Do we say "a rare collection of stamps "or “ a scarce collection of stamps“?
"scarce" does not usually collocate with "collection." We generally speak about collections being small (see below).
"scarce" tends to be used to refer to things that, being in demand, are not sufficiently available, for example resources, food, water, jobs, money can be scarce.
Although rare suggests that there are few of the kind, it also carries the meaning of high value because of uniqueness. Merriam-Webster's dictionary says:
SCARCE implies falling short of a standard or required abundance. Jobs were scarce during the Depression. RARE suggests extreme scarcity or infrequency and often implies consequent high value: RARE is usually used for an object or quality of which only a few examples are to be found and which is therefore especially appreciated.
Therefore, I'd go for "rare collection of stamps."
Actually, I find the adjective to be misplaced. We generally do not speak of a collection being rare, but rather of the items in the collection being rare. The phrase you want, Emad, is actually "a collection of rare stamps".
As Gustavo says, stamps can't be called "scarce" since there is no shortage of them. They are hardly even needed anymore in the United States. Stamps are mainly printed for collectors here. Since there are so many collectors, a collection of stamps is not rare, as a collection of bathroom tissue samples from around the world is (and yes, there are such collections, and no, I do not have one).
I did use to collect stamps when I was young, though. I learned a lot from them. For example, before the Nazis took over Germany in the 1930s, inflation was so bad that they were issuing stamps with denominations of fifty billion marks.
We generally do not speak of a collection being rare, but rather of the items in the collection being rare. The phrase you want, Emad, is actually "a collection of rare stamps".
I considered that, DocV, but then thought it was possible for rare to modify the whole phrase, collection of stamps. However, I agree that rare will more likely modify stamps than collection.
Curiously, this paper from India uses both combinations, "collection of rare stamps" in the headline and "rare collection of stamps" in the first line of the article. And then we have, of course, the possibility of saying rare stamp collections, which I don't like very much and where "rare" can refer to either "stamp" or "collections," can't it?
Thank you for this feedback. First, I agree that "rare stamp collections" is unpalatably ambiguous, possibly in more ways than have already come to your mind.
I find that your example about the Indian collection justifies my use of "generally" as opposed to making a blanket statement. Stamp collections in general are not rare, and it is fair to assume that every collection that exists is actually unique. But this article that you shared speaks of an exhibition of a collection that documents the entire philatelic history of a nation. I grant that the phrase "a rare collection of stamps" is appropriate here.
Of course, "scarce" is right out.
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