The humble British postage stamp is setting hearts aflutter as philately becomes the new investment of choice for the Asia Pacific.
Millions of wealthy collectors are vying for the best examples, with demand pushing up prices of the most sought after postage stamps.
Interest is running so high that London dealer and the world’s leading authority, Stanley Gibbons, has opened offices in Singapore and Hong Kong.
The experts reckon the interest attracts a global figure of around 60 million serious collectors – with 40 million or so living in the Asia Pacific.
Some collect the stamps they love, while others are in the game to cherry pick the best examples as investments.
Banned by Mao
Keith Heddle, of Stanley Gibbons, said “The number of serious investors in the Asia Pacific is rising quickly as the wealthy buy up the best stamps for investment. They see stamps as a way to diversify their portfolio and as an alternative to fine wine, art and gold.”
The Chinese love collecting stamps – a relatively new interest for the nation as philately was banned by Chairman Mao until 1976.
Now, the country’s newly rich and emancipated middle classes are keen to invest in stamps.
“Stamp fairs in China are really hectic with collectors showing a real interest. Indians are also keen on stamp collecting,” said Heddle. Around 20 million stamp collectors are reckoned to live in China alone – around a third of the world’s serious philatelists. Rare stamps from many nations are popular with collectors, but British stamps are still among the most-desired and iconic examples.
Britain introduced the postage stamp in the 1840s, and stamps from that time, like the Penny Black and Twopenny Blue are highly-prized.
Some stamps are fetching astonishing prices at auction and in private sales.
In 2010, a Singapore collector gladly paid £375,000 for a 1904 Edward V11 sixpenny stamp overprinted ‘IR Official’.
Even that price was beaten out of sight by the most expensive stamps sold by Stanley Gibbons.
A block of a dozen Twopenny Blues was sold to an Australian for £950,000. The highest price paid for a single stamp was £550,000 for a Plate 77 Penny Red in Hong Kong.
For collectors who want to check out if they have a rare example that might be worth hundreds of thousands of pounds, go to the GB30 index on the Stanley Gibbons website http://www.stanleygibbons.com/stanleygibbons/view/content/sg_invest_gb30 The index tracks the values of the 30 most expensive British postage stamps.