Thirty years ago, I'd become a China dealer, having purchased a massive
accumulation of stamps and postal history. I remember well chatting with
collectors in my stamp shop, suggesting they take a peek at China. I found
Chinese Philately fascinating as it was rarely encountered. Attempting to
beckon local collectors away from US plate blocks and Western Europe, my
efforts rarely met with success. I was rebuffed, being told that because I
had so much China, hence I was looking for a way out.
Yup:) I had a lot of it. China sure wasn't popular in the mid 1980's but I
just smiled and sold the modern US and whatever was in demand. Winter Park
Stamp Shop was going great guns while I was spending a great deal of money
advertising China in the philatelic press. I sure was oversubscribed. And
I wonder if any of the collectors from those years long ago remember our
conversations. China sure has appreciated in value since but few could have
anticipated the price rise. I'm a great believer in collecting according to
what pleases, instead of following market trends, but no seller has ever
said they would take less money!
Forbes Magazine interviewed me in 1990 concerning the 1600% price rise of
selected Chinese stamps from 1983-90. The Chinese philatelic market hit a
plateau in 1990-1, upsetting some collectors because the market wasn't
moving northward. Then prices rose again in 1992. PRC pricing swings
have been way up, pause, down 15-40%, then up again. Three words:
availability, patience, antacid.
Why have (most) Chinese stamps increased in value? That China is in the
news, increases the demand for Chinese Philately worldwide. The Chinese are
an educated people. Stamp collecting is taught in schools. Philately is
"cool". Because China has been affected by political and economic conflict
until 1971, the people were focused on practical matters rather than
philately. Now that the PRC is wealthy, its affluent (as well as other
collectors the world over) are buying Chinese stamps. Its estimated several
million stamp collectors are created yearly in the PRC. Such numbers seeking
what we consider common stamps distort price levels that we know and cause
Chinese material is so interesting. One can collect broadly or specialize.
With albums and literature printed in English widely available, and that
most everyone is attuned to the internet, collectors can find out details
beyond the straight forward Scott catalogue. Every dealer in the US
transacts with Scott numbers so its the key. Appreciating what you have is
the fun. For us, the more complicated it is, the more we enjoy.
Dealers buy and sell; collectors collect. When the market spikes upward,
dealers follow the trend and reprice existing inventory accordingly. Dealers
who find themselves in the middle of a turbulent marketplace do not have the
luxury of sitting it out, effectively pulling inventory off the shelves to
see what is going to happen.
Collectors depend on dealers to price realistically. Prices go up: dealers
have to pay more to replace sold inventory and will have to price the new
stock higher. Prices go down: out comes the pencil to reprice material in
stock and reflect the current market. When retail prices come down, buy
prices fall too.
Folks will call me up to ask whether I can pay another fellow's advertised
buying price, then become annoyed when I inquire per condition. Cancelled to
Order PRC means with gum if it was issued that way. If the seller doesn't
know what CTO is, best not to insist what he has is. Most buy ads will
require mint PRC to be never hinged whether issued with gum or not. There
cannot be any wrinkling or toning for a seller to expect the buy price. Buy
ads are restrained for space so limit condition comments; this causes
confusion. We describe for sale using the same terms as we use when buying.
My company has a wide ranging inventory of Chinese stamps and postal
history. We use a number of factors to price what we take to shows and place
on our website. We'll factor in the prices realized from our monthly public
auctions and mail sales, as well as every sale from any other company we
respect. The online auction results are a troublesome barometer as some
sales do not transpire. (Some sites allow a bidder without identification to
participate so who knows if it is a real price?)
Collectors who read Chinese characters often bring a bi-weekly philatelic
newspaper to the shows on which to base their decisions. Caucasians will hug
their Scott catalogue, asking why my prices are beyond those in Scott. If
you were buying NASDAQ stocks, would your stockbroker spend your
money according to a yearly handbook?
We devour the specialized China handbooks for both technical and pricing
information. The 2010 Chan Color Catalogue of China 1878-1949 covers areas
that the forthcoming 2012 China Stamp Society Color Catalogue 1878-1949 does
not, but the CSS catalogue is specialized way beyond Chan in the areas it
does list. Availability of literature for Chinese material has greatly
expanded which increases our ability to appreciate and understand what can
Knowing collectors were frustrated with snippets of information in
traditional catalogues, we combined China 1878-1949 pricelists with text and
illustrations in a handbook format. We sent along reprints of the Linn's
Asia column that I've written since 1989. There have been thirteen handbooks
written, edited or published that I've had a hand in, all produced by my
I blush when I'm called a China expert because there's not a day gone by
that I don't learn more.
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