Monthly Archives: November 2017

  1. Rooms Full of Stamps

    Many collectors who thoroughly enjoy their hobby imagine that their pleasure in their hobby would increase if only they had more stamps. The fantasy grows from one album to a dozen to a full shelf to a stamp room. A while back, we were called in on a case of philatelic gluttony gone wild. The collector was a wealthy mid-western man who lived in a large home which had a 3,000 square foot detached grounds keepers home. It was this home, all 3,000 square feet, that he devoted to stamps.
    Every week saw new cartons come to his stamp home. He spent most of his time bidding at auctions and online. He liked collections and dealers stocks— really anything that
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  2. Hieroglyphics

    Image result for hieroglyphs and hieroglyphicsOne of the great stories in cryptology over the last 200 years was working out the meaning of Egyptian hieroglyphics. This was the Egyptian writing of the old dynasties (the ones that had built the pyramids). The writing had fallen out of use and been replaced by different alphabets so that by the beginning of the common era (about two thousand years ago) there was no one left who knew how to read hieroglyphic writing. Throughout the next 1800 years, scholarly interpretations of this writing— and there are thousands of walls and obelisks with tens of thousands of lines of hieroglyphic surviving— ranged from the idea that the writing had no meaning at all as writing but was

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  3. The Return Of Writing

    One of my first professional philatelic tasks, some forty years ago, was to assemble old correspondences for sale. You saw these more in those days than you do today, but what they were were large selections of letters that had been sent between correspondents over a period of years. Usually these were things like weekly letters between brothers and sister or parents and children who fate and circumstances had parted. Remember, in 1860, if your daughter and her husband moved from Ohio to California, the high probability was that you would never see her again. Her letters became a very real record of what was left of the relationship. They were saved and cherished and reread. And often these correspondences were kept in families long after the correspondents had passed away. Philatelists and postal historians collected them because they usually had the envelopes with stamps and postal markings.
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  4. Washington Bicentennials

    The Washington Bicentennial set is over 80 years old. Issued to commemorate the two-hundredth anniversary of the first President's birth, the set was issued on January 1, 1932. It has always been a popular set and has more or less been the breaking point between modern and classic US philately. Stamp issues before 1932 include the Washington-Franklins, the early Bureau issues, Bank Notes, and nineteenth century issues.  All of these are difficult specialized stamps. After 1932, US philately is far more face different than it was before. By 1932, philately was enjoying similar popularity to what it enjoys today, and mint stamps were put away is large quantities.
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  5. Simplified Philately

    The opinion makers in philately held a serious discussion in the 1930s about what direction they hoped the hobby would go. By 1930 there was already a wide enough body of stamps issued for most countries that collectors were already beginning to lose interest in collecting collateral philatelic areas like cut squares, postal stationery, and revenues. The issue at hand was whether to preserve the complicated catalog listings or to bifurcate the hobby into more specialized traditional philately on the one hand and a simplified face different form of collecting on the other.
    For United States stamps, this discussion played out in the "simplified" catalogs and albums
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  6. Aerograms

    One of the pleasures of modern electronic communication is that it costs nothing per word to move. A short sentence costs the same to send as a dense file— that is, zero. And it doesn't matter how far the recipient is from the sender. An email to next door is the same as one around the world (and due to the way the internet packages bits of information, it is possible that parts of your email
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  7. Ken Whittle

    When I was an annoying teenager helping out at the Apfelbaum stamp store in the 1960s, every Saturday brought in the fascinating Ken Whittle. Ken was the kind of philatelist that you saw a lot of then. Ken was the archetype of the "solitudinous collector" (or SC). SCs  are people for who philately is very important and who are putting together important collections which they rarely talk about.  Mr. Whittle was extremely well educated and worked as an engineer for Dupont in Wilmington (doing something with fractions of petroleum), was unmarried and lived, full time, at a small residential hotel in Wilmington. When I knew him in 60's, he was always neat as a pin, with a well groomed little mustache. He came in, took off his hat and coat, and to my "Good Morning, Mr Whittle" would always (and I mean always) respond "Greetings and salutations, young

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  8. Encouraging Kids To Collect

    Image result for young philatelistsIn all fields there are mantras that people repeat over and over as what would propel them and their organization to the top. In business, the holy grail is exporting to China (you know 1.5 billion people all of whom will soon need your widget), in higher education it is the prospect of eas(ier) college loans, and in philately the idea is that we need to get more kids to collect. These HG's (for holy grails) are not bad ideas in themselves. Certainly, any company that could find the magic way to export a product that 1.5 billion people need (and couldn't be knocked off by them at a cheaper price) would do very well in our competitive world. And easy money does encourage people to take on debt for education,
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  9. National Philatelic Societies

    Today there is only one national philatelic society— the American Philatelic Society. But throughout most of the last century there were three national societies— the APS, the Trans Mississippi Philatelic Association, and the Society of Philatelic Americans. Americans were a much more regional country sixty years ago than they are today, and this showed in the choice of philatelic societies. The APS was really more of the stamp society for the North. The Trans Mississippi Philatelic Association was the organization that drew most its support from the mid-west. And the Society of Philatelic Americans— the SPA— was really geographically based in the South which is evidence by its original name— The Southern Philatelic Society— also the SPA acronym.
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  10. Stamp Wholesalers

    Philatelists in earlier generations grew up with a wealth of publications and literature that makes many of today's collectors envious. The Internet has meant that one can read about stamps any time for free, but the quality of what is written has diminished significantly with the decline of print publications. Forty years ago, stamp collectors had numerous active weekly publications all vying for subscribers. The best of them— Linn's and Western— had serious stamp articles, good gossip, investment articles, and interesting advertisements. The monthly magazines were more scholarly in format, and there were many of them too. The main difference between the older day with print magazines and newspapers and today with the internet is editors. Today, there is a constant barrage of opinion and information on websites and chat rooms, but the philatelic editors of forty years ago
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  11. Phil Ward And First Day Covers

    Image result for phil ward postal coversUS First day Covers began in earnest about 1909 and, more than anything, were the brain child of a young Philadelphia collector named Philip Ward. Ward went on to become a major US collector and dealer (in those days of the turn of the last Century, poor liquidity in the stamp market forced many prominent collectors to engage in levels of stamp dealing that would be unusual today) owning a collection and stock that were sold to the Weill Brothers in the early 1960s and which would be worth many millions of dollars today. In his youth, Ward developed a passionate interest in stamps and was one of the earliest collectors to service First day Covers.
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  12. Making The Best Use of Space

    One constant issue that lifelong philatelists have with their collections and an issue about which their families have much to say is about the amount of space that a stamp collection takes up. For many collectors, a lifetime in philately means they have assembled their early worldwide collection (which often runs to many volumes), several more specialized collections (often running many volumes each), some volumes of covers, more volumes of philatelic items that they wonder why they ever bought, and usually several boxes of newer stamps and covers that await sorting and mounting. The average lifelong collection that we buy runs to nearly forty volumes and boxes, and the most common comment that we hear is that the collector doesn't know how it got to be so big and found it daunting to prune it down to a manageable level.

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  13. What Makes Philately Different

    Hobbies come in many types from knitting to horse shoes. Philately is categorized under the broad range of collectible hobbies. But philately is unusual in that it has been a very popular hobby for over 150 years and is still going strong. Most collectible hobbies enjoy a brief period of popularity, like Franklin Mint Commemorative Plates, and then fade into oblivion. Popular collectible hobbies, like philately and numismatics, that have stood the test of time, share four broad traits that contribute to their popularity and help them maintain collector interest across generations.
    First, long lasting and popular collecting hobbies need to have an academic
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  14. Mounting Problems

    To paraphrase Winston Churchill, stamp hinges are the worst form of mounts, except all others. Peelable hinges were a revolutionary innovation when they first became commercially available about 1920.  Before that, hinging was done by using some old stamp selvage or gummed paper, and the results are hideous. Gummed paper never comes off of mint gummed stamps without damaging the stamps. It is because paper hinges of this type were so pervasive in early philately that so many earlier stamps have had the gum soaked off them (and consequently, it is paper hinges that are responsible for the large premium that truly "original gum" early stamps enjoy today).
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  15. 1895 Scott Catalog

    The 1895 Scott Catalog
    The 1895 Scott catalog was a hardbound edition of over 500 pages. The Scott catalog began as J. Walter Scott's price list, and by 1880 had grown into an annual catalog that listed all the stamps of the world that had been issued to that time, whether Scott had them in stock or not. By 1895, the Scott firm was largely out of the business of stamp dealing and had become a publishing company. Their products consisted of an early hardbound version of the Scott International album, which had spaces for all of the stamps listed in the Scott catalog and the Scott catalog itself and by 1895 had grown into a pretty
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  16. Ryukyu Islands

    ryukyu islands stamps

    The Ryukyu Islands are a long archipelago off the main islands of Japan. Settled at an early period, the Ryukyu's independence from Japan is proven by the linguistic difference between the Japanese and Okinawans. Though written with many of the same characters, Japanese and the several languages of the Ryukyus are very different linguistically (and unintelligible to speakers of the other language) showing that the islands had been isolated from contact with Japan for a very long period of time. Japan reasserted control of the Okinawan chain after the Meiji Restoration in the 1860s, and today the
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  17. US Postage Trickles Downward

    Image result for sheets of us stampsThe Great Recession continues to have serious impact on the nation's employment picture, its housing market and, sorry to report, the market for US discount postage. For the last sixty years stamp collectors have bought and put away hundreds of millions of dollars worth of US postage stamps. This amount is far in excess of the amount that collectors would ever need for their collections, even if the most rosy forecasts of our philatelic dreams came true. Collectors do this for two reasons. First, until recently it was a relatively inexpensive to put away a couple of extra

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