– Hello Mr. McFetridge, and welcome to the ’Blog de timbrofil’. Your declared mission is to spread all relevant knowledge connected to Canadian stamps and postal history. How has everything started?
– I first experienced the desire to be a stamp dealer and to publish philatelic works when I was 8, which is 38 years ago now. Back then, in the days before the internet, barriers to entry in this business were extremely high, and the only way to publish was in print, and that was very expensive.
So, back in 1979, you had to have a lot of money to do either. So it became a pipe dream that I put out of my mind. In the meantime, I did collect stamps and specialized in many different areas, amassing a vast store of knowledge, quietly, over the next 40 years.
Although I did work a few professional stints in the philatelic trade, the majority of my adult life until 2015 was spent in public accounting, where I worked my way up to partner. But I was not happy. Eventually I thought that becoming a part time dealer and blogger would satisfy my desires, but I kept my job. However, I found that although my business was a success, it was not nearly as successful as I felt it could have been, as I just did not have the time to devote to it. So for two years from 2013 to 2015, I used all my extra money to buy inventory and I started formulating a plan to leave my job and go into business full time.
I recruited three investors, who supplied some capital, through I supplied most, and my business plan was complete by the end of 2014. In 2015 I announced my decision to resign and served out my last 6 months, leaving in July 2015. Immediately, I started a second blog for Canada, and increased the frequency of my posts to a post per day. Eventually, I cut this back to one post per week for both blogs, which I would write every Tuesday.
I chose to specialize in Canada and British West Africa. I basically work on a massive quantity of an issue, identifying all the subtleties that I can in terms of varieties, papers, shades, fluorescence, etc. Then I write a series of blog posts, while I work on listing the material. My customers now have advance notice of what is coming up in terms of listings, and what blog posts are coming. So they read the posts, and if they are interested in the material, they can browse my listings.
I have been in business full time for 2.5 years now, and only recently have sales reached a point where I can earn a sustainable living.
– What are the main challenges for a stamp dealer in our days? Have you noticed some new trends in stamp collecting?
– I think the main challenge is to specialize in an area, stay focused and don’t get distracted. Because the barriers to entry are so low now, the internet is awash with wannabe stamp dealers whose offerings have no specific focus and where the value proposition is simply a low price, with no additional emphasis on service.
This makes being a world-wide dealer and competing on price a non-starter in my opinion. Instead, by focusing on Canada, and sharing my knowledge, I am able to offer my customers more than just stamps: I offer them an experience.
My blog posts are very technical and show them directions they can take their collections in that they may not have thought of before, and shows them ways to better appreciate and study the stamps they already have, which I think is very important during those times when a collector cannot afford to buy more stamps. In this way, I am attempting to move the hobby forward, rather than just selling stamps.
I am not just a middleman. I share my knowledge and take the guesswork out of identifying stamps, so that a specialist looking for a particular stamp variety can buy exactly what they need. This is in response to a trend that I have seen towards greater specialization.
It used to be that collectors bought printed albums for a country or group of countries, and then tried to fill that album with one of each basic stamp. But what we are seeing now is many more collectors who pick an issue that interests them, and collecting it in depth. Another trend is that there is renewed interest in modern material (i.e post 1945) than there used to be.
– You’re also specialized in some African countries and regions. How big is the interest for such stamps and postal history in Canada?
– There is not a large amount of demand for British West Africa in Canada, but that doesn’t concern me too much, as I am probably going to sell my entire holding at auction in the next few years, once I finish blogging about it.
– You certainly have your own stamp collection! What stamp in it do you consider is a real treasure, not only in terms of price?
– My personal collection now are the 1935 Silver Jubilee Omnibus designs, of which I have attached some scans. They are my most treasured stamps now, though my personal collection used to be my Nigeria stock, and there are many rare items in it now, but I don’t consider them to be mine anymore. They belong to my company.
– I found an interesting article on your store page, related to the relationship between catalogue values, market values and condition of postage stamps. Many online sellers ignore that, but how important is the quality for a real stamp dealer? I noticed that you have 3,190 positive feedback ratings in the last 12 months!
– Condition, and the consistent and accurate assessment is critical to ensuring that customers receive value for their money. You are right that many sellers online do not consistently grade their material, which makes offering a service of consistent quality next to impossible. I came up with a 0-100 point based system, which closely follows the old qualitative very fine-fine-very good scale, but in my opinion, does a better job of accurately ranking quality. This means that my customers can rest assured that if they buy a stamp from me and I grade it as VF-75 for instance, it will always be of the same quality, no matter when it was issued, and it will be different from say, a VF-80, which will always be consistently better.
– You write on two blogs, canadianphilately.blogspot.ro (Canadian stamps and postal history) and naijastamps.blogspot.ro (Nigerian stamps and postal history), both started to 2011. How do you choose the subjects for your posts?
– For the Nigeria blog, initially my posts were random. But eventually I decided to tackle the issues in chronological order, starting with Lagos in 1874. I’ve simply gone sequentially and systematically through the stamps and am now writing about the 1s stamp from 1887-1904.
The posts for the Canadian blog usually follow what I am working on in terms of listings, but for the last 24 weeks, they have been leading: I am posting about the 1967-1973 Centennial issue, even though I have been listing the 1972-78 Caricature Issue. When I finish with the Caricatures, I will start listing Centennials and then I can start writing about the Caricature issue, now that I have done all the work to identify the varieties that exist.
– What’s your opinion about today’s philately, and what items do you believe will be harder to collect in the future?
– I believe that philately has a very bright future, in contrast to some people who say that it is a dying hobby. Far from it, I believe that it is a hobby in transition. People’s tastes are changing and are gravitating toward more modern issues and away from the stamps that cost a lot of money.
For the last 30+ years, the trade has been recklessly destroying modern issues by using them for postage, and this has resulted in a depletion of material from 1945-1980’s. Also, postal administrations have been sharply reducing issue quantities to the point now that many issues are printed in quantities of less than 1,000,000 stamps where 30 years ago that quantity would have been 30 million plus.
The result, I believe, is that specialized collecting of modern issues in mint condition is going to become a lot more challenging than it has been in the past.
– Many thanks for this interview! Please address a message to the readers of the ’Blog de timbrofil’.
– To the readers of the blog, I would say that you are part of the most magnificent hobby in the world, and you should be very proud of it. There is no hobby, in my mind that has as much to offer as stamps: there is education, beauty, relaxation, intellectual stimulation, challenge and possible financial reward.
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