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UK stamp dealer gears up for new investors

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'Stamps are in our DNA; they gave us credibility to grow our business. We have big growth plans but we'll do things step by step. We've already seen seismic growth in coins. We could be 40-45 per cent in stamps in three to five years.' - Mr Heddle
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ANTIQUE: British stamps remain the mainstay of any portfolio, especially the Penny Black, the world's first adhesive stamp issued in 1840.

Singapore

LONDON-LISTED stamp trading specialist Stanley Gibbons has taken on just six new investors with an average portfolio size of £40,000 (S$82,000) since setting up shop in its Pickering Street office last April.

But managing director of investments Keith Heddle is unruffled, citing the growing numbers of wealthy here. "We're in conversation with dozens of others - it takes time," he told The Business Times last week.

"As a 158-year-old business, time is something we have on our side and as the Guinness ad says, good things come to those who wait," he said.

"We've also been building links and having conversations with the wealth management sector. It takes time for them to first understand and then engage in a way that makes sense for them and for their clients."

Stanley Gibbons, the largest and oldest stamp dealer in the world, might open a retail shopfront in Singapore towards the end of next year, he said.

"We want to make sure Singapore develops its potential. We are just scratching the surface. At the moment, we are purely an investment office, and transactions are all virtual," he said.

"Next year is an exciting year for Singapore and also for philately (the study of stamps) with the Singapore 2015 World Stamp Exhibition. We want to make sure stamps are in the local consciousness," said Mr Heddle.

While the wealthy have traditionally invested in financial market instruments like stocks and bonds, they have also had an interest in alternative investments like real estate, venture capital and private equity.

Stamps, along with fine wine, horses and art, belong to the fringes of the alternative investment space. Most stamps in the world are worthless.

What creates value in stamps are their rarity, condition and liquidity, Mr Heddle said.

A notably avid collector is bond king billionaire Bill Gross, who auctions his rare stamps for millions.

It can be a challenge to market stamps to investors. But people sit up once they understand how stamps can gain value over time, and that their value is not correlated with financial markets, Mr Heddle said.

British stamps remain the mainstay of any portfolio, especially the Penny Black, the world's first adhesive stamp issued in 1840. Mr Heddle said that with the growth of wealth in China, Chinese stamps are also becoming popular.

In Singapore, the firm has around 20 to 30 clients - six Singaporean and the rest expatriates, he said. But there is a "whale" - a local property businessman with a portfolio of several million dollars, who is the firm's second biggest client.

Having opened an office in Hong Kong in 2012, and Singapore in 2013, Stanley Gibbons will next set up shop in Shanghai, he said.

But a glance at the numbers shows why Singapore remains on Stanley Gibbons' radar. Out of its roughly £52 million (S$106 million) in revenue for its 15 months ended March 31, 2014, Singapore customers account for more than a tenth, while Hong Kong customers account for 5 per cent. UK customers account for half.

Looking ahead, the firm is launching an online marketplace, where collectors can search for the kind of stamps they want and trade on it.

Stanley Gibbons itself is diversifying beyond stamps. Clients had asked the firm to give them more choice in investments, Mr Heddle said.

The firm now deals in coins and military medals, rare documents, antiques, watches, fine wine, and other collectibles. Non-stamp-related activities contribute more than a fifth of revenue. Most recently, last week, Stanley Gibbons bought antique furniture dealer Mallett.

"Stamps are in our DNA; they gave us credibility to grow our business," Mr Heddle said.

"We have big growth plans but we'll do things step by step. We've already seen seismic growth in coins. We could be 40 to 45 per cent in stamps in three to five years."