Monthly Archives: October 2012

  1. The Cameos of Gambia

    The Cameos of Gambia

    The fear of the counterfeiting of postage stamps made for a large number of Nineteenth Century printers' trade offs. The gold standard of anti-counterfeiting technology was line engraved (called intaglio) printing, which, for a special anti-forgery bonus, usually included lathe work. This type of printing rose off the paper and produced a fineness of design that didn't make counterfeiting impossible but made it more difficult and raised the cost (both in time and expertise) to the forgers considerably. Producing line engraved stamps is similar to putting a burglar alarm sign on your front lawn or using the Club in your car. Raising the cost and risk to
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  2. Love Of Stamps and Stamp dealing

    Love Of Stamps and Stamp dealing

    It is a love of stamps that takes the collecting impulse that is found in many of us and transforms the person into an ardent philatelist. The collector reads all he can about the hobby and, in the typical trajectory, goes from a more general type of collecting to specializing. The philatelic experience involves searching (dealers stocks, Ebay, the internet, philatelic auctions) in the hopes of finding items that are just right for your collection within the structure that you have used to define your collection, (US Fancy Cancels, German Pneumatic Post or whatever).

    Counterintuitively,  the very needs and skills that make collecting such a pleasurable experience tend to mitigate against turning your hobby into your profession. Collectors spend enjoyable hours searching for material that is just right for their collections. Dealers who duplicate that process for acquiring stock find that their inventory is too sparse and too specialized. The great pleasure in

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  3. Rating the World's Great Collections

    Rating the World's Great Collections

    Many endeavors have disputes over who are the greats in the field. Baseball aficionados have argued for decades over the greatest players and teams. Complex statistical analyses have been devised that can be used to compare players from different generations to each other. Others statistics rate the comparative values to their teams of pitchers versus position players. Avid readers rate famous authors based not just on how much the reader likes the writing but on the writer's impact on literature. And similar evaluations exist in the field of arts criticism and music.

    Perhaps because philately is a discipline without an academic footing, little attempt has ever been made to compare the great
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  4. A Winter's Tale

    A Winter's Tale

    Philately has always been a cold weather hobby. Its popularity nation to nation and region to region has always increased south to north with the highest concentrations of serious collectors where it is the coldest and darkest. The reasons are clear- a warm cup of hot chocolate, a stamp album and some new additions to mount are a nice way to spend a cold a blustery winter's evening. There are other reasons too-paper doesn't keep so well in warm sticky climates and literacy and reading rates which are good predictors of philatelic interest are higher in northern countries. And we see collector rates getting higher and higher the further from the equator that we move. Philately has always been a major hobby in Scandinavia but even within countries the rate of stamp collecting increases as you move from the warmer parts of the country to the colder. In Germany, probably the most philatelically

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  5. A Stamp Dealer's Day

    A Stamp Dealer's Day

    Today was a more or less typical day. I had nine smaller collections to work on. These were stamp groups that had been sent to our office by collectors and which we had purchased. The first was a mixed quality United States group sent by a life long collector who was pruning some of the poorer quality stamps that he had bought when he was a younger collector to create funds to upgrade the quality of his stamps. The next group I worked on was some better US that the owner was selling to get some money for a vacation that he and his wife wanted to take. The third was a small group of French stampless covers that the owner didn't know where he had gotten, but they probably came in an old auction lot that he had purchase long ago and they didn't fit in with anything that he currently collected. Another collection was a seventeen volume expanded Harris worldwide collection with over 100,000 different stamps in it and that the owner had laboriously cataloged and inventoried to the last

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  6. Morton Paul Goldfarb

    Morton Paul Goldfarb

    The stamp dealers of the older generation had a fair number of odd characters but none were odder than Morton Paul Goldfarb. Mort, as everyone called him, went to every auction, every stamp show and no matter where you went, you were sure to see him too. Mort specialized in the stamps of the United Nations and only UN. There aren't many better UN stamps in which to deal and Mort made a specialty out of buying and selling UN postage. The United Nations postal agency is really not a post office at all. UN stamps are souvenirs and the UN maintains a Post Office as kind of a postal fiction. All letters deposited at the UN Post Office are turned over to the United States Post Office which is required by Congress to handle UN deposited mail. It is another US subsidy of the UN. The USPS provides the service and the UN gets the revenue for the sale of the postage.

    But to make the burden on the United State Post Office less, the UN has always restricted how their Post Office

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  7. Printer's Waste

    Printer's Waste

    Philately has many collectibles. Stamps are obvious; covers are stamps on envelopes and are derivative from the stamps themselves. And Proofs and Essays are precursors, coming before (and sometimes instead of) the stamps that they are associated with. As all of these types of philatelic material are related to the official issuance and use of stamps, they have always been esteemed by collectors. But what about Printer's Waste?

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  8. France Airmails

    France Airmails

    Aerophilately has been a popular philatelic specialty for nearly a hundred years now. No country has as many interesting Airmails as does France, and indeed the Airmails of France cover many of the more esoteric aspects of our hobby. The first two Airmails are overprints and show that aspect of stamp issuance; an earlier issue receives an additional print that changes its purpose and often the postage that it was originally sold for. The second issue of the Airmails of France are the famed Ile de France Airmails. These Airmails are provisionals issued for just one flight and not available through the general philatelic agency. Like
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  9. Expanding Your Horizons

    Expanding Your Horizons

    Book readers sort into two main groups: the first looks at each volume as a challenge to be surmounted. Starting on page one, this group reads page by page until they are done, stopping for other activities but only reading one book at a time. Other readers are more casual about reading, often reading many books simultaneously, alternating between fiction and non fiction as the mood hits and as time allows.

    Stamps collectors too fall into these broad categories. Many are one one country or one specialty collectors and they spend significant time and money creating fine collections of their area. The rewards for this kind of collecting temperament is the sense of accomplishment that comes from devoting all your energies to one goal and attaining that goal to the best of your abilities. But the other model for collecting, where you have multiple areas of interest, and move back and forth depending on mood works well too. And collectors of many differing areas find that that

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  10. The Effect of the Election on Philately

    The Effect of the Election on Philately

    Many people have very strong political opinions. Their positions seem reasonable and well reasoned to them and they have trouble understanding how any thoughtful person could come up with a different opinion.  Even people with less strong views on the issue of whether or not our society is going to come to an end if one or the other party gets into (or continues in power) get hyped up near election time. Its hard not to have a choice in the Super Bowl, even if you are not a football fan.

    I have reviewed stamp auction realizations, society membership rolls, magazine subscriptions and the collective memories and wisdom (such as it is) of philatelic old timers and am happy to let you know that you can vote your conscience next month. There is no association between either a Democratic or Republican victory in Presidential elections that seems to have any effect on our hobby. The popularity of philately ebbs and flows but as far as I can make out the rates

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  11. Graded United States Stamps

    Graded United States Stamps

    Coin collecting has been dominated over the last fifty years by third party grading issues to the point where few serious numismatists buy non-graded coins. Eager grading services have tried to push into philately hoping to enlarge their fee base. So far it hasn't worked. Some collectors have become enamored of graded stamps but most think that it is inconvenient and costly. There are several reasons why third party grading is popular for coins and why it has largely failed in philately, despite two separate, (one in the late 70's and the other a few years ago) highly promoted, and well funded grading service attempts to make it stick. Third party grading has created changes
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  12. Greece


    The degree of difficulty of a philatelic specialty is determined by three components. First is the intrinsic scarcity of the material, second the cost involved, and third the number of specialized striations into which the field has been separated. Scarcity and cost are related. Scarcity is an intrinsic value related to the amount of material that is available to collectors. It is derived from the numbers that were printed and more importantly the numbers that were saved and have been passed down to stamp collectors. Cost relates to how that intrinsic scarcity interacts with demand. Honduras has many very rare stamps that sell for only a few dollars. Great Britain have many
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  13. How to Sell Your Stamps

    How to Sell Your Stamps

    There are three things that every collector should do to maximize the return that they receive for their stamps when they go to sell, and I will address them in ascending order of importance. First, it is very important to have some figures on your stamp collection. Do you have records of how much you spent? If so, add them up. If not, make a fair estimate based on the amount you felt like you spent per year over the years, making allowance for the years that your collecting was dormant. Most collectors won't get back the full amount that they spent, but at least this will give you some basis to judge how much your collection is worth. If you can catalog the collection by a recent year of the Scott catalog, it is a good idea to do so. Collections generally sell at low percentages of Scott value but they do sell at percentages, and this is a way to evaluate the offers that you receive. Further, it lets you contact dealers in an informed way and enables
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  14. Moldavia


    Before 1859 Romania didn't exist in its current form and one of its component nations, Moldavia, was one of the first issuers of stamps. The famous Moldavia Bulls have been a favorite of philatelists since the beginning of our hobby. They combine the three characteristics that collectors most esteem-they were issued for purely postal purposes with no advance warning to collectors and no hoarding. They are primitive in design and execution. And they are, and always have been, rare. A short look at these three philatelic characteristics of popularity will help explain how our hobby developed and cast light on many aspects of philately that are still with us today.
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  15. Cuba


    Cuba is one of the few philatelic areas that has quadruple specialist appeal. Before 1898 Cuba was a Spanish Colony, and there are over a hundred different stamps that were issued by Spain for use in their colony including the first issues which are interesting because they were issued for use in both the Philippines and in Cuba. Mint stamps of these issues are are identical; they can only be told apart by cancellation when they are used. The 1898 US Occupation issues begin
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  16. World War II

    World War II

    The three great scourges of humanity have historically been war, famine, and pestilence. Modern technology though seems to have solved the problems of the devastation of two of these. In the last two centuries over 100 million people have died in famines. But fertilization, irrigation and genetic engineering have today made famine more of a byproduct of war than a primary killer. And infectious  disease, after killing hundreds of millions throughout history, has largely been defeated. But war still kills millions each decade, and in the nuclear age we are always just a few poor Presidential decisions away from complete annihilation.

    But wars make for great philately. Borders change, troops write home, postal service is makeshift and intermittent. And
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  17. Albert Gross

    Albert Gross

    Albert Gross lived in a small house in a neighborhood outside of Milwaukee. He had come to the United States from Germany in the early 1930's as his very left wing views (he had been a Communist) left him prey to Hitler's hatred. He worked at Schlitz which, for those of you who are too young to remember, was the biggest beer producer in the US in the 1970's. It was in 1978 that Albert called me to come see his stamps.

    Albert was not a wealthy man, but he had always worked, and he had a house, and he had no family and had spent all of his money over the years on German and Austrian stamps. The house was loaded floor to ceiling with albums and boxes and unopened envelopes of stamps, and after an evaluation, Albert and I decided that selling his collection at Public Auction would be the best way to dispose of his lifelong hobby. I packed and packed, and when I was
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  18. Auctions versus Direct sales part II

    Auctions versus Direct sales part II

    A recent article on the BBC addresses an issue that has been of interest to philatelists for over a hundred years. I wrote several weeks ago about auctions versus direct sale. This new article adds to the discussion by referencing several psychological studies. The question that was being addressed was whether people got better deals buying at auction versus direct sale and, if they didn't, why.

    When people bid at auction they seem to get as good, if not better, prices than they would if they bought their stamps directly if they limit their bid to what they believe that the lot is worth. Most importantly, to get the best price do not attend the auction, either in person on on line. It seems that competitive pressures and a feeling that if someone else wants something that you want
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  19. The Future of Central European Philately

    The Future of Central European Philately

    The engine of philatelic popularity and growth over the 170 or so years that philately has been a hobby has traditionally been the stamps of Central Europe-Germany and its numerous component areas, Switzerland, Austria and to a lesser extent Liechtenstein. In 1930 there were probably as many serious German collectors as there were in the rest of the world combined. The numbers are dwindling as young German Swiss and Austrian children are being drawn to their computer games and away from hobbies in general. This means there will be a vast and growing overhang of Central European stamps on the market in the coming years, and it is hard to see where there will be enough
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  20. Difficulty of Collecting US Banknotes

    Difficulty of Collecting US Banknotes

    Foreign collectors believe that collecting United States stamps is the most difficult of all national collecting specialties. The reason is that we make too many major catalog numbers of stamps on which the differences are very hard to distinguish. It starts with the one cent 1851's of which there are seven major catalog numbers of a single design and color, but it really reaches its apotheosis with the Bank Note Issue beginning in 1870 (These issues are called the Bank Note issues because the the US Post Office changed its printing contract to award it to a printing company that also printed currency).

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