30 April 2010

Exaggerated Claims of Rarity & Scarcity

How much would you pay for this cover?

What would you take for reference? Most collectors rely on stamp catalogues.

The stars on this cover are stamps from two relatively high catalogue value sets - the 1986 "Aeroplane over Angkor" 4v airmail set (Sc C59-62), and the 1988 "Angkor Wat Apsaras" 4v set (Sc985-988).

If you are going to pay a hundred USD just because the catalogues or some dealers tell you to, I assure you that catalogue editors, and 95% dealers as well, actually know nothing more than you do on Cambodian stamps, they make up stories and speak like experts for the sake of their pocket. As these people are not to count on, it would be beneficial for you to learn telling facts from fiction.

Fiction #1: the stamps have high denominations for expensive postage, so should be expensive.

Fact: high denomination is just to cope up with inflation which kicked off in April 1986, it does not mean they are very expensive.

Bolivia experienced hyperinflation in mid 1980s, Russian ruble also suffered considerable devaluation in 1990s. You don't stupidly stuck at the old exchange rates to buy their inflation period stamps, so no exception for Cambodia too.

In September 1987, the Cambodian riel was up to from 30r to 100r per USD. In October 1988, it rose to 142.7r per dollar. It was only a start, the value of riels kept going down since then: by the end of 1989 it was 218r per dollar, in May 1990 360r per dollar, in mid September the same year 510r and in Christmas it was 606r. Two years later it landed at 3000r per dollar.

An airmail letter to western Europe cost around 40r, registration was around 100r. Interesting enough, postage stamp denominations did not catch up with it: an average 7v set in 1986 and for the next 2 years remained to be 9r. Certainly these low denomination stamps were not adequate for international postage at the time they were issued, eventually it led to the introduction of 1986 "Plane over Angkor" supplementary airmail set and 1988 "Angkor Wat Apsaras" set for franking on almost all outgoing international mail.

When the stamps appear on almost all outgoing mail, can they be "rare" and "scarce"? Even birdbrains can tell.

Catalogue editors as well as stamp dealers, with no information on the economy of Cambodia, thought that high denomination justifies high catalogue value. It is just "they think they know".

Fiction #2: outgoing mail was rare and scarce, and so are the stamps.

Fact: Cambodian mail is rare and scarce only in your dream, silly boy.

UPU does not have statistics on 1980s mail traffic of Cambodia, so all kinds of rumours appear. Yet according to veteran postal staffs, in late 1980s the CPO handled thousands of outgoing items daily. Let's count the minimal, 1000, so in a year there were at least 365,000.

The "Plane over Angkor" and "Angkor Wat Apsaras" sets were still extensively used in early 1990s. One can then reckon there were in fact some hundred thousand items, yes, hundred thousand, bearing the stamps, definitely the stamps and covers with these stamps are too far from being "rare" or "scarce".

Another thing is, the catalogue values of mint and used Apsaras are the same, this does not reflect their true value. The set is not often seen in mint, it was mostly consumed on mail and no philatelic agency sold it to collectors, in such a way used copies should not deserve the same catalogue value as mint.

If you really look for rare and scarce usage, here is my advice: hunt for 1998 to 2001 pictorial stamps used within that particular 4 years, and if you think I am joking, take the challenge. Ilyushins and apsaras are for dupes.

Next blog entry will reveal another stamp set which bunnies love to chase after. Stay tuned.


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