Clare Stewart writes for the Times of London and she pretty much has her finger on the pulse of what's happening in the world of investments. With investors seeing such pitiful returns in the stock market, many are jumping on the philately bandwagon. As Stewart says, "Today...stamp and investment are being mentioned in the same sentence."

According to Stanley Gibbons, the world renown stamp collector, who buys and sells stamps much like a fund manager deals in shares, there are now more than 30 million stamp collectors worldwide so that demand for rarities is being driven by the usual law of supply and demand. Adrian Roose at Gibbons says that in 2003, the retail and auction prices of the 100 most commonly trade stamps leapt by 15 percent and since 1997, the increase has been 51.4 percent. Actually, collecting in Europe and the Far East is big business today.

Need more proof? Stewart points out that Gibbons announced that its half-year results showed pre-tax profits were up by 86 percent. Not too shabby.

Gibbons has set up an investment department. In fact, they even offer a portfolio management service where the minimum investment is £5,000 pounds, or approximately $9,000, which would probably buy two or three stamps. The average investment is about £20,000 pounds, or $36,000. Gibbons points out that stamps are getting rather scarce as many get damaged or donated to museums.

What does this means to the investor? Clearly, it is something to be considered. However, there is a red flag here. Most experts point out that the stamps that appreciate in value are not first-day covers issued in large quantities. So, what to do? The gurus trading in this market advise that it is best to buy through companies that are members of a society or reputable organization such as the Philatelic Traders Society, which monitors dealings in the market and also runs key events such as the Stampex shows.

Also, keep in mind that for the most part, the stamp market is not regulated like financial markets. Caveat emptor!

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