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To spend or not to spend…

…that is the question!

You can spend an absolute fortune upon accessories. I’d say don’t. Obviously, you cannot collect without having appropriate tools – and catalogues are essential, but sometimes a stamp collection arrives in the office where the collector informs us that he has spent £1,200 upon the collection, has not lost interest and wishes to sell. So, what’s the problem? Answer, there aren’t any stamps! The collector has expended £1,000 upon brand new albums from countries he/she no longer intends to collect.

Don’t do it!

Second-hand albums, sometimes soiled, sell for little. A dealer can’t offer much for what sells for little.

If you’re collecting – Collect stamps! The right album(s) come later when you know that you won’t be turning back.

Others spend a fortune upon electronic gizmos.

Don’t do it! 

Invest in these later when you know what you’re doing. Here’s the perfect example. When we ‘professionals’ check watermarks, what do we use? Answer: Prinz Super-Safe watermark fluid and a £2 watermark tray! It’s a (toxic) Benzine type product and it doesn’t harm the gum upon your mint stamps. See for yourself by checking a cheap mint stamp first – BUT – we use it all the time. (We use an electronic watermark detector once a year and an electronic perf gauge – never. SG ‘Instanta’ last forever.

Tel: 01736 751910 for Prinz watermark fluid.

Carry on Collecting…

I’m fortunate to talk with literally hundreds of different collectors worldwide each year, either face to face or upon the telephone. Time and again I hear myself saying “I’ve heard it before…”. Heard what before? Collector: “my children and family aren’t interested in my stamps, I’m thinking of stopping collecting because I don’t want my wife or partner to worry about selling my stamps, they know nothing about stamps, they’ll end up giving them away for nothing or putting them into a skip.”

I find it sad that more often than not the collector loves ‘stamping’ and doesn’t actually wish to give up collecting, but mortality and ‘common-sense’ prevails. Sometimes those collectors contacting UPA haven’t even reached the ripe old age of seventy, and seldom do they tell me that they actually need to realise their stamps monetary value. Usually, that’s the last consideration…

…but I’m now talking to collectors aged 95(!) who are still spending money enjoying collecting. When I was knee-high to a grasshopper, 3 score years and 10 was the average male life expectancy – Now it seems that 90-95 is the new 70!

So, why give up collecting at the age of 70 when hopefully there may be so much more to enjoy? I had a friend (sadly no longer with us) who never stopped collecting. He said “70 – that’s the time to start collecting, not give it up”, and unsurprisingly I agree because I posit that ‘philately prolongs active life’.

Collecting stamps is therapeutic, it is good for the brain, mentally stimulating.

In later life, philately is one of the few pursuits that we can continue to derive actual pleasure from, when we are no longer capable of running marathons or half marathons, although apparently some of us are still doing that at the age of 86!

So, fortunately for many of us – the goalposts have moved, philately will outlive us as collecting morphs perhaps into new internet-orientated avenues. A search of all items on eBay produced 3.7 million mobile phones available, 1.7 million coins, an astonishing 4.6 million stamps, only exceeded by (you’ve guessed) 11.8 million computers/ computer products! So, you can see ‘tales of my death are exaggerated’ and stamp collecting is alive and well. However, physical stamp shows may, like stamp shops become a thing of the past, just as town centre shopping evaporates facing the onslaught of ‘Amazon-like home delivery’.

Unless you think differently it’s no longer so much about giving up collecting, but how we manage change; and indeed, that’s what many of our clients are doing, continuing collecting but with ‘philatelic arrangements’ in place to address the inevitable. Understandably some collectors leave instructions with their family/executor/beneficiaries as to whom to contact and even how/whom to handle. We’ve even pre-valued collections whilst the collector is healthy so that there are reassuring plans in place/alternatives for secure disposal. Fortunately, or unfortunately, we’ve even had Collectors selling their collections that Andrew (me) has so enthused over that the collectors, re-energised, have taken away to ‘carry on collecting’! Oops

So, whatever your age UPA will continue to support you – whether that’s to downsize your collection, sell altogether, or start a new collection at the ripe old age of 99 – we’ll be there to assist in any way we can.

Are we in danger of losing respect for our hobby? Part 2

The Cynicism of Bean-Counter’s C T O

Or, What Happens When You Order a Fine Used New Issue?

On a bright Spring day in April 1973 (or was it March), the first day I started full-time in stamps working from a small office and cellar on the Kilburn High Road, north-west London, beside the ‘Brondesbury’ bridge, I remember handling cancelled to order (CTO) stamps from, of all countries, ‘Spanish Equatorial Guinea’. (By the way, I found a missing colour on one of the sheets of football stamps, but that’s another story…)

Now, there was no pretence that these CTO used stamps would ever ‘grace’ an envelope to be sent through the postal system. They were what it said on the ‘tin’ – manufactured, artificially ‘used’ stamps produced to be offered/sold to ‘junior’ collectors so that the ‘face’ value denomination printed upon them was of no material consequence. Doubtless the convenient CTO ‘postmark’ was printed upon the ‘stamps’ at the same time the stamps were printed – such process is so much quicker and cheaper than employing a person to cancel the stamps, isn’t it?

You might be asking: Why are stamps that are sold regardless of their mint face value cancelled? A good question – but the answer is simple. Even in Spanish Equatorial Guinea the postal authorities don’t want their ‘postal system’ compromised, subverted by the use of uncancelled stamps sold to collectors in the ‘west’ for hard currency, being returned by enterprising individuals and used to send commercial mail. This is the reason why stamps offered to collectors from most ‘cash-starved’ countries in East Europe were cancelled – in-order-to forestall exploitation undermining their mint potential to propel mail.

There are many ‘purist’ collectors who rightly say a stamp is produced to be postally used; consequently, they refuse to have a CTO cancelled stamp in their collections – I find this admirable. But many collectors today started childhood collecting with CTO stamps and were gradually ‘weaned’ off them to appreciate real stamp collecting… which is why I have no problem with CTO as depicted above…

However, I have real sympathy for ‘purist’ collectors today trying to obtain postally used new issue stamps, which courtesy of e-mail are almost impossible to find.

So, what happens when you place an order for fine used stamps today?

Well, I think I know, CTO isn’t what it used to be, and some may say it’s not good. Check your recent fine used sets – if they all have perfectly matching postmarks – I venture to suggest that these so-called ‘postmarks’ may be printed upon the stamps – and that I do object to because collectors are being charged FULL FACE VALUE for ‘used’ stamps which cost pennies to print. If they’re not to be postally used I find it cynical that postmarks are printed on ‘fine used’ stamps and sold for full price, don’t you?

Do you remember the days when the Postmaster would cancel the stamps for you over the counter – or you posted a registered envelope to yourself to receive perfect postally used CDS cancelled stamps? It doesn’t take long to nicely hand cancel fine used stamps does it – so why are collectors being cynically manipulated for the sake of the ‘bean-counters’ in various Postal Headquarters worldwide? It’s about time fewer ‘Bean-Counters’ showed more respect for collectors, who might then purchase more caringly used new issues, rather than closing their new issue accounts.


Are we in Danger of losing respect for our hobby? Pt1

Give Me Certificates with Soul…

      Recently I was looking at a couple of Victorian high values which the winning bidder had asked UPA to send for certificates of authenticity. That the stamps were genuine there was no doubt – and that was the reason why the new owner had asked us to send them to an expert Committee…

But what happened next set alarm bells ringing so I’m posing the question:

Is it time to open the debate upon ‘expertisation’ in 2018 and beyond, and consider fresh options appropriate to Collectors and the demands of the 21st Century?

       After a period-of-time, both stamps returned to my desk duly certified as genuine. No surprises there then – BUT the comments added about the quality of the stamps went into minutiae of over-zealous, back-slapping, self-congratulation that the expert had spotted this, and had also spotted that, which was combined with the other, so that the two scarce stamps no longer felt scarce – but they felt damaged, tarnished even by lack of respect for what they were and their rarity. Who would want to purchase these stamps from the buyer in the future with such damning, sterile certificates which failed to respect the stamps for what they were and the fact that I could pick up the phone and buy 100 penny blacks immediately, but I couldn’t pick up the phone and buy 5 of these stamps immediately?

I’m not, even for a moment, suggesting that we forget faults, but we should add ‘feeling’.

Let’s face it, in the UK nothing has changed ‘certificates-wise’ in the best part of 100 years… (except now we have access to high-quality digital images of rare stamps)

however, what has changed within the past few years is that increasingly buyers are not sending stamps to expert committees questioning whether they’re genuine. For the most part (overprints and postmarks excepted) they’re confident of that – but increasingly nowadays stamps are sent to Expert Committees for peace of mind of the condition of the stamp, and reassurance that intrinsically it is worth the price paid.

Philatelic Societies make a lot of money from ‘expertisation’. Has the time come for a radical re-think?

       In the United States stamps are certified as genuine and graded out of 100% for their quality. I’m suggesting that today’s’ collector obviously still needs authentication BUT combined with an appreciation of the condition of the stamp, related where possible, to the highest known quality example of that particular stamp. Philatelic Societies, deservedly so, make a lot of money from ‘expertisation’. Has the time come for a radical re-think so that ‘condition’ on certificates may be elevated to become a higher added value bonus for the collector buyer?

IF we start to relate condition specific to the status of that stamp printing/issue, we show renewed respect, feeling and appreciation for the integrity of our hobby Philately,