Monday Morning Brief | High-denomination stamps

Mar 6, 2017, 3 AM

Watch as Scott catalog new-issues editor Marty Frankevicz takes a look at the situations that add to the difficulty of finding used examples of recent high-denomination stamps.

Full Video Transcript:

Good morning and welcome to the Monday Morning Brief for March 6, 2017.

Postal services have a love-hate relationship with the stamps they issue. They love to issue stamps because there are enough collectors out there that buy them and sock them away in albums. With so many postal services hard-pressed for revenue, they try to increase revenue by offering more and more different stamps. Of late, we have seen a rapid increase in the number of high face value stamps being issued. In recent months, we have seen a £5 Machin definitive of Great Britain, the $23.75 Gateway Arch stamp of the United States, and a Virgin Islands stamp costing a whopping $90 in U.S. currency. While totally valid for postage, these big-ticket items are created for collectors, not really for the benefit of postal customers or clerks.

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Stamps, however, are low-tech items having added costs of production, sales and canceling. That’s the hate part of the love-hate relationship postal services have with their stamps.  

Postage stamps aren’t so much a problem when used on letters, because equipment that can quickly sort and cancel the stamps has been in use for years. But with email decreasing letter mail volume considerably over the past 20 years, many postal services now look at package delivery as a major source of their revenue.

If you take a large envelope or a parcel to your post office, chances are the clerk will figure out the postage for the item by hitting a few keys on his computer and, voila, he’s got a postage label ready to be slapped on your item. Unless you insist that the clerk use stamps rather than a label, or you have gone to a post office in the middle of nowhere that lacks computerized equipment at the counter, the clerk is not going into his stamp drawer to find the exact amount of postage required.

So, in this way, using labels on large items is efficient, while using stamps is not. Thus, finding large items with stamps on them in the mail stream now has become like finding needles in a haystack.

Sorting large mail items can be a bit less efficient then sorting letter mail because of the different sizes of the items. However, because most items are now franked with labels that don’t need cancelling and have encoded routing information, the operation is faster. And most postal services have, in recent years, largely not bothered to cancel any stamps found on such large items as a part of that normal processing.

On the other hand, as with needles, postal services don’t want to get stuck — by reuse of those stamps. So instead of gumming up their processing by segregating the few large items bearing stamps, employees encountering a large item franked with stamps have been told it is fine to whip out a ballpoint or felt-tip pen and give those attractive stamps a quick scribble. At the beginning of 2017, the postal service of the Netherlands told their employees to do exactly that — deface any uncanceled stamps that they encounter in just that manner. Problem solved.

To postal services, that’s called revenue protection, but to collectors it’s like spray painting the Mona Lisa. And those collectors are the people who spend big money on these stamps and just want a neatly canceled stamp when the mail piece gets to its destination. To their credit, the Dutch Collectors Association raised a stink with the postal service about this ham-handed policy. And last week, we received a press release detailing the sudden about-face of the Dutch postal service on this matter — a small victory for collectors in one country in halting the spread of the mark of Zorro.

For Linn’s Stamp News and the Scott Catalogs, I’m Marty Frankevicz. Enjoy your week in stamps.