I see that in the Forum's "Shout-Box", length restrictions apply. So, let me try here.
The general trend I think many of us notice is that prices are stagnant or declining in Scott for inexpensive material, but are pretty buoyant for higher-priced material. And I think many of us have a theory about why: the ongoing constriction of the hobby among young people has been offset by the internationalization of the market thanks to the cybernetic revolution, and international collectors, many of them, seek out the better stuff. Look at China and area; very strong growth because of upwardly mobile Asian collectors joining the market.
But how long will this last? This is the question of greatest relevance. To answer, we need data on the average age cohorts of new Asian collectors. I spent last year in Singapore and asked some knowledgeable people about this: no such data exist, as far as I am aware. Anyone else know better?
I've heard a lot about the increasing number of "Asian" collectors but have yet to see any statistics to back up this oft-repeated statement. I would say there is clearly in increase in the number of "Asian" speculators/investors/dealers, but I would not consider them to be primarily stamp collectors.
I know about 50x more Asians now than I did 30 years ago, including a significant % in the 20-50 age group. While this is still not a large sampling, and these are Asians who are either on visa or immigrated to the US -- my exposure has been that I personally know fewer collectors cumulative in the past 30 years than in the 10 years preceding.
In my visits to Asia, I don't see any increase in actual stamp collecting activity either percentage-wise or in absolute numbers. This is also evident in the Asian consumer stores in past 20 years. You used to easily buy philatelic supplies at the stationery/book stores (both big and small). Now, what's available is either non-existent or very limited in selection/quality. It's not an online ordering issue, because the stores aren't any smaller and still carry a large stock/variety of other stationery products (we're talking about stores that are 3+ stories high). You almost have to go to a stamp dealer to get anything philatelic now. Local stamp shows/exhibition used to commonplace. I could almost guaranteed to encounter a well-attended one on any 3-week trip. Past 10 years, I only encountered one. Yes, the big shows are there. But the small local shows seem to have disappeared.
Online, I would say over 50% of the Asians I read postings from aren't really primarily collectors, but part-time dealers or those looking to make money off the stamps they acquired (as opposed to a collector trying to sell of their duplicates). Yes, of course there are Asian collectors. But more than a few posts or PMs/emails end up to be, I've got this and lots of others are you interested in buying... or can you help me acquire quantities of this...
As I mentioned, my exposure is still relatively limited. But I've yet to encounter the large numerical increase in Asian stamp collectors. Mostly just a lot of stamp activity. My experience is that there is a clear decrease in actual collectors (including casual collectors). So I'm curious. Has anyone else personally encountered a noticeable increase in new Asian stamp collectors (and I mean actual collectors)?
Also, note the prices for some of the PRC are high for a very good reason -- they were really issued in relatively small quantities. Just the addition of 1000 or so people going after it, will justifiably jack up the price. But the question is, of those 1000, how many are actually stamp collectors?
I see that in the shoutout section length restrictions apply. So let me try here.
But how long will this last? This is the question of greatest relevance. To answer, we need data on the average age cohorts of new Asian collectors. I spend last year in Singapore, and asked some knowledgable people about this: no such data exists, as far as I am aware. Anyone else know better?
There is no aggregate data that I've ever seen, although a columnist in American Stamp Collector and Dealer has been trying to market track. My guess is not just the top end, but even the no-longer-cheap is secure. Just two determined buyers will sustain a market. Which is to say, I keep losing at bigger auctions, but keep at it. China looks especially bright; a growing middle class...
I got taught a lesson watching the collapse of the brown furniture market. Above the tree line--eighteenth century to early nineteenth stuff--it's still healthy. But at the lower altitudes, it's pure ruin. Lower and mid-priced Victorian/Edwardian pieces now go for freight only. That was a change of taste. Courtesy of Ikea, the world just went the other way. I know someone with a house full of late-Victorian destined for, destined for, let's just say destined. Nothing to do but mourn with Amy Winehouse. That and buy the nicest stamps you can.
When I was living and working in Korea from 1988 to 1997 I re-started my collections because I had a lot of downtime when I wasn't working and I really wanted to start collecting Korea mint new issues since I was living there. I regularly went to a department store in downtown Busan near the port area and the fish market. This multi-level building housed a number of different stores including old furniture, folding, hand-painted screens in the Chinese style (one of which I purchased for my wife and still have today) as well as 3 or 4 stamp/coin shops, one of which I went to on a regular basis.
There was what seemed like a thriving community of collectors in Busan but, just like here in the US, I was struck by the age gap. I was in my late 20s at the time and most if not all of our the membership of the Busan Philatelic Society were in their 50s and up. There were never any members my age attending the meetings.
Fast forward to the 2000s when my wife and sons and I started making trips back to Korea to visit family, all the small stamp shops in the department store I used to visit had closed. Fast forward to 2018, our most recent visit, and I could only find one open stamp store-front in the underground shopping center downtown. It is possible there are other stamp shops in Busan...it is a sprawling city of millions but these stores were at the heart of downtown and from what I could garner when I was living there, the stores where the Busan stamp collecting community mostly frequented.
Seoul, the largest city was similar from what I heard. More so than Busan, there was an area of the city where you could go to shop for stamps in an underground arcade connected to the subway system. My understanding is the many if not most of these brick and mortar stores have closed also. I could find none when we were in Seoul in 2018 though I was not free to do a thorough search the whole time because I was with my wife and son and they had other priorities.
To me, comparing stamp collecting in Korea and in the United States was apples to apples. It was a hobby on the decline, especially among young people. No, I don't really see a wave of Asian collectors with disposable income soaking up every stamp they can get.
Also, as khj mentioned in the shout box, catalog pricing was simply inflated and was due for a correction.
I think what has changed is the dynamics of the stamp buy/sell economy. The catalog was priced based upon a traditional dealer but there are far fewer that operate like the past. For quite some time, you could go to ebay and find items consistently selling far below the catalog price.
For example, do you have a catalog price that reflects say 30% of the sales channel or 70% of the sales channel? My assertion with no facts to back it up is far more lower value stamps sell through the non-traditional dealer channel but catalog pricing is not set for the lower volume channel. Catalog supporters will assert that the pricing is for VF condition (as a way to justify pricing) but even dealers do not grade common material. It is either reasonably centered or not. If the market is say selling 70% F-VF and 30% VF what good is pricing at VF?
A related aspect is that there is a growing number of non-traditional dealers that buy collections and break them down so the traditional dealer is no longer the primary middleman.
At the current time, many baby boomers are retiring and many have money to spend so supports the economy along with the Internet expanding connectivity. I think the next inflection point is when those who were born after 2000 or so start having more leisure time (if they do) who had minimal exposure to collecting. I do not think they will start collecting as the baby boomers did.
I am speaking from a Western perspective. Growing economies in Asia may be different. When I visited Singapore, stamps seemed to be popular but felt it was more like the 60's and 70's like collecting in US where people just put them away for the future.
Post by adamgarfinkle on Dec 27, 2020 18:50:38 GMT
Thanks for all these comments and insights. You're all probably right to be pessimistic about any Asian pick-up trend. I think even the speculative types that buoyed the auction market for a while are waning in significance. I came back from a year in S'pore about 5 months ago. There are still four or five retail stamp spots, and I saw several flea markets with stamps for sale as well as coins. There are some collectors you meet, too.
My boss at NTU/RSIS is a topical collector: camels!! (Now in his mid-60s, he used to be the Sg ambassador to Saudi Arabia.....) But no one uses stamps anymore in Singapore, hardly. Metered mail and email pretty much exhaust the communications avenues, and even media mail is disappearing. It's just a little island, after all.
Young people at universities are like comparable Americans: they are neuro-physiologically addicted to their phones, and have PDS--Postal Deficiency Syndrome--meaning that they could not get a piece of paper into an envelope, address it, stamp it and put it in a place where it would get into the mailstream to save their sweet multicultural lives. My guess, and that's all it is, is that we have maybe 12-15 years tops before we see a serious and likely rapid downward step-change, or inflection, in market values, from which no serious or sustained recovery can reasonably be expected. That spreading realization would constitute an autonomous, piggybacking downward pressure on most prices.