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.

15 April 2010

Myron's Adventures at Cambodian Post Offices

In my 19th June 2009 entry "Mail at Your Risk", I have highlighted the things which can possibly happen when using the Cambodian postal service.

Now we have another testimonial. This is what fellow blogger Myron wrote about his experiences at different post offices in Cambodia:

"...the Khmer Post, in stark contrast to the Khmer temples, is an extremely disheartening experience, one much worse than the Philippine Post, I must say. First off, when you reach the post office at Siem Reap you will see neatly laid in front of you the most beautiful array of Cambodian stamps you could ever imagine to ever see. All the Cambodian stamps with Khmer themes and depictions of the various temples and Khmer culture are laid out for you to pick. from The catch is, prices are not face value, which I thought was pretty strange since it was inside the post office itself (In some countries they charge more than face value, but the selling price is either printed or officially set, but that was not the case here). The "post office" was actually more like a stamp dealership. There were beautiful stamps, yes, but they came with extravagant prices. Some recent issues from 2008 could rack up as much s USD23 for an 8v set whose face value was little more than USD4!

"When I asked the lady (if you can call her a "lady" after the way she behaved) postal clerk about buying some stamps at face value so that I could stick them onto covers for my fellow collectors, she kept pointing at the stamps laid out on the counter. I kept asking her for "face value" stamps and I'm pretty sure she knew what I meant since I do not think I am the first person to ask her for such absurd a thing at her post office. After I kept insisting, she finally showed me some stamps, some ugly definitives that she kept hidden behind the counter. I asked her for other stamps, knowing that there had to be some better ones. It was like I was pulling a house out of an elephant's behind! Finally, she produced some better stamps, but they were not in full sets, which I think was her way of discouraging me from paying at face value. But I bought them anyway, and I had to give in to some of their "discounted" stamps (meaning they were not full sets) that they offered at 4 for USD1, which was double their face value.

"And it doesn't end there. When you try to send your letters and your postcards, there is no actual postal rate. It just depends on the whim of the postal clerk and whether or not she feels you have put enough postage. I am sure that there is an "official" rate lying somewhere, but when you ask the clerks what it is, they ask you to show them your stamps and then study them, deciding whether they are enough or not. And no, I'm pretty sure they were were not calculating the total in their heads. On one occasion I sent out a postcard for 2400 Riel while on another occasion I sent one out for 4000 Riel, and this was at the same post office! It's worse when you try to register because they get all frantic and panicky, asking around about what they should do.

"The post office in Phnom Penh was quite similar in terms of chaos, but the clerks were a little more friendly and accommodating. The post office at the Phnom Penh airport was , by far, the most terrible! First off, I was standing in front of the counter for a good ten minutes before the postal clerk literally emerged from the back of the counter - apparently she was taking her nap, and this was at 14h00, clearly not lunch hour (in the Philippines, most post offices close for lunch)! And when she finally decided to get to work, she took my letter, "weighed" it on the scale, and then declared: "four dollar" and then I haggled with her, knowing very well that USD4 or 16000 Riel was way too much. And it wasn't the weight because all that was inside was a blank sheet of paper. She then "converted" it to Riel and I guess she thought I didn't know the exchange rate so she said USD4 was 10000 Riel. I kept saying that it costs only 4200 Riel (because according to the central post office in Phnom Penh, that is the official rate), and she got all upset, insisting that I pay 10000 Riel! I got really so pissed with her ruse to drain money off foreign customers that I just up and left, making sure that she would be as annoyed, irked, and irritated as I was. At the end of it all, I do not know if these postal clerks have some kind of quota that they have to meet in order to pass some kind of absurd performance measure, but if they do, that just goes to show how sad the postal system in Cambodia is."

Salamat Myron for his permission of reposting the relevant paragraphs here. Please click here to read his full blog entry with illustrations of his pretty Cambodian postal covers.

Click here for the 19th Jun 2009 "Mail at Your Risk" entry.

Click here for the 18th Jan 2010 "Stamps Not at Face Value" entry for Rev. Charlie Dittmeier's experience at the post office.

3 April 2010

Cambodia at China'99 First Day Postmarks

If you think the 2003 "45th Anniversary of Sino-Cambodian Diplomatic Ties" issue having 2 different commemorative first day postmarks is a record (see hyperlink at the end), you have to see the 1999 China'99 Stamp Expo issue.

A sheetlet containing 8 stamps plus a label was issued in 1999 to celebrate the China'99 Stamp Expo. The official side product is a set of 2 FDC with a printed pagoda cachet which echoes the pictorial theme of the stamps - pagodas of Beijing.

The standard first day postmark depicts the Beijing Tienning Temple pagoda, and the stylized pagoda image is identical to that of the FDC cachet.

Most collectors think that is all. Much to everyone's surprise, 8 more different first day postmarks depicting the 8 pagodas shown on the stamp set were silently available at the expo venue:

200r - Dipankara Buddha Pagoda of Tongzhou County

500r - Tianning Temple Pagoda

900r - Veluriyam Pagoda of Summer Palace

900r - Biyun Temple Pagoda

1000r - Veluriyam Pagoda of Fragrant Hills

1000r - White Pagoda of North Sea Imperial Garden

1500r - Yunju Temple Pagoda

4000r - White Pagoda of Miaoying Temple

This makes Tianning Temple Pagoda have 2 different postmarks featuring it.

The stamps and postmarks are the work of COPREFIL of Cuba. The company also prepared a set of 8 postcards for this issue but not officially available in Cambodia.

Below shows China'99 stamps used on cover to Canada:

Please click here to read "45th Anniv of Sino-Cambodian Diplomatic Ties (II)".

(Special acknowledgement goes to Mr Wu Gang)