The following article was published on December 19, 2011 after the death of Kim Jong-Il. With the aggressive statements of North Korea putting that country back in the news, these comments on the stamps of North Korea seem germane today.
Kim Jong-Il has died. As leader of North Korea, he presided over his nation's continued slide into abject poverty and oppression. There are few laboratory tests in any environment that so clearly measure the differences in political systems as did North and South Korea. Divided after complete devastation during WW II, the North took a Maoist and Stalinist central planning model and the South a capitalist American model. The results have been so dramatic that if this were a medical study it would have been called off for ethical reasons.
Open your newspaper or look online, and hardly a day goes by in which some new CNN or Bloomberg poll isn't measuring some aspect of American life. How much time do we spend watching TV? Or exercising? Or intending to exercise as we watch TV? Nearly every aspect of our lives is polled and measured and evaluated, and if the polls are to be believed, we are a nation of people who say they never have enough time to do the things that they want and yet who seem to be able to have the TV set on eight hours a day.
Hobbies in general, and philately in particular, are so small a part of most people's lives that they never even seem to be asked about by pollsters. Hobby websites that ask readers to participate in polls report that average hobbyists spend about five hours per week on their hobby. But these are not careful polls
Most American stamp dealers try to do pretty much the same thing to stock their business. They buy collection lots, usually at auction or from wholesale price lists. The way this works, when it is done properly, is to buy a collection and then break it into a number of smaller units that appeal more to collectors trying to fill spaces in their albums. Usually collections are bought in the 10% of catalog range, and the component units, when they are sold, sell in the neighborhood of 20%. It's nice work, if you can get it. This is the model that the overwhelming percentage of Ebay dealers use as their business plan. The problems are obvious
Many philatelic writers have commented on the poor rate of success of stamp dealers. Look at a Linn's Stamp News from 1960. With the exception of one or two companies (including Earl P. L. Apfelbaum, Inc.), there are very few professional stamp firms still active that were in business then. Certainly the world changes and businesses change, but in most major industries that are still around, the important players of 1960
It is a curious fact, mostly to do with poorly designed and implemented rules, that banking crises in tiny countries can bring the world financial system nearly to collapse. Places like Iceland and Cyprus, which were more well known to philatelists than to the general public, have been given the power (by the European Union's bizarrely lax banking rules) to take deposits that essentially have the guarantee of the European central bank (and behind that, the full faith and credit of the Bundes bank of Germany). Thus, over the last decade, Germany continues to bail out smaller and weaker economies and have more and more say in how those countries run their
Recently we got a call from a Thrift Shop in the Hatboro area, a small town just a few miles from our office. The shop had been given a collection that they felt was pretty valuable, and they wanted us to look at it. They were very upfront about the terms of sale which were as follows
While Francois Fournier was a philatelic facsimile maker whose work fools only novices or collectors who have never seen the real thing, Jean de Sperati spent his life creating forgeries designed to undermine the most knowledgeable philatelists. Even his book that he wrote Philatelie sans Experts (Philately without Experts) shows his prime motivation was the thrill of creating forgeries that even great experts couldn't tell. And Sperati's work is good, so good, in fact that until about 1920, when it became known that he was doing forgeries, stamps that he made in his workshop would routinely get certificates of genuineness
Philately lacks drama. Maybe that's why stamp collectors love a good scandal in our hobby. Though philatelists tend to differ in opinion on what constitutes a good stamp scandal, most will agree that a good scandal must be international in scope, affect thousands of collectors, and defraud collectors of large amounts of money. By these standards most of today's issues qualify as irritants or distractions. All will agree though that there have been three major philatelic frauds in the history of our hobby.
The first major stamp scandal became well known just after the turn of the twentieth century. Stamp collecting was becoming the popular hobby it is today, and prices for earlier material that had never been saved in much quantity was going up. To satisfy demand, the Swiss printer Francois
The goal of the Postal Service has always been speed. The history of mail delivery, from the Roman postal roads to overnight service, has been one of ever increasing rapidity of written communication. Time is money, and the value of the post, especially in the post-1840 philatelic period, has been the ever increasing availability of rapid, inexpensive communications to ordinary people and businesses. Mail delivery was fast in nineteenth century America
Special Event or Commemorative covers are an envelope, with an artistic cachet, canceled with a stamp that honors and event or special occurrence. Special Event covers have been in the philatelic news lately as they have been issued quickly to honor the investiture of the new Pope. Special Event covers exist for Papal inaugurations, Presidential inaugurations, Royal Weddings, births-in fact anyone can design an envelope for anything, add a stamp and you have a Special Event Cover.
Covers of this type have a long and varied history. The idea of a design on a cover, either germane to the subject at hand or allegorical, goes back to the first stamp issue-the Mulready envelopes which Rowland Hill had devised
Most collectors put their stamps in stamp albums, and preprinted albums have existed since the very earliest days of our hobby. Scott began producing stamp albums in the United States in the 1860s, copying the first stamp album producers in Europe. The most unusual thing about stamp album producers is how concentrated the business is in just a few hands and how little the stamp album manufacturers have changed over the years.
The album business today is controlled by a half a dozen companies that make albums for countries beyond their specialty market and for sale to countries worldwide. These companies are Scott, Davo, Lindner, Yvert, Lighthouse, Schaubek, and Safe. Each makes a full service line of general worldwide albums and a specialty series that includes albums for at least all the major countries of the world. All of these companies have been producing albums
Over the last century, hardly a year has gone by without some occurrence at the APS upsetting some of the members and creating a mini-crisis in which people say they are reevaluating the importance of the society to their collecting. Now is no different and it provides a good opportunity to examine the value of APS membership in the modern age. Our company has always avidly supported the APS. Before the ubiquity of credit cards, the symbiotic relationship between mainstream stamp dealers and the APS is hard to overemphasize. Auction bidders had no references other than APS membership. And we found over the years that APS members were good as gold as far as credit risk was concerned. So while mainstream stamp dealers always felt a desire to promote philately by promoting the APS, encouraging APS
United States coils have always presented a problem to stamp collectors. The first problem was whether they should be collected at all, at least as major numbers with spaces in all the stamp albums. US coils were the first worldwide coils to be issued and were done so at the behest of large businesses that did a great deal of mailing. In the days before postage meters, it was much easier to get a coil roll and place the stamps on envelopes without having to tear them into strips or singles first. Within a few years, large machines were affixing coils for mailing houses, and the Postal Service was issuing coils in rolls of up to 5,000 for their machines. The real issue for stamp catologers at the time was how to list coils. They are stamps of a different format but not of a different design from the regular issues that they came from. Precedence should have dictated that the
By 1900, the philatelic world was already too vast for anyone to complete. Their first specialty albums began to appear about 1920, and it was these albums that drove the push towards increasing specialization. Until about 1960, nearly everyone entering the hobby began a general collection. Packets and general albums which had spaces in them for the stamps that were in the packets were everyone's way of beginning collecting. But today, there are just too many stamps that have been issued for any but the hardy to try to collect all of them.
Specialization began as a way of managing the collecting habit. Instead of the million or so different stamps that are listed by the catalogs, the US specialist needs only 4,000 or so if he collects regular issues or 10,000 or so if he wants all the US
The United States Post Office has had a close relationship to the hobby of stamp collecting throughout the history of the hobby. The first US postage stamp was issued in 1847, and by 1860 there was an active, if by later standards small, coterie of avid collectors. The USPO was the first worldwide postal service to recognize philatelists, which it did in 1876 with the Reissues and Special Printings for the 1876 Centennial Exposition. 1876 was a well promoted celebration of American Exceptionalism, and the Post Office contributed its part by reissuing stamps that had been made prior to 1876, so that an example of every American postage stamp could be on sale for collectors at the 1876 Exposition in Philadelphia. These reissues used the original plates and can be distinguished from the originals by shade and paper. They have always been difficult stamps to identify and have caused
Ireland's history influenced its philately to a much greater degree than did the history of most other countries. Ireland was subjugated by the British around 1600 and passionately fought for its independence for over 300 years. The first Irish stamps were issued in 1922 after independence had finally been obtained from Britain. There are several aspects of Irish stamps and their collecting that are peculiar to that country and which should influence the popularity of Irish collecting in the years ahead.
Philatelic history portends a good future for Irish stamps. As a new sovereign
German stamps have always been among the most popular of collecting specialties. The German Area is vast philatelically and has typically been broken down into sub-specialties. Few collectors, especially native Germans, attempt it all. The philatelic breakdown is as follows: pre-German Confederation-States collecting, 1870-1930 Empire, and Wiemar Republic, 1930-45 Third Reich, and post 1945 Bundes Republic (in English, Federal Republic). There are many additional subpecialties, such as Colonies or Occupations, but it is by these era divisions that the main country of Germany is usually collected.
Philatelists come in many shapes and shades. They have many interests outside the hobby and widely different educational backgrounds. They hold occupations as different at tobacco magnate (Maurice Burrus) to judge (William Rehnquist). Politically and economically diverse, stamp collectors can usually be relied on to agree on one thing