Thursday, January 13, 2011

Stamps Of Class

                        (This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 27-12-2010) 
An engaging hobby, collecting stamps could be a smart investment option as well — with lasting, long-term value
Malabika Sarkar

HIGH VALUE: A collection of 25 Gandhi stamps that was sold for Rs 4.75 lakh at the Todywalla Auctions in the National Philately Exhibition organised by Bharatiya Daktikit Sangstha and Stamps of India in New Delhi
Vintage postage stamps may not fetch returns in crores as prominent art works do (which you’ll buy by spending a fortune as well), but they have their own value. For instance, in 1854, a 4-anna stamp was printed with the face of Queen Victoria, but upside down (erroneously, of course). Its 27 known copies have become rare and valued today, with just one copy going for an astounding Rs 76 lakh at an auction conducted by Spink auction house in London this October.
The auction of vintage stamps in Delhi on 11 December by Todywalla Auction House was not so lucrative, but there were some stamps that got good value. For example, a group of 25 Gandhi stamps of Rs 10 denomination was sold for Rs 4.75 lakh in the auction. Disappointingly, though, not all stamps up for auction attracted bidders, and many were sold at the base price or marginally higher. But Malcolm Todywalla of Todywalla Auctions remains optimistic. “The Indian philately business looks very promising,” he says. “One important aspect of investing in stamps is that at times it gives you more return or profit than other banking instruments in India.”
Todywalla’s auction was part of the National Philately Exhibition organised by Bharatiya Daktikit Sangstha and Stamps of India. There was even a competition for the best stamp collection. The exhibition displayed around 300 exhibits, including some rare items such as the first stamps of Asia — the Scinde Dawks issued in 1852 in the Scind (sic) province of British India; the first all-India stamps issued in 1854; and stamps of the first Olympic Games issued in Greece in 1896.
Most serious stamp collectors say philately is just the kind of investment you should be making. “Stamps are the perfect investment today,” says Anuj Saxena, president of Uttaranchal Numismatic Philatelic & Art Society, who also collects rare coins and currencies of different countries, apart from stamps. “As people earn more these days and have more spending power, they want to invest it in something concrete.” Adds Shital Pradhan, general secretary of Sikkim Philately club, who won bronze in the competition: “Extensive research is the most important part of this passion.” Pradhan collects stamps based on Buddhism, pre-independence envelopes and covers, and Sikkim-based postal material.
So, what kind of stamp has higher value? Old and rare stamps, such as those that were printed before independence, have high value today. Mint stamps (unused stamps) offer better value than used ones. In India, stamps printed in this country have higher value than foreign-printed ones. Stamps in good condition, naturally, are valued higher than those in poor condition.
Where should you start? For starters, you could open a philately deposit account in your neighbourhood post office. “For a new collector, it is always advisable to choose a topic of interest,” says Madhukar Jhingan, executive president of Stamps of India, which organises philately exhibitions. “For young collectors, the interest always lies in topical stamps such as Harry Potter, aircraft, free form stamps, scented stamps and cars.”
But as Arvind Jain, vice-principal of Government Boys College, Bhilwara, and Limca Book record holder, says: “Philately as an investment is a costly affair. It requires high degree of expertise and can be extremely risky.” That should not stop enterprising, wannabe collectors from living out their passion.