When you move up to Plate Blocks, you enter an important, distinctive dimension of the philatelic world: you rise to what is often referred to as the Cadillac of stamp collecting. When you purchase a Plate Block, you retain the original value of the postage. In addition, every major stamp catalog prices Plate Blocks at a premium.
But the real additional feature of Plate Blocks is extra value at no extra cost. Every catalog and pricing guide establishes a higher value for a Plate Block than for the stamps of which it is comprised. So a Plate Block doesn't cost more, it's just worth more.
The generally recognized source of stamp information and value is the Scott Catalogue. Scott Publishing Co. numbers each stamp issued in the United States in basic Chronological order and lists suggested prices.
So why doesn't every stamp collector collect Plate Blocks? There are many reasons. One is that stamp collecting is a hobby. It is not viewed by many as a method of accumulating assets. Another possible explanation is that stamp collectors, like everyone else, are creatures of habit. They simply follow along what they have been doing in the past, completely unaware of the financial rewards they might reap. They just don't realize that it is possible to pursue their hobby and build a valuable asset at the same time. Is Plate Block collecting instant wealth? Not at all. However, an instance where single stamps have appreciated in value more than a Plate Block of that stamp would be difficult to find.
A third possibility is cost. Obviously, it costs more to collect Plate Blocks than single stamps - at the minimum, four times more. A large number of collector began as children and couldn't afford to buy Plate Blocks then. As they grew older, they decided to complete their single stamp collections and not start a Plate Block collection. Perhaps, too, they are more concerned with the amount of money they spend on their hobby rather than the value of what they obtain.
And finally, there are those who simply don't care. They are involved in their particular aspect of philately purely as a hobby and have no interest or desire for financial reward.
It is not the author's intention to explore all the technical intricacies of Plate Block collecting. The desire is to provide you with a general overview of the hobby and to expose you to a segment of philately that offers all the benefits of stamp collecting with the lowest degree of risk.
Keep in mind that your level of financial compensation will be in direct proportion to the amount of energy and study you can expend. Don't expect instant economic gains. Plate Block collecting is a long term commitment.The benefits, once they surface, can last a lifetime. There are no limits. You can allocate $10 a month or $100 a month according to your means. The rewards are there for both. This is not a rich mans hobby; it is for all to partake.
Collecting or investing
There is a vast difference between collecting Plate Blocks and investing in them, although collector and investor have fared well during some periods. To generalize, collectors own albums and endeavor to fill them, thus collecting one of a kind of each Plate Block. In doing so they usually acquire one each of the stamps that are appreciating most in value, Investors, on the other hand, usually own an album, which served as a starting point for their original interest. Many investors, as it appears, continue to ply their hobby, but in addition, they try to accumulate quantities of stamps they feel will have a better than average appreciation rate.
Investing in Plate Blocks is no different than investing in coins, the stock market, or any other vehicle - it has its risk-reward ratio. The same people who study stocks, ferreting out the most attractive situations, and are successful, will probably enjoy the same results in philatelics. So what makes one particular Plate Block more valuable than another?
Probably the most important consideration is original face value. High face value: three relatively modern Plate Blocks come to mind on this point.
Scott No. 834, $5 Calvin Coolidge (Plate Block of four originally cost $20)
Scott No. 1053, $5 Alexander Hamilton (Plate Block of four originally cost $20)
Scott No. 1295, $5 John B. Moore (Plate Block of four originally cost $20)
Both Scott 834 and 1053 have exhibited outstanding appreciation. The former now catalogs at $400.00, the later at $275.00. It is obvious that anyone who has purchased them at the post office has done very well, indeed.
What about Scott 1295? It catalogs at $35.00. Why? It's really quite simple. When 834 and 1053 were issued in 1938 and 1955 respectively, $20.00 was quite a sum of money to spend on a Plate Block. Not many philatelists took the plunge. With small floating supplies the two Plate Blocks Skyrocketed. When Scott 1295 was issued in 1966, collectors and investors found the error in their ways and purchased Plate Blocks in immense quantities so as not to "miss out" again. As you might suspect, now - over 30 years from its date of issuance - there is still a tremendous oversupply of Scott No. 1295, and the catalog value reflects that.
Commemorative vs. regular issue
Another consideration of future appreciation potential is whether a stamp is commemorative or regular issue.
Commemoratives are made to commemorate a specific event, person, group, industry, or other important matter. While there have been many outstanding financial performers among commemorative issues, they cannot match percentage-wise the number of outstanding performers among regular issues.
Regular issue known as definitives, are the most common stamps issued for everyday use. Some example of regular issues include the following series: Scott Numbers 551 through 573; numbers 632 through 642; numbers 692 through 701; numbers 803 through 834; numbers 1030 through 1053; numbers 1278 through 1295; and numbers 1581 through 1612.
These groups of stamps include both high values and odd values. For instance, Scott No. 573 - a $5 stamp which requires eight stamps for a Plate Block - catalogs at $4500.00. Scott No. 636 - a 4-cent stamp requiring four stamps for Plate Block - catalogs at $120.00, and Scott No. 1032 - a 1 1/2 cent stamp requiring four stamps for a Plate Block catalogs at $1.75.
Regular issues tend to be around for a long time, are not particularly eye-catching, and for some reason seem to be less desirable for collectors. Consequently, they seem to appreciate faster. There also seems to be a relationship (both tenuous and subjective since beauty is in the eye of the beholder) between sheer beauty and value. As one might guess, it is the less attractive stamps that appear to appreciate the best. The most attractive stamps are normally commemoratives. Some, like the Birds and Flowers issue of 1982, are coveted by non collectors for their artistic value. Stamps of this sort are generally too numerous to gain much in value.
Topical stamps are an enigma. Issues commemorating various topics are highly collected for a myriad of reasons. Space exploration for example, has been a financial bust. On the other hand, Olympic commemoratives have done rather well. It seems that with the coming of each Olympic Games there is a renewed interest in Olympic stamps, they increase a bit in value every four years.
Other contributing factors
Some stamp investors seem to be obsessed with printing quantities, reasoning that if a particular stamp had a small number printed, the value will eventually rise. While this supposition sounds reasonable, it is not necessarily valid. Printing quantity is sometimes a consideration but not one on which to wholly base a purchase decision.
Odd values is a term used here to describe stamps issued where the face value does not correspond to general prevailing first class mailing rates. For example the United States Postal Service issued two stamps in 1978 when the postage rate was 15 cents: one a 16 cent stamp and the other a 29 cent stamp.Plate Block collectors buyers found it difficult to use as postage the remnants of the 20 stamp strips they had to buy. Therefore, it appears, Plate Block supplies of these two issues are very low and the price will soon reflect that fact. History is replete with similar situations.
Every collectable has its periods of high and low activity. The general level of stamp collecting has a tremendous impact on the future value of stamps. In the years when interest rates were very high, many Plate Block accumulators elected to invest in cash instruments instead of stamps. It is already apparent that some of the Plate Blocks issued during these high interest years were not set aside in sufficient quantities to fulfill collectors' demand at current prices.
Lastly, there are some instances when the U.S. Postal Service itself has created some interesting situations. Occasionally there have been mechanical malfunctions in the printing process which have reduced normal printing quantities.There have been times when stamps simply did not correctly filter through distribution channels. And there have been times when stamps have been withdrawn from circulation before collectors really had a chance to obtain them.