Americans treat their stamps badly

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 hands. And for those of you who want make the “soft paper” argument, that is, that US stamps from the early period were printed on soft paper which thinned and damaged easily, the 1898 Canadian Jubilees were printed on a similar paper to the US Columbians by the same printer and yet it is unusual to find a damaged dollar value Jubilee. Or look at European stamps. Who ever saw a damaged Austrian Dolffus? Or GB Pound PUC?

Are Americans so much more careless that they unintentionally damage their property to a far greater degree than do collectors in other nations. The “velocity of turnover” argument might explain it. Perhaps Americans buy and sell their stamps more often than other collectors and each time a stamp is sold it is handled numerous times creating a chance for it to be harmed. I don’t really know. Perhaps a reader has an idea?

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