The Increasing Popularity of China Stamps
Many years back, stamp collecting was an extra-curricular activity of school kids around the world. Modern technology was thought to have killed this hobby due to the decrease in the usage and demand of postage stamps. Out of surprise, this turned out to be untrue. Stamp collecting is not an obsolete hobby; and it is not really on the verge of dying out.
Statistics have shown that there are about 60 million stamp collectors around the world, one third of which come from China.
(Source: Stanley Gibbons, Barclays, ASDA)
Let’s take a look at the key factors that drive the popularity of China stamps in the modern philately landscape.
1. The Role of China Economy
Based on the annual assessment by Forbes magazine, China has over 210 USD billionaires in 2015, only second to the United States in terms of ranking. Besides, there are many billionaires and millionaires who are Chinese descendants living in the North America, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia and European countries.
Like so much of the global economy these days, the center of the world’s multi-billion-dollar stamp collecting market is shifting east.
Stamp collecting was banned under Mao’s regime until 1976. In 2000, the China government made it an official policy to foster stamp collecting among youngsters. Wealthy Chinese are now beginning to buy back their heritage on a massive scale. Young Chinese investors are laughing their way to the bank with significant gains on their China stamp portfolio. Out of nowhere, Asian stamp collectors are turning a dying hobby into a high-end investment! Auction houses are sprouting up in Hong Kong, Singapore Shanghai and Beijing, driving many wealthy Chinese collectors jumping on the bandwagon.
In December 2015, the International Monetary Fund has approved the Chinese Yuan (CNY) into its elite reserve currency. With this policy, from October 2016 onwards, the CNY will join the USD, EUR, JPY and GBP in the list of currencies that IMF uses as an international reserve asset. This will definitely affect the purchasing power of the Chinese people, which in turns could affect the landscape of Chinese antiques and collectibles markets.
2. The Growth of Global Chinese Population
(Source: United Nations)
The sheer size of the Chinese population explains its large representation in the international philatelic community. With increasingly higher purchasing power and greater appetite for stamps, they are the key driver of this lucrative Oriental collectibles market.
The number of stamp collectors in China is still growing rapidly. Keith Heddle, Managing Director of Stanley Gibbons once said: “The Chinese are collecting in their millions. In China there is no stigma about collecting stamps – they want to reclaim their history.” He added that this pool of 20 million collectors contribute $9 billion annually to the global stamp market.
In addition, China officially announced the end of its one child policy in October 2015, in an attempt to cope with its ageing population, imbalanced gender ratio and shrinking workforce. The change takes effect from January 2016, in which married couples are allowed to have a second child. The number of collectors is expected might increase even faster at least in the next 50 years, if China government sustains their current effort to promote stamp collecting.
There are over 50 million overseas Chinese in the world. Most of them live in Southeast Asia. A few millions live in the US, Canada, Australia and Europe. According to research papers by David Bartlett (1997) and Kazuo Fukuda (1998), overseas Chinese were estimated to control in liquid assets and have considerable amounts of wealth to stimulate economic power in China. This statistics is almost and the number is in trillions!
This group also contributes significantly to the sales of China stamps all over the world. It’s normal to see them spending five figures in auction.
According to my observation over the last 5 years, many of those who place bids for China stamps on eBay are overseas Chinese (by name*). They usually bid aggressively and sometimes drive the hammer price to an unimaginable figure!
* Nowadays, by looking at Chinese surname, you would probably know whether they are Mainland or overseas Chinese.
3. Non-Chinese Collectors Shifting to China Stamps
I once received an email from an American stamp collector with over 50 years of experience. He shared about his great interest in China stamps and how his fellow American collectors were shifting their attention to this area.
The figures of non-Chinese collectors are currently estimated based on membership of philatelic associations. Yet, there are many closet collectors who belong to no formal associations and are philateling in the privacy of their own homes. We could come across many of them in online forums and philatelic exhibitions. Many of them claim China stamps to be among their top focus. With the increasing popularity of China stamps, non-Chinese collectors globally will definitely jump on the bandwagon and claim their share in this lucrative area.
Nick Salter of Philatelic Investors shared that the Chinese appear to be buying as collectors, whereas Westerners are more likely to be buying for investment, in the anticipation that they can sell on into the Chinese market at a later date.
Stability and Sustainability
The hard truth is that China stamp market is still highly volatile. Prices spike and fall on a regular basis due to the presence of thousands of big dealers who hold very large stocks and have the power to manipulate the price. However, the value of China stamps is still on the rise in the medium to long term.
Dealers in Singapore can price China stamps at three times higher than the catalogue value; and collectors are still willing to pay the price. The used set of S38 Goldfish issues of 1960, for example, has an average catalogue value of $100. Yet some shops in Singapore are now selling it at S$350 (approximately $250). On a side note, sellers on Carousell (a Singapore-based marketplace mobile app) have never priced this set below S$150, at least at the time of this writing.
According to Mr. Tan Chun Lim, an expert in China stamp, the owner of CS Philatelic stamp shop in Singapore, and the editor of the Singapore version of China stamp catalogue, catalogue value can only be used as a reference. Buyers may pay much higher, depending on the demand. On the other hand, if you’re lucky enough, you may grasp decent quality stamps at much lower price.
China Stamp Index
(Source: Stanley Gibbons)
Another interesting aspect to look at is the Stanley Gibbons China stamp index, which track the performance of 200 pieces of rare investment-grade China stamps since 1989.
Growth has been substantial, with cumulative growth of 1,170% over the last 25 years, and compound annual growth of 10.7%
Besides, collectors can also refer to the CN100 index, provided by the China Stamp Index Company Limited. The company was founded in 2011 by Mr. Ricky Tam – the Chairman of the Hong Kong Institute of Investors and Director of the World Federation of Investors Corporation, and Dr. Sam Chiu – the CEO of David Feldman Asia. Statistics also shows the steep uptrend. However, the index hasn’t been updated since 2012.
Generally speaking, China stamp is an extraordinarily hot trend. If you have been collecting for years, congratulations! You might have started or will be gaining upon liquidation of your collection. If you would like to start venturing in this area but yet to do so, don’t wait until the market goes wilder!
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