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Stamp market commentary


Commentary No. 46 - 17 April, 2003

First Day Covers

One of the most popular areas of stamp collecting in Canada and abroad, is first day covers. To our minds, collecting these covers has everything going for it. Usually, the stamp in question has been well selected by the postal authority or commercial issuer and is neatly canceled. The image on the cover tells the collector about the stamp in an attractive way. The cover is a form of postal history, an area of collecting that is increasingly popular these days.

Why is it, therefore, that there is so little demand for first day covers in the stamp market? We regularly get asked this by collectors. We shrug our shoulders and try to think of something encouraging to say. But a review of the results of auctions shows that few people are willing to buy collections of these covers for more than a nominal amount. Modern stamps bought in bulk and stored away for future appreciation can at least be used for postage if no appreciation occurs. This is not the same case with these covers because the stamps have been cancelled.

We were somewhat startled over a year ago when a 50 Bluenose first day cover, having a Unitrade value of $1000, sold for $3650. That made us sit up in our seats and take notice. Here are two of the first day covers that sold for amazing prices at the Vance Auction sale of November 28, 2001:



Lot 3532
Scott 158
Unitrade $1000
Realized $3,650


Lot 3545
Scott 190
Unitrade $450
Realized $925

The results of the above sale made us look again at an area of collecting we had assumed had little future. It was also part of an emerging picture which has seen the prices for the "Scroll set" (Scott nos. 149-159) slowly rising in the past year, led especially by the 20, 50 and $1 stamps.

Here is a brief survey of the early first day covers whose prices are on the rise:

  Unitrade Values
Scroll Scott 1998 2000 2002 2003
149 65 75 75 100
20¢ 157 80 125 125 175
50¢ 158 500 1000 1000 3000
$1 159 750 1000 1000 1500
Others
 
3¢ Prov. 184 350 450 450 600
10¢ Cartier 190 350 450 450 600

However, after we get past the above stamps, issued from 1928 to 1931, there are few increases to be seen, even with the "back of the book" stamps issued in the same period.

Thus it seems that with the exception of the above stamps, which have done exceptionally well, this remains an area of collecting still waiting for its day in the sun.

Why are the first day covers of today so different from those issued in the 1928 to 1930 period? It is simply a question of numbers. According to an official of Canada Post, we were advised that they issue about 40,000 first day covers for each new stamp. It was another thing for the earlier covers. According to the comments in the Vance auction catalogue for the November 28, 2001 sale, there were less than five first day covers of the 50 Bluenose, the $1 Parliament and the 10 Cartier believed to exist. If these numbers are accurate, they would certainly explain the rarity of these covers and their unusually high values.


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©2003, Canadian Stamp Auctions Ltd., Montréal, Québec, Canada