Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Are No. 1 Stamps Affordable? An Examination

Aden, 1937 (Scott #1)
First stamp for Aden
There are specialized collectors who try to collect all of the first issued stamps for every country in the world. These collectors are sometimes called "No. 1 Collectors" because most stamp catalogs number the first issued stamp of a country as number 1. Thus collecting the first stamps issued would make you a No. 1 collector.

In some of my research for stamp issuing countries, I've noticed that most no. 1 stamps are inexpensive. Thus it is possible for the average collector to branch out and collect many number 1 stamps of the world on a modest budget. Some countries will clearly be out of the range of affordability, but a surprising number are within reach. Some no. 1 stamps are so prevalent they are priced as a common stamp.

I thought it would be interesting to look at the number 1 stamps, according to the Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalog (2006 version). I will use the first ten stamp issuing countries that I have researched. Note that only 9 stamp issuers have been published as I write this; number 10, Alexandretta, will be published next week, but the research has been completed.

The table below shows each stamp issuer, the Scott Number of the first stamp issued, the year of issue, and the mint and used Scott 2006 catalog prices for that first stamp.

First Stamp
Year of Issue
Abu Dhabi
Aden, Kathiri State of Seiyun
Aden, Quaiti State of Shihr and Mukalla
Afars and Issas
Aquera, La

There are several things to notice about this list. First, all prices are in US dollars, the currency indicated by the Scott catalog.

Afars and Issas, 1967 (Scott #310)
First stamp for Afars and Issas,
but not a No. 1
Second, two countries do not start with a stamp listed as number 1. The French Territory of Afars and Issas was created in 1967; prior to that it was known as French Somaliland and stamps were issued under that name, so the first Afars and Issas stamp is number 310. Also, Afghanistan does not have a no. 1 stamp indicated by Scott. This is usually because an earlier stamp was identified as no. 1, but was later found to have not been a true postal issue with widespread dissemination.

As you can see, the first stamp for 8 out of the 10 countries can be had in mint condition for $4.50 or less. Only two countries in the list, Afghanistan and Albania, have expensive mint no. 1 stamps.

If you consider used stamps, then the situation gets even better, as Afghanistan's first recognized stamp catalogs in used condition for $25.00. Nine out of the 10 countries listed are in the very affordable range.

Only the stamps of Albania are prohibitively expensive. It is important to note that it is not solely age that dictates the catalog price, since Aitutaki's first stamp is 10 years older and over 100 times cheaper! Clearly supply and demand is what is driving the catalog prices for the no. 1 stamps.

Why would the first stamps of a country be so inexpensive, as 80% of the ones in this list are? I can think of two reasons. The first is that the stamps would typically have a low denomination, since stamp catalogs tend to order a multiple stamp issue by denomination, whether the lower denomination stamp was actually printed first or not.

The second reason might be that the postal authority prints the first set of stamps for a country in high numbers. Most of the countries on this list had a political event (independence, for example) that led to the issuing of new stamps. It is possible that the first design was used to print a large quantity of stamps, either on the first printing, or by virtue of reprinting the same design for an extended period of time. Plus, coupled with the fact that collectors might buy an inordinate amount of a new issue (especially after the 1950s or so) that the postal service issues a higher quantity than what might be needed. In any case, these actions would serve to "flood" the market with stamps, dampening demand.

What is clear is that it is possible for a collector to start a collection of no. 1 stamps of the world and achieve a high degree of completion. I doubt that these statistics will hold up (80% affordability for mint, 90% for used) as more countries are examined, but it does seem at least possible to create a nice collection of no. 1 stamp issues.


Svend said...

Hello Tony
I am fascinated by the "No 1 approach", but allow me to question the concept just a little. You will need to find out which stamp is number one. Sometimes it is obvious, sometimes not. What you risk adopting is a sometimes right sometimes wrong policy of a specific catalog editor. Take Swedish well-known Facit. They list the stamp issued in Denmark as number two as number one, BECAUSE its face value, 2 RBS, is less than the true number 1's, 4 RBS. The two stamps are not part of a series and besides the number 2 was only for local use. If you take the Danish catalog AFA they of course know which one to list first, the 4 RBS. Scott follows Facit and so does SG, but SG mentions the dates of issue. In other words, as a collector of No 1 you need to have a policy on what stamp is the No. 1.

Suggestion! If I was to collect the No 1 I would follow a postal history approach without getting bugged down into postal history as I assume this would not be the intention of a collector of No 1. I would collect the first step taken by a "geographical unit" (makes it possible to include dead countries) with regard to issuance of postage stamps. If a series I would collect the whole series. If a stamp for local use I would collect the local stamp, but also the later stamp issued for country wide use. Such an approach would definitely make the collecting of No 1 more difficult, but also much more fun. Call it the second more advanced step if you like. However there is a problem to be solved with regards to how to define No 1.

Tony Servies said...

Hello Svend,

Thanks for your interesting thoughts!

I agree, determination of which stamp is No. 1 depends on a variety of issues .... which catalog, whether local issue/national issue, by date or by lowest value if a series (which Scott tends to use).

Your idea for expanding to the first series is a great idea. For some countries, one would have to be independently wealthy to collect more than one stamp, but as the chart shows, there are many countries where that can be done with a more modest budget.

I'm keenly interested in how my unscientific stamp percentages of affordability hold up as I gather more data.

Thanks for the comments, Svend.