Monthly Archives: August 2015

  1. Memories


    Various events in life can cause a flood of early memories. In Proust’s opus In Search of Lost Time, a 4,200 page series of reminiscences, the trigger for the memories are the taste of a cookie. Pictures often bring memories to mind, and that is why so many photos are taken and what made Kodak, in its day, one of the largest companies in the world.


    For me, having grown up in philately, many of my memories are triggered by stamps. Every time I look at a 1963 "Food for Peace" stamp, I have a certain set of very powerful memories. These were the stamps that my parents sent with me when I went away to camp

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  2. James DeVoss, Keith Wagner, and Robert Lamb

    James DeVoss, Keith Wagner, and Robert Lamb

    James Thomas DeVossBetween 1953 and 2004, a period of fifty years, the American Philatelic Society was fortunate to have three excellent Executive Directors. Under the APS bylaws, the overarching policy of the society is set by the President and the Board of Directors, but the Executive Director has the job of running the society and implementing policy day to day.


    Jim DeVoss was a career army officer who was already an accomplished philatelist when he became Executive Director in 1953. For nearly thirty years he was the face of the society through nearly ten Presidents and Boards of

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  3. Observations from the American Philatelic Society Show 2015

    Observations from the American Philatelic Society Show 2015

    Dana GuyerI just got back from the 2015 APS show in Grand Rapids. It was a very good show in a very nice venue, and I have two broad observations that I’d like to make.


    First, the show was very well attended, and the collectors that I saw seemed engaged and energetic about the hobby. The dealers were busy and seemed to be smiling and friendly, which I’ve learned to take as a more accurate indicator of sales than the words they say about how business is. United States stamps and British Commonwealth seemed in short supply, and the booths that were selling

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  4. Why We Collect Plate Blocks

    Why We Collect Plate Blocks

    Plate block collecting has long been one of the most popular specialties here in the United States. Many other countries have and have had plate markings in the margins of their sheets. Often these are plate numbers or inscriptions that might ordinarily be of interest. But only in the U.S. (and since WWII, UN and Israel) have marginal markings with the stamps become a thriving specialty of their own.


    No one can prove what the reason for this is, but I think the evidence points to fairly mundane causes. Plate number markings first

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  5. America's Favorite Stamp

    America's Favorite Stamp

    Scott #292There is one stamp that tops all the philatelic popularity polls as America’s most popular stamp. And it has done so for over a century. It is the $1 TransMississippi issue of 1898. As you can see it’s a beautiful stamp, carefully engraved. But the story of how it reached its pinacle of popularity has never been told.


    Before 1893, no country had ever issued commemorative stamps—that is, stamps that, while valid for postage, were issued with stamp collectors in mind. The goal of commemoratives were the earliest attempts to inspire philatelists to put away newer

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  6. Stamp Albums

    Stamp Albums

    Minkus AlbumThere are five main stamp album makers, each of whom makes a complete set of worldwide specialty albums. In order of cost and quality, the publishers are Minkus, Scott, Davo, Lindner, and Lighthouse, each album having their own advantages.


    Minkus is the residual publisher from the great Minkus stamp business. At one time, Minkus had stores in forty large department stores and was the largest philatelic retailer in the United States. They established a line of worldwide albums to facilitate sales of stamps as collectors bought more stamps when they had spaces to fill. Minkus albums are the lowest

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  7. German Occupation of Estonia

    German Occupation of Estonia

    Americans tend to have a limited view of the politics and policies of other nations. The policies of Estonia and the feelings of the Estonian people (and the other Baltic States) to the German invasion of 1941 is a perfect illustration of this. Estonia is inhabited by an ethnically and linguistically different people than their near neighbors, the Russians. Russia is overwhelming larger and more powerful, and really the bulk of Estonian history over at least the last five hundred years is largely a reaction to Russian power and an attempt to maintain independence from it. So when the Germans invaded Russia, many of the Balts viewed them as  liberators. Only after some experience of German occupation did the Estonians start to see

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  8. France Red Cross Booklets

    France Red Cross Booklets

    The Red Cross was created by Swiss businessman Henri Dunant in the mid-nineteenth century. In 1859 Dunant was near the battlefield of Solferino and was horrified by the suffering of the 40,000 troops that had been killed or wounded in that battle. There were no medical facilities whatsoever, and the wounded were left among the dead to die in torment from their wounds. Dunant left his business interests and went around the battlefield for days helping the wounded. He soon founded the Red Cross. During the American Civil War, soldier suffering was also intense, and Americans became interested in the idea of relieving suffering. One of the questions that I always like to ask when any new idea or program develops is why they develop when they

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  9. Greenland Polar Bears

    Greenland Polar Bears

    The first stamps of Greenland are some of the most interesting and popular stamps in the hobby. They are parcel post stamps issued for use on packages, and they are the world’s first stamps with Polar Bears pictured on them. They were first issued in 1905, and a complete mint set catalogs about $1,200, but lower individual values can be purchased for as low as $10. There are many varieties, and these stamps are highly specialized in.

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  10. German Colonies

    German Colonies

    The "colonial era" is something that few people have much awareness of anymore. But, from 1700-1950, most of the world’s land mass was administered as colonies by four main European countries—Great Britain, France, Portugal, and Spain. At one point or another in the last three hundred years these four countries had geopolitical control of all of North America, all of South America, nearly all of Africa, Australia, India, and a good chunk of Asia. WWII ended the colonial era for two reasons—first, for the duration of the war, the various colonies had been semi-independent and weren’t willing to go back to a dependent political and economic status. And second, France and Great Britain were economically devastated by the war and didn’t

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  11. The Stamps of the Saar

    The Stamps of the Saar

    Burbach Steelworks, DillingenThe Saarland is an area in western Germany boarding France. It has traditionally been one of the major industrial areas in Europe with a skilled and energetic workforce and ready access to coal, which in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was the main fuel used in manufacturing. When WWI ended (and Germany collapsed more than was defeated), the Treaty of Versailles was signed by the Allies and the Germans and Austro-Hungarians. The Treaty was ostensibly intended to reduce Germany’s industrial power to make future wars impossible. The reality of the Treaty was to impose a difficult peace on Germany, with huge reparations and loss of territory. The Treaty of Versailles

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  12. Boys Life magazine, H. E. Harris, and Stamp Collecting

    Boys Life magazine, H. E. Harris, and Stamp Collecting

    For many Baby Boomers, their main introduction to stamp collecting came from Boy's Life magazine. Published since 1910, Boy’s Life is a publication of the Boy Scouts of America and the Cub Scouts of America. The magazine was sent for free to anyone who was a member of a Cub Scout pack or a Boy Scout troop.


    For boys in the 1950s and 1960s, Boys Life was an exciting magazine of adventures and projects, and there were many pages devoted to philately.  Ads for approvals from H. E. Harris and Kenmore were among the most prominent. It was the combination of

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  13. Herman Herst, Jr.

    Herman Herst, Jr.

    Fun & Profit in Stamp CollectingThat is the name of a wonderful book written in the 1960s by the famed philatelic writer and dealer Herman Herst, Jr. “Pat” Herst, as he was called, was a newspaper man and well educated stamp collector who evolved into a full time dealer the way many dealers found their profession. In the 1930s, employment prospects were bleak. At the height of the Great Depression the unemployment rate was over 30%, and when you consider that there was no social safety net (unemployment insurance or food stamps) and that most families were single wage earning families, many Americans were on the verge of disaster.


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  14. Elizabeth Bennett and Sherlock Holmes

    Elizabeth Bennett and Sherlock Holmes

    Sherlock HolmesTwo of the most famous literary creations are Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennett and Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.  Everyone knows Holmes and nearly everyone Lizzy Bennett (the protagonist of Pride and Prejudice).  These two characters were not only well developed in their own right but have been further developed by scores of authors who have written prequels, sequels, and requels (a made up word meaning a retelling in a different voice) of the stories using these two world famous characters. Lizzy and Sherlock’s original stories have been made into countless movies and theatrical productions. Lizzy has been played by over twenty different actresses (including Greer Garson,

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  15. The Stamps Of George VI

    The Stamps Of George VI

    GwaliorAmong the most popular areas to collect are the stamps of the British Commonwealth of nations. Comprising hundreds of stamp issuing entities, these are all former British Colonies. British colonial stamps have always been popular not only with collectors residing in Great Britain.  Rather, they have been the second most popular collecting specialty in nearly every geographic area since the beginnings of philately. In the United States, after American stamps, collectors collect British Commonwealth the most. In Russia, after Russian stamps, people collect British Commonwealth the most. And the same is true throughout the world (with the exception of China and Japan where US stamps are number two and British Commonwealth

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  16. The Power of the Completed Page

    The Power of the Completed Page

    Unlike many hobbyists, philatelists strive for completion. Button collectors have the same feeling for the artistic quality of their buttons as stamp collectors do of their stamps. But only a few of the collecting hobbies have a canon of catalogs that you collect against and can offer the feeling that you have truly completed what you set out to do. Even stamp albums are designed with the possibility of completing each page in mind. In the 1920s, the Scott album’s first Airmail page contained a space for the first airmail set and, next to it, the inverted airplane variety of the 24¢ (Scott #C3a). Scott received numerous collector complaints that putting a multi-thousand dollar stamp on the same page as more modest (and obtainable sets) meant that virtually no collector could have the joy of the completed page. Scott

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  17. Stamp Collecting Can Help Conservation Efforts

    Stamp Collecting Can Help Conservation Efforts

    LionVery few modern African stamps have become rarities, but this set from Burundi is an exception. Increasingly, the stamps of post-independence Africa have become more and more popular, and there are many reasons for this.


    First, the stamps are intrinsically rare. As of now, there are only a few

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  18. The Demise of H.E. Harris

    The Demise of H.E. Harris

    Henry Ellis HarrisThose of us who started in philately over thirty years ago remember H.E. Harris. Harris was the largest stamp dealer in the mid-twentieth century, growing rapidly during the Great Depression with the Captain Tim radio show. Harris was a leading  promoter of philately with album publishing and approvals, so that by 1975, Harris had tens of thousands of customers and, it was argued, made more new collectors than the Post Office itself.


    By 1975, Henry Harris was an old man and was ready to sell his business, and the story of the demise of Harris

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  19. Gimbels and Minkus

    Gimbels and Minkus

    Jacques MinkusThe first three decades of the last century were popular years for the hobby of philately. Hundreds of stamp stores opened on Nassau St. (in lower Manhattan) alone. The United States Post Office was actively promoting the hobby with various issues in the late 1920’s, commemorating the sesquicentennial of various Revolutionary War themes. The so called “plate block play” provided fuel. Here’s how it worked: Plate block collecting was very popular, and Post offices were not allowed to sell only the plate blocks from sheets to postal patrons because of the fear that customers would demand only the plate blocks from sheets. Singles could be sold or full sheets. Businesses had no postage meters

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  20. American Philatelic Society

    American Philatelic Society

    American Philatelic Society’s Annual ShowThe American Philatelic Society (APS) is the main stamp collector society in the United States. It has over thirty thousand members, puts out a wonderful magazine—The American Philatelist—runs sales circuits, offers inexpensive stamp insurance, and is an all around good membership value for philatelists, especially as they transition from novice to serious collector. Every stamp collector should consider joining.


    Every year the APS has an annual show which

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