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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Love for Money May Bring Back Philately, the Ageing King of Hobbies

The advent of the electronic age rendered obsolete many objects and habits from even a generation ago. Even as some of these things refuse to die, they are slowly growing older. Philately, the collection of postal stamps, is often referred to as the ‘king of hobbies’. And it is indeed an ageing king.
Not many youngsters, who grew up in post-liberalisation India, are taking to stamp collection as a hobby. This has meant the average age of the postal stamp collector is rising each year. The loss of the habit of handwritten letters to friends has meant the postal stamp is no longer postmarked in the memory of society as the symbol of warmth, connect, news and human companionship.
“The hobby is on the decline,” agrees 81-year-old G Balakrishna Das, the president of the South India Philatelists’ Association (SIPA), with calm acceptance. “There is a lack of institutions dealing with or promoting philately. Most of our members are elderly, but there are a handful of young members. There are many other options for today’s school children. The problem is, no one is telling them about the collection of postage stamps,” he adds.
Das says philately is not only about snooping around for old envelopes in search of stamps. He says stamps can give a collector an invaluable peek into the treasure trove of history. “It is not just about postal systems. Stamps have been used to commemorate one thing or another for generations. You could learn about history, geography, animals, politics, science, social service and just about any other aspect of life on this planet. It is all there on stamps,” he says.
But, there is a ray of hope to keep this ‘king of hobbies’ alive by taking to stamp collection as investment.
Granted, it is not easy to link interests and hobbies with sordid things such as economics. But there is a slowly growing group of collectors, mostly over the age of 40, who are looking at postage stamp collection as a safe investment. “There is no possibility that their value will diminish. We can confidently talk about a bare minimum of 24 per cent increase in value in a short span. The flip side is, however, that someone who collects as an act of investment will never learn to enjoy philately,” says Das.
The investment option emerges as Das explains that one postage stamp purchased for about `5 in 1948, which is unused and in good condition could fetch up to `1 lakh.
Though such new fangled ideas and methods could well serve to resurrect the sagging fortunes of the ‘king of hobbies’, there is a very real danger that the ‘investor’ would not know how to preserve a stamp, and end up losing everything to a postal stamp’s worst enemy – fungus.
It is for this reason that old-timers like Das and the other philatelic folks at SIPA meet every Saturday at the Philatelic Bureau in the Anna Road Post Office to offer free advice and guidance to those who want to post either their interest or money in postage stamps. The hope is for philately to slowly gain the ground it has lost to gadgets as a worthy time pass, in which case it would turn out the king had taken off his crown only to have it polished.

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