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Rumors Of Shows' Demise Are Premature
By Lloyd A. de Vries

Are stamp shows about to give way to the Internet?

Not in my opinion, but they are undergoing change.

Just as stamp shows filled the void left by the disappearance of most retail stamp stores, the Internet is now pulling much stamp commerce from shows.

But not all.

High-priced and rare stamps and covers will still be sold face-to-face. While some of those sales will be conducted in stores, offices, and stand-alone auctions, others will happen at shows or auctions connected with shows.

And most stamps and covers at the other end of the scale will be sold at the shows at the other end of the scale. Describing and listing a 10-cent stamp, then paying the 30-cent listing fee and 37 cents postage aren't likely to catch on.

Where does that leave a World Series of Philately show? In a good position, I think.

Even moderate-priced philatelic material (whatever you consider moderate) sometimes needs a show to sell. There is such variety in philatelic interests and specialties that what may seem like a mundane, pedestrian item may, upon closer examination, make a specialist's heart sing. We all have hopes of finding a $100 item in the $1 box.

Once, when I was a weekend first day cover dealer, I had a box of miscellaneous 25-cent covers. A collector rummaged through the box, pulled out a non-first day cover with an airmail border, paid his quarter, and then started chortling. "This is a genuine Roesseler airmail!" He said gleefully. "It's worth $15." Not to me, it wasn't. It wasn't a first day cover, and I'd paid 10 cents for it, so I was happy, and so was he. I would never have known what made it unique.

Other items may benefit from "impulse buying:" The customer isn't looking for that stamp or cover, but sees it while walking past a dealer's table and, on impulse, buys it.

Shows also are becoming social and cultural events.

Yes, I can look at a picture of a C3A Jenny Invert online. (I have one as my work computer's "wallpaper," or desktop background, in fact.) It's not the same as seeing the real thing in person, even if there is still a layer of glass or Plexiglas between me and it.

(I had a chance to hold a copy in my hand once, during tear-down of a show. I refused. If someone was going to sneeze all over that stamp, or drop it on the dirty floor, it wasn't going to be me!)

I can also talk with my stamp collecting friends online, but it's not the same as sitting at a table during a show - concession table, booth table or the little table in my hotel room - and chatting with them. Even in an "Internet shop" office like mine, where we heavily depend on AOL Instant Messenger to communicate, even with co-workers seated next to us, we still stop and "shoot the breeze" or have serious discussions out loud. Spoken. Words.

For me, at least, stamp shows are also an opportunity to travel. I had always wanted to visit Chicago, but never had the time, money or other reason to do so. Stampshow 2001 and Americover 2002 provided the time and reason, if not the money. I probably would have come up with the money for those shows wherever they were held, but now I've been to the top of the Sears Tower and to the aquarium, too. When Stampshow returns in a few years, I'll try to hit the Field Museum.

I've visited other cities, and taken tours of them, that I would not have otherwise put very high on my list, because of stamp shows, and, having visited them, I'm glad I did.

I'm also one of these people who can read a manual or instruction book several times, and still not be able to figure out how to do something. Often, I need to be shown, and I can be shown at stamp shows. Go ahead: Try to write out right now the proper way to use stamp tongs. It would be easier to show me - or an adult beginner or a junior collector.

Sure, stamp shows are having trouble with venues and finances, but that is probably more a result of the current economic climate than the Internet.

Venues facing a shortage of bookings, members and whatever else are their reasons for being (there aren't too many locations capable of hosting a show whose reasons for being are stamp shows) are finding they need to maximize their revenues and/or minimize their costs (such as rent and labor). The manager with whom a show chairman dealt last week may be working in another location or for another company tomorrow. Unemployed stamp collectors may not travel as much; marginally employed ones may not be able to get the time off to attend a show; retired collectors whose nest eggs were tied to the stock market may curtail their travel and discretionary spending.

This, too, shall pass. The economy will get better (eventually; it's always in cycles), and shows will pick up again.

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