Blog

  1. Philatelic Vacations 1930

    Image result for american air mail catalogueJohn Nicklin was one of the most prominent philatelists of his time. He edited the American Airmail catalog, was an editor of the Scott catalog and was president of the Society of Philatelic Americans a group that rivaled the American Philatelic Society in influence but was badly mismanaged in the 1970s and is now out of business. His biography shows us how much we have changed as a hobby and a culture in the last eighty years.

    Nicklin was an active philatelic writer in the 1930s. He tells us that his favorite way of spending his vacation was as follows: He would research the older banks and bankrupt trading houses in a geographic

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  2. Philatelic Opinions vs Guarantees

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  3. A Theory on Collecting

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  4. Postal Pricing

    Image result for wells fargo post officeElectronic communication has little variable cost. Once the lines are laid, or the satellite launched, electrons fly for free. Not so postal communications where distance travelled matters. Sending a letter from Philadelphia to one of its suburbs costs far less than mail from Philly to Nome, Alaska. World wide postal services began eliminating distance surcharges in 1840 with Rowland Hill's revolution in cheap postage. Before that, letter charges were based on how far the envelope had to go. In the United States,

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  5. Super Specialization

    Image result for #33 specialized collectionThere are very few areas of philately that can't be specialized to the max. Take the early postage dues of Romania for instance. Most collectors have just a single example of each of these common stamps but they are known with many perf varieties and especially scarce compound perfs (perforated say 14 at side by 12 at top), some of which are very rare. To specialize in this kind of area one has to know that such varieties in fact exist and then have enough of the material to sift through so as to both find enough material to actually have a collection and also to feel satisfied that you have accomplished something as a collector. This is just an example. Such specialization exists, though, on hundreds of micro areas in our hobby. But for the most part it

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  6. Universal Postal Union

    Image result for u.p.uBy 1874 the system of international carriage of letters was a mess. Countries had to negotiate postal treaties with each other and most treaties called for cross payments where part of the postage of a letter was remitted by the sending post office to the receiving post office. This was confusing and difficult to keep tabs of but of further complexity was the cross payments to transit countries (say when a letter from the United States landed in England, was sent to Poland and then across land to Russia). Nearly thirty five years after the Penny Black, with world commerce rising, the system of cross payments just wasn't working. It was slowing down communication and as postage rates dropped it was becoming more expensive to account for the letters than to carry

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  7. Production Values

    Perhaps the greatest change in our hobby in the last 80 years has been in the quality of the product that we collect. Stamps have gone from miniature pieces of art that reflect the skill and technological prowess of the nation that issued them to being little more than a chit indicating payment of postage, usually with a theme to appeal to collectors. The change is not only cultural-taste and artistic standards are lower now than they used to be- but also reflect the diminished roll that letters, and consequently postage stamps, play in our society. Until about 1950 telecommunication was difficult and expensive and was only used for the most important communications. Costs

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  8. Highest Face Value Stamp Ever

    Image result for 5 pound stampPrices and the value of money are difficult to evaluate over time. Readers of Victorian novels know that in the late Nineteenth Century an income of about 150 Pounds a year was the minimum needed to live as a gentleman (Trollope says tartly "an embarrassed gentleman, yes, but a gentleman"). That was three Pounds a week and for that a person could rent an apartment, eat and have a part time servant. Before 1900, prices for food and clothing were proportionately much more expensive and labor was proportionately far cheaper. Sir Walter Scott writes that in his time one could engage a servant for little more than food clothing and shelter. Still, if a middle class person could live a decent life at three Pounds a week in Victorian

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  9. Tao of Philately

    Image result for timeWe live in a time different in many ways from all the times of the past. Perhaps the most significant difference is the ability for so many people today to have nearly instant gratification of most of their wants. Bored? Turn on the TV or pop in a video game or check out the tweets of anyone you wished you knew. Hungry? We know what the alarming obesity rate tells us about how easy it is to gratify that desire. Our malls are filled with the treasures of the world and most things cost less for the upper middle class in real monetary terms than they have ever cost before. It is easy to see why philately has not attracted the quantity of youth that it had in the past and why our hobby has

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  10. Minutia

    Image result for minutiaYears ago I taught an evening class in philately at Temple University. The class was made up mainly of well educated people who were either getting back into collecting or who were, never having been stamp collectors, thinking of trying our hobby on for size. At one point after a few weeks the topic of plating was introduced. Most engraved Nineteenth Century stamps were engraved from a single die that was entered into a large plate usually 100 times to make plates of 100. In the earliest period of stamp issuing, such entering of the die to the plate was done by hand, rocking the hardened steel die into the softer unhardened steel or copper plates. The steel of the plate was still pretty hard and considerable effort and rocking back and forth was necessary to make the

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  11. Telephone and Telegraph Stamps

    There are four broad categories of  bearer labels that have been issued to indicate prepayment for a service or tax. They are postage stamps, revenue stamps, teleImage result for wells fargo stampgraph stamps and telephone stamps. Worldwide  issues of these stamps vary but overall the number of postage stamps greatly exceeds the number of  revenues, telephone and telegraph stamps. Indeed since 1940 there have been virtually no telegraphs and telephone stamps issued and the number of newer revenue issues has greatly declined. The reasons are technological-there ar

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  12. Advertising

    Image result for german advertising stampWorldwide postal services have tried numerous experiments over the years at increasing revenues. Most common has been the experiment of advertising with postage stamps. This experiment was first made almost coincidentally with the issuance of the first postage stamp. The Mulready envelope was issued together with the Penny Black as the world's first piece of postal stationery and private companies quickly began advertising on part of the writing page of the stationery. These letter sheets were then sold at discounts from the postage value to people willing to have such advertising with their mail. In the late nineteenth century, New Zealand experimented with placing printed ads on the backs of postage stamps. As these ads could only influence

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  13. The Danger of Estate Sales

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  14. Packets

    Image result for piles of stampsIn 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

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  15. Mounting

    Mounting stamps in albums has had four major phases in the 170 years that philately has been a hobby.  In the very beginning, collectors were just saving stamps as a whimsical endeavor.There was no science to collecting and the earliest stamp savers would lick the glue on their mint stamps and place them in their albums (This is why today so many of the earliest issue stamps that exist unused don't have any gum). The first generation of collectors never thought that anyone would want their stamps after them and so no effort was made to mount philatelic items in a way that made them tradeable.
    Image result for stamp mounts
    The second generation of collectors learned from this and saw that many specimens that the

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  16. Cancellations

    Image result for great britain postal cancelOne of the earliest objections to Rowland Hill's idea for a gummed label that indicated prepayment of postage was the fear that such a label could be soaked off and reused. A postage stamp is one of the simplest examples of a bearer certificate-anyone who possesses it can use it to mail a letter and the fear of reuse was very real. Postage of a British penny in 1840, when wages of a pound a week would support a family of four with ease, was the equivalent of perhaps $5 today so such fear had a real basis in fact. The first stamps were cancelled with Maltese cross cancellations which provided a sometimes disfiguring obliteration and the town from which the letter was posted placed its date

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  17. On Goodness

    Image result for rowland hillFew people today understand the technical revolution that the invention of the postage stamp produced. In many ways, stamp invention had as great an effect on 19th Century communication and commerce as computers and electronic communication has had on ours. Ease of contact facilitated business and social interaction. Business was enhanced. Newspapers and book readership increased as it became cheaper to deliver texts to readers. Social barriers fell as the lower classes could communicate with relatives and have access to employment and commercial opportunities that had been denied them. And the inventor of the postage stamp was

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  18. A Remarkable Coincidence

    Image result for travelStamp Dealers travel quite a bit for business and as a young man I did my share. One evening some thirty years ago I was visiting some clients in upstate Pennsylvania to purchase their stamps. It was getting late and as usual I was getting lost. I decided to look for a hotel and the closest one was a tiny inn in the most north east part of the state- The Inn at Starlight Lake. The Inn was a popular summer and weekend vacation spot for New York City people but during the week in the fall it was quite empty. The rooms were tiny and the Inn was built around the concept that you sat around the fireplace in the evening and met the guests and your hosts. There were no guests other than me and soon my hos

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  19. Why and When

    Image result for repairsOne often sees discussions concerning repairs on lower priced stamps. While collectors do need to be careful about repairs and alterations it is important to remember that stamps are repaired for a reason and that reason is so they can be sold as non damaged items at higher prices than they would be otherwise. Thus repairing a stamp is an economic act, not someone engaging in an esoteric activity. I say this so that you'll keep in mind the two questions that reasonable philatelists ask when they are examining an item for repairs; Why, and when? If a stamp has been in a collection for thirty years and was thought to be a cheap stamp thirty years ago why would anybody waste th

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  20. Iceland Parliment

    Image result for Iceland flagThe Althing is the parliament of Iceland and is considered to be the oldest Parliament in the world (though whether this is "continuous" or not is subject to some dispute). But the Icelanders are rightfully proud of their Parliament's longevity and have publicized it on two 1930 sets which commemorated the one thousandth anniversary of the Althings founding in 930. These sets have always been popular not only among Iceland philatelists and Scandinavian collectors but among all stamp collectors who like well designed and printed stamps and who like good value for their money. Iceland has always been one of those countries that has enjoyed great philatelic popularity despite limited internal demand for their

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