Collectors, Philatelists & Investors

I once read an article regarding philatelic investment that made me think about what motivates people to collect stamps and what sort of stamp buyer they consider themselves to be. For example, most people who collect South Africa primarily have some connection to the country. For example my own connection is my father grew up in South Africa and I have family that live there. However there are lots of motivations and reasons for collecting. Someone who enjoys bird-watching may also enjoy finding stamps with birds depicted upon them, you might visit a particular country and find those stamps appeal to you. But whatever sets you on the road of stamp accumulation, are you either a collector, a philatelist or an investor?

At the start, most people would consider themselves a stamp collector. For me, the best thing about being a stamp collector is there are no rules. You can collect whatever you want, how you want. Pick a country, a theme (topic), a period or just collect whatever you fancy, but the most important factor is enjoyment. When collecting a country such as South Africa, many stamp collectors are not concerned with the different printings, shades, perforations etc. They want one example of each stamp, often to fill a gap in a printed album.

However, the dictionary definition of philately is described as “the collection and study of postage stamps.” Therefore, if you are collecting stamps, by definition, you ARE already a philatelist.

However, if you find that the desire to own all the different shades of the South Africa 1933-48 1s proved to be just too strong, then realised there were a huge range of varieties to collect on the KGVI issues and you eventually own a collection of stamps that have outgrown their original albums then you are most definitely a philatelist. Philately is not only about collecting, but also the study of stamps, but to study them you usually need to collect them in the first place! A philatelist (in the traditional sense) will often see enjoyment in an accumulation of thousands of the same stamp. The accumulation might contain different cancels, shades, minor varieties etc., all waiting to be studied.

Investors don’t have to be collectors or philatelists and don’t have to love stamps. They are effectively betting on the demand and scarcity of a particular issue, whether by purchasing a quantity of an identical item, for example the GB “Diana” presentation pack inscribed in Welsh, or by spending a considerable sum on say a GB Penny Black May 6th 1840 cover. Investing in stamps can be fraught with many pitfalls. If it was easy everybody would be doing it! Those Diana Welsh presentation packs are probably worth less than you paid for them, as most collectors who want one, now have one. And who has the sort of spare money required to buy a May 6th Penny Black cover?

An investor has a different motivation to a collector and a philatelist. They want to see the value of what they have purchased increase over time. It is unlikely they would care to own a complete run of South Africa Union and Republic stamps, or own every issue and printing of the Springbok halfpenny.

In my opinion, if you enjoy the collecting of stamps, study them, display them in an album, show them to fellow enthusiasts and form the collection over a long period then you are more likely to find that it doesn’t matter which of the three stamp buyer categories you think you fall into. If you can bear to part with the collection within your lifetime you might even see a financial return!