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MAY 2021: Last Post for Philately?

Last Post for Philately?

The Lockdown is coming to an end in the UK. As this website was started with the aim of bringing philatelists and postal historians together during the pandemic, the South African Philately Club has to some large extent served its original purpose and now has no reason to carry on carrying on. Yet continue we will because this website has been hugely rewarding despite it being a lot of work. Only this morning someone asked for advise on some ZAR forgeries on Natal stamps. It was satisfying to be part of the answer. I enjoy this!

I guess the Big Question is "What does the Future hold for our Hobby as we return to Normality?"

Let's face it. Our hobby was in a lot of trouble long before the virus escaped a Chinese biological warefare lab and we all went into Lockdown. Our hobby will not now get magically better. Its decline will continue ever faster. Attendance at philatelic society meetings will continue to fall. Members will get older and will be sorely missed. More material will become available than there are buyers for it. Young people will not suddenly take up stamp collecting. Today's young stamp collector is 50 years or older, too old to be koo...ool man. Soon they will be older still. Sadly, I know of no stamp collector who serves as a role model for young people today.

Before Lockdown many small regional British Societies and Clubs had merged, closed or were limping on with a dwindling number of ever ancient members. This process of decline and closure will continue until none are left. With no new collectors and the disappearance of societies and clubs,our hobby cannot continue. It is much the same for regional Stamp Fairs where the market is made up of elderly collectors (and dealers). Most old collectors now have much if not all the material they need. Many are downsizing or disposing of their displays. The halcyon days for stamp dealers at stamp fairs are long gone. For some collectors many regional stamp fairs had already become not so much a place to buy stamps as an alternative place to meet stamping pals in the absence of a local society meeting.

The flipside of this declining market curiously throws up a contradiction, namely that the demand for quality items is strong among the relatively few collectors who remain - there are probably no more than a 1000 serious collectors of South African material worldwide. These dedicated collectors are still looking for quality items which they are prepared to pay competitive prices for. Their enthusiasm currently sustains the market. They are keeping the show, such as it is, going. The show is not supported by strong sales of everyday, run-of-the-mill material, the kind that once upon a philatelic time was the stock used to stuff schoolboy albums across the land. Today, that sort of material cannot be shifted by the bucket-load at knock-down kiloware prices. There is no or little demand for common material.

Many dealers, and I have been a relatively new and novice one over the last three years, have found it hard to cover the £40 cost of a table at a regional stamp fair, let alone make a profit. Many dealers do it simply for the love of being with others who love the hobby and can spin a good yarn. As for the major shows, like Stampex in London, the premier British Stamp Show, there have been dark mutterings of doom about it for years. The complaints of visitors and dealers have consistently fallen on the organiser's deaf ears. Stampex will not survive once dealers say no to the high cost of attending. However, venues like York may well contine to prosper in the short-term.

BREAKING NEWS: Shares, (VOL 23 / ISSUE 18 / 13 MAY 2021), the investment magazine of A J Bell, a British financial services company, has included Stanley Gibbons among its three worst performing retail companies of the year to date, 2020/21. (Source: SharePad, 11 May 2021). I doubt that this will come as a surprise to many British collectors. Stanley Gibbons's catalogues are long  believed to be its major income stream. It has expensive retail premises in the Strand and has aggressively promoted stamps as an investment. It has been a regular exhibitor at Stampex. As enthusiastic as I remain about postal history, I will not be investing my pension pot in Stanley Gibbons!

All of philately's problems could be solved if young people supported the hobby. Some believe that the way to make stamp collecting appealing and modern is technology. They reason that kids love technology, therefore if our hobby embraces it we can make 19th Century stamps come alive for kids. It's true, statistically kids are more interested in smartphones and connecting with their friend than anything else, but we are deluded if we think that they will care a jot about stamp collecting simply because we have an internet presence accesible by smartphone. Sorry, but they are not interested in old bits of paper with "stickers" (their word for stamps) on them.

Technology is the future, apparently. We cannot stand in its way. One of the technical hoped-for saviours is the much hyped Zoom that allows societies and clubs to hold meetings and show displays on-line. Many, not all, in our hobby have embraced Zoom meetings. The pro-argument is that Zoom attracts more attendees than a 'normal' club or society meeting. In this regard, Zoom is a fine example of preaching to the converted. Has it attracted one new stamp collector? No! Worse, society members who do not adapt their displays to the Zoom format will find their ability to display their material at local shows halved. As will the society find its subscription revenues.

I am writing this because I think it is important to be honest about our hobby. There are none so dangerously boring as those who tell us "Stamp Collecting has a future". I am disappointed, angered even, that so many philatelic spokespeople bang on about spurious and tendentious positive developments in our hobby - like the Post Office's PR spokesperson who said stamps are a great fit for the smartphone / Facebook user, a fact that will certainly lead to a renasissance in stamp collecting once kids hear of it!! - and what we have to look forward when quite clearly, to me at any rate as an independent and relatively objective collector and dealer, their optimism is entirely wrong and misleading. The vast bulk of our hobby is going nowhere but downhill to the incinerator.

Am I saddened by my prognosis? No, not if I can live long enough to acquire lovely, currently unaffordable material at knock-down prices. I haven't seen any sign of this happening yet but I believe that market forces - declining collectors, excess supply - will have an affect soon. In addition, influential outside forces will have an impact. The UK has a trillion pound mountain of debt to pay off because of the Covid virus. The government has been and is continuing to print money. Inflation is rising. This will reduce the value of the pound and what you will get for your collection today versus five years time. Those who want to recover their investment in our hobby, will be driven to sell sooner rather than later. Much of this extra material arriving in the market will only be sold at discounted prices.

Sadly, once the proverbials hit the fan, you won't be able to buy this throwaway material at a stamp fairs. You will have to do so at car-boot sales. As for Zoom meetings, they will only last as long as the last collector stays awake.  Many are falling asleep already!

Perhaps I have been unduly optimistic and the reality coming down on us will be far worse. Nevertheless, I plan to carry on collecting despite my reservations about the pointlessness of it all. The fact is I enjoy my hobby. It is not an investment. It also has a practical purpose. On my death, I have given instructions for my body to be placed atop my accumulation and cremated. This will allow my wife to both clear my office and dispose of the contents with the striking of a match. Assisting in the disposal of my ugly mortal remains is probably the best use for that which has given me so much pleasure over the years. Long may my collecting habits continue at ever decreasing prices.

dncom@mweb.co.za has reacted to this post.
dncom@mweb.co.za

Nice summary of where we are at. Real albeit a bit sad. I for one will continue collecting and enjoying our hobby! 🙂

Not the sounding of the last post bugle call.....

What the hell is all this about????????  Did you get out of bed the wrong side tis morning?  The hobby is stronger than ever, albeit going in a new direction.  Clubs will be going back soon, Zoom is Zooming and the online dealers including eBay have never had it better.  People have been moaning about the hobby for years but it still carries on.  All we need to do is get out of bed on the right side and smell the roses (there is a very nice British set).  come on pull finger and lets get the hobby back on course!!!!!!!!!!!

the one thing I do agree with is it can't just be us few! And we can't blame the government for this one - only SG! and the British Post Office!

Jamie.

People will probably have mixed feelings about Steve's instruction to cremate his collection with his corpse  (if the crematorium will allow it, which is questionable ...).

The "stick it in the space on the page and watch the catalogue value go up" brigade will cheer .....  fewer examples, higher prices ...   But those of us who look at stamps and covers as evidence of the past, will groan at yet another act of archive destruction. 

My own crystal-gazing guess is that "stamps as investments" is largely dying - and no great loss ....  though the trophy value of well-known rarities will still increase, fuelling unreal hopes about that suitcase of first day covers.

But "stamps as evidence of the past" is likely to grow, just like the numbers of people interested n local and family history.  And most of them are older too - it's something people come too when they get older.   So please, Steve, by all means burn the mint UPU £1 stamps;  but leave me your covers and postmarks .....

 

Johan64, Jamie Smith and dncom@mweb.co.za have reacted to this post.
Johan64Jamie Smithdncom@mweb.co.za

Thanks for the response. I am so pleased that you have read this and responded. Yes, I probably did get out of the bed on the wrong side when I wrote this but it is something that had been gnawing away at me for months.

Yes, I will continue to buy postal history which I value. Right now, I am attempting to negotiate the purchase of a nice historic SWA piece from the USA. So, yes, I will continue to mount displays on A4 sheets in the hope of displaying them at society meetings and I will also produce PowerPoint displays for Zoom. Indeed, while I have your attention, should the SAPC now start its own Zoom meetings? With so many members internationally, I think we should.

Just to clarify, as a loose cannon I was not intending to do my cremation through official channels but to attempt a tricky DIY job on myself in my back garden. However, this requires more knowledge of electronics and timers than I have at my disposal! Further I assure concerned SAPC members that the best and most worthy items of my collection will be put up for sale. It is the boxes and boxes of flamable rubbish, the worthless FDCs, that I will take with me on my self-made funeral pyre. Sorry if I did not make that clear. I did not mean to cause distress.

Finally,  I attach a photo I took down the road from my house early yesterday morning.  The yellow-flowering tree is a laburnum. The red object is a letter box. Once upon a time people used to post letters in them. I believe some still do. This is one of three letter boxes in our road. We have only one timed early morning collection a day now with the promise of maybe another possible one in the evening. It's not guaranteed. This a far cry from the glorious Edwardian years when you could post a card at noon to tell your wife you'd be home late for dinner and she would receive it before six! Best not to bring up steam ship mail from Cape Town in 1870 vs airmail today!

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After getting the second vaccine injection, I felt nothing but two weeks later, I felt depressed and exhausted, possibly for the first time in my life, as I am normally a very optimistic person. Perhaps you went through this as well.

The reasons people give for taking an interest in philately and postal history are many and varied. I think part of why we enjoy our collecting is that it is a link to our younger days, a connection to a part of history and to places that we loved or longed to visit. It is also a subject that knowledge is  additive, that is as the months and years go we add to our knowledge of the subject, whereas for example many of the topics we learned earlier in our lives, such as in my case programming in Pascal etc., is all gone and useless. Even history books become obsolescent, as each generation of researchers looks at it different. Perhaps only Philately and Mathematics share the trait that they have a long shelf-life! 

Steve, you say that  "there are probably no more than a 1000 serious collectors of South African material worldwide".  I doubt if this is correct, I think it is in the couple of hundreds with perhaps another 500 less serious collectors. It has been so since the last 40 years, guessing from attendance to auctions either online or in person.  Count "handles" in the next online auction! 

The day a collector views his collection from an investment point of view, he will clearly stop collecting, as who can really make a quick turn around profit, after paying auction fees for buying and selling a collection which will be anything from 40-50%? There are ways and means to profit from "trading" but this is another story.

I believe we will all be gone one day but the hobby will carry and perhaps even be stronger. In China and India currently there are more than 30 million collectors. As the east is  building their own middle classes, the West is destroying its own and this is part of the problem. Disposal incomes are declining in the West, where in the East are rising, even if not evenly. 

I would love to have a funeral either in your style on a pyre and with dancing relatives or natives around it, but as for my collection I would stick to the tradition of philatelists, to disperse it so that others would enjoy it as well, as so far none of my kids take an interest in it.  

 

dncom@mweb.co.za has reacted to this post.
dncom@mweb.co.za

Yannis, nice to hear from you again.  Not wanting to depress you further but I think maths will edge it in the longevity stakes. What else will there be to do on Mars? But I am thinking you are talking about the gaining of ongoing knowledge in the life of the individual collector rather than the life of the hobby vs maths. In that you are right. I know a heck of a lot more now than when I started collecting. I am healthier, brighter, more compassionate and more objective ie. better for it.

I am attracted to postal history because I am fundamentally a historian. Postal history aids in bringing the life of my subject, me and my understanding of myself as a white South Africa, into clearer focus. For this reason, I am a big fan of 'Open Class' displays, the one that allows us to includeall manner of historic items - matchbox labels, photographs, ephemera, cigarette cards, you name it. I find traditional philately - paper, print, perfins, rates and routes -  dry, dull and boring. It will be a hard sell trying to get kids interested in that. What I enjoy are not the technical details, its the fact that the cover or item has lived and experienced a life that can speak to me across the years. Weirdly, I find a form of beauty in a cover that I can only share with fellow collectors, certainly not my wife!

Regarding the hobby carrying on, I am not so sure.  Its future in SA looks bleak. Very few Black South Africans collect the letters of old 'wit okes', especially the ones who plagued them so. Many more might collect Black mail if more of it was available but the fact is that majority of the population in South Africa has been literate for a lot less long than a diminishing number of Europeans and even if they could write a letter back then few had an extravagant 4d to pay the COGH postal rate in 1870. The point is that there is something extra that draws us to postal history. For me, it is relating to my country's history. That being the case, I can see why Black South Africans might reject it out of hand. How many Black attendees were there at JIPEX 36? How many Black people have the disposable income necessary to attend an auction? (I do not doubt that there are now in SA many Black people considerably wealthier than me.)

Regarding China and India, I just cannot see people in those countries wanting to buy stamps to stick in albums. It is so retrograde. I cannot see those two countries sustaining SA philately and postal history at the same level of interest that we currently have. Why would they want to buy SA postal history? There may be some interest in Chinese 'Mine Coolie' mail, Mahatma Gandhi, Ahmed Kathrada, the Guptas or sugar cane migrants but who will want to buy and display a 'Centenary of the Orange Free State' First Day covers?

Okay, enough of that.  I reiterate, I will sell the best of my postal history material to interested collectors. However, if there is no-one left to buy it for whatever reason - stamp collecting might have been outlawed by the PC - I retain an option on the Bonfire of the Vanities!.

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dncom@mweb.co.za