Try Investing, but It's Not Guaranteed

Question: With the stock market's drop in 1987, is it possible that we will see a swing back to hard assets as investments? What about stamps, coins, art and other rare collectibles? Are they a good buy at present? What do you recommend for a stamp-investment portfolio?--L.R.

Answer: Our national economy has gone through a lot of changes in the past 25 years. Let's look at the stamp market in that time span:

In 1962, President Kennedy was pushing his New Frontier, the space race was on, the country was more or less stable and confident. Stamp prices were slowly increasing by modest percentages (2% to 6%) each year. This trend continued through the early 1970s.

When gold ownership was made legal and the cost of gasoline went up in the mid-1970s, many investors looked to hard assets for possible profits. Inflation and the prices of many collectibles skyrocketed in the late 1970s. Stamps were at their peak around 1980-1981; then the philatelic market crashed. In 1987, many rare issues were selling 30% to 50% below their peak prices of 1980.

Dealers and collectors tell me that they have seen a gradual upward trend in market values for rare stamps during the last 12 months or so. I can't predict the future, but rare stamps properly selected and fairly priced seem to be a reasonable investment for the long term.

If you plan to be around in the year 2000 or if you have heirs, you might consider putting a portion of your investment funds into stamps. But I don't guarantee anything.

Q: Please explain again the difference between mint and unused. Which is worth more? And how can you be sure it is original gum?--P.N.

A: Mint means post office fresh gum, as nice as the day it was issued except for normal aging over the years. A mint stamp has no evidence of hinging or fingerprints on the gum. The gum must be original and undisturbed by scuff-marks or moisture smearing.

Most philatelists say unused means that the gum has been disturbed in some way. The stamp never was canceled or never saw postal duty, but the gum has been slightly altered by hinging or handling. If a stamp has no gum at all it is still considered unused unless there is some evidence of a cancel present.

The reason why all this is important is because discriminating collectors prefer original gum (O.G. in philatelic shorthand) and will pay for it. For example, a 19th-Century U.S. stamp with original gum may sell for $100, while an unused version may bring $50 or less. Gum is often faked and repaired on expensive stamps.

Q: Can you tell me the value of a 1909 $2 1/2 gold coin and also the value of an 1878 silver dollar?--R.C.S.

A: Your $2 1/2 gold quarter eagle is a common date worth $200 and up. The dollar is $10 and up; both depending upon condition.

Stamp News

Superior Stamp & Coin Co. has released its latest edition of "Moneytalks," a profusely illustrated price list of stamps and coins for sale. Issued periodically throughout the year, this list has 128 pages of something for every collecting budget. Price: $1.50 by mail from Superior Stamp & Coin Co., 9478 W. Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills, Calif. 90212. Telephone (213) 203-9855.

Colonial Stamp Co. is conducting a public auction of rare British Empire stamps next Thursday at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel at 7 p.m. More than 1,000 lots of British Colonial stamps will be sold to the highest bidders. A fully illustrated auction catalogue will be mailed upon receipt of $3. The address is Colonial Stamp Co., 5410 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles 90036. Telephone (213) 933-9435.

First Day of Issue

Feb. 2--Twenty-two-cent James Weldon Johnson commemorative will have its first-day sale at Nashville, Tenn. 37202. Johnson was a noted author and lyricist.

Feb. 5--Twenty-two-cent block of four cat commemoratives will have a first-day sale at New York, N.Y. 10001.

Feb. 6--Twenty-two-cent Massachusetts Statehood Bicentennial stamp will have its first-day sale at Boston, Mass. 02205.

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