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From the archive, 21 December 1942: Stamp fever in wartime

Originally published in the Manchester Guardian on 21 December 1942

A strange thing has occurred in the ranks of the folk we call collectors. This time it has come to the stamp collectors, and it is a fever of urgent buying – we won't call it panic buying. It has as yet only touched the inner circle, the experts. It has moved the outer circle, the serious collectors, to protective action, but it has set aflame the vast horde of gatherers, as we might call them, the people who know little about the stamps they gather but who form the great bulk of the hobby's disciples and make possible the industry that has grown up around them.

An infective urge has come to the gatherers – the schoolboys, the students, the office clerks, the casual men about town – and they have descended upon the stamp shops and the dealers and are buying up everything in the lower grade of stamps. Sheets of stamps are put into the shop windows and they are picked almost clean in the space of a day.

Most of the shops which sell the stamps know nothing about them. Stamps are put on sale on a commission basis (and very handsome it is, too) by the stamp dealers and companies. Just now we are witnessing stationers and booksellers and others giving a whole window to stamp display where previously it was a difficulty for their salesmen to find their stamp stock at all. No questions are asked in these shops; it is take it or leave it and the salesmen look admiringly at the buyer. The salesmen think there may be a hidden treasure somewhere and leave it at that, while the gatherers back their fancy in the true spirit of the turf.

It is bewildering, for we are told that the same thing is going on all over Europe. I quote from a notice in the press, "… thousands of pounds are being paid for valueless common currency stamps by people who know absolutely nothing about stamps." They are listening to the voice of rumour, which whispers that such and such a commodity – in this case stamps – is going to be scarce and valuable, and so they decide to be in on the ground floor and make it a corner.

The big stamp dealers are getting jumpy. They are at a loss to know the drill for the occasion. If they open their stocks to the crowd these common stamps – the backbone of the trade – will in truth become scarce. If they hold them all back there will be no trade at all.

If this gold rush goes on there will soon be no good stamps for sale. The war has created a shortage for many stamps, and though the accumulations still in the dealers' hands must be very great, in self-preservation they cannot unload to meet the demand.

J. H. B. © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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