Stamped Out

In the Sept 29 online issue of the New York Times there was an interesting opinion column by contributor Eugene L. Meyer, lamenting the state of our hobby, fueled by the apparent disappointment of the value of his childhood stamp collection:

“I got rid of my stamp collection the other day. It was no great loss from a monetary standpoint. The emotional loss, though, was enormous.

There was a time when my collection might have fetched a good amount, because there was a time when people cared about stamps. They used them to mail bills, letters and postcards, and in the process paid attention to what was on them. You didn’t have to be a collector to value the beautiful, quirky and rare.

Today, many if not most bills are paid online. Letters are rarely written and sent; email suffices. Stamps are still used occasionally, if rarely saved or savored. And most of what passes for stamps are generic images printed on demand at a postal kiosk.

Stamps were, and sometimes still are, things of beauty and history, links to distant places that spawned a global hobby known as philately, or, simply, stamp collecting. Putting a bright spotlight on the hobby was none other than President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the philatelist in chief, often shown in official White House photographs with a magnifying glass, viewing his collection.

Before hours wasted on video games and other ephemeral pleasures, the hobby transfixed and transported youngsters. Stamps were the adhesive coins of the realm, a way to learn geography, history and politics…”

You can read the rest of the column HERE.

Let’s hear your opinion after reading his story. True, the amount of stamp collectors out there seems to be down (and the APS member stats reported in the article certainly appears to bear this out); stamp values for common items certainly have fallen; and you would be hard-pressed to find a brick and mortar stamp shop these days. Do all these signal the end of a “dying hobby”? Or do they just reflect the collecting realities of a new, digital age?

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5 thoughts on “Stamped Out

  1. Sorry to say he is correct in many ways. We should continue to collect for the fun of collecting rather than collecting as an investment. I still get excited when I encounter an old album just full of early U.S. or Canada stamps in addition to determining who the original owner was, why he collected, where did he collect, etc.

  2. I see his point, and the hobby is dwindling. I am a younger collector (in perspective 46 years old), and I feel the hobby will survive. The things that he comments on being of no value are modern things, that were mass produced. 50’s plate blocks, and FDC’s. So many people marketed these and spread a false narrative that they were good investments and were valuable and would remain that way.

    Truth is 99% of FDC’s ever sold are virtually worthless, even though many people spent a lot of money on them. Everyone saved plate blocks from the 40 – 80’s and they too will not even fetch face value today, and are sold as discounted postage. I would say 99.9% of all children’s stamp collections do not have value, as children did not spend real money on them.

    But for those who chose rarer stamps and pristine examples at that, there is still value there. Are stamps a good investment nowadays – I say NO. Prices continue to trend downward as more supply is available with less demand. But if you bought better stamps, they still have value. Unless you truly invest in great rarities, this is not an investment.

    But those of us who appreciate the beauty, history, and artistry of older stamps, stamps collecting will be enjoyed for many decades to come. For me I hope for at least 4 more.

  3. Totally agree Scott – and let me do you one better: as avid collectors reap the benefits of low-priced common stamps which are flooding the market, they will naturally begin to specialize, seeking out truly scarce items to add to their collections. If you are interested in at least getting a portion of your dollars back, seek out at least condition rarities. Do your homework, knowledge is a bonus. This is the difference between a casual collector like the NYT writer, and a true philatelist.

  4. One should not collect for investment. It is like playing the stock market, only more risky because the number of players is smaller. We would all like to get back what we have put into the collection, but is not going to happen! Appreciation has to counter auction premiums, the need for dealers to pay booth fees and to make a living, and even club auctions where individuals get an advance over what they paid. That’s a fact of life and commerce, even though we may not like it.

    Collect because you enjoy collecting: not to finance your retirement! Enjoy the hobby!


  5. It is April 3, 2020 and we are all dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. I collected when I was 12 and 13 (I’m now in my 50s) and this situation prompted me to dig some of my old collection out of storage. Looking back at these stamps and buying some on eBay in recent days has been a great stress-reliever. I realize these will not have any resale value, but there are other values beyond just financial. It helps me escape for a few moments the reality of what we are facing. I can focus on these little pieces of paper that are decades old, with interesting designs and postmarks. I see a stamp that I haven’t looked at in four decades or more. It’s also a nice break from the laptop, cell phone and tablet I look at constantly throughout the day. As we wonder when–or if–life will return to normal, this return to appreciating old stamps has been a welcome decision.

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