Philately, no longer just a hobby

On the occasion of Philately Day, we look at how stamps, known for their antique value and history, are being seen as an alternative investment.

October 12, 2015 08:00 am | Updated November 16, 2021 03:54 pm IST - BENGALURU:

M.R. Prabhakar's stamp collection featuring some icons, monuments and heritage of Karnataka, and a collection of stamps featuring stamps. — Photos: K. Murali Kumar

M.R. Prabhakar's stamp collection featuring some icons, monuments and heritage of Karnataka, and a collection of stamps featuring stamps. — Photos: K. Murali Kumar

The charm of letter writing is fading away, but philately, once perceived as a hobby, no longer remains just a collectors’ delight. Stamps known for their antique value and history are now being looked as an alternative investment by a large number of people in the State.

Experts say that with increasing awareness, several non-collectors such as corporate employees and those investing in shares and stocks are increasingly investing their time and effort in philatelic investment. Many of them sell their stamps on online platforms and the some of the rare stamps are sold at exhibitions or online after bids.

Ramu Srinivasa, a third-generation philatelist and an alternative investment adviser, said that alternative investment, which was earlier restricted to arts and numismatics, had gradually diversified into philately as well. He said that many of the investors buy stamps in bulk and were now “creating” and “manufacturing” a demand by hoarding them. “The rarer a stamp is perceived to be, the higher is its market value,” he said. He also said that philately as an investment would grow once the postal era fades away.

Mr. Srinivasa, however, warned that the market could be uncertain and the demand comes from the collectors. “Most of the collectors are middle aged and many of the younger lot are not interested in this. So, if there is no demand, then even though the antique value of a stamp increases, it would be difficult to make money from it,” he said, and added that there was a need for philately investors to approach an expert who has a high degree of specialised knowledge.

Even a Rs. 5 stamp issued as recently as 2009 is now available in the market for five times its price. A Rs. 10 Mahatma Gandhi service stamp, printed in 1948, was sold for 1,44,000 euros in 2011. K. Chaitanya Dev, president, Karnataka Philatelic Society, said increasingly people who do not have any knowledge of philately were beginning to invest in stamps which had led to stamps becoming scarce and their value increasing.

However, many of the old timers feel that with people investing it this, the art has now become a “rich man’s hobby” and buying old stamps has become out of reach for the middle class people interested in philately.

Philately museum

The philately museum located on the first floor of the General Post Office has nearly 1,500 stamps on display. They include the first stamp published in 1840, British India stamps and those released after Independence. Among the interesting stamps of the recent times is the collection of rose-scented stamps. Many of the stamps are donated by philatelists. The most precious frames have been gifted to the Department of Posts by Mahalingeshwar Attani, a retired HAL employee. Not to be missed in the museum are a lantern and a spear that postmen of the yore would be armed with to protect themselves from animals while delivering letters in remote forest areas.

Karnataka Philatelic Society

Karnataka Philatelic Society, started in 1975 with a dozen philatelists in Bengaluru, now has close to 600 members. The members meet every first Sunday, exchange stamps, conduct workshops, hold talks and also mentor amateur philatelist. Membership is free for those below 18 and adults have to pay Rs. 1,000 for a life membership.

Do you have a Philatelic Deposit Account?

To make collecting stamps a hassle-free experience, the Philately Bureau maintains Philatelic Deposit Account (PDA) for those interested in collecting stamps. Every account holder gets the philatelic material as per the order and it is dispatched once a month via registered post. The order can be commemorative stamps, first day cover, information brochure and collectors’ pack. There are currently 9,200 PDAs in Karnataka.

An avid philatelist

One of Bengaluru’s popular gynaecologists, Sita Bhateja has another interesting side to her. An avid philatelist, she has a collection that runs into lakhs and is known to have one of the best collections of the pre-Independence era. Her most valuable stamp is a square-cut stamp used on a letter which has the head of Queen Victoria upside down. The four anna double-coloured stamp was printed in 1854. She started collecting stamps when she was 12, but took a break in between while pursuing her higher studies. Since 1977, she has travelled across the world and held stamp exhibitions. She is so meticulous with her collection that her most valuable stamps are kept in a fireproof locker.

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