Monthly Archives: July 2014

  1. Collecting in the 1930s

    The greatest publicity push that stamp collecting ever received was in 1933. Ivory soap promoted a radio show that featured stamp collecting. Called "The Ivory Stamp Club with Captain Tim" the show was a radio stamp club where kids followed along as Captain Tim, for fifteen minutes at a time, three times a week, regaled his listeners with stories about stamp collectors. This was the perfect year for philately. A new President, an avid stamp collector, was in the White House. And there was a prime time radio show devoted to promoting our hobby.

    Ivory Soap created a show where kids could
    Read more »
  2. Philatelic 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

    Read more »
  3. Why Are There so Many Damaged Stamps

    George Sloane, whose book I have been rereading this week, makes a point in a 1956 article that I have long wondered about. Why is it, he asks, that such a high percentage of Airmail invert stamps (#C3a) are damaged? Look in any auction catalog. Chances are two out of three that the Invert listed for sale will be listed with some kind of fault from crease to thin to even small tears. And regumming is common too. This was a stamp that was a rarity from its discovery in 1918. It was sold directly to dealers and collectors who knew from the start its rarity status. So why couldn't these stamp's owners take better care of them over the years?

    Or to draw the point more broadly and to show that it is peculiarly an American problem, lets look at the 1893 Columbian issue. The dollar values of this set are nearly always defective. And yet why? Again, from the start they were sold almost exclusively into collector
    Read more »
  4. A Plea-Lets be in Agreement about 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
    Read more »
  5. Stamp Dealing in Retirement

    According to studies, most Americans are very worried financially about their retirement, and we have good reason to be. Social Security is probably going to be OK, but the age at which you can receive it, the means testing, and the decrease in cost of living adjustments mean that it will be a smaller and smaller part of most people's retirement planning in years ahead. Pensions are small and most people can't count on interest rates being high enough for them not to have to go into their nest egg earlier than they had hoped. Add to this the good news that many demographers think that the longevity charts for the baby boomers are underestimating the life expectancy for people about to retire, and it is clear that the traditional picture of a worry free retirement on the golf course is a thing of the past. Additional retirement security doesn't require an enormous amount of saving; it requires a continuing source of income. A job
    Read more »
  6. Get Like-New Specialty Albums for Your Collection for Free

    There is an unfortunate hobby arc that goes like this. A wealthy person decides that he wishes to be an enthusiast, buys an enormous amount of gear, and loses interest before he has gotten any of the real enjoyment out of his new whim. This is the fly fisher who has all the latest Orvis gear or the guy with the 120" projector screen in a private home. In philately, this shows itself in the new collector who buys a large set of very beautiful and expensive matched hingeless specialty albums, fills them with thousands of the mostly more basic stamps and loses interest in our hobby before all the real fun begins. For the great pleasure of philately is the chase, searching for difficult to find material and slowly creating a fine collection from which you learn and derive joy. But these ephemeral collectors provide a benefit for other collectors in the sense that plankton provides a benefit for whales. They create a constant stream of fine, barely used specialty

    Read more »
  7. Some Beautiful World Wide Revenues

    There are two major European cities that share a history of constant political change. Danzig in the north is at the border of the German and Russian areas of influence and has changed political affiliation many times, with incarnations as Polish/Russian dominated, German dominanted and independent. In southern Europe, Fiume is a philatelic entity at the northern end of the Adriatic sea which has formed a border between the Austro Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire and the Italian area of influence. Fiume too has seen major political changes.  In the post Napoleonic period, Fiume was part of Hungary, which operated under the jurisdiction of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Fiume was the major
    Read more »
  8. The Economics of Stamp Packets

    In 1960 when a young person started stamp collecting the situation played out like this. A parent took you to a stamp shop or the Minkus concession at a Gimbels or other large department store. You looked at several world wide albums and usually settled on a Harris Statesman Deluxe (or maybe a Citation) which had spaces for 30,000 different stamps and cost a bit less than $5. You bought a pair of stamp tongs that were heavy and nearly took two hands to use,  a thousand Dennison stamp hinges and a world wide packet of probably 5000 different stamps. All told you spent ten or twelve bucks-a decent birthday or Christmas present but a bit less than the Pee Wee Reece model baseball glove which competed with it as as gift (for$19.95). It was the packet of 5000 different stamps that made collecting work in those days and it is the packet that is missing in today's lure of philately for newcomers.

    The H E Harris company (and others) put these packets

    Read more »
  9. A PRC Classic

    Mei Lan who took the stage name Mei Lanfang was an opera and performance artist who has the philatelic distinction of being commemorated on the most valuable regularly issued world wide philatelic item (not an error or special issue) since World war II. The sheet itself is lovely and Mei is very deserving of the honor of commemoration. He was a Chinese war hero who, having gained widespread Japanese accolades for his performances before the war, refused to perform for the Japanese once they occupied China. He lived in great privation as a result of his decision, nearly starving. After the Revolution he was a People's Republic hero and after his death was commemorated on this lovely
    Read more »
  10. Philatelic Specialization is Easier Now

    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.
    Read more »
  11. Collectors Gravitate to Parts of the Hobby that Suit Their Personalities

    Life us a series of developmental stages and how we progress through them has a great deal to do with how happy we are with our lives. Philately too has developmental stages and how collectors progress through them is important in increasing the joy that we derive from our hobby. The earliest stage in stamp collecting is learning to use the tools of our hobby, the catalogs, albums, mounts and other physical tools that collectors need to be familiar with in order to make stamp collecting possible. The next step is grading, learning how to use the watermark tray as an x-ray machine to determine stamp faults and repairs and how to tell quality and even simple counterfeit detection. Additional developmental steps include specialization, where collectors break off from the main body of our hobby and find esoteric areas of their own. And postal history and exhibiting are further developmental steps that some collectors mature into in their collecting.
    Read more »
  12. The Fourth of July

    Two hundred thirty-eight years ago, the thirteen American colonies declared their independence from Great Britain and began a seven year war that would result in the the founding of the United States of America. Before our Revolutionary War, Great Britain thought of her American Colonies as a whole and lumped the thirteen colonies in with the sugar islands of the West Indies and the British possessions in Canada. Our revolution resulted in profound changes of thinking on the part of Britain on the value of her Colonies and the proper steps needed to retain them. Before 1776, Britain treated her colonies in a cavalier and dictatorial manor, with little regard for local populations and what was
    Read more »
  13. Two Very Rare 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 of the second class are items like the Airmail Invert of the Unites States or the US Reissues and Special Printings. These rarities continue today and
    Read more »