by Lars Seier Christensen, founder and chairman of Concordium
After the first stamp was issued in 1840, in the United Kingdom, it only took a few years before stamp collecting transitioned from its infancy phase to a proper and widespread craze –philately, the study and collection of postage stamps and postal history, is “the world’s oldest formal collecting hobby.” Coin collecting -or numismatics- goes back even further to the 14th century, when it appeared as the “hobby of kings” counting aficionados such as Petrarch, Pope Boniface VIII, Emperor Maximilian I, and Louis XIV of France. But fast forward to now: the most expensive collection stamp, the British Guiana 1c Magenta from 1856, is worth $9.48 Million, while the 1794 Flowing Hair Silver Dollar -believed to be the first silver dollar struck by the U.S. Mint- sold in 2013 for just over $10 million.
These days, it might not be as much of a “hobby for kings.” Stamp and coin collecting are, respectively, the most popular and the second most popular collecting hobbies in the world.
There are, after all, an estimated 60 million stamp collectors across the globe. Additionally, philately is reportedly on the rise among millennials, “many of whom see the creative pursuit as an escape from their screen-based lives,” says Suzanne Rae, the chairman of the Philatelic Traders Society.
Both for those at the beginning of their collecting journey, and those who have been at it for decades, the coronation of a new King is about to change collecting as we know it.
As new stamps, coins, and banknotes featuring the King’s image are set to be released over the course of the next few months, or years, objects bearing the portrait of Queen Elizabeth will quickly appreciate and become collector’s items. There are a reported 4.5bn sterling banknotes with the Queen’s image on them currently in circulation, and they’re worth a combined £80bn. The Queen also features on Canadian money, coins from New Zealand, and notes issued by the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank.
Her passing, and the bureaucratic restructuring that will follow, are truly a global event – and her image is about to soar in value. “Royal stamps depicting Queen Elizabeth II will be most sought after,” James Constantinou of prestigepawnbrokers.co.uk recently told the Mirror. “Serious philatelists will be searching for future growth in terms of their investment.”
But physical stamps might not be the only ones rising in value, nor the only option for enthusiastic collectors.
In June 2019, Austrian Post started selling the world’s first blockchain stamp, an ordinary physical stamp with a digital counterpart of “crypto collectibles.” Their “Crypto Stamp 3.0” was released as an NFT with an NFC chip to verify authenticity, and their 4.0 version, for the first time ever, has an augmented reality feature. Since then, official postal authorities in Croatia, Switzerland, Thailand, Liechtenstein and the UAE have all released crypto stamps, which have proved highly popular and usually sell out within days.
The tokenisation of physical objects will have profound consequences on what collections will look like in Web 3.0, with exciting players stepping into the meta-realm every day.
Royal Joh. Enschedé, a 320-year-old leading printing company specialised in banknotes and postage stamps, recently announced a collaboration with science-based proof-of-stake blockchain, Concordium, aimed at connecting the world between security print products, NFTs and the metaverse. This is not surprising, but it is exciting: Royal Joh. Enschedé are experts in the fight against fraud and counterfeiting, an industry whose global value is “estimated to be worth over US$500 billion a year and accounting for 3% of international trade.”
Their foray into the world of NFTs makes perfect sense when you think about the fact that linking NFTs to physical objects is considered a viable and valuable recent addition to global anti-counterfeiting efforts. As one of their principal use cases, NFTs can provide easy proof of ownership and authentication, since the smart contracts that blockchain technology relies on are un-tamperable and transactions are transparent, reliable, and instant. This could prove especially useful – even revolutionary – in the collecting space, be it of art works, luxury items, or rare objects like coins and stamps.
Opening up entirely new playgrounds for collectors to trade, the exploration of what NFTs of collectible banknotes, coins and postage stamps could mean for the industry is ultimately an introduction to what the world might look like in the metaverse, with more and more once physical-only objects getting the digital/NFT treatment.