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Buying Stamps - New Issues

Buying mint, new issues is probably the most expensive way to purchase stamps there is, save for collecting topicals and buying from a topical dealer. Buying new issues is probably the worst investment in stamps that one can make, if any stamp purchase can be called an investment.That said, one has to face the fact that buying new issues is perhaps the only way to maintain completeness of any particular country collection. The new issue situation is best broken into two areas for collectors in this country. These two areas are buying US and buying foreign.

For the US collector, it use to be that you could run down to your local PO and pick up whatever was new and it was fun and easy to keep up. Then about 25 years ago, the local PO’s stopped carrying a lot of the new issues; and that meant a trip to the local philatelic counter was in order every now and then. Now there is a lot of stuff issued that can be obtained only from the Philatelic Fulfillment Center and/or from specialty dealers. As soon as someone gets in the feeding chain between you and the PO, your costs are going to go up. In any event, even if you are able to get everything you wish from the PO, buying mint US is a lousy investment. There is virtually no way you can ever expect to get your money back. When collectors can purchase mint US in bulk from dealers at 13% or more off face, collecting modern US is only what it should be - - a hobby with some salvage value.

For those who collect foreign, the cost problem is even worse. Some countries allow you to buy at face from the PO with an open account, which usually requires you to maintain a positive balance. The foreign PO makes money on the interest in these accounts; but it is still cheaper to buy mint, modern foreign this way than to go through a dealer. Beware of dealing with agencies at stamp shows. You may think you are paying face, but often there are all kinds of markups that can cause you to end up paying more than buying from a dealer. Not all dealers charge the same thing for the same product. Most of them have very different cost and markup structures, so it is important to shop around to get the lowest price for the new issues you are buying. When talking about new issues, one usually hears about the one set in a 100 that someone made a “killing” on. With most stamps, not only do the catalog prices start out high at issue and drop steadily with time, but currency exchange changes often also result in catalog drops bigger than ordinarily would happen. Once new issues drop in catalog value, they almost never come back; and if they do, they almost always lag inflation in a big way. What all this means is that if you are looking to your new issues to gain in value, forget it. A few will, but the vast majority of them will lose value. Catalog values for new issues are usually set at twice face value. They are set this way to allow dealers to sell under catalog and still make money. When you realize that the best you can expect overall for your stamps is around 20% of catalog when you sell them, it is easy to see that new issues are a very lousy investment. As a collector, you can often buy most of the new issues you need a few years after they’re issued (if you can wait) by buying collections strong in new, mint stuff for significant discounts from catalog. Let the completeness freaks buy the new issues, and then you buy their collections when they quit and you will save a lot of money. If you are patient, you can get almost everything you want and save a lot of money that someone more impatient would spend.

Used, new issues are best obtained by trading. Trading has all kinds of hassles intrinsic to the nature of trading, but for saving cash it is hard to beat. Mixtures used to be the way to go for obtaining new issues used. They still are about the only way to go, but they are no longer cost effective for many countries because the catalog values for used stamps have been artificially pushed upward; as a result, you get less for your money in the long run by buying mixtures than one used to. In addition, so many countries (including ours) are turning out so many new stamps that collecting used stamps is getting beyond a challenge.

If you think this squib is a little on the negative side, it is. I use to buy new issues mint for Great Britain, Australia, France, New Zealand, Canada and the US. I quit buying mint new issues for the last of them in 1986 when I quit buying US. I switched to collecting used from these countries as I quit the mint run-around. Last year I gave up collecting even used new stuff. If it comes into my hands through collection purchases, then I collect it; but I no longer try to fill all the holes by buying mixtures. The mixtures are too expensive and there are just too many new stamps. If you just collect one or two countries you can keep up if you are willing to spend the money; but you cannot collect worldwide anymore and worry about new issues for more than a few countries.

Ken Stewart