The philatelic industry is once again focused on how to grow our hobby, perhaps this time with a more determined focus. This increased focus is, in part, because the decline in the USA and Western Europe of the number of collectors is reaching an inflection point from which recovery becomes less likely. Over the coming year you will read about the efforts being planned spearheaded by the APS and the ASDA. I will be using this column over the coming months to submit some ideas for debate and further study in hopes of finding some solutions.
This month I have done a study of new stamp issuance by the philatelic agencies worldwide in order to determine whether the flood of such issuance is a help or a hindrance. What is clear to us all is that stamp issuance since 1950 has been more about marketing to collectors than issuing stamps for postal need. While the Internet has seriously reduced the use of traditional mail, new stamp issuance for such purpose has increased 2.4 times the historical average for all active countries. And the rate of issuance is accelerating. In fact, looking at the issuance volume for 202 current active issuers, an astounding 88.7% of their issuance has taken place since 1950. Now you know why the Scott Catalogue for 2017 will come out in 12 volumes. While some may say, so what, there are serious unintended consequences.
The rise in new issuance volume is mainly directed at topical collectors and has, no doubt increased their numbers. The negative effects, however, may well outweigh this positive. Topical collecting is mainly a new issue collecting market and thus does little to reduce the buildup in classic stamp inventories, a looming industry problem. It is also abusive when it sets high denominations on stamps which, have a lower resale value by virtue of their limited attraction to budget minded collectors. It has also bifurcated the hobby between classic/country collectors and topical collectors. This weakens the overall market. It also adds the risk that stamp collecting will suffer the fate that befell lighthouse model collectors. That market collapsed when new issuance volume overtook the number of collectors and raised their level of disgust to a breaking point. While stamp collecting is a much broader market and will not fall as rapidly, the basic economic principal is the same; make too much of a product and the price and demand declines – even more so if the product is discretionary.
The tabulation below, done from the 2016 Scott Catalogue, shows the most prolific current active issuers in order of their new issue volume since 1950. The volume is only for regular issues with a few exceptions where semi-postal or airmail issuance is still significant. Also, a number of new countries which have not been independent very long will show lower issuance for the last 15 years, but as can be seen, they are working hard to catch up. In all cases, the issuance count is understated since only stamps that received a whole catalog number are counted. While Russia seemed to have dominated new issuance for decades, it is actually Great Britain which has been the most prolific, topping 7,972 issues since 1950 if you add in their Jersey, Guernsey and Isle of Man issuance. After all, adding up all the islands is why St. Vincent is shown as number three. Perhaps we are already seeing a ‘lighthouse effect’ in British stamps. Of the 332,000 stamps issued since 1950 by the 202 active issuers, the ten largest issuers account for 14.3% of the total and the 20 largest 25.3%.
My suggestion for addressing this excessive new issuance situation would be first, to survey dealers and collectors about their feelings on this matter and then, to meet with the philatelic agencies to discuss their issuance plans and point out the risk that they may be killing the golden goose. Let me hear from you on your feelings and ideas. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org