The Stamp Market in Europe

Philately is probably the most international hobby of them all. Few coin collectors collect coins of any but their home country. Other major collecting hobbies all have a nationalistic skew, if only because collectors tend to try to create in adulthood collections that they couldn’t afford as children. There were no Lionel or H&O trains in Europe after WW II, so European model trains enthusiasts don’t seek them now as adult collectors. Philately is the one hobby that is (or at least was) different. Most of the baby boomers, who collected as kids, maintained large general worldwide collections. When they get back to their hobbies, they are often as eager to collect the stamps of Russia as they are the stamps of the United States. This is true too of collectors from other countries, whom have always had a tradition of collecting the stamps of the United States as well as other countries in addition to their own.
The philatelic market is an international market for two other reasons as well. First, philately may be the most academic and intellectual hobby that there is. Stamp collectors are much brighter than average, have traveled more widely, and are better educated. This produces a cosmopolitanism that makes collectors all around the world more interested in collecting the stamps of other countries than are followers of other hobbies. Also contributing to the international appeal of philately is the fact that stamps are so light and easily transportable. It costs very little more for a collector to buy stamps overseas than in his home market. This has always been the case and has caused a diffusion of collectible material that doesn’t exist in other hobbies. For  instance, only the most expensive European classic cars are ever imported to the US (and vice versa) as shipping costs are so high per vehicle compared to shipping costs per stamp.
Because there is so much cross demand between countries, it has always been the case then that when the European stamp market sneezes, the American market catches a cold. The American economy has improved considerably over the last four years. We could certainly do much better, but Europe is still a basket case compared to us. The unemployment rate in Spain is 26%, nearly four times the rate here (and the rate among young people aged 25 and younger is 56%). These are not Recession levels; these are Depression levels. Even European countries that are doing “well” such as Germany and the Netherlands have been experiencing negative economic growth. In the past, a significant portion of sales made by American stamp dealers have been sales either directly or indirectly overseas. This has dried up nearly completely in recent years. When we look at the stamp market and the difficulties we have had maintaining much consistent growth in stamp prices in the last decade, we are too apt to say this is because the hobby is declining in popularity. It is probably truer to say that the weak European economy has put stamp demand on hold. When the economic climate across the Atlantic improves, we should then see more interest in the hobby and stronger philatelic prices.
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