Stamps celebrate Hong Kong handover anniversary – but collectors be warned

The days of people paying thousands for special issues, then reselling them for a profit ended 20 years ago

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 June, 2017, 4:55pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 June, 2017, 7:12pm

On September 2, 1996, Queen Elizabeth appeared on a Hong Kong stamp for the last time.

Over the next few months the city’s stamp market exploded. People starting buying as many as they could get their hands on; amateur collectors shelled out thousands of dollars for a set of stamp sheets, hoping to resell them for a profit.

But at midnight on June 30, 1997, the bubble burst. After more than 150 years of British colonial rule, Hong Kong had been returned to Chinese sovereignty and stamps that had been as good as cash the day before suddenly dropped in value.

Twenty years later, Hongkong Post is celebrating the anniversary of the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region with its own set of commemorative stamps.

“We are trying to showcase the uniqueness and attractiveness and the strength of Hong Kong,” said Nelvin Lee Chun-yu, a senior manager of philatelic marketing at Hongkong Post.

A local artist designed the set of four stamps, which depict scenes that highlight different aspects of Hong Kong society, including its three branches of government, its diverse offering of sporting and cultural activities, and its finance and technology sectors.

The fourth stamp in the collection shows children playing in a park, which Lee says symbolises the city’s commitment to environmental protection and to the future of its young people.

Each image is drawn in one-point perspective, giving the viewer – or letter writer – the sense that they are looking up into the sky.

A set of four HKSAR anniversary stamps run at HK$13.3, and a mini-pane of 10 joint China-Hong Kong stamps costs HK$17.

Hongkong Post has issued anniversary stamps every five years since its first set in 1997 made more than HK$460 million in sales profits. The 10th anniversary stamps made about HK$13 million, and Lee was optimistic that this year’s set would be popular, too.

“We estimate it will be the number one or two best seller,” said Lee, saying the Lunar New Year stamps usually claimed top spot.

Anna Lee An-na, vice-president of the city’s leading philatelic society, said the commemorative stamps would do more than just make money. “It will help to promote collecting.”

Judge rules out fight to use colonial stamps

But collectors be warned, as she said that even the 1997 stamps had not appreciated much in value because they could still be used as postage stamps.

Hongkong Post has also partnered with mainland China’s postal service and a Chinese designer to produce an anniversary stamp that features both the city and country flags.

The stamp, which will be sold throughout China, was intended to celebrate the return of the city to the mainland, rather than its establishment as an SAR.

It’s a subtle distinction that Anna Lee said reflected the twofold nature of the July 1 milestone. “Without the handover, there would not be the establishment of the HKSAR,” she said.

That’s why Anna Lee loves stamps; they offer a window into Hong Kong’s unique past and present.

“From the design of the stamps, you can detect its history, culture, religion – everything. We have no more queen, but we don’t have Chairman Mao, either.”