The End of Stamp Collecting?

In today’s geek confession; I collected stamps as a child. I choose them for the design and colour, rather than any conscious theme. Tonga was a favourite source country as their stamps came in crazy shapes. It gave me a door to other countries, I would go and find the tongastampcountry in the atlas and try to learn about it.

On my first trip to China I met an amazing woman from Norway. She was travelling the world on the money she had made by selling a stamp collection she had inherited. She decided it was a good use of the money to see some of the places the stamps had come from.

My father still collects stamps, his collection is a thoughtful compilation of stamps featuring ships. It’s his thing, and on a recent visit to Dublin we made a special trip to the GPO for him to collect the only souvenir he wanted.

However stamps are in decline, both through the rise of email, and the change in technology. Businesses use franked envelopes, Dutch stamps now come as stickers, not suitable for collections, and the Danish have dropped stamps altogether opting for a code that you can receive via text. So what happens to stamp collectors?

I visited central post offices in London, Dublin and Vienna various trips in the last year or so and all had special collections for sale, often as attractive sheets and first day covers.

Stamps as a practical item are all but obsolete, given our growing use of email. But there is still a market for them as an asset, like a very specific, very tiny, art form. Stamps have become significant as commemorative items; one was issued last year for the 70th wedding anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, there’s likely to be one this year for Prince Harry’s wedding, a new stamp was released in the US this month to commemorate the life of Lena Horne as part of Black History Month. Some commemorations are politically dodgy; since the 1970s Australia has issued Australia Day stamps, with varying degrees of blindness to the colonial history, and this year acknowledged Aussie Greats in entertainment.

The stamps are aimed at collectors rather than letter senders. Stamps value goes up according to their rarity value. But for collectors of commemorative stamps the value will be a combination of the numbers printed, the life of the stamp, and the importance of what they commemorate. I suspect the banana stamps of Tonga’s heyday are a thing of the past. Stamps have outgrown their commodity status and emerged as  (almost) pure assets.  In 2011 a 1948 Indian stamp of Mahatma Gandhi sold for EUR 144,ooo, more than a million times its face value, the highest value for a modern day stamp at the time of auction. Another stamp commemorates a different sort of record; the stamp that’s travelled the furtherest has been to Pluto, there’s no auction value for it. Yet.

Now, where did I put that stamp album?

Images; Stamp Collection  | qimono, via Pixabay  |  CC0 1.o

 Banana Stamps  |  Stuart Rankin  |  CC BY-NC 2.0


Bullwhip Effect

bullwhip effect

It should have taken me 3 hours to get home. It took 5 1/2, and yet nothing major went wrong with my journey, there were no strikes, no severe weather conditions, no accidents. Just a tiny delay leaving Mechelen.

That 7 minute delay meant the train I was on had to give way to Intercity trains that were running on time so we were slow leaving Antwerp, that meant that I missed the opportunity at Rotterdam to cross the platform to the highspeed train to Schiphol, that meant I was late arriving at Schiphol and missed a connection. All for 7 minutes.

This is an example of the bullwhip effect, where a small event at the beginning becomes magnified along a process until the impact is big. In this case 7 minutes became 2 1/2 hours. It gets its name from the increasing amplitude along a bullwhip.

In business it’s usually used to describe an effect in supply chain management.

Demand is unpredictable, so a retailer trying to predict how much stock is needed will include a buffer of safety stock, to avoid running out. Their wholesaler reads the demand to all their retailers and sees a greater potential variation when they predict demand, so in planning their stock also include a buffer. The manufacturer sees the variation in the wholesaler’s orders and builds up their stock, which the component suppliers see and and make their planning for stock including a buffer.

So at each step in the supply chain there is a buffer stock.

If demand drops then that stock becomes excess inventory and suddenly each step in the chain has to solve the issue of excess. The impact of a small change in demand goes up the supply chain with increasing impact, just like the cracking bullwhip.



Images; lost source for first one – sorry

bullwhip graphic is from wikipedia issued under creative comments.