Stamps Had A Great Run In The 1970s

The 1970s were the halcyon days of philately. The inflation of the Carter years was fierce, and inflation rates for many years topped 10%. Add to this, currency controls in Great Britain had meant that people began to lose faith in money. Remember for a minute that money has no real value. It is a convention and represents a bearer certificate for goods and services that are only redeemable as long as the person doing the redeeming believes that there is someone who will want to exchange goods and services for the money that he has. When people lose that faith, economies break down. Such faith is bent and deformed by confiscatory taxation and currency controls—anything that makes people feel that their money is not theirs, and that it won’t have the buying power that they expect it to. Retreat into precious metals or even stamps is just a replacement of faith, as precious metals have little intrinsic value either. In the end, modern economic systems are based to an extraordinary degree on faith in the inviolability of money.
In the late 1970s, this faith began to be questioned in the United States and Europe. There was much inflation, and behind the inflation was a sense that the United States had lost its place as the leader of the western world. Traditional investing was a disaster. The stock market began a retreat in the late 1960s that would see it at 40% of its original value a decade later. The US was widely perceived to have lost the Viet Nam war. And several successive oil shocks, which took oil prices from essentially the cost of refining and delivery to twenty times its previous retail price, left Americans believing that their world was going to be very different from the way it had been. Gas lines that lasted days broke out throughout the country, and there were restrictions on days on which gas could be bought. For many years there was a moratorium on Sunday gasoline sales, which meant that weekend trips were limited to a single tank’s driving distance. People above the age of fifty still  reflexively fill up their tank when they run close to half full, always having in the back of their mind the experience in the 1970s.
It was this malaise—the feeling that the world’s economy wasn’t working and wouldn’t work the same way again—that was the underpinning of the great stamp run up of the 1970s. Those of us who lived through it all have our own stories of how it hit home to us. No, we didn’t have Weimar type inflation, where salaries needed to be renegotiated midday. But it was scary, and the prevailing attitude was that everyone needed to have some “hard assets” (and that included stamps) in their investment portfolio. As stamp professionals, we received daily calls from people who wanted to put quantities of money into stamps. Most were very unknowledgeable, some were truly ignorant (the difference being that the unknowledgeable don’t know and the ignorant don’t want to know). My favorite story is of the man who called looking for “never hung Zepps.” It was the heyday of the stamp profession.
Fortunately for the world, our political leaders found a way out.  Paul Voelker was made chaiman of the Fed, and when Ronald Reagan was elected president, several painful recessions restored money to the place where it had been before—a medium of universal exchange which changes very little in value year to year. As a stamp professional, I look back wistfully to the days when it was so easy to be successful. But as a citizen of this country and this world, as a husband and a father and a brother, a son and a friend, I hope it never happens again.
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