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Island Issues Often Very Popular

January 18, 1990|BARRY KRAUSE | Krause is a free-lance writer and a member of several national stamp-collecting organizations

Question: While going through the Scott's Catalogues, I was surprised to find out that a place such as the British Antarctic Territory, which I believe has a population of about 100, issues stamps. Are stamps from this colony very rare? If so, do they have good potential for price appreciation in the future? Or do people stay away from its issues due to their extreme obscurity? Would you also give the same answers to those questions for the stamps of British Indian Ocean Territory and the Falkland Islands?--R.K.

Answer: Island stamps are in general of better-than-average popularity among philatelists, for several reasons: the romance of their remote geographic location, the limited numbers of each issue produced and a fair track record of investment-price appreciation over the years.

Of course, some island states have taken unfair advantage of gullible collectors by flooding the market with "wallpaper," a philatelic term meaning unnecessary and overpriced stamps created specifically to fleece unwary collectors out of their hard-earned money.

The islands that you mention are popular stamp-issuing agencies, and their pre-1980 issues have seen substantial price increases, which have slowed down lately. I can't predict the future, but for the very long term (say, about 10 or 15 years) I would say it would be OK to acquire carefully selected stamps of these nations and hope for some profit. Population size by itself doesn't affect a stamp-issuing nation's credibility. Pitcairn Islands (population 57) stamps are widely collected by philatelists.

Q: Do old stamp albums have any value? I have an International Postage Stamp Album, Scott Stamp & Coin Co., New York, 1894 edition, in quite good condition with an attractive cover.--K.B.

A: Yes, they have value, but usually not as much as you might imagine because many old albums still exist, and the demand for most of them is only moderate compared to the limitless demand for rare old stamps of the same period. A collector would pay you more than a dealer would, but if there are no stamps in your 1894 Scott album, it might be worth $10 to $50 to somebody.

The first stamp albums were produced over a century ago, and they are much more valuable. A stamp album from the 1860s in pristine condition might auction for hundreds of dollars in 1990 money.

Q: With all the recent turmoil in Communist China, are their stamps illegal or hard to obtain?--T.E.

A: No. Stamps from the People's Republic of China are freely imported and bought and sold in the United States. Many local dealers will be happy to show you a selection.

Q: I cannot decide what stamp album to buy. Should I get a small one since I am a beginner, or a larger one that my collection can "grow into"?--L.F.

A: Gone are the $5 albums that allowed collectors in the 1950s and 1960s ample space for thousands of stamps. A decently sized album for U.S. or foreign stamps will cost you at least $15 or $20 new, more if you want extra pages or "hingeless" features. Scott's recently released Platinum series of U.S. albums costs hundreds of dollars for the whole set with binders; it represents a luxurious way to collect U.S. mint issues with pre-printed album pages (as opposed to self-designed pages).

Old-fashioned stamp shops often have used albums for sale, with or without some stamps already hinged inside. These second-hand albums are a great buy for beginning collectors, as their price can be a fraction of what they would cost new. Visit your local stamp dealer and ask to see some albums in your price range. And don't feel obligated to buy immediately; any legitimate dealer wants you as a long-term customer and will have no objection to letting you go home and decide later which album, if any, you will purchase in that store.

Q: What is the most valuable Swedish air mail stamp? I have a 20-ore surcharged in blue on the 2-ore orange issue.--R.B.

A: Chances are you own Scott C2, the wavy-line-watermarked air mail, instead of the valuable watermarked Crown variety listed at $1,500 mint, $1,600 used (Scott C4). Check the watermarks or have a dealer look at it; if it is C2 it is worth a few dollars.

Q: I have numerous letters that were written during the Civil War period (1863-1865) with these postmarks: Sullivan, Mattoon, Cairo, and Chicago, Ill.; Memphis, Tenn.; and Elmira, N.Y. Each has postage of 3-cents--some printed on the envelopes, the others with a regular stick-on stamp. Do these envelopes, with postmarks and stamps, have value?--A.M.

A: Probably not much more than 50 cents or $1 each. An unbelievable flood of mail travelled around this country (or at least the part east of the Mississippi River) during the American Civil War. From the outbreak of hostilities in 1861 through the assassination of President Lincoln and the Peace Treaties in the spring of 1865, literally millions of envelopes passed through the mail system, much of it war-related, some of it normal family and business correspondence.

It is often hard for a non-philatelist to understand why a Civil War letter isn't valuable. The reason is that virtually every family had someone or knew someone who was a soldier, and soldiers in all ages have looked forward to sending and receiving mail from home. Sometimes huge quantities of Civil War mail turn up in old family correspondences.

On the other hand, there is always the chance that you have a rare item. Union prisons for Confederate soldiers captured in battle were maintained at Chicago and Cairo, Ill., as well as at Elmira, N.Y. Should your envelopes (covers) have appropriate prisoner-of-war markings, such items could be worth $50 and up. "Per flag of truce" Civil War exchange covers and naval-blockade mail are highly desirable philatelic items, some selling for hundreds of dollars each!

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