Monthly Archives: September 2012

  1. Philatelic History

    Philatelic History

    Philatelic history suffers from the fact that stamp collecting is not an academic discipline. Academic history is a constant process of evaluation and reevaluation of sources, previous historic writing and conventional understandings. Several of the latest  award winning histories of the early American Colonial period that I have read present quite a different spin on the period compared to how this era was understood when I studied it in college. Academic historians make their reputation by finding new sources and reexamining the old in a way that never exists with those who look at the philatelic past.

    Stamp histories are largely anecdotal-memories and stories about the great collectors and dealers. I say this because of an important piece of information on philatelic history that I came across recently. I have been reading the first years' journals
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  2. Accumulated Mass

    Accumulated Mass

    Libraries had a problem. Books and periodicals continue to be printed at an ever increasing pace, far faster than space can be built and afforded. What could be done so that a library could maintain as complete a collection of books as possible, continuing to acquire new material and without having to get rid of old. This first bibliographic solution was microfilm, invented, ironically at the same time the first postage stamp was issued ( 1840), and by the 1960s most libraries kept their newspapers and most of their magazines on some form of microfilm. After 1990, rapid computerization has meant that most library materials can be stored on computer. Google already has millions of books and periodicals on line, including most of the collections of several major University libraries.

    Philately hasn't solved its problem of growing bulk. We can digitize our philatelic
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  3. Ubiquity of Reperfing

    Ubiquity of Reperfing

    Go to Ebay and run through fifty or so better US commemoratives that are offered for sale from the 1893-1930 period. This was the era in which the United States produced our stamps through a printing process known as flat press printing. In flat press printing most of these issues were printed in large sheets of 200 stamps which were later perforated and cut into sheets of fifty for shipment to Post Offices for sale. The details for each issue varies slightly, but for the US Columbian Exposition issue there were no perforations along the outer edges of the sheet of two hundred. This left each pane of 50 (that is a quarter sheet of the 200 pane that had been printed and then
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  4. Check Letters

    Check Letters

    A popular specialty of fifty years ago is well worth considering. It is collecting the early stamps of Great Britain by check letter. The Nineteenth Century stamps of Great Britain were mostly printed in sheets of 240. This was done because most of the stamps printed were one penny stamps which, in the pre-decimal period of English money, meant that 240 pence equaled a pound. Postal clerks found their daily accounting of stamp sales and money taken much easier when sheets of stamps readily broke into pound divisible units.

     Stamps were issued in these large sheets and each stamp in the sheet
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  5. Early Philatelic Manipulation

    Early Philatelic Manipulation

     Ecuador .Messrs. Whitfield King & Co. have sent us complete sets of the 1892 stamps for those unhappy South American Republics who have delivered to Ecuador.Messrs. Whitfield King & Co. have sent us complete sets of the 1892 stamps for those unhappy South American Republics who have delivered themselves into the hands of the enemy from a philatelic aspect. We have such a supreme disgust for this system of recruiting the finances of a Government by the depletion of collectors' pockets, that we intend to give scant notice to their phila-telically worthless productions. From the 1892 edition of the London Philatelist.

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  6. What will happen to gum?

    What will happen to gum?

    Imagine the year 2100. You are starting to collect stamps and have progressed beyond the latest chip hologram issues and are beginning to acquire the stamps of the early twenty-first century. You get all the self adhesive issues, paying special attention to see that none of the adhesive has yellowed with age and that none of the die cutting between the stamps (replacing what in a previous day had been perforations) are folded or in any way loose. And then you begin to look for stamps issued before 1990 and you start to learn about gum.

    Rowland Hill's second greatest insight, after the very idea for the postage stamp itself, was that the stamps should be gummed. This seems obvious to us now, but in the period before stamps all proof of payment on envelopes and legal documents were hand-stamps (or cancellations) or manuscript markings and the idea
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  7. Entomology


    Mankind has done pretty well against our competitors in the animal kingdom. Wolves know their place and there are no armies of bears that we need fear. The few thousands of people per year that animals kill are largely accidental attacks driven out of fear or an attempt by the animal to protect its turf or from some age or disease related craziness. Animals know their place-they have lost the evolutionary battle and the most successful non human animals are one that have made themselves either cute (like dogs) or useful (like cows). Not so insects. They vastly outnumber humans, compete against us on every continent, destroy a high percentage of our food (both as crops and down the processing chain) and are disease vectors that continue to kill millions of human beings each year.

    We recently handled the nicest insect and entomology collection on stamps that we have ever seen (and actually for the bug squeemish, which should be all of us, collecting bugs on stamps

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  8. Gold and Stamps

    Gold and Stamps

    For many years there was no relationship between the price of stamps and the price of gold. The value of gold, in currency terms, was fixed by national governments whereas the price of stamps was left to rise and fall with the market. Gold was decoupled from currency in 1971. The next ten years saw a rapid rise in the price of gold due to inflation and pent up demand because of price controls and limited availability of gold. Because stamps also rose rapidly in price during this decade, many philatelists assumed that their stamp holdings had similar inflationary hedge qualities to gold.

    The forces driving stamp prices are not the same as those that influence gold. Stamps are not an inflation hedge. They never were. The reasons that stamps went up in tandem with gold in the 1970s had nothing to do with inflation, though that decade saw great inflation. Stamps go up for two
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  9. Neil Armstrong

    Neil Armstrong

    Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, died last month. Armstrong was a true American hero, and yet the way that he handled fame was uncharacteristic of our time and speaks to how different people handle success. Many people seek fame and bask in it. But Armstrong realized that though he had an achievement that will be remembered throughout history, he was only one of a team and that his accomplishment was built on the shoulders of so many others. After his moon walk in 1969, watched by the world, Armstrong led a quiet unassuming life, letting the space program, and not its members, get the credit for the great achievement.

    Most  stamp collectors are of the Armstrong variety, and no matter what their achievement in the hobby, they are usually quite retiring and keep their collecting to themselves. It seems fitting then that Armstrong was a collector
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  10. Town and Country

    Town and Country

    One of the main problems with stamp collecting is the tendency to paint oneself into a philatelic corner. Every collector soon gets to the point where the stamps that he needs to fill the empty spaces in his album become fewer and fewer. But the cost of each new acquisition becomes greater and greater. And for many collectors the pleasure of finding an inexpensive stamp is as great as getting a rarer variety so that the cost of their hobby keeps going up relative to the enjoyment that philately provides.

    There are many solutions for this and most of them involve specializing to a greater degree so as to decrease the universe of material that you
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  11. Society of Philaticians

    Society of Philaticians

    In the 1960
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  12. Poor Prince Harry

    Poor Prince Harry

    Pictures of Prince Harry in the buff have made the papers recently, taken by some bimbo who he was orgying with. Harry deserves our sympathy. He has been and will continue to be on postage stamps and even has a bit of a chance of someday becoming king, but he hasn't realized yet that the appeal of fame to the crowd has nothing to do with the actual person involved. People want to be with the Prince. They don't care who the person Harry really is. That is the burden of fame-constant contact with little intimacy.

    Stamp collecting is for ordinary people and ordinary people learn to be thankful for the gift of being cared for by being themselves. Each collection stands on its own,
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  13. Taxes and Estate Planning

    Taxes and Estate Planning

    In the 1950s and 1960s our company had an Estate Planning department. Estate Planning (it is so far in the distant philatelic past that it needs explanation) was advice to philatelists on what to do with their collections after they died, especially with regards to estate tax appraisals. This was needed because the level at which estates became taxable was much lower in 1970 than it is today (It was $600,000 vs $5 million now) and because many fewer people engaged in tax planning with regards to their non philatelic assets so that even at the lower tax threshold rate of the 1960s many estates were taxable that wouldn't be today given the sophisticated estate planning that many wealthy people  use.

    In the 1960s we sold many collections for estates and were involved in many estate tax appraisals. But now, estate work rarely crops up. Many widows and children call us after their loved ones pass away but, today, the collections are

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  14. Hula Hoops

    Hula Hoops

    Who doesn't know what a Hula Hoop is? Who, of a certain age, never played with a slinky? When the Baby Boomers were kids nearly everyone collected stamps. In my neighborhood there were two different kid organized stamp clubs, created and administered by ten year olds. We were very adult in our social organization skills, spending enormous amounts of time on such matters as by-laws and rules and schedules and very little time trading and discussing stamps. Weeks were spent on discussions of whether we would admit girls to our august proceedings and the dispute would have continued to this day if it wasn't pointed out to us that there were no girls who wanted to join.

    Philately was pervasive among children of the baby boom era. Today when I meet a contemporary and tell them what I do for a living I often hear about their childhood collection.They
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  15. Auctions versus Direct Sale

    Auctions versus Direct Sale

    Auction sale for philatelic material began to be the predominant way that philatelic material was sold in the 1870s. Pioneered (as so many other things were) by the first great American stamps dealer J. Walter Scott, the reasons for auction sales seemed at the time related to issues of lack of liquidity among stamp dealers and to the difficulty of pricing various grades of quality in an essentially non fungible product that is fine postage stamps. That is what the stamp dealers thought was the reason that they were selling their better stamps at Public Auction. History has proven that the real reason was something else.

    eBay started as a purely auction format. As that selling platform has evolved,
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  16. Specialty Philately Costs Less in the Internet Era

    Specialty Philately Costs Less in the Internet Era

    One of the  ways that the Internet has changed stamp collecting is that it has added a great deal of transparency and equality in the pricing of more esoteric items. By example, about 1975, I began to collect Mozambique Company postal history. I was always fascinated by the Portuguese African Colonies and their exploitive character, especially the fact that most of the Colonies really were little more than trading entities that controlled only a few coastal cities. Mozambique Company epitomized this-it was a chartered trading company given governance rights. Early Mozambique Company stamps were common and were the mainstay of every world wide packet in the 1950s and it is questionable whether many of the stamps were ever on sale in the colony or whether they went right to packet makers from the printers. But covers from Mozambique Company were always scarce as there was little correspondence.

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  17. Vancouver Island

    Vancouver Island

    Before 1867 Canada consisted of autonomous provinces, some of which issued their own postage stamps. Stamps were issued for the Dominion of Canada which comprised mostly of the central part of the country; separate provinces on the coast issued their own stamps. The Atlantic provinces are called the "Maritime Provinces" by collectors and consist of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland. The West Coast province issued stamps that are listed in the Scott catalog under the heading British Columbia and Vancouver Island.

    The provinces of Canada have always been some of my favorite stamps to
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  18. When you Complete your Collection

    When you Complete your Collection

    Every specialty collection runs out of wind. You start with great energy and begin to acquire stamps and covers in your area and sooner or later the amount of time you spend searching increases and the amount of money that you need to spend for each item increases.  Most collectors get to the point where they are spending more and enjoying it less. This the point where many collectors put their albums on the shelf.

    What attracts a collector to one specialty is easily transferable to another, especially if a little planning is done. Certain countries and areas lead easily to each other not only  because of historical association and geographic proximity but because of a similar philatelic feel. Most collectors of British West Indies collect all of
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  19. Austrian Newspaper Stamps

    Austrian Newspaper Stamps

     Broadly speaking, there are two types of rarities-rarities that were available to anyone who walked up to the postal counter and wanted to mail a letter, and rarities that are the result of some printing error or limited sales availability of a stamp. Rarities
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  20. Stamp Insurance

    Stamp Insurance

    Most stamp collectors do not have stamp insurance. Some mistakenly believe that they are covered under their ordinary home owners policy. But like other hard assets, such as jewelry and coins, home owners policies have very low limits for what they pay for stamp losses. Most home owners insurance policies will let you schedule your collection as an insured asset but, for most of these companies that don't do philatelic material as a specialty, the rates are high for stamps and the appraisal requirements burdensome.

    Most collectors even question whether they need stamp insurance. Stamps have become a very unattractive theftable in the last twenty years. Collections haven't gone up much in value, leaving most stamp collections with a high weight to value ratio. It is true that 90% of the value of each stamp collection is in one or two of perhaps scores of volumes,
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