World Stamps

By Charles Snee

State of stamp collecting from Great Britain: 'Guardian' report highlights familiar themes

August 15, 2014 10:45 AM

A Linn’s reader from Minnesota was kind enough to send me an article about the state of the stamp hobby that was published in April 2013 in the Guardian newspaper in Great Britain.

As I read through the piece, it struck me that much of what author Patrick Collinson discussed mirrors what has been happening to stamp collecting in the United States.

There is some measure of comfort to be taken in realizing that the hobby is changing and evolving in similar ways in different locales.

Collinson begins his article with the story of a collector who built a rather nice collection of British stamps. He couldn’t interest his grandchildren in them, and when he decided to sell them on eBay, “he began to realise just how little stamps now fetch on the open market.”

EBay, it can be said, is not necessarily an accurate reflection of the open market, but the broader point remains: The vast majority of collectors are not going to make money on their collections when it comes time to sell.

The decline in first-class mail volume has affected the financial health of the U.S. Postal Service. Collinson reports a similar pattern for Royal Mail, the postal service of Great Britain:

“The Royal Mail says the number of traditional addressed envelopes fell at a rate of 4%-7% a year between 2008 and 2011 … ”

Many British collectors take Royal Mail to task, Collinson says, “for over-doing commemoratives and first day covers.”

We’ve lost track of the number of collectors who have expressed similar sentiments to us regarding the U.S. Postal Service’s stamp program.

And what about investing in stamps?

Collinson quotes stamp dealer Paul Dauwalder, who very much frowns on selling stamps for investment.

“It is just not the correct thing to do,” Dauwalder says. “People collect for the pleasure of collecting, and their collections then also have a residual value.”

We have counseled similar advice in this column and elsewhere. The main reason to collect stamps is for fun and enjoyment.

While some numbers are trending down, there are positive signs that the stamp hobby is not going to fade away.

In the article, Dauwalder provides an upbeat assessment.

“Yes, of course [stamp collecting] has been in decline, and I’ve seen that in the 40 years I have been in the business. The average age of a collector is now 60-plus. You could argue that once they die off then that is going to be the end of stamp collecting. But what is interesting is that every year we see a new crop of 60-somethings starting to collect. They get to their senior years, want a sedentary type of leisure project, and stamp collecting is just perfect.”

The reader who sent the article to us had written in the margin next to these comments, “I think that this is the future.”

While it is important to make efforts to bring younger generations into the hobby, Dauwalder’s observations are equally applicable here at home.

The leading edge of the Baby Boom generation is entering retirement, and their exodus from full-time work will continue for the next 20 years.

Many of them will have disposable income and time on their hands.

Stamp collecting can and should capture their attention.