Saturday, 25 July 2020 10:11

The Punk Philatelist: Watch auctions for clues to buried treasure

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The Punk Philatelist: Watch auctions for clues to buried treasure The Punk Philatelist: Watch auctions for clues to buried treasure

Punk IconTop-shelf philatelic rarities are hard to get, but they’re necessary to own if one is trying to build a best-of-kind collection in certain areas of classical philately. Once you own all the best stuff, you put it into a competitive exhibit, and people give you awards.

As the rarity of these items becomes recognized, their value increases, and they attract a few other kinds of collectors. There are those who get a thrill from owning a rare stamp, even if they have no intention to exhibit. And there are those who are simply attracted by the value alone: the investors. They see valuable stamps as security, or ideally, as an opportunity for profit.

The end result is that these stamps fetch the kind of prices that could never be paid by 99.99% of readers of this article, and 100% of its writer.

On top of that, this material is usually very esoteric. It’s high-end specialist gear. You never see million-dollar prices for material like ‘Eloise’s collection of cats on stamps’.

So, why read about top-end material if you can’t afford it?

Answer: for the stories. And, through the stories: the learning. And, through the learning: the chance that you might, one day, find that magical item for which someone is prepared to pay a zillion dollars.

150px-Modry_mauritiusThere are the stories about the history and development of postal services. Could you name the first colony in the then British Empire to issue postage stamps after the mother country? You’d expect it to be a heavy hitter like India, Canada, or Australia. But no, it was the humble Indian Ocean island colony of Mauritius. British Commonwealth is a hugely popular collecting field – especially among a certain demographic *cough rich old white men cough* – and Mauritius punches well above its weight. Its earliest stamps number among the rarest and most collectible in the world, and if you don’t believe me, wait until you see the prices.

There are the stories of the individual items themselves. Stamps and covers are archaeological artifacts, witnesses to the history that unfolded around them. Previous owners were entwined in wars, revolutions, scandals, booms and busts. Each rare stamp has its own provenance, the collected fingerprints of the monarchs, presidents, con artists and murderers who might once have own it. Hopefully those fingerprints are only metaphorical.

And then there’s your story… if you dare. At any level, auctions offer a guide to what’s good. Knowing what the money is chasing means that you’re a step ahead when it comes to spotting a desirable rarity hiding unnoticed somewhere. It doesn’t increase the chances that you’ll come across one, but it sure increases the chances that you’ll know if you do. Those chances can be improved if you learn about material that’s not the ‘home base’ interest of the collectors around you.

Let’s take a look at the stories behind some recent auction results, and figure out what they can teach us…