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FAQ's : What about stamps and first day covers of the world?
Every day we receive phone calls and letters enquiring about the sale of collections of stamps, control blocks, first day covers etc. These usually fall into the period from about 1965 up to very the present day and are mostly from the local areas of South Africa, South West Africa/Namibia, Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Venda, Ciskei, and also Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho & Swaziland.

Unfortunately, the market for this type of material is rather weak and is in oversupply at present. The fact of the matter is that there was a time from the mid-1970’s onwards, that this type of collecting became “fashionable” and many non-philatelists were attracted to the market by clever marketing and by word of mouth. As with most fashions, they fade away after a season.

In the early 1960’s, the stamp issuing policy of most postal authorities in the world was extremely conservative. For example, South Africa issued one commemorative stamp in 1961, with a face value of 3c. In 1962, they issued 3 stamps with a face value of 17½c and in 1963 there were 4 stamps, face value of 20c. In 1961 Great Britain issued 5 stamps, face value of 3 shillings and 8 pence, and in 1962 there were 3 stamps, face value of 1 shilling & 8 pence. It was easy and inexpensive for almost anyone to buy these stamps and stay up to date with the new issues as they came out. It allowed one to buy a set, control blocks, first day covers, etc, as the annual outlay was certainly not excessive.

This was the beginning of a period where the post offices of the world began to realise that they were virtually in the position to “print money” and as they upped the amount of issues per year, they sold more and made extra profits from collectors, who responded by buying whatever was issued. For example, in 1963, Great Britain issued 12 stamps with a face value of 9 shillings plus they began experimenting with phosphor bands, which added another 12 stamps at 9 shillings, essential additional items for the philatelist or specialist collector. The response from the public was good and almost every country in the world saw what was happening and reacted in a similar manner. This was the beginning of the rot that has continued right up to the present day but it is showing signs of coming to an end, as buyers begin to question their spending habits or try to realise their “investment”.

The tragedy is that the majority of these issues were printed in every increasing quantities over the years and many collectors bought duplicates of everything, thinking of huge profits or of children & grandchildren who would later inherit these collections.

For example, in South Africa up until 1965, first day covers were printed and distributed by various dealers/organisations and they made whatever they desired. The post office took over the issue of first day covers and began an official series with the ITU issue in 1965 (which became number 1 in the set), issuing 9000 specially produced cards. These were quickly sold out and prices began to move upwards, causing quite a stir in the market and in post office circles. The fashion of FDC collecting had begun. By the time FDC no 2 (Dutch Reformed Church, 1965) was issued, print quantities were at 40,000 and FDC no 3 reached 70,000 in 1966. By 1981, due to continued demand, quantities printed reached a peak of 200,000.

During these days of frenzy, the lure of money drew other government bodies to the party and the SA Airways, Navy, Army, Airforce and a host of others also began issuing series of “official” numbered FDC’s, bringing more and more material into the market. The collector was being fleeced and they were slowly beginning to wake up to this fact.

Then the world economy entered into recession in the early 1980’s and demand began to fall off. More and more buyers became sellers and the market began to weaken for all but the “scarce” items and continued to decline as more and more collections came up for sale and the market became saturated.

Today, the SA post office does not even publish print quantities for FDC’s, but the last figures we have seen were around 8000 a couple of years ago and we believe that they are even lower today, around 4000 from what we have been told. This is even lower than FDC no 1 of 1965 and graphically shows how the market and demand has deteriorated during the past 20 years. This trend is universal and the same factors have affected every country to a greater or lesser degree. The truth of the matter is that the postal authorities have milked the market to death and have all but killed the goose that laid the golden eggs. I have no doubt that official FDC’s in SA will cease in the not too distant future as they become uneconomically viable for the post office to produce and distribute, and dealers and organisations will again make their own FDC’s as they did before 1965. The market has done a full circle, but the damage has already been done and the dealers will have to pick up the pieces and try to revitalise the market again. Whether this is possible remains to be seen, but the majority of material issued from around 1965 onwards will always be in huge supply and demand is unlikely to pick up for this material over the coming years, if at all.

Just to illustrate the situation more clearly, let us look at what has happened particularly over the last 50+ years or so. The 2002 Stanley Gibbons Catalogue for the complete British Commonwealth 1840-2002 was published in 2 volumes with about 1800 pages in total. By comparison, the new latest 2004 British Empire catalogue for the period 1840-1952 only, is contained in one volume of 375 pages. This means that all the stamps issued in the first 112 years require only 375 pages to list, whereas the last 50+ years require 1500 pages, a sad state of affairs indeed. Stanley Gibbons recently decided, after over 100 years of catalogue publication, to no longer issue a catalogue that covers the stamps from Queen Elizabeth period onwards, i.e. from 1953 to date. It had obviously become a time consuming and fruitless exercise which they finally considered of no value, purpose or return to their company.

This is not to say that the stamp market is dying. In fact, the market for material prior to 1953 is strong and will continue to be for many years to come, mainly because these issues were conservative, realistic and done mostly for good reasons, with supply limited by postal and philatelic need at the time, well before the baby boom after the Second World War.

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