Future Of Philately

We tend to think of Philately as one hobby when it is really three separate and distinct endeavors, each with its own goals, problems, future and marketplace. The three are Mainstream Philately, High-end Philately and Aspirational Philately. Mainstream Philately is what most of us engage in from the youngster enjoying his first packet to the collector perusing Ebay for the best price and quality for the items he wants to add to his collection. Mainstream Philately is determined largely by the market-the stamps that mainstream philatelists desire are for the most part readily available, with most of the search and negotiations going on over price and quality rather than over whether the item is going to be offered at all. Most of the stamps that most collectors want fall into this category.

High-end Philately is quite different. Here, most of the items are not only price rarities, but items that are offered so infrequently that collectors who want them have no choice but to purchase them when they are offered, at the price that the market determines. A High-end collector who holds out for a lower price misses the item that may well not be sold again in his lifetime. Aspirational collectors try to combine the aspects of High-end Philately, that is rarity, with the more modest philatelic budgets that most of us have. Collectors of this type gravitate to arcane specialties and niche postal history areas where items are rarely available but, because they lack some of the glamor of the higher end, are not so pricey when they are sold.

The three different kinds of collecting have different strengths right now and differing market futures in my opinion. Mainstream Philately will continue with its strength largely determined by the number of new collectors who come into the hobby. Over the next decade or two we should continue to see relative strength as the Baby Boomer generation enters its greatest collecting years. After that, less strength in the mainstream areas of the hobby is likely. The competition from newer issues, the decline in newer collectors that surely must result from the lack of a current generation that saves stamps, and the fact that the future of postal services around the world is problematic, makes the long term future for mainstream Philately worrisome. High-end Philately should do better. Although it is hard to predict what price levels will be like, the very rarest stamps will always find ready homes as they have for the last 170 years. The aspirational specialties that create rarity by severely limiting the scope of what is collected (for instance, collecting a county’s postmarks for a certain decade) will always be idiosyncratic and though hard to find, even harder to sell when the collector has achieved his goals. Any predictions about the future of these distinct collecting styles are difficult. What the USPS and Post Office’s worldwide choose to do with promoting philately will have a major impact. A private company that produced its own labels for sale which never had to be redeemed would promote the hell out of this hobby. Whether the quasi government postal services will do so remains to be seen.

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