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Turning Paper To Gold: Chinese Collectors Spark Postage Stamp Investment Boom

Collecting stamps (like gold) used to be banned in China. No longer -- and Chinese collectors and investors may be creating a postage-stamp bubble.

(Zeitfixierer)
(Zeitfixierer)

Fears over inflation have prompted more investors to stash their cash in tangible objects. Gold is an obvious choice, and prices of the precious metal have soared as a result. But gold isn't the only thing catching the eye of investors these days. Some wealthy people – particularly in China – are plunking down big bucks for far flimsier objects: postage stamps.

In China, collecting stamps was forbidden for a long time, as was buying gold. Not any more. Since the bans were lifted, more and more Chinese investors are buying both. For now, Chinese collectors are increasingly focused on Chinese stamps. "Demand is being met by Chinese dealers who buy up Chinese stamps in Europe and send them to China," says Gerd Bennewirtz, general manager of the brokerage firm SJB.

Prices are often not an issue. At a Swiss auction last November, a block of four Chinese stamps featuring an ape against a red background changed hands for 138,000 Swiss francs (115,000 euros). The catalogue estimate was 2,500 euros.

While that is an extreme case, what has become routine is for sales prices of Chinese stamps to double catalogue estimates – and that brings out the inner golddigger in many an investor. Experts warn of the danger of a bubble, however, and advise European collectors to sell their Chinese stamps.

Selling, however, is not investing. "Especially in times of crisis, stamps are a good way of reducing asset volatility," says Bennewirtz. Big spenders will be looking to find unique or very rare stamps, such as the 1847 blue Mauritius that a Singapore collector paid some 5 million euros for in 1993. But for smaller investors, interesting options exist for as little as 1,000 euros – like the 1849 Bavarian "Schwarze Einser" that presently costs anywhere between 1,000 and 3,000 euros.

Not a liquid market

Bennewirtz recommends that potential stamp collectors select a specific theme or historical period so that they can build up expertise in that area and start to be able to recognize the potential of any given stamp as an investment vehicle. "Investors on the stamp market should be knowledgeable when it comes to classification, condition, authentication, the market itself, how to keep stamps properly, and the relevant literature on the subject," he says.

But even if all that is respected, he says, collecting stamps is not entirely risk-free – for the simple reason that any increase in value is always only theoretical. The question is: will that value hold in a sales situation when the collector wants or needs to sell? Will there be people prepared to pay that price?

The stamp market is not a liquid market like the one in shares and bonds, when investors can sell when they want, even during crashes. Which is why, Bennewirtz advises, stamps should never be collected as pure investment: a good dose of genuine interest is needed to make it worthwhile.

*This is a digest item, not a direct translation.

Read the full story in German by Frank Stocker

Photo – Zeitfixierer

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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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