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General Philatelic/Newcomer Cnr : New Collection - Cold War // USSR // Space Race

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ArbInv
29 Nov 2014
08:44:50pm
All

I have been out of the hobby since a child - 35+ years ago. I am looking to build a collection of cold war era - mid-50s to late-70s USSR / Eastern Bloc stamps with my main focus on space race focused stamps. I want to build something with both true intrinsic value as well as beauty and am focused on quality not quantity. Are there investment truly grade items within this arena? I know that the USSR swamped the world with their stamps and most are low grade / low value etc. I am not looking to buy very high ticket item stamps but rather invest a moderate amount each month in adding a few nice items to the collection.

Any advice on how I build something over the next 20 years which will really be worth passing on to the family not just because it contains items of beauty and interest but also genuine value?? Might I be well served to look to pick up some collections and pick out the keepers or generally better off to buy individual quality items.

I am new to the site so thanks for any help.

Thanks

Andy
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CapeStampMan
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Mike
29 Nov 2014
09:29:14pm
re: New Collection - Cold War // USSR // Space Race

Welcome aboard the SOR stamp club site, where you will no doubt receive many responses to your questions, that you alone will be able to decide which you care to follow.

My opinion is stamp collecting is not a good place for investing, UNLESS you buy higher priced items, since cheap stamps will always be cheap stamps. Many people give the advice that one should buy for quality and not quantity, which is good advice for anyone that wishes to invest in stamps, while others love the HUNT for goodies found in old collections and kilo ware packets. You have to follow your heart and decide for yourself what you want to collect and how you want to collect. By that I mean do you want to only acquire MNH stamps, Mint stamps or used stamps, or even used stamps on cover, or all of them? Do you like the classics, modern, air mail, definitive, special delivery, officials, EFO's, triangles or one of a thousand different areas to get involved in? You did mention Russian stamps, but there are still a lot of different varieties from that country to choose from.

Most important is to collect what you want to collect, like Russia and if you find your self at an impasse further down the road you can always start collecting a different country.

Mike

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philatelia
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APS #156650
30 Nov 2014
02:56:52am
re: New Collection - Cold War // USSR // Space Race

Welcome!!!

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"Just one more small collection, hun, really! LoL "
Bobstamp
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03 Dec 2014
01:52:26pm
re: New Collection - Cold War // USSR // Space Race

Unless you are willing and able to dedicate a lot of time and money to specialize in a relatively small collecting area, stamp collecting isn't even close to being a good investment. Almost any decent investment program in the financial marketplace will yield far better returns. I think that it would be especially difficult to build a valuable collection from Cold War-era stamps and covers, simply because most countries issued too many kazillion stamps in that period for them ever to become valuable. Russian stamps are a good example of this: Not only are they a bad financial investment, you probably would have trouble giving them away! Which isn't to say that you can't make an interesting collection from modern Russian stamps.

I think that you would find greater pleasure, and a better emotional/intellectual return on your investment, by building a collection based on your interests now, rather than hoping that your collection will eventually gain great intrinsic value.

Bob

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HungaryForStamps
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03 Dec 2014
11:25:17pm
re: New Collection - Cold War // USSR // Space Race

Building a collection solely for investment is probably not a good goal for a relative beginner, which I assume you are. Knowledge will be required for you to identify areas of value and bargains. I assume you are a value-minded collector so my response is geared as such. Building a collection with an eye toward value is different than doing so for investment.

If you have a genuine interest in collecting, for its own sake, I would recommend starting with modest goals, one of which is to gain knowledge and experience in areas of particular interest. Start with a catalog and use that to identify the range of stamp values for your area of interest, e.g, Russia, whatever. Then start to build your collection.

When you start to build your collection, you may want to pay particular interest to acquiring quality material at low prices. To begin in a new area, I like to buy decent collections at bargain prices from auctions (e.g., Ebay). To start I assume the material you acquire will be relatively common material. If you are interested in maintaining some value, try to purchase the collections at 10% of catalog value, more or less (wholesale prices), but with an eye toward quality. As time goes on you will need to fill the more expensive holes or purchase individual issues and your cost as a % of catalog value will naturally go up.

Keep in mind that catalog values are a rough benchmark. This is one important lesson you need to learn. Examine the going prices for particular stamps using Ebay completed listings. Understand that prices vary greatly depending on the condition of the stamp. Hence, learn how to identify stamp condition, e.g., centering and flaws and learn to determine pricing using the catalog as a benchmark. Scott catalogs (available at some local libraries) describe this in introductory sections.

Once you have some good experience under your belt you can begin to identify bargains. Also you will hopefully have learned to identify forgeries and fakes, which abound in the more valuable older issues.

Now, while you can build a collection with an eye toward value, have no illusions that you are going to make big profits from such an endeavor, unless you are purchasing investment grade items. Assuming you are not truly building an investment portfolio of rare stamps, your goal might be to enjoy collecting and then basically break even when you sell your collection.

But don't expect that you are doing your heirs any favors by bequeathing them a fairly common stamp collection if they have no real interest in stamp collecting. If they lke stamps, then great, leave it to them, If not, do them a favor and liquidate it yourself. They will most likely get fleeced by dealers or spend too much valuable time trying to asses the value of something of which they have no knowledge or interest.

Anyhow, happy collecting...

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amsd
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Editor, Seal News; contributor, JuicyHeads
04 Dec 2014
10:18:39pm

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re: New Collection - Cold War // USSR // Space Race

Merv, it seems you're actually looking at doing 2 different things: creating a space topical collection and buying quality for some sort of return.

for a new entrant to the hobby, the first is easy, fun, and will grow as your experience does. the latter is a fool's errand, as many have said, especially if you restrict its contents to a very specialized area.

I would certainly encourage you to undertake the former, as you seem interested. The American Topical Association can help you, and a couple of our members are dedicated space topical enthusiasts who would, I am sure, be delighted to share their wisdom and excitement.

Finally, leaving something for another presumes that they want it. Do they?

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TuskenRaider
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05 Dec 2014
05:13:59pm
re: New Collection - Cold War // USSR // Space Race

Hi Everyone;

@ Andy;

The others are right on target. It is true tho that it is possible to buy stamps at one price and sell them 20-30 years later for a profit.

However if you bury a 10,000 gallon tank, fill it with gasoline, and sell it 30 years from now you would make much more money with almost none of your time wasted. Then the time you didn't waste could be used to enjoy collecting lots of pretty pictures on stamps. Actually gasoline doesn't have a 30 year shelf life, but other commodities do tho.

The problem with stamp collecting is that the time spent vs. the value appreciated over time makes it a poor investment vehicle. In the 1970s an article appeared in Look magazine. The article was about the British Guiana 1¢ Magenta, the world's rarest stamp. The article focused on how the stamp sold years ago for $65,000 and re-sold again for something like $250,000.

Probably the author of the article had little knowledge about stamp collecting, but the public at large only saw what they wanted to; how to get rich. It became a popular thing for lots of people to go to the post office and buy one or more full sheets of new issues of commemoratives. Eventually a few years later when they took them to stamp dealers to sell and found out that the dealer was only willing to pay below face value, they were stunned. So the dealer opened his safe and showed them stack after stack of sheets that they could not sell.

Lots of folks were sucked into investment schemes in the 1970s by dishonest stamp dealers, to build investment portfolios, which of course were virtually worthless. The reason for this is that the dealer has to make a profit. Your stamps purchase has to appreciate enough to offset his mark-up, plus inflation, plus your time and effort. For example, the gasoline it took to drive to stamp dealer, or the shipping costs of getting stamps off of eBay. When you look at all these variables, it is easier to understand why it just won't work as an investment. It can still be lots of fun tho!

So you should collect stamps for the right reasons, enjoyment, relaxation and just plain fun. If you simply must have a 'sure fire' investment to pass on to next of kin, get a part-time job. Place the money in T-bills, or US Treasury bonds.

Happy stampin' everyone
TuskenRaider

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Bobstamp
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05 Dec 2014
07:05:30pm
re: New Collection - Cold War // USSR // Space Race

Worthwhile comments, TuskenRaider, and it's true not only of stamps but virtually all collectibles. My wife and I have been watching reprises of Antiques Road Show, in which they show clips from earlier shows and then give estimates of the current value of the same antiques. In the majority of cases, the antiques have lost market value over the last 10-15 years, and very few have appreciated in value significantly.

Not long ago, as I recall, the owner of an Inverted Jenny sold it for far less than he had paid for it a few years earlier. When I was the rankest of rank amateurs in stamp collecting, I bought a mint Canadian stamp — I can't recall which one — for a song. I was sure that the dealer had made a pricing error. I walked across the street to another stamp shop and tried to sell it, knowing I would make a small killing. But the owner of the second shop not only failed to offer to buy it at full catalogue, he didn't want it at all! That was the day I learned the difference between catalogue value and "street value".

I have spent thousands of dollars on stamps, covers, and collateral items over the last 40 years. If I were to try to sell my collections today, I would come away with a nice cheque for sure, but it would represent only a smallish fraction of what I spent. And that doesn't bother me a bit, because those thousands of dollars have returned recreation and education that simply cannot be measured by dollars. How do you evaluate the "Eureka moment" that comes from finding a high-CV listed variety in a nickel box or a dried poppy in a letter from a Canadian soldier in Flanders in 1917, especially when you paid only a buck for the cover.

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Bob

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HungaryForStamps
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05 Dec 2014
07:18:58pm
re: New Collection - Cold War // USSR // Space Race

While I agree stamp collections by and large are probably a poor choice of investment, there are situations where it might make sense, as it might make sense to invest in any commodity, for example, gold as a hedge against inflation.

Certainly this does not apply to low-end, common collections. A high-end collection of rarities in XF condition could be the basis for such a portfolio. I warrant that stamps, art or antiques probably retain value as well as gold and may be less volatile, and may be easier and more enjoyable to keep in your possession. Such a hedge would likely be a small percentage of your portfolio, which you hold in case of financial armageddon.

Chances are if you are not ultra-wealthy or an investment expert, such a scenario is not an option.

Edit: I should note, that in such a scenario, selling for a reasonable profit is not the goal, but retaining inflation-adjusted value is (i.e., breaking even in real terms).

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amsd
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Editor, Seal News; contributor, JuicyHeads
05 Dec 2014
07:19:40pm

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re: New Collection - Cold War // USSR // Space Race

Eureka indeed

which is why Merv can concentrate on Space and not worry about value, but enjoy the bumpy ride.

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"Save the USPS, buy stamps; save the hobby, use commemoratives"

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Rhinelander
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Support the Hobby -- Join the American Philatelic Society
05 Dec 2014
11:52:06pm
re: New Collection - Cold War // USSR // Space Race

Andy,

Hello. Looks like you know what you want to collect and how to go about it. I really like your topic, soviet space exploration, and believe it is a hot topic with an excellent future, and most importantly great opportunity for personal enjoyment. There are several specialized groups that focus on space stamps. Topical collectors are in the driving seat here, but an increasing general country collecting interest in Russia/SSSR is also fanning the flames. Importantly, new specialized literature is being published in this area, which is perhaps the most important gauge for how active/future-oriented a collecting area is. For instance, Michel came out with its first Russia/Soviet-union specialized catalog a few years ago. But more importantly, and to your point, Soviet space focused literature is now appearing. See, for instance, forthcoming: Soviet & Russian Space-Support Ship Covers and Cachets. Typically, nothing spikes collectors interest more than when a formerly uncharted territory is opened up from specialists to general collectors through the publication of a first catalog or a first English language publication.

Because you want to take a brainy approach to this, I recommend you spend the first several monthly budget allocations on (a) memberships in the specialized organizations applicable to your collecting area and (b) the purchase of any literature on the topic you can get your hands on. The key for building a collection that holds its value, and perhaps even appreciates, if that is your goal, is knowledge. You are entering a very specialized area where it makes a difference to other nerds if the cachet is struck in purple or black ink. So, if you want a valuable investment, that is, "buy low and sell high," you must be more knowledgeable than the next person and want to pick up the purple cachet for the price of the black one etc. Because, like you already said, the basic SSSR stamps are abundant, much of the gems in space collections come from collateral material, autographed covers, special cachets, varieties. However, separating the common commemorative covers, produced in quantity, meant to be kept, and plentiful in collectors hands to-date, from the unusual items, requires an investment in knowledge first. Different from the stock market, in stamp collecting arbitrage opportunities abound -- but you have to know what you are buying (or what even to look for).

Since I don't even know if you are still around, I do not want to make this any longer by any advice stating the obvious, i.e., that in topical collecting mint is preferred or that condition is paramount etc. Just follow steps (a) and (b) before shelling out any serious money on space stuff.

Arno

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