03 honegger philatelie Wissenswertes

Thoughts about the market situation

After a year like 2019 there is a lot of joy in summarizing the business accounts of the year! Even considering that we were really optimistic ourselves, as I wrote in last year's article, and therefore kind of expecting these results, our expectations were surpassed! To put it another way, speaking of a very good year would simply be an understatement! There may be a connection to the fact that we are specialising in the oldest, "classic" Swiss stamps from 1843 through 1870 exclusively, as well as pre-philatelic Swiss covers - the covers that were sent when postage stamps were not yet available. These mostly imperforate issues (including the first perforate issue as well) are ideal as an investment object within the whole range of the Swiss stamps. Even after 50 years of being professionally active as a stamp dealer I cannot recall receiving so many orders for the most expensive classic Swiss stamps within a single year! And to make things even more unbelievable: about 80% of these pieces were sold to new customers! How could that happen? After all, more and more traditional stamp dealers in city centers have to close their shops as business does not allow for a substantial income anymore. That may be true for some people who put their energy into dissecting large inventory stocks instead of properly trading, i.e. keep buying as well. Those inventories however mostly consist of the perforate 20th century issues which became hard to sell during the recent years. Classic stamps are almost completely missing there. Of course there are exceptions in the shape of of a few dealers, who actively keep growing their sales. This is due to the fact that they also acquire things instead of just focussing on reducing decades worth of inventory.

The latter might just be the factor of success in our business range. Only those who buy and sell are dealers in my eyes. That has always been my motto. I do not want to restrict myself to liquidating someone else's property - I could have become an auctioneer in that case. That is not meant to sound negative. These two professions are simply completely different (however demanding both the same degree of seriousness). A dealer needs to earn money so they are able to buy and care for the market. But we cannot simply buy "everything". If we decide to buy something there should be a fair price, or not. This is why we insist on mentioning that those customers who sold their collection to us left our premises in satisfaction. We still buy a whole lot of items from auctions as well. Worldwide, that is. Without agreeing on fair or even high prices, these purchases could not take place. That seems to have gotten around. During the last years we continuously received offers to buy complete collections, including bigger and very big ones. Just like this year as well. We are a mail order business and attend only a few exhibitions throughout the year personally. Because of that it would be impossible to take these collections apart and sell them piece by piece. Much more than that we would like to offer eligible collections and those that are emotionally hard to dissect in their entirety. Of course that is not practicable for all of our customers, many of which already have a substantial collection of their own. It does however cater to those new customers who just found their love for the classic Swiss stamps and play with the thought of acquiring an entire collection. We should not ignore the fact that the purchase often includes a collector's lifetime of work, 50 years worth of collecting or more, at the price of only the stamp value (or even below that). This work of looking for and acquiring these pieces is included for free! My son will be glad to inform you, which objects are available at the moment in these terms. It is well possible that business success in philately (even handling classic stamps) is not just about a high-valued inventory. The seriosity of the offer and its description, (own, not copied) knowledge and honesty might just play a basic role as well. In earlier times - but also today - there were "newcomers" who thought that after investing a few years and some money they could succeed effortlessly! Short-term success might be achieved that way, but on the long run the bread will turn stale, i.e. business might stagnate. Such a short-term success probably comes from the fact that many pieces come with certificates from younger examiners who - let's put it in a diplomatic way - issue certificates a little more "generously". That is why I highly value such old certificates from actually experienced examiners. (That is not true for everyone; there are many experienced examiners even today, but sadly just a few!) Because of that it would be rather important for us philatelists to look for capable people who could actually become an examiner in the future. A "good examiner" is not somebody who allegedly does not make any mistakes. Examiners can make a mistake in my eyes from time to time. But not too many. That is not the crucial part. Crucial however is how they look back on these things and deal with them in a fair manner. We are all human and therefore make mistakes. Do not assume I am excluding myself here! A little more humility would benefit not only the examiners, but every one of us! I am talking about our comprehension of our own ways of making errors. Therefore I keep pleading for some leniency if a mistake happens from time to time. It just should not become common business practice to make profits off these errors or even produce them at will. Once again I am not only referring to examiners, but also to us dealers, and I assume that those large-scale buyers among collectors and auctioneers will agree with me.

To me, personal contact with customers who tell me they have been a customer for 40 years and wait for the new catalogue in January every year so they can - as in every year -  provide their wishes and order something means a whole lot. Very important: the size of the order is completely irrelevant, much more than the fact that they liked staying in contact and were satisfied with their orders. That is what keeps me going as a professional!

Wouldn't you think it was boring if I just repeated my annotations to the different sections of the classic Swiss stamps (Cantonals, Rayons, Strubel, sitting Helvetia perforate, homeland collections, birthday collections, mint stamps) year after year from the previous catalogue? I could keep saying all these same things even today. This is why I will save my energy. Only the (political and economic) outlooks could be added to. One year ago, many assumed that the Brexit would be history very soon. It still isn't and I would not be surprised if it still showed up on the daily news for another while. Europe is lacking a leading figure. The whole conglomerate of states does not have a sense of community just yet and makes for a rather puny society when compared to its powerful opponents USA, China and Russia. Similar to the Dollar the Euro is not uncontested in global trade anymore and outlooks are equally vague. Does the future belong to crypto currencies? Vague. The green wave is spilling over right now. That is not a bad thing for itself. Are we however, in all of our euphoria, able to control the cost if we want to replace diesel, gasoline, heating oil and nuclear energy all at once? If we keep fighting the use of natural energy resources and disregard the resource problems posed by the enormous number of huge batteries? These problems will keep us busy. Let alone the political general situation. Who would want to predict the development of the Near and Middle East or the Arabic Peninsula? It does not take the expertise of a prophet to tell that the Far East is brewing as well. And let's not forget about Africa! You see, all these numerous items, all these political or economic construction sites bear a risk of danger. It would be overconfident to say that we are heading towards safe times. On top of that the stock markets remain rather stable and prices are still on a high level. Bonds are hardly popular among regular consumers these days. Elder people would not want to commit themselves to these bonds for years, especially regarding upcoming and current negative interest rates, even for cash money! They tend to sell these bonds once they expire and spend their money for their own good. For that reason, during the last few years remarkable sums were spent towards alternative investments such as paintings, jewellery, watches, vintage cars, and classic stamps as well. This is hardly (or not at all) about a guaranteed interest rate, which is not a thing anywhere. It is an investment that sparks joy! That is the most important point. And in that regard, our classic Swiss stamps are predestined. There is an abundance of possibilities to form an individually tailored collection so in the end, any budget will work towards reaching its own goal. Which is to have a joyful pastime and at the same time make meaningful investments. There will be something in return for sure! What other hobby can compare in that regard, what other hobby offers investment returns in hard cash?

Once again the time has come to realize that I myself am but a small piece to the puzzle that is our business! First and foremost, there are our customers who share their wishes and place their orders with us, and thus are the main catalyst for our success. Most of the work is done by my son Markus, by our spouses and as of recently, also by our oldest daughter Jacqueline and a good friend, who are devoting their time to the still unfinished documentation. And at the end of the year, in the first days of the coming year to be precise, we will be once more gladly overlooking a round table of relatives and grandchildren, who will help packing and shipping the new catalogues. My gratitude goes out to every single one of you.

Schmerikon, November 6, 2019

Gottfried Honegger

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