Stamp price rises boost Stanley Gibbons

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The Independent Online

Stamp collecting has become a worldwide passion, pushing profits at the stamps and autograph dealer, Stanley Gibbons to record levels.

The price of British stamps has risen 20 per cent in the past year, compared with a rise in the FTSE of a more modest 13 per cent. Stock markets had fallen for the previous three years, but stamp prices have been rising steadily at between 8 and 13 per cent during the past decade. Stamps from across the world rose 15 per cent during the year.

Weary share investors, then, have begun to turn to other forms of investment, such as stamps, which has helped push up prices. "People are starting to appreciate stamps as a form of alternative investments," Paul Fraser, the chairman of the company said. This increased demand helped Stanley Gibbons, which has been dealing in stamps, coins and autographs since 1856, make pre-tax profits of £1.2m, up 128 per cent on last year. Turnover was up 6.2 per cent to £8.6m. So significant is the interest in alternative investments that Stanley has even set up a dedicated department to sell portfolios of stamps, autographs and coins.

The spread of the internet is also fuelling demand, as would-be collectors from the Far East can now access catalogues and take part in online auctions.

"There are some 30 million stamp collectors in the world and there has been a strong push from the Far East. There are a lot of people with a lot of money out there and they are interested in portable assets," said Mr Fraser. Stanley's website had 9 million hits last year, up by a third.

Mr Fraser said current stamp prices were sustainable, as the increasing sparcity of high quality rare stamps would always prop up prices.

The company has also profited from an opportune investment in a US internet company, Provide Commerce. Its stake in the company this time last year was a mere £223,000 but Provide Commerce has since floated, and its stake is now worth £2.4m.