South Korea

Especially scary about the death of North Korea dictator Kim Jong-Il is the effect it will have on South Korea. When the Koreas were partitioned in the early post WW II period, they were both equally devastated. But while North Korea has gone from poor to destitute, South Korea has been the poster child for capitalism, ending last year as the world’s 26th wealthiest country (on a per capita income basis) wedged between Japan and Spain. The question for philatelists is why, given that the Koreans have become so wealthy, are their stamps are not more avidly collected and why haven’t they appreciated in value anywhere nearly as rapidly as the stamps of China and India.

Though  Korea has a large population that is wealthy and well educated, philatelic proclivity is always subsumed to national character. Qatar is the wealthiest country in the world on a per captita basis yet there is little philatelic demand from native Qataris. Philately is not a hobby that has caught the interest of Middle Easterners. So while we can never know for sure what the reason is for the relative disinterest of Koreans for their stamps compared to some other Asian countries, here is what we do know. Korean stamps have not increased much in price over the last twenty years especially compared to Chinese stamps. Very rare Korean items which would sell for many thousands of dollars if they were Chinese stamps sell for only hundreds, or sometimes even less.

 But the reason for the difference in philatelic popularity may be more political and economic than cultural. I think the citizens of mainland China are expressing their lack of faith in the Communist oligarchy that rules their country when they bid up the price of their stamps. Philately has tended to be popular in countries that have a history of difficulties with fiat currency, inflation and devaluations and I think the interest in Koreans in their stamps is genuine philatelic interest whereas the interest in the Chinese has more of hedging quality to it. This means that the price of Korean stamps will rise more slowly but more steadily whereas the price of Chinese stamps could well lose popularity if and when China becomes more democratic.

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