Rare Stamp Prices

The rare stamp market has not really moved much in the last thirty years. The British Guiana stamp sold in 1980 for $935,000 and the million dollar mark has only been broken a few times since then. Price realizations at the very top of the market are notoriously unreliable too, with many “sold” rarities really not meeting their reserves or being sold back to the owner with only a nominal commission paid. And rare stamps have remained stable in an environment where the value of other investments has gone up and the value of money has gone down. A stamp that sold in 1980 for $935,000 would have to sell today for $4 1/2 million just to have produced a 5% per annum return.

Poor price growth has not been the fate of all collectibles. The rare art market has been booming. A particularly desirable Cezanne sold last year for nearly $250 million. Contrast this with the 1980s high price for a painting- a 1987 sale of a painting from the Van Gogh Sunflowers series for nearly $50 million- and you see that the rarest stamps have languished compared to other collectibles. Our hobby has always had problems with attaining high prices at the rarest end of the market. Partly because philately is less popular than fine arts and mostly because most philatelic treasures are only on display in our albums and not on the walls of our homes, stamps have never sold for prices like the visual arts. But the price differentials have increased significantly in the last thirty years.

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