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Feeling the solid appeal of rare coins

Earlier this month we reported that some investors have started to feel less gloomy about holding gold. However, gold prices fell by more than 1 per cent to the lowest price in nearly six years on Tuesday, pressured by expectations that the US will raise interest rates in December, and as the dollar rose and stocks rebounded from losses suffered after Friday's attacks in Paris.

Nevertheless, gold coins with the weight of history behind them have a singular appeal to investors because they have behaved differently to global markets.

You may be deterred by the awful results from coin and stamp dealer Stanley Gibbons this week. However, in August the Coutts Index showed that stamps and coins were the only 'passion investments' to increase over nine consecutive years, up 176 per cent from 2005 to 2014 and up 9 per cent in 2014. Stamps rose in value by 101 per cent over the same period.

On 2 October, I was in the offices of Stanley Gibbons, holding the Triple Unite coin carefully by its edges, and listening to the firm's head of investments, Keith Heddle, argue the case that, although his company's share price was taking a pounding, the demand for rare coins and stamps continues to grow.

Until then I had thought of stamp collecting as a 1940s schoolboy's hobby. My own father is still fuming about his childhood stamp collection that was somehow lost or given away when his mother died.

"The Westocentric view of the world is that stamp collecting is a dying hobby - something that dads and uncles did," said Mr Heddle. "But widen the outlook to China and a stamp collection is bourgeois. People are collecting Chinese stamps to reclaim their own heritage. And then they start looking for trophy items such as the Penny Black, which was the world's first stamp.

"The emerging global middle class is educated and affluent. They are looking for cross-cultural appreciation. Some of that goes into collecting things of historical and cultural value. Coins are representative of history."

 

The Triple Unite, valued at sixty shillings, or three pounds, was only produced during the English Civil War, at King Charles I's mints at Oxford (between 1642 and 1644) and, rarely, at Shrewsbury in 1642. The gold coins are magnificent pieces of work, and they show the king holding a sword and an olive branch on the obverse, signifying his wish for peace rather than war

 

But there's a difference between a collector of stamps and coins and an investor. "A collector comes in to buy and hoard. An investor comes in to buy and hold and preferably exit."

So why stamps, rather than fine wine, jewellery or art? "Those are sexy. But stamps aren't," he said. "That actually keeps playboys out of the market. The supply is finite, but the demand is increasing."

Unfortunately, the Triple Unite, valued at three pounds in 1642 (three months' wages for a non-commissioned officer in King Charles' army) will today cost you £90,000 so is beyond most investors' pockets. But Stanley Gibbons can put together portfolios starting from £50,000 up to £500,000.

The companies advises investors to put together a portfolio of seven to 12 different items. A portfolio of Great Britain stamps would be low risk, while more adventurous investors could go for a portfolio of coins, and China and commonwealth stamps. The advised holding period is at least seven years and it can take between three and six months - or for more expensive items up to a year - to liquidate the portfolio.

"The Penny Black has for 14 years been showing compound annual growth of 11 per cent. But every different item moves at a different pace and in a stepped way," said Mr Heddle. "Every 10 years a big stamp show comes to London and in the two to three years in the run-up to it the market picks up a bit," says Mr Heddle. The next London International Stamp Exhibition will be in 2020 at the Business Design Centre in Islington.