Imagine your nearby post office making crores out of stamps. If you find that unbelievable, sample this. The Philately division of the Chennai city region postal department did a business of Rs 1 crore last year.
\”Stamps are an esoteric form of investment,\” says M S Ramanujan, post master general of the region. It\’s not surprising that the evolved Indian investor finds stamp collection not just a hobby, but a way to make money when other asset classes offer volatile returns.
According to Madanchand Darda, a veteran collector of stamps, it is a very stable investment. \”The minimum appreciation you will get on a rare stamp is 15-20% every year, going by the standard stamp catalogues,\” he says. \”There is very little chance of losing money.\” A stamp catalogue is a list of postage stamp types with descriptions and prices, updated periodically. The commonly used catalogues in India are Stanley & Gibbons and Phila India. \”Beginning 2010, Stanley and Gibbons has been bringing out a catalogue covering India. Earlier, India was included under their Commonwealth catalogue,\” says Darda.
N Seshadri, a philatelist from Chennai who has his name in the Limca Book of Records for having a collection of 1.62 lakh commemorative, used stamps of one particular design from different countries, puts the appreciation per annum at 5%. \”The stamps are exchanged going by either the catalogue value or the face value. In case of new stamps, the face value method is used while for old stamps, catalogue values are used.\”
To sell or buy stamps, you can go through the traditional route of dealers you trust or you can take advantage of some of the auction houses that are coming up—for instance, in Lucknow and Kolkata. Auction houses charge a commission.
The value of stamps vary and some of the expensive ones can cost lakhs. A penny black stamp, which is the world\’s first adhesive postage stamp (issued by the UK of Great Britain and Ireland on May 1, 1840), would fetch between Rs 2 lakh and Rs 4 lakh. \”The stamps issued by the British before independence command a great premium,\” says Darda. \”I know of a collection of 1,000 such stamps whose value is estimated to be in the range of Rs 2-4 crore.\”
Stamps depicting Mahatma Gandhi fetch a great value since collectors all over the world vie for it. A 1948 Rs 10 Mahatma Gandhi stamp is worth around Rs 12,000 in the current market, making it one of the most valuable in the post-independence era stamps category. Apart from old and rare stamps and limited edition sets, stamps that have some quirk associated with them such as printing errors command greater values as some sets would have been printed before being recalled. For instance, in 1994 India Post had issued a block of 4 sets of stamps of Indian water birds for Rs 26. It was subsequently withdrawn along with another issue called \’Begum Akhtar\’ for Rs 2 since they had used soluble ink during printing. Today, the water birds collection goes for Rs 3,500 each and a Begum Akhtar\’s stamp is valued at Rs 800.
Stamps of countries which no longer exist or have undergone a name change, like Sri Lanka from Ceylon, command a good value. Also, philatelists are moving from country-based collection to thematic collections like birds, celebrities, aeroplanes and railway stations. Of course, stamps have to be in good condition to fetch good values. \”Preserving stamps is an expensive activity. Special mounts, imported from Germany, are needed. Good quality albums are costly too,\” says Darda. The tropical weather of India with high humidity is not helpful either. \”That is why some prefer collecting coins as it is possible to clean them,\” says Seshadri. For long, the image of an Indian philatelist was a middle-aged or a grey-haired individual who had built his collection over the years. However, of late, young collectors are getting drawn into the world of postage. \”A lot of IT professionals and others who are drawing huge salaries are now collecting stamps for investment,\” says G Balakrishna Das, president, South India Philatelists\’ Association. The association that has over 650 members is organizing a three-day stamp exhibition in Chennai from October 7-9. The Chennai city region comprises 2,500 post offices. It has over 2,500 philately holders or members and has released 26 stamp issues based on themes this year. It would be releasing another 12 over the next six months. Darda says he has been introducing almost 500 people to philately every year in Chennai.
Seshadri rates Kolkata as the most important philatelic destination of the country, before Mumbai,New Delhi and Chennai. Kolkata houses a number of valuable stamps from the British era and is also a leader in publishing literature surrounding philately. (Source-The Times of India 17 july 2011)