Monthly Archives: July 2012

  1. Olympics

    Now is the time to begin your specialized collection of Olympic stamps. The popularity of this thematic flows in quadrennial cycles, usually peaking a few months before the games themselves. Olympic philately is one of the most interesting and long established of the topical philatelic areas with the first set being issued by Greece for the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. After that, every four years many countries issued Olympic stamps.
    Read more »
  2. Friendship

    Generations of men and women have made many of their best friends from people they had met at stamp clubs. Shared interest is one of the preconditions of becoming friends. It gives you a basis to start conversations and a pleasant fallback when things get dull. Stories of stamps that you have and how you got them have always been a mainstay of philatelic conversation, and many collectors have told me that the companions that they made from their hobby have been their best livelong friends.

    This is another thing that the Internet has changed. Access 24-7 to people with similar interest online has been a boon to all of us, but it has meant the increasing demise of local groups where people actually
    Read more »
  3. Philately and Shared Cultural Knowledge

    I am not nearly clever enough to do the Sunday New York Times Cross Word Puzzle. But being a stamp collector I am pretty much the go to person in our home for exotic geography, oddball Presidents, and significant events for say the year 1948. And beyond the pleasure of acquisition and completion this is one of the greatest benefits that philately bestows. As a society we tend to lack a shared fund of knowledge that people can use when they communicate together. This is why when the people on different sides of the political spectrum attempt to speak they have so much trouble. They tend not to share the same facts and understanding of history and politics.

    Shared knowledge is one of the things that
    Read more »
  4. The Two Cent AEF Pane

    Wars require the movement of troops and material, and this requires communication, which means mail. The hundreds of thousands of Americans who were sent to fight and die in France at the end of World War I were sent with two postal issues all of their own. Soldiers like booklet stamps as they can be carried in backpacks. The cardboard covers keep the stamps somewhat safe from damage, and such booklets are easier to store for when they are needed. And WW I was the war of the trenches. Between the senseless running toward
    Read more »
  5. A Find

    There are three major types of rarities in philately. There are errors-stamps like the Airmail Invert that were supposed to be one way but through printing mistakes came out another. Most are rare and, since most errors were known from the beginning of production, they are rarely found unidentified in collections. The second type of rarities are reissues or special printings-stamps that
    Read more »
  6. Ulrich Ferchenbauer

    There is no country that is collected in a more specialized way than are the stamps of Austria. Most specialists of other countries seek cancels and covers and blocks and all kinds of specialty items. But Austrian specialists go far further. Austrian specialty catalogs list paper varieties along with varieties listed by thickness as measured by a micrometer. Machine made and hand made paper types of the first issues are listed (the only country that I know of that does this) as are various ribbing and laid papers. Throughout, the philately of Austria is a obsessive-compulsives dream.

    Read more »
  7. France 5 Franc Napoleon

    One of my favorite stamps when I was young stamp stamp dealer was the 5 Franc Napoleon from France. I liked it because it was nicely printed but mostly because it cataloged a lot of money, and it was easy to recognize. And it had a story. Five francs in France in 1860 was a lot of money. Those of you who are fans of Honore de Balzac, the great French novelist who wrote about that time, know how poor most French workers were and what people would do for such a vast sum as 5 Francs. William James, the American/English author wrote of Balzac's forty novel "Human Comedy" that the real hero of the work was the Five Franc Napoleon, which was a large coin in circulation at the
    Read more »
  8. League Of Nations

    The carnage of WW I produced the kind of revulsion that should have prevented other wars. Hundreds of thousands  were killed over battle lines that moved only yards, gas was used for the first time producing horrific deaths and maiming, and there were mortality rates that wiped out nearly 1/3 of the military age male population in France. After the war, combatants set up the League of Nations, located in Geneva with the mission of providing a forum for talking out disputes rather than shooting them out. The League had a very limited charter on what it could do and was hampered from the beginning by the fact that Senate Republicans refused
    Read more »
  9. The Great Specialty Sort

    A customer wrote to us asking for Proofs and Essays of the United States Bank Note period to spice up his specialized collection of this area and was surprised that, since so many of the items only catalog a few dollars each, he was having such difficulty finding them. This got me thinking about what could only be called the "Great Specialty Sort" that occurred in our hobby between about 1925 and 1940. When you come across United States stamp collections that were made before say 1925, there is a totally different feel for what the collector was trying to accomplish than in collections made after that period. Earlier collectors used the Scott album as a guide, interspersing duplicates, better cancellations, Proofs, Essays, covers, even stamp articles with their collections to make it as complete and compelling as possible. After 1940, collectors mainly just tried to fill their Scott album spaces and where they had specialty issue collections, they made them in separate albums

    Read more »
  10. Pink and Pigeon Blood Pink

    Shades and their nomenclature are arbitrary. And people's perception of color is as well. The average person can see about one million different shades. Some people with a genetic mutation can see up to one hundred million. My gut feeling is that Scott uses about 2500 different  shades as names in their catalog, though such generic terms as "dull red" often mean quite different things on one stamp than it means on another stamp. But often times shade variations just seem arbitrary to me. Scanned above are two rare shades of the 3c 1861 Dull red. They are the Pink (Scott #64) on the left and the Pigeon
    Read more »
  11. Damaged Stamps

    Virtually every stamp was originally sold in perfect condition. And yet, when you look at dealer offerings of rarer stamps, by far the vast majority are damaged in some way, with small thins or creases or no gum leading the list of defects. And the rarer and older the stamp the more likely it is to be damaged. There are two reasons for this. First, until the post WW II period collectors rarely paid as much attention to quality as they do today.Premiums between the quality grades were not as dramatic as they are now and most collectors felt that almost any non-visually defective stamp was just fine in their collections. Because of this, the care that is necessary to maintain high quality in a collection was lacking. Collectors mounted with hinges and the earliest hinges often thinned stamps when improperly applied and removed. And
    Read more »
  12. Rare Stamp Prices

    The rare stamp market has not really moved much in the last thirty years. The British Guiana stamp sold in 1980 for $935,000 and the million dollar mark has only been broken a few times since then. Price realizations at the very top of the market are notoriously unreliable too, with many "sold" rarities really not meeting their reserves or being sold back to the owner with only a nominal commission paid. And rare stamps have remained stable in an environment where the value of other investments has gone up and the value of money has gone down. A stamp that sold in 1980 for $935,000 would have to sell today for $4 1/2 million just to have produced a 5% per annum return.

    Poor price growth has not been the fate of all collectibles. The rare art market has been booming. A particularly desirable Cezanne sold last year for nearly $250 million. Contrast this with the 1980s high price for a painting- a 1987 sale of a painting from the Van Gogh Sunflowers series for nearly

    Read more »
  13. Closed Albums

    Everyone associated with our hobby has their favorite terms and their least favorite ones. Many collectors find fault with the term "never hinged" mostly because it doesn't describe what is really meant. People seeking "never hinged" stamps want perfect gum so that a stamp with disturbed gum that is "never hinged" is not NH at all. The Germans use a term for the gum which translates as "post office fresh" which describes it much better. Many collectors quibble with description terms such as "nibbed" for perfs or with cover collectors being described as postal historians.

    My least favorite term or euphemism is not strictly a term applied to stamps but rather one applied to deceased stamp collectors.
    Read more »
  14. Boy's Life

    Anyone who was a Cub Scout or a Boy Scout in the 1950s and 1960s received a free monthly copy of Boys Life magazine delivered in the mail. The magazine was for boys 7-17 and offered light reading, projects and an array of stamp collecting ads. Companies like Jamestown and Kenmore and Mystic and H E Harris vied for your quarter, offering 100 triangles or old time monarchs along with a selection of approvals. There premium offered was a loss leader to get you to order the approvals, which were usually a couple of dollars worth of individually priced sets and singles with enticing write up. With a few selection you were offered a stamp album and then you were a real stamp collector.

    Today, stamp professionals see hundreds of these old time collections, put together by children for a few bucks each and put away on the shelves (or worse, in the damp basement) when they grew tired of them after a few weeks. Most of the owners are the collectors themselves, now older men who realize

    Read more »
  15. Regionalism in Philately of Yore

    Our nation has become far less regional than it was forty years ago. People were born, raised and died in the South or the North East and many people never moved very far from where they were born. Today, many of us are transplants or from families that have moved. And millions moving south when they retire has also changed the regional makeup of the country, making the tradition "Southern" type or "Yankee" almost a thing of the past.

    When I was very young it the stamp business, there still was a profoundly regional aspect to the hobby. There were two national philatelic societies-the APS  and the SPA which was called the Society of Philatelic Americans and had recently changed its name from the Southern Philatelic Association which it had been called before WW II. The old Southern gentlemen collectors used to come to our office, usually looking for Confederate States stamps. There was Clyde Jennings, a unusually
    Read more »
  16. Nicaragua Essays

    Some thirty-five years ago a customer called me from New York about a collection. He was from Nicaragua and had collected the stamps of that country all of his life. The collection was magnificent, in over twenty volumes, with thousands of stamps and covers. We negotiated a price, but any time you put five figure money in a Central America collection, especially in 1975, you worry a bit about who you are going to sell this stuff too. Central America may be scarce, but it is also not all that popular with no domestic market to speak of.  The joke in the business is that there is only one thing scarcer than a great Nicaragua collection-people who want it.

     I knew of one Nicaragua collector, on old Philadelphian named Joe Sousa. I called Joe and he came down to our office. The price was $20,000 and Joe carefully took out the first book, opened the cover to the first page, looked for a moment or two, and closed up the album. He took out his checkbook and said "I'll

    Read more »
  17. The Baby Zepp

    Second chances sometimes work out in life, but they almost never do in philately. The 1930 Zeppelin stamps were issued in 1930 and their high face value during the Great Depression meant that many collectors had to forgo buying them and that many people who bought them could only afford one set and not put any away for future sale. Prices of the 1930 set rose quickly after they were withdrawn from sale in 1931. So when the United States Post Office announced in 1933 that they were giving collectors another chance to buy a stamp that seemed certain to go up in value (and at a significantly lower face value than the first set) collectors lined up for the largess. So much so that the Baby Zeppelin
    Read more »
  18. The Battle of the Generations

    Philatelists are well aware of how interests change throughout life. The games of childhood give way to the pressures and duties of adulthood which in turn meld into the aspirations of old age. Most collectors have seen this. They collected as kids, found their interest in philately wain during their active work and parenting years and saw their collecting take on new life and vigor as they aged. This has always been the pattern for hobbies, and for philately in particular. The interests of older people are different than the interests of younger people. And what has long been obvious to those of us in stamps is now increasingly a socio-economic problem in our country. Before the days of Social Security and Medicare, the issues of elderly people was usually the problems of their family and so solutions were sought to benefit all. The social programs of the last 75 years have decoupled the interests of the generations. Younger people need more expansionary economic policies

    Read more »
  19. Gum Collecting

    Each generation of stamp collecting is defined by the wants of (what I call) movement collectors, that is the serious collectors of that generation, traditionally mostly older men who do most of the buying and selling in the hobby. These movement collectors are largely men who have gotten back into the hobby in middle and older age and they are usually trying to create collections of stamps they couldn't afford in their youth in quality grades that were unobtainable with their juvenile finances. Thus we saw the collectors of the 1980s and 1990s bid up the prices of stamps of the 1920s and 1930s, the ones they couldn't afford when they collected as kids in the 1950s. And they wanted those stamps in only the best Never Hinged quality because those stamps were unaffordable to them in that quality when they were young.

    Read more »
  20. Newpaper Stamps

    During the Nineteenth century, there were two large economically developed nations that had large territories with disparate ethnic groups occupying them. One, the United States was rapidly growing west with many immigrants and local people emigrating to different areas. The other, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, had numerous ethnicities and languages under one government umbrella with much internal movement of peoples. And both Austria and the United States issued numerous Newspaper stamps so the the moving peoples could continue to stay in contact with their communities back home.

    Read more »