Beauty, Not Bounty in First-Day Covers

Question: You keep telling about how cheap first-day covers are. Why collect them if they have no value? Aren't collectors being taken for a ride when they invest in first-day covers and later find out that their collection isn't worth anything?--E.J.

Answer: Most U.S. first-day covers of the last 30 years are worth only about 25 to 50 cents each at retail prices. It is not my fault that some companies advertise first-day covers for sale at inflated prices, promising all kinds of potential profits for the buyer.

I agree with you that a collector may become disillusioned when selling a collection of first-day covers, only to learn that the investment turns out to be a financial loss. No reputable stamp dealer sells a 25-cent cover for $3, yet you see modern U.S. first-days advertised in non-philatelic publications at prices ranging from $1.50 to $3.50 each.

Beware of glowing promises that hint of profits. A rare and desirable stamp sells itself without big advertisements.

Modern first-day covers are fun to collect because you learn something about stamps when studying them. You don't collect common first-days for investment purposes.

Q: What do you think of the investment potential of the U.S. Zeppelin stamps--say, for the next five or 10 years? I have a mint set of these and want to know if I should sell now.--S.N.

A: No human can foretell the future. The Zeppelin issues of the United States (Scott catalogue Nos. C13-C15 and C18) are now retailing for about $1,500 to $2,500 per set, depending on the centering and gum condition. In the summer of 1972, a dealer wanted to sell me a Zeppelin set for about $600, but I thought it was too much money and didn't buy it.

In early 1980, the Zeppelins were inflated in market value, along with many other stamps, during the price boom at that time. In 1980, some Zeppelin sets changed hands for $8,000 for stamps in pristine mint condition. That same choice set is for sale today at about $3,000.

So, you see, stamps can go down in price as well as up. All "hard assets," like gold, silver, rare stamps and coins, have been performing poorly in price appreciation during the last five years.

Your Zeppelins might bring between $1,000 and $2,000 at auction today. Or you could hold onto them and hope for a profit a few years in the future. How much did you pay for them? And what do you consider to be a reasonable profit? How badly do you need the money now? These factors influence stamp investment decisions.

Q: What do the volume numbers mean in the Scott catalogues?--T.Y.

A: Scott Publishing Co. divides its catalogues by countries. Volume 1 contains U.S. and British Commonwealth. Volume 2 has other nations with starting initials A-F. Volume 3 has countries G-O. And Volume 4 has countries with names starting P-Z.

Q: My one-cent stamp pictures a man named Livingston and the words United States of America and Commemorative Series of 1904. The color is green and the stamp is mint. Please evaluate.--T.L.

A: This is the one-cent value of a group of five stamps issued in 1904 to honor the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis in that year. Robert R. Livingston negotiated the Louisiana Purchase for the United States. Current catalogue value is $27.50 mint.

Q: I am a 14-year-old collector and am wondering if there is a junior stamp club around where I could trade stamps. My grandfather gave me a used 3-cent green stamp from Liberia with a picture of a lady on it. It looks exactly like Scott catalogue's No. A29 except that it isn't black, and it has an orange O.S. handwritten in the upper-left-hand corner. How much is it worth?--M.A.

A: I suggest that you try to get a stamp club started in your school, preferably with the help and sponsorship of one of your teachers. Few junior clubs exist outside of schools.

Your Liberian issue sounds like Scott No. 043, the 1903 stamp printed in green ink with a red or orange-red overprint. Canceled price might be only about 15 cents.

Welcome to the hobby of philately. I hope you become a great collector some day!

Stamp Calendar

April 4-6--Queen Stamp and Coin Exposition at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, 1855 Main St., Santa Monica. Dealers will be present to buy and sell stamps, coins and other collectibles. U.S. Postal Service station and special show cancel. Hours: Friday and Saturday 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sunday noon-5 p.m. Telephone (818) 287-6153. General admission $1.50; free to senior citizens and boys and girls in Scout uniforms.

Barry Krause, a member of several national stamp-collecting organizations, cannot answer mail personally but will respond to philatelic questions of general interest in this column. Do not telephone. Write to Your Stamps, You section, The Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.

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