Tuesday, January 1, 2013

How Much Does It Cost to Collect the World, 1840-1940?

There are two statistical questions that I have been interested in since beginning to collect the first century of philately. The first asks: how many stamps were issued between 1840-1940? That one has been answered well enough for my satisfaction. (There are approximately 80,000 major varieties. For more details, search this blog using the two words "how many.")

The second question is: how much does it cost to collect the first hundred years of philately? Or more precisely, what I'm really interested in is how many stamps from this era are affordable.

I have cited in an earlier blog post Michel Bégin's cost analysis. But Bégin's work was limited to only a couple of dozen countries. I have recently learned that Sandy R. Stover undertook a more complete study which was published in 2006.* Rather than attempt to add up the value of every stamp in the catalog, Mr. Stover used statistical sampling for stamps cataloging less than $1000. (For stamps above $1000, which otherwise might have skewered the results, he identified individual stamps.) His initial calculations used the Scott Classic Catalogue for 2000, which he updated five years later for his article.

To briefly summarize Mr. Stover's study, he estimates there were in the neighborhood of 82,000 stamps issued between 1840 and 1940. Of these, 50 percent catalog less than $1.50, 77 per cent less than $10, 92 per cent less than $100, and 99 percent less than $1000 per stamp. However, if you wanted one copy of every major number in the Scott Catalog, you are looking at approximately $22.5 million American dollars (with the understanding that many rare stamps do not have values in the Scott catalog if there is insufficient market information available).

Along this line, Mr. Stover analyzed the affordability of collecting Classic Era stamps of individual countries. The United States had by far the largest number of stamps valued at $1000 and above: 341. The US was followed by Italian States/Italy German States/Germany, Great Britain, France, and, surprisingly to me, Mexico. A total of one hundred and ninety stamp issuing entities had at least one stamp cataloging $1000 and above. One hundred and forty one had none!

Mr. Stover enlivens his statistics with a number of interesting comments. For example, although it is heartening that 92% of Classic Era stamps catalog at under $100, he notes that this still comes to an aggregate catalog value of $540,000. While obviously, one would be paying only a percentage of the catalog value, even half of a half a million dollars is no small sum for most of us, even if amortized over decades of collecting.

But those of us using the Blue can take satisfaction that our total cost will be rather less than $540,000. How much less is unclear, but I suspect we are talking about a current catalog value for a Blue Volume One falling in the very low six figures.

*Stover, Sandy R. "Surveying the Classics: Questions of Value." The Circuit: The Official Journal of the International Society of Worldwide Stamp Collectors, July/August 2006, pp 6, 9; September/October 2006, pp 6-7, 9.