Funky Foreign Stamps

Seems once a week, some tiny country such as Trinidad, Chad, Tazinia, whatever is releasing a stamp based on American pop culture. Micky Mouse, Snow White, Betty Boop, John Lennon, Marilyn Monroe… etc have all been made immortal thanks to gigantic (4x larger than a standard US stamp) stamps and are being brought to you by the International Stamp Society for $11.95 or something like that. The question being, do these little countries actually care about Marilyn Monroe or are these stamps just made to be sold to the US? Are they actually valid postage accepted by the global Postal circut? Have any of these ever gone up in value past perhaps a dollar? In other words, what’s the straight dope on these ads appearing weekly in my newspaper?

“I guess it is possible for one person to make a difference, although most of the time they probably shouldn’t.”

What I understand of it all is that it’s actually a fairly good source of income for these little countries, mainly because of the diehard philatelists in the U.S. and Canada. The stamps are valid postage and could be used if bought in the country of origin. What makes them more valuable (as is the case for all stamps) is that they’re sold in block form (i.e. attached together as a set) and they’re uncancelled - not stamped by a postage meter or a postal employee. The value does stand a chance of going up, but that doesn’t do much for several years. For instance, in a collection I inherited from a great-uncle, there’s a stamp from Luxembourg that was worth $75 in 1984, but it was 60 or 70 years old by the time I got around to identifying it and cataloging it (1991).
That ought to give you some idea of what’s behind it all.

Cave Diem! Carpe Canem!

Your newspaper huh, hiel? Well I don’t know the answer, but I wanted to respond to Olen. Luxembourg is a real place in Europe. Not that these obscure places (that are mentioned in this type of ad) aren’t real, but what could possibly be the value of their stamps?

You forget that you’re dealing with collectors, which means the value is whatever they are willing to pay.

A Princess Diana Beanie Baby was selling for $65 last summer (the price has dropped since). Why was the doll worth anything more than the $5.99 suggested list price? Because people were willing to pay a lot of money to have it in their collection.

It’s the same thing with stamps (or baseball cards, or comic books, or any collectible). The price is not due to any intrinsic value, but due to scarcity and demand. The most valuable stamps have only one or two in existance (scarcity) and any serious collector would drool over the idea of getting his hands on one (demand). If, however, everyone suddenly says, “Wait a minute. It’s only a piece of paper,” demand will drop.

It also has to do with the age of the stamp, the subject matter, and perhaps the artwork on it. God knows what determines the market value on it - probably a combination of the face value of the stamp, the cost to manufacture it, rarity, and inflation. Never really stopped to think about it, actually.

Cave Diem! Carpe Canem!

Olentzero–you just described perfectly what determines the market value (age, rarity, quality, subj. matter, etc.). Now, as to what determines the RETAIL value, that’s usually cost to manufacture + cost to distribute + cost to market + administrative costs + profit margin.

This is how I believe the deals you see advertised in the Sunday paper work:

Fly-by-nite Inc. approaches the Duchy of Grand Fenwick and makes a deal where they will pay that country’s postal service the cover price for all the stamps they (Fly-by-nite Inc.) print. They then design stamps around whatever is currently in fad (Di, Elvis, smurfs, whatever) and sell them through the mail to idiotic Americans who are paying around $10 for $1 worth of postage. Grand Fenwick clears $1 on each transaction because the stamps will never be redemed (even if they were, they would still be ahead because they didn’t have to pay to have them printed). Fly-by-nite Inc. pockets $9 less the cost of printing. Good deal for everybody except the losers who bought the stamps that will NEVER be worth anything but $1 worth of postage in a country they will never visit!

Papa, I think you might be on to something. I understand that stamps become collectable - my mother has volumes of them she collected as a youth, but something seems odd about these. One of the main things being that this company isn’t offering stamps of anything but American fads printed by little known countries. I’m sorry, but I find it very hard to believe that there is enough national interest in Chad to warrant printing entire sets of Snow White stamps. I also find it odd that they are able to find a new set of highly collectable - yet easily recognizable by the US - stamps every two weeks from some minor country that has suddenly taken a keen interest in Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, or Betty Boop.

“I guess it is possible for one person to make a difference, although most of the time they probably shouldn’t.”

Tiny countries aren’t the only ones guilty of this fad. Both the US and the UK routinely print “popular” stamps, fully realizing that they will never be redeemed. Don’t you remember the Bugs Bunny stamp a few years ago? A large number of them were bought and saved by BB fans (like me).

True philatelists sneer at these stamps, and consider them a bastardization of their hobby. They point out that the sheer volume of the stamps produced make it very unlikely they will appreciate in value. Of course, they are discounting their value as a cross-collectible (movie memoribilia).

But who really knows what will be worth something in the future? MGM and Warner Brothers threw away 1000s of animation cells in the 40’s and 50’s. Now they’re worth several thousand dollars each. Maybe TV Guides will be valuable in the 21st Century.