by Huang Ming-Hsin (Shanghai, PR China)
Foreign Stamp Collecting in China
The first stamp of the world “Penny Black” was born in 1840 in England. In the past 150 years, more and more stamps have been issued in the world. Now, more than 230 countries and regions in the world issue stamps. Stamp collectors not only collect the stamps from their motherland but also collect foreign stamps. The collection of foreign stamps can broaden the horizon and get more interesting knowledge for stamp collectors.
What about the situation of foreign stamp collecting in PR China? According to the calculation of the China National Philatelic Association, there are 7 million collectors now in China. But most of them collect the Chinese stamps only. Some people think that there are 300,000 to 400,000 people who are interested in the foreign stamps.
Shanghai is the biggest city in China, with more than 600,000 stamp collectors. 10% of them collect foreign stamps. In recent years, nearly 20 Chinese stamp collectors of foreign stamps have participated in the international stamp exhibitions, and some have won medals.
It was said that Chinese philately was first begun in 1900. The first stamp society was set up in Shanghai in 1912. Before 1966, most of the stamp collectors in China who are interested in foreign stamps, also collected Chinese stamps. Before 1949, there were about 50 private stamp shops in Shanghai. All of them sold foreign stamps. During 1949 to 1966 in China, foreign stamps available to collectors were mostly stamps from Socialist countries. The Cultural Revolution began in 1966. Philately was announced as a “bourgeoisie’s hobby” at that time, and all the stamp shops were closed. Thousands of stamp albums were burnt in organized fires.
Philately was restored again in China in 1979. The philatelic magazine “Ji You” was also restored in 1980. From that time, more and more Chinese collectors became interested in foreign stamps. They realized that if a collection consisted of Chinese stamps only, it is difficult to get any of the higher prizes in the international stamp exhibitions.
There are some stamp markets for foreign stamps in China today. The biggest one is located in Shanghai. It is called the Workers’ Club of Jingan District. It opens every Sunday morning. About 200 stamp collectors usually gather here to exchange, buy or sell foreign stamps. Some “professional” amateur dealers sell their stamps according to the Scott, Michel or Yvert catalogue. New issues are most popular with the collectors here, especially topical stamps for painting, composers, butterflies, maps and flags.
The exchange rate for new issue trading is higher than the official exchange rate. The official exchange rate of RMB Yuan and USD is: 1 USD equals 5.2 RMB Yuan. But the popular new issues can be sold as 1 USD equals 7 to 8 RMB Yuan here in the free market. Used foreign stamps are also popular here. Stamp collectors from other parts of China often go here to buy foreign stamps. Some foreign tourists who come to Shanghai also come to buy stamps.
Stamp collecting is an international hobby. Normally, the price of a stamp is just the same in every part of the world. But in China, the living standard is lower than the western world. The average salary of a Chinese citizen is 30-40 USD per month. Most collectors only have a little money to buy stamps. They cannot buy the foreign stamps even on the basis of the official exchange rate of foreign currency. The market price of some foreign stamps in China are cheaper than the international price.
The secret is most of the foreign stamps in Chinese markets are from the individual stamp collectors. They get these stamps from their foreign pen pals, so they can sell them at a low price. On the other hand, the market prices of Chinese stamps in China are more expensive than the world prices, because more and more new collectors save only Chinese stamps. In recent years, Chinese people who have the chance to go abroad will often go to the stamp shops to buy the Chinese stamps. When they get back to China, they can sell these stamps at a good profit. In the early 1960’s, many Chinese stamps were exported to USSR and other Eastern European countries. The prices of these stamps are too cheap in these countries. In recent years, many Chinese stamps returned to China and also some Eastern European stamps went home to their motherlands.
This article has been reprinted from Global Stamp News April 1991 – Issue #6