya/Malaysia- all of which represent growing markets. I expect that over the long-term, the Malaysian stamp market will contribute the most to strengthening demand for stamps of the Straits Settlements and the Malayan States. In an earlier blog article, I commented on a Price, Waterhouse report which projected which countries' economies would grow the fastest over the next 40 years. Malaysia came in tenth on that list.

With a population of over 28 million, Malaysia is an emerging market nation and the 29th largest economy in the world. It has abundant minerals and petroleum, vast forests, as well as a thriving agricultural sector. Nevertheless, over the last four decades, the Malaysian government has committed the nation to a transition from reliance on mining and agriculture to manufacturing, and is moving to conserve its remaining forests and reforest the overcut areas. The government has recently taken steps to make Malaysia more business-friendly, and the number of Malaysians living in poverty has also decreased. As of 2007, average wages were around $34 per day, up from about $9 per day in 1999. Annual GDP growth has averaged almost 6% over the last five years, although the country is taking a hit in 2010 as a result of the global financial crisis.

Those interested in joining a community of stamp investors are welcome to join the "StampSelectors" group on Facebook. The group provides a valuable forum for those who wish discuss this blog, as well as trade or communicate with stamp collectors, dealers, and investors from all over the world.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

General Commentary: Is There a Doctor in Your Album? The Prognosis for Medical Topicals

According to a survey done by the American Topical Association, Medical/Nursing-related stamps represent the fourth most popular topical stamp collecting area in the United States. While comparable data for the world as a whole is unavailable, it is likely that Medicine ranks high among the world's most popular collecting topics. As many Medical Topical collectors are in the health profession, there are some powerful catalysts which may bolster interest in Medical Topical stamps. The number of doctors and nurses in the world is expected to increase dramatically as a growing middle class in the developing countries demands better medical care and more doctors and nurses per capita, and global aging accentuates the need.

According to various estimates, there are currently approximately 10-15 million medical doctors in the world - about one for every 450 - 700 inhabitants. However, they are not evenly spread around. For the most part, the number of inhabitants per doctor is lowest in the affluent industrialized countries of the West and Japan, and highest in the least developed countries of Africa, Latin America, and Asia. For North America, Europe, and Japan, the number of inhabitants per doctor generally ranges from about 200-500. For Latin America (with the exceptions of Argentina, Chile, and Cuba), the numbers range from about 500-900; for Asia (with the exceptions of Israel and South Korea on the low side and Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal on the high side)- about 700-2,200; for Africa- a chaotically wide range from 1,900 to 50,000 inhabitants per doctor, with many Sub-Saharan African countries having tens of thousands inhabitants per doctor.

According to the World Health Organization, there is a global dearth of healthcare workers. The WHO estimates a worldwide deficit of 43 million medical professionals, with the greatest shortage in sub-Saharan Africa, which needs nearly 1 million workers. And while poverty exacerbates the problems for some regions of the world, the root causes of the healthcare-worker shortage—which includes physicians, nurses and researchers—are shared by both rich and poor nations. People are living longer and the need for healthcare is expanding, and even the most affluent countries, which have the highest number of physicians and nurses per capita, are feeling the pinch. In 2006, the American Association of Medical Colleges recommended that medical schools increase their enrollment by 30% to cope with the U.S.' growing shortage of physicians.

From a humanitarian perspective, the global doctor shortage is a serious crisis which needs to be addressed. Nevertheless, it also represents an opportunity for those who are considering investing in better Medical Topical stamps. As the number of health care workers increases, Medical Topical collecting will also get a "shot in the arm."

(Note: StampSelector articles related to Medical Topical collecting may be viewed by clicking on the "Medicine" category in the Search list, and include: Stamp Investment Tip: U.S. Private Die Medicine Stamps, Stamp Investment Tip: Armenia 2003 Neurophysiology Issue (Scott #682), Stamp Investment Tip: New South Wales 1897 Diamond Jubilee Semi-postals (Scott #B1-2).

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Stamp Investment Tip: Canada 1876 8c Registration Stamp (Scott #F3,F3a)

From 1875 through 1878, Canada issued a set of three registration stamps (Scott #F1-3). The 8c high value, issued in 1876, is the scarcest of the three, with 90,000 issued. It was printed in either dark blue (which Scott calls "dull blue"- #F3) and bright blue (Sc. #F3a). Scott '11 values each at $500.- for unused ($ 1,000.-for NH), and $ 350.- for used.

In all probability, the vast majority of these stamps were used and discarded. At the time, few collectors of Canada were interested in purchasing an obscure and visually uninspiring registered mail stamp.

I favor all better stamps of Canada and B.N.A., because I am very optimistic about Canada's prospects for economic growth. It has an affluent, well-educated population, valuable natural resources, and vast amounts of undeveloped land. It may even benefit from global warming, as much of Canada's frozen tundra may be eventually be naturally defrosted through the manmade "miracle" of the greenhouse effect, and become North America's new agricultural breadbasket, while the former one gradually turns into a wasteland.

With a population of about 31 million, Canada is one of the world's wealthiest countries, and one of the world's top ten trading nations. GDP growth has averaged 2.2% over the past five years, which takes into account the 0% growth of 2009 due to the global financial crisis. Canada's population is expected to age significantly over the next decades, thereby bolstering its population of serious collectors. Canadians over 60 are projected to increase from 16.7% of the population in 2000 to 27.9% in 2025, and 30.5% in 2050. Consequently, in the future, many more Canadians will be spending time working on their stamp collections on cold winter days.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Stamp Investment Tip: Bahrain 1948 Royal Wedding (Scott #62-63)

In 1948, the Kingdom of Bahrain, then a British-protected territory, issued a set of two stamps celebrating the Silver Wedding Anniversary of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother- Scott #62-63). 21,984 sets were issued and Scott '11 prices it unused at $48.75 .

Issues of Bahrain, especially those of the British period, are sought after both in Bahrain and among British Commonwealth collectors, and British Royal Family issues have additional topical appeal.

Bahrain, a country of just under 800,000, has the fastest growing economy in the Arab world. With oil reserves estimated at 150-200 million barrels, Bahrain is not as oil-rich as some of the other Gulf States, but has met the challenge by successfully diversifying into banking and financial services, and is now considered a major financial center. Annual GDP growth has averaged 6.5% over the past 5 years. Bahrain is also developing its natural gas industry, as it has gas reserves equivalent to about another 580 million barrels of oil.

There are a number of scarce issues from the Gulf States which I view as bargains. Assuming that these countries can maintain their economic growth, diversify away from their current near-total dependence on oil revenues, and avoid internal political instability or military conflicts with some of their noisier neighbors, their better stamps should all do well.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Stamp Investment Tip: Guatemala Inverted Quetzal Errors (Scott #22a, 23a, 25a)

In 1881, Guatemala issued an attractive set of stamps picturing its national bird, the Quetzal (Scott #21-25). Each stamp was printed in two colors, and as occasionally happens during the printing of multi-colored stamps, a few sheets went through the printing press upside-down, producing invert errors of the 2, 5, and 20 centavos denominations (Scott #22a, 23a, 25a). Quantities issued are not known, but in all probability, the stamps are extremely scarce to rare, with quantities remaining ranging from about 20-50 for #23a to a few hundred for each of #s 22a and 25a. For unused examples, Scott '11 values #22a at $400.-, #23a at $3,000.-, and #25a at $500.-.

Aside from the fact that I favor all undervalued issues of Latin America, the Quetzal Inverts also appeal to both the most affluent of Bird Topical collectors, and to Error collectors. The scarcest of the three (#23a) is rarer than an Inverted Jenny, the most famous American invert, yet may be had for less than 1% of the cost of its snobby cousin up north.

With a population of about 14 million, Guatemala is a poor but developing country. Since the end of the Civil War in 1996, the country has witnessed a successful transition from authoritarian dictatorship to democracy, although major inequities in income still need to be addressed. In recent years the export sector has grown dynamically. Some of Guatemala's main products include fruits, vegetables, flowers, handicrafts, and textiles. The 1996 peace accords that ended the decades-long Civil War removed a major obstacle to foreign investment, and tourism has become an increasing source of revenue. Annual GDP growth has averaged just under 5% over the last 5 years.

I have begun a new blog, "The Stamp Specialist", featuring my buy lists for stamps which I wish to purchase, including some sets from Guatemala. I have not buy-listed the Inverted Quetzals, but would be happy to purchase any offered at reasonable prices and with certificates. Periodically viewing dealers' buy lists is an excellent way to remained informed about the state of the stamp market.

Those interested in joining a community of stamp investors are welcome to join the "StampSelectors" group on Facebook. The group provides a valuable forum for those who wish discuss this blog, as well as trade or communicate with stamp collectors, dealers, and investors from all over the world.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Stamp Investment Tip: Turkey 1953 Conquest of Constantinople (Scott #1090-1101, 1101a)

In 1953, Turkey issued a set and souvenir sheet commemorating the 500th Anniversary of the Conquest of Constaninople by Sultan Mohammed II (Scott # 1090-1101, 1101a). 100,000 sets and 25,000 souvenir sheets were issued, and Scott '11 prices them unused at $48.05 and $175.- , respectively.

I recommend purchase of both the set and the souvenir sheet. Though far fewer of the souvenir sheets were issued, it is likely that a much higher proportion of the sets were used as postage and discarded. The issue commemorates a pivotal event in Turkish history, and will be eagerly sought after as Turkey's stamp collecting population continues to grow.

With a population of about 72 1/2 million, Turkey is perhaps the most culturally European of the Islamic nations, and a likely model for their modernization, economic development, and democratization. The country experienced rapid economic growth between 2002 and 2007, with GDP averaging 7.4%, but this slowed in 2008 to 5% and stalled in 2009 to 1%, due to the global financial crisis, from which the country is recovering. While traditional agriculture is still a pillar of the Turkish economy, it is becoming more dependent on industry. Key sectors include tourism, banking, construction, home appliances, electronics, textiles, oil refining, petrochemical products, food, mining, iron and steel, the machine industry, automotive, and shipbuilding. It is likely that in the future, Turkey will benefit from serving as an economic and cultural nexus connecting Europe, the Near East, and the Turkic (formerly Soviet) nations of Central Asia.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Stamp Investment Tip: Tibet

Tibet is termed an "autonymous region" of the People's Republic of China by that country's government. It is frequently in the news, as well it should be, since its brutal occupation by the Chinese represents the biggest land grab in recent history, as well as one of the most reprensible modern examples of cultural and political repression.

As an independent nation, Tibet produced 18 stamps (plus varieties) from 1912 until the Chinese invasion in 1950. The stamps were printed on rough native paper, and inclusions are normal, and do not detract from the value unless they seriously obstruct the design or have seriously damaged the paper. While printing quantity information is not available for these issues, I would conservatively estimate that no more than a few thousand of the scarcest stamps were produced, and that quantities issued on the others range upward into the low tens of thousands. Unfortunately, excellent counterfeits exist, so I recommend focusing on the most expensive of the Tibetan stamps (those that catalogue $250 or more), and requiring expertization as a condition of purchase.

While there are only about 3 million Tibetans (probably not enough to sustain a strong demand for their stamps), the stamps of Tibet also appeal to specialists in Europe and the U.S. . In addition, there is also a potential market among the millions of people throughout the world who either have an interest in Tibetan Buddhism or who sympathize with the cause of Tibetan Independence. The stamps remain undervalued because of the ubiquity of counterfeits and the consequent cost and inconvenience of obtaining certificates. As in similar cases with certain other countries' stamps, the cream will eventually rise to the top.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Stamp Investment Tip: Botswana 1970 Charles Dickens Centenary (Scott #62-65, 65a)

In 1970, Botswana issued a set and souvenir sheet commemorating the Centenary of the Death of Charles Dickens (Scott #62-65, 65a). 31,947 sets and 12,908 souvenir sheets were issued, and Scott '11 prices them unused at $2.25 and $5.25 , respectively.

Both the set and souvenir sheet are interesting speculations based on their obvious topical appeal to aficionados of the world famous author, as well as more general interest among collectors of British Commonwealth. While it is true that Botswana is a model for economic development in Africa, it is possible that it is not populous enough to support a significant stamp collecting community.

A nation of about 2 million, Botswana is one of the world’s great development success stories. A small, landlocked country of 1.9 million people, Botswana was one of the poorest countries in Africa with a GDP per capita of about $70 at independence from Britain in 1966. In the four decades following independence, Botswana has transformed itself, moving into the ranks of middle-income status to become one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Agriculture, mining and banking are the major sectors, and annual GDP growth has averaged about 1.5% over the last 5 years, but this reflects a recent contraction of about 12%, due to the global financial crisis.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Stamp Investment Tip: Uzbekistan 1999 Birds of Prey Souvenir Sheet (Scott #196)

In 1999, Uzbekistan issued a souvenir sheet picturing Birds of Prey (Scott #1961 ). Only 10,000 were issued, and Scott '11 values it at $3.25 for unused. While the sheet was almost certainly produced to generate revenue from sales to collectors, it is nevertheless an attractive, cheap, and scarce Bird topical that is worth squawking about. As Uzbekistan's economic prospects seem promising, the souvenir sheet is "twice lovable."

A nation of about 28 million, Uzbekistan relies mainly on the production or extraction of commodities, including cotton, gold, uranium, potassium, and natural gas. The government is slowly relaxing state control of the economy, although it remains hostile to allowing the development of a significant private sector. Average annual GDP growth has been outstanding, averaging 8% over the last 5 years. However, average income has remained low, at around $610 per year (2006), largely due to the fact that much of the country's prosperity has benefited a tiny ruling elite of corrupt bureaucrats. Reforms are obviously necessary, although given the country's abysmal human rights record, the road to change will probably be a bumpy one.

Many of the newly independent and newly resurrected nations of Europe and Central Asia have issued popular topical sets and souvenir sheets in modest quantities, and most are currently very inexpensive. I view such issues as low-risk speculations, as only time will tell whether either the development of stamp markets within these countries or topical appeal will push them significantly higher. In a sense, they're comparable to penny stocks, but not as risky.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Stamp Investment Tip: Venezuela 1932-38 Simon Bolivar (Scott #293-304)

From 1932 to '38, Venezuela issued a definitive set picturing Simon Bolivar, and printed on bluish Winchester security paper to prevent counterfeiting (Scott 293-304). 42,000 were issued, and Scott '11 values the set at $117.85 for unused. Issued over a period of seven years when few people were collecting Venezuela, most sets were probably used as postage and discarded. Perhaps a few thousand remain. The set is yet another example of a grossly undervalued issue of Latin America, which should do very well as the region continues its economic development.

With a population of about 26 million, Venezuela is resource-rich, and consistently ranks among the top ten oil producers in the world. Annual GDP growth has averaged almost 10% over the last 5 years, although it has been decelerating recently due to lower oil prices. Under Chavez-style quasi-socialism, the percentage of Venezuelans living below the poverty line has decreased from 48% in 2002 to 30% in 2006. The country has begun diversifying its economy away from its current near-total dependence on petroleum exports, and has spawned a rapidly growing manufacturing sector.

I have begun a new blog, "The Stamp Specialist", featuring my buy lists for stamps which I wish to purchase, including the set recommended in this article.Periodically viewing dealers' buy lists
is an excellent way to remained informed about the state of the stamp market.

Those interested in joining a community of stamp investors are welcome to join the "StampSelectors" group on Facebook. The group provides a valuable forum for those who wish discuss this blog, as well as trade or communicate with stamp collectors, dealers, and investors from all over the world.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Phila-Trivia: When Travesty Turns to Treasure

In 2006, New Zealand attempted to celebrate Maori culture with a set of stamps featuring Maori dancers and honoring the "Kapa haka" ritual performance, which combines choral singing, dancing, and martial arts.

Ironically, the proposed stamp designs met with intense opposition from prominent members of the Maori community, which viewed them as being in bad taste, and said that the cartoon-type characters were culturally insensitive and ridiculed Maori. The designs were called "cheap, ugly, stupid comic strips" which would make the Maori People the "laughing stock of the world."

New Zealand Post initially defended the cartoon designs, arguing that they were "fresh and contemporary", but it relented in the face of mounting opposition, and destroyed approximately a million of the stamps. It also promised that it would create an issue that would honor Kapa haka at some point in the future, and that the Maori community would be widely consulted regarding any future stamps depicting them.

However, not all of the offending stamps were destroyed, as New Zealand Post's philatelic branch errantly mailed several hundred of them to stamp collectors who had ordered them in advance. A few first day covers were produced and sold, and a few were used as postage, so it is possible that some might one day be found in packets or dealers' penny boxes.

The five stamps are noted but not priced in Scott, and currently sell for between $10,000 and $15,000 per set. Once hated, they are now prized.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Stamp Investment Tip: St. Pierre and Miquelon 1962 Submarine "Surcouf" (Scott #C25)

The Territorial Collectivity of St. Pierre and Miquelon, the only remnant of the former French colonial empire in North America, is comprised of two small groups of islands off the coast of Newfoundland. From a philatelic investment perspective, it's of interest because its stamps are popular in Canada and among collectors of French Colonies - both growing markets.

In 1962, St. Pierre and Miquelon issued a 500fr Airmail picturing the World War II Submarine "Surcouf", and celebrating the previous year's 20th Anniversary of St. Pierre's joining the Free French (Scott #C25). While the printing quantity of this high-value stamp is not known, I estimate that no more than 10,000-20,000 were issued, and as the stamp was considered pricey at the time, many were probably used on heavy parcels and discarded. Scott '11 prices the stamp unused at $ 130.00.

As an attractive combined Ship, Map, and World War II topical, and the key airmail of St. Pierre and Miquelon, the stamp should continue to do well in the years to come.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Stamp Investment Tip: Portuguese India - 1871-77 Numeral Issues (Scott #1-55)

The Indian stamp market continues to warm, although as yet it has not become as white-hot as China's, and there are still some areas which remain neglected.

One such is Portuguese India. Both the Portuguese and the French held some territory in India, while the British dominated the rest of it. Both of the lesser colonial powers in India issued stamps which are, for the most part, neglected by Indian collectors, and which have potential multiple market appeal in India, their home countries, and among collectors of European colonies. Interestingly, the Portuguese held out the longest of the three, and issued stamps for their colony until India seized it in 1961, ending the occupation. It isn't the only time that obsolescent imperial visions of grandeur have benefited philatelists.

The early issues of Portuguese India (1871-1877; Scott # 1-55) were rather plain looking stamps bearing numerals of value. The mode of production used was primitive: the stamps were handstamped from a single die, and so crudely perforated that they often had to be cut from their sheets with scissors. Quantities issued are unknown for these stamps, but in all likelihood, they range from under a thousand to the low ten thousands for those that catalogue $25 or more. Not many stamp collectors were interested in stamps of Portuguese India in the 19th century, and it's likely that most of these stamps were used and discarded, which is why these early issues are not seen very often.

I recommend purchase of these stamps, especially if found in reasonably decent condition. Those that catalogue $200 or more should be purchased conditional on obtaining expertization.

Those interested in joining a community of stamp collectors, dealers, and investors are welcome to join the Facebook "Stampselectors" group, which has grown to over 1,500 members (as of December, 2010). Members are free to post ads related to stamp collecting, and topics discussed include stamp investment and the practical aspects of buying and selling stamps.