Labor Day of 1930 marked the dividing point of public opinion as to whether “Hoover’s Depression” was to be a big bump or a careening cataclysm rapidly getting out of control. On this eventful day my father, Maurice, and I embarked on an enterprise intended to provide the proverbial roof over our heads and destined to become life work for both of us: a stamp business.
We opened our first stamp shop in a small, third-floor walk-up office in a building at the southeast corner of 10th and Chestnut Streets in Philadelphia. Dad’s and my personal collections, plus $500.00 borrowed from insurance companies financed the purchase of fixtures, signs and advertising— and paid the rent for a while too.
Business was hardly what you would call good. Even so, the market for stamps was much better than those for diamonds, first editions, autographs and other collectable valuables. Stamp collectors retained their interest in the hobby and continued to purchase needed materials though, of course, in much smaller amounts than in the years prior to 1929.
One big help to us then, as now, was the fact that we dealt in and stocked stamps of all countries and times. We weren’t as subject to the fluctuations caused by the rise and fall of specialties as were many dealers at that time and even today. And we were lucky too. At low points in our venture, something always turned up— a “good buy” or a commission to handle the liquidation of a valuable property.
In 1933 we were able to move to a slightly larger, street level store at 52 North 11 Street. We stayed at this location for eleven years, catering to a local trade on the limited scale of such stores.
Our first few years in the stamp business weren’t as bad as the several that followed. In 1934 we started our public auctions and seemed to be gaining some slight momentum. Then my father died. It was probably the greatest personal tragedy I have suffered. His loss affected me for some time, and with general business conditions growing worse by the day, it seemed for a while that our little stamp shop wasn’t going to make it.
With a lot of help from friends and family, we managed to pull through. Soon we began to get a little bigger. We grew slowly at first, then a little faster. Today we are growing so rapidly that it is almost impossible to believe such progress possible.
I often think back to those early “depression” years. They were hardly the fondest I have spent, but they did teach me a great lesson that, I think, has helped me to keep my feet on the ground during the wonderful years we are now experiencing. It may seem strange to you, but I still get a pins-and-needles tingle every time I compare that first 225 square-foot store to what I have now. It’s a good feeling.
We have been asked, “Why do you care what kind of stamp shops there are available to collectors other than your own?”
We care because the only way we can keep our hobby growing is by making comfortable, well stocked and pleasantly conducted stamp stores available to collectors. There are many people who do not wish to do business by mail. These are people who, for various reasons, prefer to do business in person, face-to-face. We care about the facilities of other stamp shops because they reflect a marked image on stamp collecting in general.
We want people to be collectors, and if it requires that good competitive stores be established in Paducah,Columbia and Boise, then that’s fine with us.
We, as all dealers with modern and efficient facilities, profit from the collective health of philately. We endorse any and all efforts others make to improve the facilities for stamp buying and selling.
With the coming of Spring, we resume our “road work”. No, this isn’t an athletic endeavor. This is travel to view collections that are for sale. Within the next six months we expect to cover 30,000 miles of North American highways, calling on philatelists in their homes or offices to either purchase or arrange for the sale of their collections. In this, we have what is probably the world’s most pleasant occupation.
During the years since 1930, when we first started taking to the highways and byways, we have met and done business with thousands of collectors. With a few exceptions, our services have pleased them. After all, no one can please the fellow who buys second class stamps with the idea that some fool dealer will later on take them off his hands as superb copies.
By far the majority of those selling understand the basic economic fact that they will only receive the wholesale value of their material because the purchasing dealer has expenses and a profit to make. They know that some stamps are more popular than others and have a better market value. They realize that five and ten cent items are available in the trade at per hundred and per thousand prices and so will hardly be figured when the overall estimate of a collection is made. They also appreciate that the care they lavished on their collection adds to its value when selling. Dealers are only able to complete transactions with sellers who understand these economic imperatives.
“Mr. X” is collecting Missouri postal history. “Mr. Y” is keen for Montana. Then there is a long line of people after everything from Hong Kong to Tenerife. Our hope is to always have as much available in each of these lines as our friends have money to spend for their specialty. Alas, in philately it cannot be done.
There is no philatelic field other than the new issue business (and even that has exceptions) where the supply of merchandise is unlimited. Some subjects are so limited as to have practically no commercial supply except when a former collector places his material on the market. Needless to say, this is gobbled up in a short time and once again the market is dry.
There is a group of specialties that have a more generous floating inventory in dealer’s hands. Generally they are from countries or areas that have had high economic and cultural development during the time of that specialty. England and France during the Nineteenth Century and parts of Italy during the Eighteenth Century are examples. While there are many scarce items from each of these countries, so much was created that a huge reservoir of material currently exists.
Collectors who seek specialties should give long consideration to their choice of subjects. Most important should be whether they want to fish in a well-stocked lake or cast their line in a stream that only occasionally has a fish.
I recently flew from Chicago to Philadelphia in one hour and twenty minutes. Only a few years ago it took a sixteen hour train ride to cover the same distance. Of course, the plane is by comparison a modern miracle. But what has been accomplished by me with the more than half a day saved? Am I putting my newly added time to good purpose? I confess I am in doubt.
On the train I had leisure to think. Because I had to ride for an extended period of time I could undertake reading a long book or writing a short story which I had carried in my mind for some time. Occasionally along the way I met fascinating fellow travelers, and was with them long enough to benefit from their conversation and knowledge. In good weather, the passing landscape was of interest and sometimes it even inspired a lyric in my thoughts.
Now one scarcely unfastens the seat belt when the light flashes, “fasten the seat belts,” for landing; then begins the rush to home or office, the resumption of our briefly interrupted routine. There is no thought of abstract things, no reserve of composure accumulated for tomorrow.
Is it any wonder that every day more and more people are turning to stamp collecting as one of the few remaining calming influences in life? Philately is both tonic and restorant for the jaded and tired mind. It is a place in life to day-dream. It is, for many, all that remains which they themselves truly control.
Mortality in the stamp business is said to be higher than in other lines of business. A check of the advertisers in this paper compared with those five years ago will well prove the point. If one goes back ten, twenty or thirty years, it will be difficult to find many firms that have survived the years with an unbroken business record.
One reason for the high death rate is that few stamp dealers build an organization that will continue on after them. For the most part they conduct a solitary or mom-and-pop type business. This accounts for the ending of many illustrious professional philatelic names.
We believe that a good business reputation and useful service should be continued through the years under management that has grown up with the business, and takes over as the older executive retires or passes on.
Recently, I heard a man who claimed over forty years of collecting tell members of a club that they should never spend a cent for anything but United States stamps and they should always be sure that the postal clerk gives them a plate number with each purchase.
There are similarly misguided exponents of First Day Covers, British Colonies,Latin Americaand all other collecting fields. There are those who expound loud and long on the merits of no hinges, sheet collecting, used only, unused only, printed albums, blank albums, rarities, cheap stamps, etc.— in fact, almost anything one can think of in connection with stamp collecting.
Advice that tends to take away from anyone the possibility of the fullest enjoyment of our hobby is narrow thinking. Collectors should be free to save what they like to save, not what some self-designated expert advises. If Afghanistan is interesting and one wants stamps from there, it doesn’t matter a bit if no one else locally is interested. In fact, stamp collecting will profit in any community from a diversity of collecting interests of local collectors.
Broad studies by economists have proven that increase in worth or scarcity of stamps is not limited to any type, country, or group of issues. Prizes in shows are as often given for so called unpopular as popular subjects.
Philately is big. Its followers, on the whole, are big people who want to know the thrill to more than a small segment of its scope. We cater to all stamp collecting interests and encourage ventures into any phase of this great hobby.
There aren’t many collectors today who would remember my father. This is their loss, because in today’s hectic world it is a novelty to find a person like him. Spending an hour with a new collector, man or boy, instructing in the “house” of philately, was far more important to my father than selling a hundred valuable stamps. By telling one of his endless, inimitable anecdotes, he could kindle the flame in any novice collector. His philosophy, that life was more than seeking an ever bigger business and increasing wealth, could well be reconsidered today.
Nevertheless, just as my father was patient and understanding with new and appreciative philatelists, he was perturbed and annoyed by the silliness and nonsense that has always attached itself to the hem of philately.
My father was for stamp collecting, for fun and for learning. He could never understand why anyone would want to introduce the worries of speculation, the responsibilities of influencing our Post Office Department, and the undue concern over pristine gum into our otherwise unblemished hobby. He would be aghast at some of today’s schemes to promote even more needless issues. We are proud that in our formative years, we had such a head of our business.
One of the loneliest times in life is the period just after a loved husband or wife has passed away. It them seems that nothing is worth doing. Days become full of emptiness. Remorse and self-pity frequently get the upper hand.
All too often, the greatest therapy in this trying situation is overlooked. If the deceased mate pursued a hobby, then this is the time for the remaining spouse to actively continue that hobby. The intense absorption that was there for one can usually be found by the other.
If the hobby was stamp-collecting, there is always some phase of the collection in which the survivor can discover interest, and in addition to the pleasure of associating with the objects that meant so much to the deceased spouse, there is the gratifying feeling of continuing, and perhaps successfully finishing the project.
This leads me to the point of this article. Widows and widowers shouldn’t rush to dispose of a stamp collection immediately upon the death of their spouse. Retain it for a while… at least until it is definitely known that it will not be a desired and useful treasure worth far more, as a pleasurable time consumer and companion, than the monetary return that it may bring.
Stamp exhibitions need an addition to their classifications, because at present they ignore the largest body of collectors: those with general collections mounted in printed albums.
Let’s face facts; more people collect in printed than blank albums, and are general or one-of-a-kind collectors, rather than specialists. More people understand this form of collecting better than any other yet when clubs or societies stage stamp exhibitions, all but the specialists are frozen out in the classification of entries and the awards made by juries.
Is it any wonder then that the millions of “outside” collectors don’t attend stamp shows or take an interest in clubs? We make them feel like “step children”.
We need a place in every show where these printed albums with their general assemblages of stamps can be entered. We need awards for worthy efforts in this category. We also need judges with an appreciation for the more generalized stamp collecting interests of these millions of people. The fact that these millions don’t find twenty varieties where Scott only finds one shouldn’t freeze them out of the shows.
Rarely will you find perfection in the work of a man. All things we make or do have their faults. Certainly stamps, stamp collecting and stamp dealing are no exceptions.
The tolerance that others expect for their less-than-perfect work is sought just as much by stamp dealers. They can only sell the stamps that a country has produced. If a country printed an issue on poor quality paper with fugitive ink and poorly perforated, that’s the way it is.
The occasional stamp collector who insists on perfection rarely has a collection that would fill a shoe box. Most certainly he cannot have a collection that is a true reflection of stamps as they are produced.
We believe in nice quality stamps. Dirty, torn and tired copies don’t appeal to us, and we do not care to sell them. We do sell sound stamps that are attractive, desirable and collectable. And best of all, they are representative of what the country has issued as postage for the delivery of mail.
The McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, one of the world’s leading publishers of business magazines, recently conducted a survey of philately in the United States. The survey doesn’t present any startling or hitherto unknown information about our hobby, but actually confirms the “off-the-cuff” deductions that many dealers and professionals have been making through the years.
However, of far more importance than the data the report presents, is the fact that a “giant” of the publishing industry should recognize the popularity of philately— and spend the time and money for further investigation.
Through the years we have watched philately grow and prosper in an almost unpredictable fashion. And we are still excited when someone outside our philatelic world peeks in at us to take a look. For instance, a short time ago, we announced the purchase of a rather valuable and important collection. When this information reached local newspapers and radio stations, reports kept us busy for hours answering many questions about the purchase and about philately. One local television station even filmed the collection on its arrival at our offices and later showed the film on their evening news program because they estimated that their audience contained over 250,000 stamp enthusiasts.
Admittedly, we were somewhat flustered by this rash of interest. It kept our staff humming for days. But we welcomed the chance to display philately and ourselves to those who might be interested. This is the only way that philately will continue to grow and prosper, and this is important to every collector and dealer.
Stamp auctions have been developing as a form of stamp merchandising for close to a century.
The catalogs of the first auctions were no more than listings of the stamps to be sold. Condition wasn’t mentioned because it wasn’t of importance. All that the buyer expected was a stamp. Its qualities did not count.
Today, of course, it’s quite different. The best copies bring the highest prices and sometimes a phenomenal example of a stamp sells for a truly amazing price. This is as it should be.
The honest auction describer should, in a detached way, gauge the quality of what he sells and without undue flourish (unless truly deserved) write his description. To do this requires experience and philatelic ability. The indiscriminate use of terms such as “superb,” “unique,” “only has one other known,” or other epithets cheapens such terms unless they may be justly applied to worthy material.
Of course it is not long before buyers become acutely aware of those who over-describe. In the meantime, however, damage is done to buyers who accept the seller’s grading without question.
It has always been our opinion that stamp collectors get the most fun out of arranging their own collections. However, some years ago we had a client with a different opinion. He brought his albums into our office one day and said that he had fifty dollars a month to spend on them. Would we take care of it for him? Of course we would. But when he started to leave without the albums, the true meaning of his request became clear. He intended that we place his collection in our safes and once each month we were to add fifty dollars worth of stamps of our own choosing to them. He in turn would send us payment on the first of each month. This arrangement went on for several years until the gentleman retired from the business. What fun he got from his collection we never learned.
For the sake of future generations of collectors, let’s take better care of the stamps we have. Let’s avoid those practices which might further diminish our already vanishing supplies of desirable stamps.
Let’s think twice before buying cheap album paper that contains strong chemicals. Let’s be more cautious in the use of tight, damaging mounts. Let’s ensure that our stamps will not suffer from dirty fingers and rough handling. In areas of excessive heat and humidity, like Florida and the Gulf Coast States, let’s provide properly air-conditioned rooms for preserving unused stamps with gum.
We cannot be overly cautious in our care of stamps, if we hope to preserve for the future the tie with history that our philatelic possessions constitute. Perhaps the time will come when in order to have any examples at all of certain perishable stamps we will have to set up a standard of values based on the extent of repair they possess. It should be possible with care to defer this time.
Let’s all exercise the needed care.
When I asked a fine elderly gentleman in Wisconsin the price he expected for his collection he said $7,861.42. Somewhat surprised at such exact figures, I inquired how he had decided on it. His answer was, “I kept an accurate account of what I spent for them and this is exactly what I want back.”
I have no fault to find with a person trying to sell at whatever price he decided on. However, I would like to mention a few factors that should be considered in arriving at a price.
First in importance is the matter of the market at the time of selling. It may be higher or lower than when the material was purchased.
Second is the question of the popularity of the material involved. Plate number blocks or red cancellations may have been the rage when the collection was being formed but, as in all things, styles change in philately too.
Third, the right dealer must be approached. Some dealers are too highly specialized, others too small, etc. to handle every philatelic property offered.
Fourth, consideration must be made for the long, pleasant, educational and therapeutic benefits that have been received from forming the collection. These are usually a bargain if figured at as much as fifty percent of what the stamps cost you.
Do you have trouble getting the stamps you want? I think it’s good if you do. When stamp collecting becomes too easy it loses its hold on its followers. That is why those who buy only new issues drop by the wayside in such large numbers. There must be some difficulty and a little delay between the wanting and getting of a stamp to key up the excitement of its being acquired.
Going to the Post Office for the latest issues doesn’t give much of this pleasure. On the other hand, bidding in auctions before winning a wanted item is sure to keep any collector anxious and give him a thrill when the desired piece is finally won.
Try to get this kind of thrill in your collecting efforts. Someday, you may recall it as your greatest return from philately.
Almost every hobby depends for its major support on the middle-income class. Even in the United States, the upper-income level is too small numerically to provide an active market for such lively pursuits as philately, numismatics and other popular avocations.
For example, Mexico is a country with a relatively small middle-income group, and the collecting of stamps “south of the border” is generally restricted to a handful of the wealthier populace and the rich “foreign colony.”
Consequently, successful stamp dealing inMexicois on a very small scale. Good stocks are almost nonexistent and the only encouragement the hobby gets is through a few packet displays inMexico City.
Large stamp firms make many sales of $1,000 and more. They need big sales to help support their widespread business. They like well-to-do customers. Nevertheless, without the thousands of middle-income, small buyers they and the rest of philately would soon be below the horizon of recognition as the world’s greatest hobby.
How far is it from an initial collecting effort to a full experience of the pleasures of stamp collecting? No distance at all. Unlike most other hobbies, a stamp collector experiences all the thrills and pleasures right from the beginning.
True, the enjoyment continues for as long as he collects, but for him there was no waiting. Each new acquisition, every examination of a stamp and all the minutes spent with them have “paid off,” in relaxed and painless learning.
The collection itself may have great or little philatelic value. The builder may even be uninformed about the regular methods of collecting. Still he enjoys it. The mystical factors that make up our fascinating pursuit are difficult to pin down. Let it be sufficient that they are there and that we all gain from them in the way most suited to our individual temperaments. So long as this is so, the future of stamp collecting is assured.
In reviewing and examining the many hundreds of stamp collections throughout a year, we are often struck with the high frequency of “sameness” of collections. This is not to find fault with those who like to patronize the Post Office, be it Uncle Sam’s or those of other nations. It just seems to me that this method of collecting is much too easy and for that reason one can lose interest too soon. For a hobby to be interesting and absorbing, it should present a challenge in order to hold the adult mind.
Delving into stamps of the past is usually no more expensive than buying those of the present. But it is much more exciting, educational, and presents a greater opportunity for recovery if ever the collection is sold.
The Eighteen-hundreds and early Nineteen-hundreds had all the problems of postal service we have now and some that we no longer have. The Post Offices existent in 1903 are likely to be more alluring than those of today. Finding covers with cancels from that or any other earlier period can be loads of fun and certainly can be written up in an album with more individualism than can a collection of today’s made-to-order covers.
The same goes for stamps, cancellation collections and even the fascinating sidelines of Revenues, Postal Stationery, etc. It is not necessary to be rich, artistic or learned to enjoy older issues. All that is required is a desire to get the most fun for your money.
Copying Bill Veeck’s theory that baseball is for the “Little guy,” I think that stamp collecting is millions of little guys having fun, getting thrills and hoping for the extra enjoyment in life that we all seek.
By little guys I don’t mean men of small stature, kids, or people with tiny brains. I mean the average fellow who works hard, has to budget closely and dreams of things he would have if the boss suddenly became more liberal. The wife and kids have a first lien on everything he makes and whenever a wedge is cut out of the bank account for stamps, he stands naked before the judgment of his conscience.
To this “little guy” stamp collecting owes its biggest debt. He supports its clubs, its national societies and its dealers. He is the one who makes it a multi-million dollar business. He is the one who recruits its new followers and acts as its public relations agent. To him we owe much.
Let’s start repaying the “little guy.” The way to do this is to make it more fun for him to acquire stamps, to give him greater pleasure to own them and less pain to part with them when the time comes. Let’s spruce up stamp dealing, particularly in its selling, with attractive merchandising quarters and ample stocks to select from. Let’s put new gimmicks into stamp shows to make them as exciting as a circus. Finally, let’s cut out the bunk and hokum about disposing of your collection for a huge profit when we know that many collectors pay for their pleasure by selling for less than it costs them. The truth is always best. A change in “wanted to buy” advertising is called for so that our “little guy” will realistically buy, enjoy, and sell with the advance knowledge that every stamp or cover is not an Eldorado.
Nicaragua, Bolivia and Paraguay are not the most popular countries, philatelically. They take place far to the rear of France,Germany and Great Britain. This comes about naturally because few collectors have an either ancestral tie to these lands or are concerned with, or have an economic interest in these countries.
However, when it comes to getting fun from collecting, the Nicaragua, Bolivia and Paraguay boys have it all over the followers of the popular cults. They collect in a realm where varieties, both listed and unlisted, abound; where for a few dollars one can get really rare stamps, and where the catalog can be thrown out of the window to let personal fancy determine degree, direction and diversity of philatelic accomplishment. It is practically impossible for a collector to be original or to make a find in one of the popular countries. It is equally difficult for a collector to miss these thrill givers when assembling a Nicaragua collection, or, to a lesser degree, miss turning up interesting items in an assemblage of Paraguay or Bolivia.
Many minor varieties of these countries came about for the simple reason that the printers couldn’t read or couldn’t find sufficient type of the same font to arrange a complete setting. These are good practical reasons for errors and varieties.
A comic once said, “People have more fun than anybody!” We think stamp dealers have more fun than anybody. The dealer not only has unlimited hours for his hobby, he also has the opportunity to meet and make friends with many collectors. He sees their collections under conditions that are more relaxed and conducive to enjoyment rather than are afforded by the best exhibitions. Further, the dealer is granted the greatest of all bequests, the privilege of proselytizing for a cause that he believes in.
Stamp dealers receive a special joy from new collectors. Every time a convert is added to the fold, the responsible dealer feels pride in his accomplishment. Stamp dealers can choose to merchandise the stamps they like best and thus enjoy to the fullest the arranging, study and handling of their pets. They can, and most often do, get to know their clients both commercially and socially. The fraternizing of philatelists is usually on a high level and not marred by prejudices of race, religion or economic status.
With all of these advantages, I believe the stamp dealer “has more fun than anybody.” But there is plenty of fun left for the collector. Any professional dealer will be delighted to show you how to get more fun out of life.
In news reports of auction prices realized, we rarely learn what percentage of overall catalog value a collection has brought. Certain prime pieces are selected for reporting. But what is really important to the owner, “how much it all came to,” is ignored.
Any good stamp auction house can get high prices for selected rarities of exceptional quality. This is of little consequence to most collectors because such items constitute a small proportion of the total catalog value of their collections. The real point to concentrate on is what the auction house can get for more ordinary stamps and covers.
For years the best auctioneers have realized that the seller is best pleased by realizing for him a higher amount for all of his consignment than he expected. Of course he wants his pet pieces to sell well, but money in the bank is measured by the height of the balance, not little parts of what is there.
It is now close to twenty years since any United States stamp issue of this century became even semi-scarce. In most cases the stamps of this time period are available from dealers for little more than face value. Dealers have the continual problem of liquidating huge amounts of the material to business houses for use as postage. Of course, this must be done at a discount from face value which can range as high as twenty percent off for some items.
Despite these facts, there are still many people laying away sheets of current issues hopeful that in the future they will return a profit. Such a profit is extremely unlikely in our lifetime. How much better off these people would be if they only purchased the single, block or plate block their collection requires and then spent the difference for a variety of stamps from bygone years that have already achieved a premium value.
They then would be buying real philatelic worth that would not be likely to decrease because such stamps are in ever diminishing supply for an ever expanding market. Instead of money tied up in duplication they would have a collection of broader scope and certainly of more interest to any prospective buyer at some future date.
Has your exhibition committee applied for the “Maurice Apfelbaum Award for Excellence in Stamp Collecting?” The award, an attractive 2-1/2 inch gold medallion, is made available without charge to any stamp show that includes a special category for collections displayed on regular printed album pages in its prospectus.
Our purpose in offering the award is to make stamp exhibitions more interesting for the millions of collectors who use Scott, Minkus, White Ace and other printed albums. At present these collectors are practically disregarded by show committees and judges.
It is not our intention to depreciate the value of specialization, individual write-up and unusual presentations. We think these activities are excellent and encourage them. However, we also want to encourage the vast number of collectors who do not, and perhaps never will, collect that way. The “printed album collectors” are important to philately and this is our way of welcoming them into philatelic circles and providing a place for them in our stamp shows.
Very little has been written on the subject of “The Law and Philately.” One legal guide to buying and selling stamps, however, is well established by court decisions. The courts have ruled that stamp dealers are responsible for what they sell.
In other words, stamps must be, in regard to authenticity, quality and identification, exactly what the dealer has described them to be. This means that responsibility rests on every stamp merchant, whether large or small, expert or novice, to be familiar with everything he buys or sells.
Consider this well. Is this the reason why so many of the newer dealers only advertise recent issues which usually do not require much study and research?
By now it should be evident that there will never be an end to the special events that cause the issuance of stamps. The New York World’s Fair is the latest of these motivations for special issues and for the information by many collectors of so called “limited” Topical Collections.
To many people, history is only enjoyed as it unfolds in their daily newspaper. Thus, the formation of current history collections that have to do with the Geophysical Year, the Marian Year, the Brussels Fair and a host of other recent historical topics is widespread.
We wish these collectors well and certainly will not suggest that they change their stamp collecting habits. However, there are pitfalls that I feel obliged to call to their attention.
First, and most important, beware of stamps that are issues in a controlled fashion that makes it impossible to determine their actual value.
Second, understand that the important minor variety of today will be almost completely neglected by the time the next topic comes along.
Third, realize that the stamps you are buying for your current topic are also being bought in huge quantities by many other collectors. The passage of time and the popularity of the next current topic will inevitably make these stamps surplus in a depressed market.
There are exceptions to these rules, of course, but not in sufficient number to prompt any thinking person to collect these current topical issues for gains other than pleasure and education.
There are mathematical systems for determining what stamps will become rare or advance in price each year. There are theories covering the value of all stamps at any future period and there are promoters selling stamps solely on the basis that they are clever enough to pick the good ones for clients who are certain to reap a financial windfall if they follow this advice.
I say “bosh” to all these. I have been in the stamp business for fifty years and have seen soothsayers, sophists and shrewdies come and go— but never last. They can’t last because it takes only a few years to show the best of them.
The imponderables in philately such as styles of collecting, popularity of issues and countries at various times, economic factors, cupidity of individual promoters— these and many more cannot be incorporated into sound theories or mathematical formulas.
The only sure way to gain a profit from stamp collecting is to enjoy the hobby as you go along. Then, regardless of what the future brings, you must come out ahead.
Many people look forward to retirement as a time when they will be able to collect or deal in stamps. From experience, I must report that the great majority of those who postpone philatelic activity until the sunset of life never get to it. The stamp collecting habit should be enjoyed now, if it appeals to you.
Perhaps, because of the pressure of business or child rearing, the time available now is limited. But by all means, if you like philately, squeeze out a little time for it daily. Then, when retirement comes, the stamp collecting habit will be well established as a continuing pleasure in life.
For those who are burdened with extra expenses while sending John and Maria through college, there are hundreds of by ways of stamp collecting that cost very little. For those who moonlight with an extra job, what’s better than an inside coat pocket collection that can be enjoyed at opportune moments.
You are living now, and at best the future is uncertain, so if you hope to be a stamp collector, get at it today. The benefits it offers may not be postponed without the chance of missing them altogether.
I recently visited Arizona and found that the people there are most concerned about their lack of abundant water. Their state is growing fast, but unless their water supply problem is soon solved, it will limit their potential population.
What has this to do with philately? Nothing, except that stamps can be used to inform people of the possible solution to this problem. Postage stamps are a fine medium of education and publicity.
Instead of the endless stream of memorial and commemorative stamps that we issue, there could be a series devoted to the engineering that will someday bring more water to our west.
Sooner or later, we will have to tap the great river and lake systems of Northern Canada and Alaska to bring bloom to our parched areas. Now is the time to tell our people how it will be done and what it will cost.
There is no better medium than postage stamps to put over that proposal.
During the period from 1890-1900, the stamp catalogs of the world dropped the listing of postal stationery. This was not because collectors of the day had lost interest in that segment of the hobby. It was because dealers and cataloguers believed that the requisite number of philatelic varieties required maintaining a good volume of business had been reached. And they believed that the space devoted to postal stationery listings could be saved without hurting philately.
Over the intervening years, several new crops of collectors have been on the scene, and philately has changed from a game of seeing who can get the most stamps to one of using stamps for research into all phases of life.
Postal stationery is frequently artistic and always as historically significant as the stamps of a country. It is a branch of philately worthy of your interest. New catalogs which cover the subject of postal stationery are now appearing. Rarities can still be purchased as sleepers.
Common sense is all that is required to quash some of the sillyisms of stamp collecting. A case in point is embraced in the collection of the United States Columbian issue of 1893. Of the dollar values, the $1 was issued in the largest quantity (55,050); the $4 in the smallest (26, 350).
Many of these stamps were used for postage and were thus lost to collectors by destruction. Of the used examples that were saved, many were heavily cancelled or damaged in the mail.
The unused specimens that collectors of that day saved were placed in their collections with hinges, as was the custom then and is still today among many philatelists. The only dollar Columbians that were not so treated were the small number that were duplicates of the day and were purchased with the idea of being useful for future trading. During the more than 20 year period when the stamps sold below face value, much of the duplicate stock was sold to business houses and was used on registered mail and parcels.
Now, some ninety years later, it is rare indeed to find any completely sound Columbians in an unused condition. In all that expanse of time it is estimated that stamps of this issue would have been in at least 16 different collections! To expect to find any of these stamps with full original gum and never having been hinged is to expect a miracle. If, in the entire world there are 500 such stamps, it would be amazing. Certainly many exist with the old gum washed off and new glue applied. We are not, however, referring to such stamps.
Despite the history of the issue, within a recent week, eight different collectors turned down dollar Columbians in our retail department because they had been hinged!
Of course, the price that never-hinged, full original gum Columbians should carry would have surprised these shoppers. If you consider the history of the Columbians and the mathematical probabilities for obtaining perfect unused specimens you can probably estimate their value. To have such perfect stamps readily available at popular prices would mean developing a stamp fixing process to make possible what cannot exist without tampering.
A stamp dealer that I know gave up smoking last year. The reason for giving up the habit was due to a costly accident. He had just sold a valuable Airmail stamp to a client and he was holding it in his tweezers preparing to put it into a plastic mount, sparks from his cigarette fell on the stamp. One spark burned a tiny hole in it and the stamp’s value was instantly reduced by more than a thousand dollars!
I never cease to be amazed by people who handle their stamp collection while smoking. We find repeated evidence of fine stamps that are either soiled by tobacco ashes or are made almost valueless because of ash burns from cigarettes, cigars or pipes.
This is not a plea to stop smoking. Smoke if you like but please guard your stamps from dangerous, destructive ashes, both hot and cold.
We have all met fanatics; people who only think and talk about one subject. It might be baseball, religion, politics, their ailments or stamp collecting. Sometimes on the first meeting they are interesting. But after awhile we invariably try to avoid them because we know they will be boring.
In a stamp club, the fellow who will only discuss his specialty is soon the one we don’t want to sit next to. It is good to know one subject well, but most of us have more general interests. It is fortunate that only a few of us blind ourselves to the fascination of everything else in life.
All philately is interesting, be it the seeking of plate flaws on a stamp issued in 1850 or the use of an encyclopedia to better understand the subject on the newest issue of Tunisia.
None of us has the time to do all things. But, when we can see or hear about subjects beyond our own field of activity, it is good for us to do so. The culture of our times calls for the intellectual man to both specialize and generalize. His specialty is for the advancement of particular learning. His generalizing is to more fully understand and appreciate life.
When a stamp collector dies, his collection dies. His collection must be appraised in order to set its value for estate and inheritance tax purposes. This is a task that should only be entrusted to professional philatelists who are familiar with the type of collection involved and its market value.
On hundreds of occasions we have seen long typewritten lists of the contents of a collection that listed every last two-cent item in the collection. The preparations of these lists are not only real labor but the fruits of the labor are absolutely meaningless.
What is needed is a professional evaluation of what a collection can be sold for. This is rarely catalog value. Professional appraisers will value the collection by the worth of the material of value that is included in the property.
Knowledgeable buyers will never pay more than so-much-per-hundred or so-much-per-thousand for very low valued or common material. They do pay good prices for scarce items and material in demand. The important point is, when the dealer prepares his estimate of value for lawyers, executors, trust officers or other interested persons, his appraisal should be almost on the “nose” as to what can be realized through a sale.
A nickel trolley ride would have gotten you to the old Philadelphia Stamp Club back in 1920. The Club, as everyone called it, met every Tuesday and Friday evening and Saturday afternoon. Its meeting room had several long tables, about fifty chairs, the omnipresent cuspidors and an inordinately thick layer of cigar smoke when the crowd gathered.
The Club was centrally located and since suburban living hadn’t yet robbed the city of many of its upper class its membership included a good number of the society and millionaire strata. There were easily a dozen successful stamp shops inPhiladelphiaat that time and each of these merchants felt it his responsibility to belong to and sustain the Club. The Club had no competition because there was no need for it.
Meetings of the old Philadelphia Stamp Club usually attracted from fifty to one hundred people. They assembled to talk, trade and trump one another’s stories of finds. Almost everyone collected the world and needed stamps from every country. Almost everyone would swap Zanzibar for Canada as readily as they would cut a pair of imperforates to make the single they needed in their albums.
The Club has long since disappeared from the Philadelphia scene and with it have gone many wonderful memories of great people, great philatelists and great times.
Few, if any, reputable department stores will give you immediate credit for more than a nominal amount of merchandise without first making a thorough investigation. The same holds true in the stamp business.
When you send your first bid sheet or order to a stamp firm and enclose the list of your references, do not expect the dealer to immediately ship your merchandise on an open account. Unless the amount is quite small, the dealer will hold your purchase until his inquiries concerning your credit worthiness have been answered. Only after he has received the replies and found them satisfactory will he ship your material.
Credit investigations normally take from ten days to two weeks depending, of course, on where you live. In a large city like Philadelphia, such an investigation can usually be completed in a few hours or days simply by checking with the central credit bureau. However, if considerable correspondence over some distance is required, then investigation can drag on.
In all fairness to you and your dealer, when ordering from a new source or bidding at an auction where you haven’t previously purchased, submit your references and pay for your first purchase in advance of delivery if there hasn’t been enough time for the proper inquiries to be made.
It is much easier for stamp dealers and auctioneers to ship in advance of payment and they almost always will if they have the proper credit information. But, when for lack of information they bill in advance, cooperate with them and pay promptly. If the merchandise you purchased is not as represented they cheerfully refund your money.
Perhaps one of the saddest sights in stamp collecting is the man or woman who has for years collected only “new issues,” that is, stamps as they are freshly available from dealers just after issue. While it is certainly true that over a period of years, they may have acquired a large collection, they have missed one of the greatest thrills of philately— the search and find.
Most stamps are relatively easy to acquire. You decide what you want, write a check and your favorite dealer furnishes the material. But it is those items which cannot be easily acquired that give stamp collecting its greatest allure. The items, without regard to price, which are so scarce and seldom seen that one must await their coming on the market— these are true prizes of philately.
Those who limit their collecting to new issues never experience the pleasures of acquiring the difficult. And these collectors include many who would have made fine philatelists if only they had been aware of the great possibilities of philately.
The man was literally smothered in stamps, perhaps millions of them. Someday, he said, he would sell them all as a mail approval dealer. He admitted to being more than seventy years of age and he hoped to get started within a year or two.
A survey of his stock revealed only common stamps that he had laboriously soaked from mixtures purchased on paper. Few of his stamps catalogued as much as twenty cents. Nevertheless, I wasn’t one to disillusion the old gentleman. After much pleasant talk, I left him with a “good luck.”
There is no satisfactory and profitable way to sell individual stamps such as this accumulation contained. Time, labor and selling expenses are all too costly for such merchandising. Material of this nature must be returned to mixture form. Then some collectors will buy it just to kill time and perhaps to catch an occasional “sleeper.”
I’m afraid my elderly friend has already had his return from this stock in the pastime that soaking and sorting gave him. For that is all one may expect from a mixed lot of common stamps.
On several occasions, I have written about the effects of weather on stamps, particularly if they are stamps with gum on the back. In order to be properly preserved, these stamps should be stored in areas of low humidity and moderate temperature. So, too, must they be free of much weight or pressure.
Unfortunately, many collectors ignore these almost absolute rules. They believe that the use of “mounts” will free them of all other cares for their stamps. Or they believe that turning on an electric fan in the stamp closet on humid days will eliminate the possibility of sticking and staining stamps. As much as we would hope so, all too often these well intentioned actions just don’t furnish the needed protection. The bacteria that stain the stamps by ingesting the gum and excreting brown waste— thrive on moist warmth, in or out of mounts. Gum becomes tacky at temperatures that are normal in summer, particularly near the sea coast or in the south.
Continual air conditioning, placing albums vertically on shelves, and keeping them free of tightness are the best methods of avoiding trouble. There are others, depending on your location that will serve you well. If you live on an island in the Gulf of Mexico or some similar place, collect only used stamps because they are easier cared for than the unused original gum variety. If you have any love for your collection, the least you can do is preserve it in the best possible condition.
A collector in Savannah, Georgia presented me with his stamp collecting problem. He collects stamps of the British Empire and is willing to spend substantial amounts of money. He wanted to know why he was unable to receive satisfactory approval selections such as he had been able to get years ago when forming previous collections.
There must be many collectors that the stamp trade can no longer cater to as it did in the pre-1940 period. Labor costs, price competition, turn-over requirements and the potential losses of the approval business have relegated it to a sales form only suitable for juveniles and beginners. During the first stages of stamp buying, the matter of price and condition do not take on the importance they later acquire. Standard approval mailings can arouse interest and induce sales that aren’t possible from more sophisticated collectors such as my Savannah friend.
It seems that novelists who aim to succeed in these times must shock their readers. The quality of the writing, the emotions aroused by the plot and the message of the books are nothing unless the action takes place in the bedroom or back alley. Now quite a lot of stamp collecting is living off the same thing— shock.
The countries of the world are vying with one another in search of design, shape, color and topic that outdoes past exotic “stamp art.” Frankly, I am amazed at the current circular, map shaped, 3, 4, 5 and 6 sided purple and gold splashes on paper, aluminum, etc., that now pass for postage stamps and perhaps, like you, I am impatiently awaiting to see what comes next.
I have known perhaps 100,000 stamp collectors during a lifetime devoted to stamp dealing. These have included people of every grade of philatelic achievement from beginners to advanced specialists. Of them all, it is easy to select those who secured the most return from our hobby. They are the ones who collected stamps they liked best without regard for style, present popularity, potential increase in value or what the other fellow was doing.
Stamp collecting, at its best, is a highly individualistic endeavor. The stamps you collect, the way you arrange them, whether you exhibit them or not, the matter of joining a club or not, are best decided on the basis of what you like.
Collect blocks or covers or precancels or anything else if it is your pleasure to do so. But if they bore you or if the collection that gave you enthusiasm last year no longer excites you, remember philately is your relaxation.
From time to time someone asks me what I think of new or recent issues of United States stamps. It amazes them to hear that I don’t know anything about or perhaps haven’t seen the particular stamps in question.
This isn’t because I lack curiosity about our latest issues. It isn’t because I downgrade America’s stamps or because I depreciate the philatelic value of studying current issues. It’s simply that the philatelic world is so vast and the 250,000 or so past issues so numerous, that I seldom find time to watch the philatelic present.
The United States stamps issues after the Flag series of 1943 are more or less a blur to me. Perhaps it is because they lack scheme. They are mostly a mass of individual stamps, generally tied to a purpose or event that doesn’t stand out in our history. We need sets of stamps distinctive in appearance and issued for important reasons.
Our earlier issues demonstrate what I mean. The Columbians, Pan Americans, Panama Pacifics and others of that time are not all lookalikes. The range of their denomination makes for varying degrees of scarcity. They didn’t make every day a “new issue day” and dull the excitement of such events. They distinctively impressed themselves on stamp collectors.
I’m for a return to those stamp issuing principles.
What causes a boom in the price level of a country’s stamps? I don’t refer to the gradual, expected increase that takes place on a worldwide basis. I mean the San Marino and Vatican type of sudden price spurt that took place in the mid-1960’s.
Sometimes, it is true, a long hidden condition of real scarcity is discovered and leads to the upward price rush. But more often, this price jump is the direct result of an intense promotion by interested principles.
A group of knowledgeable “professionals” can, by clever publicity and wash sales, popularize and greatly inflate the price of any philatelic issue. These “professionals” defend their actions by calling attention to the excitement they create within the hobby. This is good, they claim, because many collectors are held to stamps by their love of speculation- and this important segment of collectors is needed.
Perhaps they are right. I won’t pass on their ethics or morality. But for me— and for the greater majority of stamp lovers, the beauty, pleasure, education and social qualities of stamp collecting will always be most exciting and most important.
On hundreds of occasions I have heard men of middle age lament the day they parted with their boyhood stamp collections. Their usual reason is that the collection would today be of great value.
Sometimes this is true, but most often the “kid” collections of thirty, forty or fifty years ago were nothing more than an accumulation of poor-conditioned common stamps. The exceptions were those cases in which an adult assisted in the formation of the collection with both personal attention and money.
Just as it takes money to get the better stamps today, so it was in 1910, 1920 and 1930. Children of those days couldn’t get very far toward building a valuable collection on their twenty-five or fifty cents a week spending money. All they could do was enjoy and learn from the general run of plentiful material. Millions did just that.
So don’t mourn the loss of your beginning album. Use the knowledge that you have gained to build a truly fine collection in the part of your life that remains.
Despite all that has been written about the financially unsound venture of “new issue” collecting, there are still many thousands of people who are going to send their kids through college, retire or make an enormous profit by purchasing sheets of the United States stamps as issues from the Post Office and laying them away for years.
There is nothing wrong with “new issue” collecting, if you derive enjoyment from it. However, consider these facts if you are only interested in profit.
Since 1943 there have been over a thousand varieties issued by our country. At most, a dozen or two of these issues sell for a slight premium over face value. If liquidating today, holders of stamps from this twenty-one year period must usually take a 10%-20% loss from face value, depending on the denominations of their stamps.
If you are really seeking to send your kids through college on stamps, go to a good reliable dealer and buy old stamps in fine condition that have already become scarce and are presently bringing a good price. These stamps show a consistent increase in value year after year. Recent purchases from the U.S. Post Office are never going to become rare or even scarce during your lifetime.
When you must pay $5 for a stamp with a face value of 5 cents, it is already desirable and probably quite limited in supply. With the increase in population, the normal loss of stamps through mishandling and the dispersal of the available supply, you may be sure that the stamp will sell for a higher price each year.
Any intelligent person will investigate the reliability of a lawyer, real estate agent, stock broker, jeweler or banker before dealing with him. It would be considered rash and senseless to spend large sums of money with a person of questionable reputation.
Yet, the same individual who is most careful about his ordinary business dealings will buy, without compunction, from “here today and gone tomorrow” stamp merchants. Without inquiring about the dealer’s knowledge, resources or dependability, he will pay his money and take the dealer’s word for genuineness, condition, quality and the other factors that govern stamp value.
I have seen the result of such dealings many times when discussing the sale or auction of collections. It is most painful to tell a collector that certain of his prized stamps are counterfeit or of very poor quality.
In all business, you will find a small percentage of “shady” characters. Stamp dealing is no exception. My only advice is to use the same caution in buying stamps that you would use in purchasing diamonds, stocks or real estate. You’ll be happier in the long run if you do.
I attend many stamp exhibitions each year, and I never fail to notice that only those local collectors who are already affiliated with organized philately manage to visit the shows.
These are the people who are already informed about the fine points of stamp collecting. The unaffiliated collectors, who far outnumber those in attendance and who can most benefit from the knowledge to be gained by viewing a good exhibition, rarely show up!
A stamp show in a western city recently recorded an outstanding turnout. Yet, despite attractive newspaper, radio and television publicity, eight unaffiliated stamp collectors of my acquaintance couldn’t find time to see the excellent exhibition.
This just shouldn’t happen. Philately is more than placing a hinge on a stamp and putting it in an album. Philately is a sharing of knowledge and ideas. No matter how much you may know about the hobby, you are sure to learn a little more by observing another philatelist’s efforts and perhaps another philatelist can learn something by observing your efforts as well.
You don’t have to join a stamp club. There will always be a place in the hobby for “lone-wolf” collectors, but if the avocation of stamp collecting is good enough for you to be one of its followers, then it should be of sufficient worth for you to support it. One way to support philately is to attend the local stamp shows.
Our friend and customer, Mr. R.T. has been a steady buyer every week since 1932. His visits are as regular as our store openings. His enthusiasm for stamps remains as keen today as it was when he started collecting. He collects stamps to enjoy, to learn and to satisfy a natural inclination to accumulate and save something.
His acquisition of stamps is not haphazard. It is a planned effort to gather in his album material that completes certain geographical areas. In addition anything that is collateral to the stamps is welcome. His continual buying over so long a period has resulted in a large and valuable collection, as he has never passed up an opportunity to acquire the scarce and better items needed for completion. I hope he will be able to go on enjoying stamps for many years.
It is collectors such as R.T who, when the time comes to reap a harvest from their philatelic sowing, are able to say: “I made a profit.” The pleasure of the years compounded many times by the inner satisfaction of being a good philatelist when added to the recovery value at the end of his life collecting constitutes far more than bank interest.
There has never been a time when all the earth’s people were peacefully satisfied with the status quo. Mankind’s volatile condition is natural. Innovation, revolution, contest, construction and demolition constitute the ways in which mankind has progressed from caves to commonwealths.
These are the principles of every activity. The great natural migrations, the wars, the discoveries and inventions and even the changes in family life, are part of it.
Certainly philately cannot be contrary to everything else. It can and must change with time. The stamp collecting of 1904 was of a nature that satisfied collectors of that day. But this is a different era, one in which a greater knowledge of world affairs is involved with the fantastic production of attractive stamps in an excessive number. Collectors simply must draw limitation of their individual philatelic activities in an effort to remain collectors and still have time for other things in their lives.
Interest in the varied phases of philately continues, but because of their variety, it is fractionalized. No longer is it possible to assemble within the confines of a city, fifty or one hundred philatelists who collect in a similar way. Now each is pursuing a different course.
This is neither good nor bad. It is in line with the laws of life that decree eternal change. The lesson to be learned from this is that tomorrow will bring a still different philately. No one can foresee what it will be. Therefore no one should advise collectors to spend their money with investment in mind. The value of a certain stamp in the future is beyond our prophetic ability.
If you were to ask me to name the one event in my philatelic experience which had the most profound affect on stamp collecting activity in the United States, I would have to respond “The affair of the Hammerskjold error.”
This long, bitterly contested issue between the Postmaster and the hobby, created a volume of stamp collecting publicity far beyond any ever received- either before or since. And while tempers flared over the question of “Postmaster Day’s decision,” old appetites for collecting were whetted and revived.
Former collectors who hadn’t looked into their albums in years suddenly became avid philatelists. Quite inadvertently, Postmaster Day had infused an interest in stamp collecting far beyond the reaches of stamp columns, Popular Mechanics advertisements and stamp society efforts.
I have never heard of Postmaster Day being selected for a philatelic honor of any sort, but in my book, he can very well be named “Public Relations Philatelist of the Century.”
Stamp collectors are frequently blinded by garish advertisements. Ads which offer merchandise with a $250 catalog value for only $17.50 attract a lot of attention and get many orders. However, most of these orders come from collectors who haven’t learned to apply the rule of life that “you never get something for nothing” to their philatelic purchasing.
It stands to reason that merchandise of quality- whether in stamps, clothing, automobiles, real estate or any other line- doesn’t have to be given away or sold at just a fraction of its worth.
If a stamp with a catalog value of $10 is so common or in such poor condition that it can only be sold for 50 cents or $1, then that is all the stamp is worth. It has evidently been overpriced in the catalog.
There will always be offerings of “much for little,” and there will never be a shortage of takers of these offers, but when the time comes to put a true value on the material involved, there will always be a rude awakening.
If you are like most people I know, you find very little time to just sit and think. And, for many of us, there are quite a few things we would like to think about.
Our thinking doesn’t have to be profound or transcendental. It isn’t necessary for us to devise a new philosophy or solve some of life’s great riddles. All we need to make our thinking worthwhile is the better understanding of one or more problems. Anything beyond that is pure cream.
But thinking isn’t easy- especially at today’s helter-skelter pace. One barely has time to react, much less think, and profitable thinking requires a composed mind.
What can we do? We cannot rely on sedatives for they are hardly conducive to clear thinking and we cannot beat a retreat to Walden as Thoreau once did, but we can turn to our stamp albums.
There is nothing else known to man that so beneficially soothes the temper, the temperament and the tedium. Stamp collecting is probably the greatest restraining influence on the sale of tranquilizers. Use it when you just want to sit and think and you’ll be amazed at the results.
I was surprised when an old stamp collecting friend told me that he doesn’t subscribe to a single stamp journal! He has been collecting stamps for over thirty years and has a large collection which he seems to enjoy. However, for some unknown reason, he has no interest in news of other collectors, collecting activities, discoveries, new issues or the myriad goings-on in the philatelic world.
I wonder if this particular collector is unique or if there are many like him. I also wonder if he— and his approach to the hobby— are symbolic of the people who form the collections that we and other dealers are never anxious to buy when they come up for sale.
We see thousands of these collections every year. They lack quality. They are completely devoid of interest of any sort. They are almost always poorly arranged and to my mind, they are often downright worthless.
True, there is no fixed way to collect stamps, but no matter how you do it, you are bound to learn more about your hobby by reading the journals of philately and by joining other collectors in philatelic activities.
If you are going to discover all of stamp collecting by yourself, you will make costly errors. Of that, nothing can be more certain.
Ask your corner grocer— if you still have one— what mark-up he must place on slow-moving items that currently sell for ten cents or less. Then go to your local 5 & 10 store to see if there is such a thing as 5 & 10 cent merchandise. If you really want to spend an enlightening day, visit all the stores in your local shopping area seeking out items that sell for ten cents or less. The chances are you’ll find mighty few of them and the reason is simple; it isn’t possible for a clerk to handle the receipt, checking, placing on sale and selling of such inexpensive goods in sufficient enough quantities to pay today’s wages and the general overhead even in the best run business.
Yet there are thousands of stamp-collectors who expect to buy the inexpensive individual stamps required for their collection at a dime or less each— on special order! Granted, the stamps involved are common and pretty general with no individual intrinsic value, but the supplier of the stamps has salaries and rent to pay— and his own time to account for it.
Alas, I join with you in regretting the passing of the penny, nickel and dime stamp business, but so, too, do I regret the passing of the ten cent-shoe shine.
One of my grandmothers came to the United States from Holland in 1853 when she was only two months of age. She was a very patriotic American. She proudly flew the flag on every occasion and she showed off Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell to every out-of-town visitor.
Every American achievement was her pride and joy. Yet she never ceased to be concerned with what happened to her Dutch homeland. She feared for it in times of flood. During World War I she feared the Kaiser’s invasion and the awesome blockades that made life so difficult.
Almost everyone feels a special attachment to the land of his or her ancestry. This sort of attachment has frequently resulted in stamp collectors’ restricting their philatelic interests to the countries of their ancestors. Sometimes there is a familiarity with the language or customs that proves to be especially helpful to specialization.
It is most appropriate when a Greek collects stamps from Greece or a Swede collects stamps from Sweden, etc. Not only is it appropriate, but the results are often an outstanding specialized collection that is a real credit to its maker. There are many reasons for choosing a subject in which to specialize, but none is more worthy than ties of ancestry.
We all know a few of the “I could have bought it” boys. They’re the collectors who didn’t have the foresight to buy items like U.S. Zeppelins, Wipa Sheets, Greek Olympics, etc., when they were low in price and now they lament in public whenever they have the chance.
These collectors don’t realize that everyone has, at some point or another, missed out on what later proved a bonanza. Perhaps it was a piece a real estate or a painting by a later recognized great artist or in the case of philately, the many stamps that time has determined were worth higher prices.
It is not what you didn’t buy that really counts, it is what you did buy and more important still, it is what you will buy from now on. There is not stamp collecting pleasure in lamentation. Look to the present and the future, not to the past. There will always be items which advance in price and you are bound to have some of them if you continually add to your collection.
The important thing in stamp collecting is to get daily enjoyment from the hobby. With most collectors that enjoyment comes from the items they are continually adding to their collections— even if some of them do fail to become rarities.
It may be difficult for you to imagine the many thousands of earnest stamp collectors for whom no stamps exist outside of the communist area or from before the communist take over of their country. But there is such a group of collectors in Czechoslovakia.
The government of that communist satellite sees to it that no foreign catalogs, stamps or even information about issues from the west from iron and bamboo curtain countries is to give collectors a wide range of material to keep them interested in their restricted hobby.
In the free countries of the world, there is a continual striving for all kinds of knowledge. In the communist countries, people can only strive for the knowledge that their government wants them to have.
The collectors in these countries, as individuals, are just as pleasant and friendly as our own hobbyists. It is too bad that they can only buy, sell and collect on a restricted basis which most of us would fine detestable.
It may be difficult for you to imagine the many thousands of earnest stamp collectors for whom no stamps exist outside of the communist area or from before the communist take over of their country. But there is such a group of collectors in Czechoslovakia.
The government of that communist satellite sees to it that no foreign catalogs, stamps or even information about issues from the west from iron and bamboo curtain countries is to give collectors a wide range of material to keep them interested in their restricted hobby.
In the free countries of the world, there is a continual striving for all kinds of knowledge. In the communist countries, people can only strive for the knowledge that their government wants them to have.
The collectors in these countries, as individuals, are just as pleasant and friendly as our own hobbyists. It is too bad that they can only buy, sell and collect on a restricted basis which most of us would fine detestable.
The house and its furnishings indicated a degree of poverty. The nice lady and gentleman who lived there were seeking my advice. It seemed that he couldn’t work because of a crippling illness. She held a modest position. What did I think of them putting as much as they could, perhaps twenty dollars a month into stamps so that when she goes on social security in fifteen years, they would have a nest egg of considerable value?
I hesitate to give advice that should be sought from other professions. In this case, a banker or a broker was needed. I hope that I was able to persuade these misguided folks to seek out a good bank and be happy with its savings plans.
There is a cost level at which everyone can afford stamp collecting. It may be even as low as one dollar a month. However, there has never been a time when small money is likely to be the entry way to philatelic riches. The pleasures of stamp collecting are for everyone. Its financial returns are for the few with the knowledge and capital required for what is perhaps the trickiest of investments.
People with only five dollars a week and the need of future savings had better put at least four dollars in a bank and collect stamps modestly for the remaining dollar. We hope they will expect their return to be entirely in pleasure.
Some people are obsessed with what for want of a better term can be called “counterfeititis.” They have gotten into such a frame of mind that they believe it their duty to prove that every stamp is either a fake or has been tampered with.
Now in truth, only a very small percentage of philatelic material is the product of a counterfeiter or repairer, and almost all of their work is readily recognized by experienced professionals. It is doubtful if one tenth of one percent of the efforts of fakers could get by the describers employed by the leading stamp businesses of the world.
When there is real reason for doubt, every stamp firm urges the submission of material to one of the many finely recognized expert committees for an opinion. If the opinion is negative, I know of no established stamp dealer who won’t make good, of course within the limits of his sales guarantee, which is always generous enough to allow plenty of time for having your purchases checked. There probably is no other line of business that is so ethical in this respect as is the stamp trade.
Suppose you were the postmaster general of a small country. You received an annual salary equivalent to about $8,000 or $10,000 per year. Suppose too, that your august position required private schools for your children, maintaining a fine home, entertaining on a lavish scale and all the other burdens of prominence.
Unless you were independently wealthy with outside sources of income, isn’t it possible that you might be susceptible to promoters of controlled stamp issues who offered you an “honest” way to increase your income by a few thousand dollars a year?
Some of the flood of “new issues” is unquestionably a result of connivances which situations such as the above engender. I don’t think that this can be stopped at its source, but I do think that it would become far less profitable for its perpetrators if more American collectors used a little will power and rejected materials which the philatelic press has exposed as contrived rubbish.
Perhaps, as Mr. Barnum once pointed out, “there is a sucker born every minute.” Do you have to be one of them?
Any stamp dealer worthy of patronage should know more about the stamps he sells than the average collector. Granted, unless he is a specialist in a particular field, he will seldom know as much as specialists do about the restricted sections of philately which they so intensely study.
What this means to you, the stamp collector who is buying for his collection, is that you should be able to buy with every confidence from your dealer. You should not have to worry about the more obvious fakes, repairs and misleading items that turn up. These should have already been eliminated from the merchandise which your dealer is offering.
Specialists with knowledge gained from concentrated study and research will always have an advantage over general dealers and collectors. These specialists will know and recognize varieties which are regularly offered for major numbers in most places. They have learned the “good” postmarks, the points that genuine stamps must bear, the required postal rates of covers and much other information that would sorely over-burden any individual if he tried to learn all about everything. General dealers should know some of this, but can never know all.
Specialists are frequently repaid for their intensive studies by the opportunities they get for picking up “sleepers.” But they must often invest a great deal more time in study than they are repaid in the “good buys” they make.
Only a small percentage of stamp collectors are inclined to be studious specialists. For the rest of us, the general world of stamps is our fascination. If a broken “T” exists in position 23 of plate 16 of the $10,000 denomination of the 1938 issues of Yemen, that knowledge, so precious to few, is of little import to the great body of our hobby.
While on a buying tour through Florida during October and November, I conversed with well over one hundred collectors. All except a dozen or so insisted that the precautions necessary to protest against the gum and stamp damage caused by a hot humid climate did not apply to them.
I heard such inane statements as: “I keep my stamps in a dry closet,” and “I use mounts on all my stamps.” From where I am sitting, it seems obvious that without climate control of some sort, humidity will get into a closet just as easily as it gets into a closed-up basement or attic. And mounts have never been known to protect gum that is softened by high temperatures and dampness.
The only sure-fire protection for unused stamps in hot, humid areas is a well regulated air conditioning system. This is a very low cost investment in comparison to the value of most collections and if limited to only one room in a house, the investment in climate control is practically nil.
There is never any justifiable reason for anyone losing a collection by not caring for it. That is, there is no reason other than the one of being blind to the experiences of thousands of other collectors.
Nowadays, everyone wants to get into everyone else’s act. The chain stores are selling gasoline and the gasoline stores are selling general merchandise. The football season erupts in violent bloom long before baseball is even nearing its World Series. Coin shows are being run in competition with stamp exhibitions— sometimes even in the same hotel.
Few of us have enough leisure or concentration to be both football and baseball fans at one and the same time. Most men are limited by their budget and must choose either stamp or coin collecting as a hobby, but certainly not both.
Joe, the gas station man, who was just breaking even before XYZ markets put in gas, oil and tires, now has another problem. Life and earning a living are becoming constantly more complex. Most individuals today are faced with tougher problems than their fathers could have imagined in their wildest dreams. What our opinion-makers refer to as “progress” is frequently just a bigger headache. Perhaps it is time to investigate the importance of personal contentment, peace of mind and enjoyment of life. They could deserve as much publicity as so called “progress.”
Ladies and Gentlemen! On your left is Mr. Topical Collector, and on your right, Mr. Conventional Philatelist. The fight is a “no hold barred” to the finish, to decide how stamps should be collected.
The above is the way some extremists would have the stamp collecting world view the differences in styles of our hobby. They are intolerant of variation from the “by country,” “by date,” and “by issues” form, or, if they are followers of thematics, cannot bear to accord rights to anything but that gathered by subject or event.
Every human endeavor including religion, politics, philosophy, and medicine has its share of rabid and intolerantly biased followers. They do little good and frequently do harm. We don’t need them in philately. Much can be said for any form of collecting. If we exclude them from our hobby, because of the plan they follow, any segment stamp collectors we are decreasing the market for stamps, and thus affecting the price level that is sensitive to all matters of supply and demand. We are also, and probably most harmfully, restricting the number of people who enjoy the pleasures and benefits of stamp collecting.
Many people miss the major reason for being a stamp collector. This occurs because they are misled by some factions of philatelic press into believing that monetary gain is the main reason for the followers of philately to be addicted to the hobby.
Stamp collecting is basically an exciting diversion because it stirs the interest and emotions of its followers. It does this in various ways, but always in a constructive direction. Some collectors are urged by the hobby to seek certain stamps. They become quite emotional about looking for and getting the items they want.
Other collectors diligently seek the information they desire about the stamps they own. To them the plate positions or the types of postmark are as thrilling as a horse race or close ball game.
The dollar sign is an important one in our hobby, but without a stirring of the emotions, without the pleasure of exhibiting to our fellow philatelists, stamp collecting would fall flat. Because our hobby offers these basic joys we are willing to spend varying amounts of money to pursue it. Few of us would be interested if the money value was philately’s sole attraction.
Catalog value is often a misleading quotation when it is used to value collections for tax or probate purposes. The government appraiser who figures every 10 cent catalog item, who disregards condition and to whom the popularity and current market are unknown, is in a poor position to place a value on stamps. Equally unqualified is the novice collector who, though he can read the catalog, has little experience in converting its figures into a fair resale price.
I have, during the past three months, come upon cases where tax was paid on an estate based on the full catalog value of common and poor quality stamps because the appraiser and the lawyer of the estate knew no better. Accurate appraisal of stamps requires years of experience. Estimating the worth of scarce varieties and unusual pieces is well beyond the ability of 99 out of 100 collectors. It is completely over the head of such appraisers as real estate men, numismatists, butchers, and haberdashers. I have seen the results achieved by these people, thoroughly competent in the above occupations, when they endeavored to value stamps. The hundreds of dollars in excess taxes paid by the estates they mis-valued could well have gone to a worthy charity or toward making the widow’s later years more comfortable.
The description “og” in stamp collecting means original gum as added to the stamp before its sale in the Post Office. Some new collectors are alarmed at the use of hinges to mount stamps in albums, as has been done over 100 years by collectors everywhere. They mistakenly believe that this best of all ways to mount stamps is injurious to the stamps.
Well, if the backs of stamps are the side to be displayed it must be admitted that hinges generally do make a mark on gum. But the gum is still original even though it shows that it has been hinged.
Gum may be (and frequently is) replaced or altered by those who seek to freshen up their stamps. If the job is well done even experts cannot tell the difference. So, I’d rather have a lightly hinged stamp, if it’s over thirty years old, than a “never hinged” one, because there is a chance that the never hinged stamp is the professor of gum that never saw the inside of a Post Office.
Paying through the nose for “mint”, and that is what the gum fanatics are doing in their mania for never hinged, and then getting gum that was in a bottle a short while before, strikes me as an even wilder way to squander money than going to the races.
This piece isn’t likely to convert the “gum collectors,” but at least it reiterates the basic rule that “og” must not be construed as meaning “never hinged”. It’s a more honest statement of condition than many “never hinged” stamps could ever claim.
Where can I get it? We are asked this question several times a day by collectors who seek certain elusive stamps which they would like to add to their collections. Sometimes, even though the catalog price is low, it takes years to locate some particular stamps. This shouldn’t dismay the one who seeks them, because the difficulties of stamp collecting are responsible for its popularity with most collectors.
If all one needed was money to acquire every philatelic item desired, people of means would have a great advantage over the myriad of less affluent collectors. However, one soon learns that in philately there are some things money can’t buy and one of them is completeness. There is always the elusive item that no one has for sale and for which one must wait until a great collection is being broken up. It is acquired only after years of patience.
I believe this aspect of our hobby is the one that keeps learned and cultured collectors in the field. They seldom like projects that are easily completed.
In the last two months I have traveled over 30,000 miles in North and South America. I have seen the sights and scenery; I have tried the foods along the way, and I have slept in a myriad of different beds. I have met many stamp collectors and dealers. The courtesy and hospitality of our fellow philatelists is outstanding.
In Santiago, Chile; Montevideo, Uruguay; Rio de Janeiro and San Paulo, Brazil; Buenos Aires and San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina; as well as Miami, St. Petersburg, Oakland, San Diego and a hundred other places stamp collectors considered it a pleasure to go out of their way to make our visit enjoyable.
Some of these folks we had known through correspondence, but the majority of them were strangers until our visit. The fraternity of philately is a door opener and a lodge of true brothers.
The next time you travel look up a few collectors. You will agree that meeting with them constitutes one of our hobby’s greatest pleasures.
For some difficult to discern reason there are in the United States uninformed speculators who seek to be duped. They have heard of the value of some stamps and therefore assume that all stamps are desirable and sell for ever increasing prices. Thus, when a fast talker offers them fifty sets of an issue from a country they never heard of at double or triple what it is available for from established dealers, they grab at the opportunity of a lifetime.
These speculators seldom even have a catalog, subscribe to magazines and perhaps limit their philatelic readings to the stamp column appearing once a week in their local newspaper. An exhibition of stamps or an informative talk at the local club would not attract them because they believe that all one must know about stamps to be a successful speculator is how to write checks paying for them.
While it is true that these people are of no consequence to the established stamp trade, sooner or later they receive a grand disillusionment and then widely proclaim that stamp collecting is a fraud. How they should know is beyond me, since they never were stamp collectors.
Early in his stamp collecting experience it becomes evident to almost every collector that common sense is as applicable to the pursuit of his hobby as it is to all other activities.
He realizes that moderation is a necessity if he is to enjoy philately through the coming years. He must limit the time for and cost of the hobby to the amount that his station in life affords. He must select from the thousands of forms of collecting those that suit his personality, temperament and abilities. He must decide on the important matter of club association or lone wolf collecting. He must consider such obvious details as type of album, type of mounting, used, unused or both, along with the level of quality desired.
Good common sense will decide all these matters so that future years will provide a period of tranquil enjoyment of stamp collecting. As an aid may I suggest that the tried methods that developed with our grandfather’s collections are still a path to philatelic enjoyment. Essentially they are to collect on a broad enough scale to maintain your interest; to seek to improve the quality of your specimens; to arrange your material as soon as possible in albums (envelopes, files, drawers and cigar boxes are poor display accessories); to subscribe to, read and learn from several good stamp journals; to lend a helping hand to the novice collector so that he may benefit from your experience.
Where stamp collectors gather, be in the club or dealer’ shop, there should be a sign reading,
Where stamp collectors gather, be it in the club or dealer’s shop, there should be a sign reading, “Philately Spoken Here.” Truly a distinctive language embracing a terminology that would be as Hottentot to most, but is used and understood internationally by Philatelists. The references to catalogs and handbooks that we make so casually, the use of quality terms; the ways in which we divide shades, papers, perforations, postmarks and printing methods are no secret to any of us, but constitute a rigid barrier to outsiders. One can travel in any country of the world and speak “philately” in stamp gatherings and be sure of a great degree of understanding by his audience. The same person cannot visit his next door neighbor and be understood when he talks in the stamp collecting language. We should bear this in mind when we address audiences of non-collectors or speak in groups where our hobby is not familiar.
We may use the Language of Philately only in philatelic circles. All others require interpretation in order to understand completely our message.
The philatelic gum collectors are very well entitled to their form of collecting; after all, no one in the stamp collecting world has laid greater emphasis on the right to collect what you choose than I have. If a collector desires stamps hinged only once or never hinged that is his privilege and most stamp dealers will honor his wishes. He is not a problem when he carefully indicates his requirements.
On the other hand, there is a large group of people who, perhaps thoughtlessly, order stamps from lists or auction catalogs wherein condition is definitely described and defined, but either refuse to take the time to read the definitions before ordering or hopefully chance getting material with qualities different than described.
The majority of stamp dealers secure their stock of all but current issues through the purchase of stamp collections. It was and still is the custom of millions of collectors to use stamp hinges. When properly used good hinges do not, and I emphasize “do not,” harm stamps. It is virtually impossible to make a collection of any kind of unused stamps issues prior to 1940 and achieve completion unless previously hinged stamps are acceptable. The only alternative is to spend a lot of money buying stamps that have been regummed to mislead the great number of people who cannot tell original from regummed stamps.
The purpose of this editorial is two-fold. First, to ask that you please do not mislead your dealer by ordering in such as way that he is unaware of your requirement, and two, that you give reasonable thought to the matter of whether the stamp or its glue is what you are collecting.
Stamp shows, exhibitions, conventions and get-togethers are desirable and usually enjoyable. However, this is not reason enough for having the many thousands that are held yearly in theUnited States. One follows another frequently in the same area. The collections on exhibit are the same collections that go on the prize hunting circuit. And often, attendance is the same show-going crowd never large enough for the effort expanded.
There are not enough fresh ideas, exhibitors and show-goers to sustain our present schedule successfully. There is no need for Central, North, East, South andWest Middletownto each have its own exhibition and banquet. Yet this is what goes on in hundreds of cities.
A merging of interests into at least state wide groups is the answer. We travel today at a high speed so that even in a state as wide asMontanathose who are interested can and will attend a really worthwhile convention and exhibition at the far end of the state. They will not attend twenty different smaller shows on twenty week-ends as so often happens now. This calls for a merging of interests and joining together in our projects. The result must be an advantageous one.
The other night my wife and I attended the wedding of my secretary. She married a fine, brilliant young physicist whose future seems destined to be highly successful. The wedding party was in the main made up of young, attractive, well educated people striving for important places in America’s expanding future.
In contrast, there were a few of the “older generation”— those whose ultimate future has arrived and who are living now at the pinnacle of their achievement. For the most part, they grew up during a time when education wasn’t the all and everything of youth. School ended for those born early in this century when economic pressure on the family overbalanced the scale of wonderment and curiosity that leads to higher education. College degrees were for the one in twenty-five who were touched by providential guidance. America today is the land of the young. The young number among them a greater percentage of well-educated, thinking sophisticates than any generation in history. Stamp collecting in its most advanced forms is a pursuit extremely enjoyable to this great class of learned people. Considering the number of them in our new society, can you doubt that we are at the threshold of philately’s greatest expansion; that fine and scarce stamps have today only a fraction of the worth they will have before the end of this century and that the cultural qualities of stamp collecting will be a part of many more in the future than it has been in the past?
It was a lazy rainy Sunday. I didn’t even shave. Along about one o’clock in the afternoon I opened the door to our store room with nothing more in mind than killing time. Within ten minutes I was completely absorbed looking over envelopes and album pages of stamps acquired years ago. Even one as close to stamp values as I am gets a pleasant surprise at finding fifty or a hundred stamps that were common and worth pennies when last looked at and now catalog a dollar or more. Yet any older accumulator is about to get this pleasure. The market changes and ordinary stamps of the 1930 period are no longer current. To the present generation, stamps that were disdained thirty years ago are now quite desirable.
It has ever been this way in stamp collecting. The attrition of years of handling, economic change and increase of interest will, as it has in the past, continue to raise the price level of good stamps. Making a “find” in one’s own closet happens quite often to collectors.
Taking care of your duplicates and accumulations is good business. The gains that can result over the years are truly amazing.
The pleasures of the past can be relived. I have just finished reading the series of stamp columns which I wrote for a newspaper syndicate in 1956 and 1957. They are many years old and I had completely forgotten about them. The general philatelic topics of the series are as fresh today as they were then. In fact, I could use any of them for this column and readers would believe they were freshly written just for this one purpose.
This only goes to prove that most of what is exciting to the new collector has been repeated time and time again during the more than a century of stamp collecting history. New issues, errors, record prices, famous collectors, exhibitions, scarcity of material, stamp thefts, conventions, etc.- they have happened before and gave those collectors the same reaction that we get for today’s happenings.
It is indeed a credit to the appeal and qualities of philately that the same acts and dramas can be repeated time and again to the joy of an ever increasing following. Your great grandfather could barely await the weekly stamp club meeting back in 1901 so he could show his friends his latest find, an inverted one-cent Pan American. Now, many years later, Junior rushes to the meeting to participate in a current discussion about the lack of art in the stamps our country is currently issuing. The subject of Post Office delinquency is as hot today as it was in 1901. Philately is quite sage as long as this interest continues.
When the new Scott Catalogs are released, many collectors immediately check each price against the preceding year’s figure and determine the gain or loss for the year. Since, in the majority of cases, this is done with considerable enjoyment it becomes a part of the collector’s philosophy of philatelic pleasure. Let him long continue to do everything that he likes to do in stamp collecting.
My purpose here is to call attention to the ever decreasing meaning of catalog value. It has been replaced by actual selling prices as given in the price lists and catalogs of the more important dealers who both stock and sell stamps. Individual and unique rarities are priced at what the market will bear, often by sale at auction. The catalog can only hint at what will be paid for a distinctively fine gem that is not apt to be available again within the lifetime of interested buyers.
On the other hand, the great mass of stamps are available from stocks in the hands of professionals. With today’s emphasis on condition, prices are based more on that factor than on the general supply available for, with the exception of recent stamps, time, handling, climate and other hazards have taken a toll on many existing specimens.
A dealer offering theU.S.Columbian issue at ½ Scott would only be able to supply stamps below the condition requirements of most buyers. It therefore has become necessary for him to ignore catalog price and establish his net retail price on a basis of cost to him, realized prices at recent auctions, probable sources and cost of replacement and projected future markers. Since you buy from him but not from Scott, his price must ultimately receive more consideration than catalog price.
What is the right price for a stamp? Is a particular specimen worth two or three, or even more times the catalog value while another is not a bargain at a sixth or seventh of Scott? Every collector at one time or another must consider these questions. If he tries to decide without the benefit of experience and knowledge, he is apt to be a patsy for those who make a business of finding stamp collecting patsies.
It is necessary to devote some of your stamp collecting time to learning about stamps from authoritative literature and periodicals. An enormous amount of worthwhile information is available to every collector. If you live thousands of miles from a Philatelic Library you can, for a modest expenditure, form your own reference library. The stamp trade has for sale fine books on almost every subject in philately that you can imagine.
The best way to know if you are getting your money’s worth in stamp collecting is to spend a little of that money learning about your subject.
There is a society, The American Philatelic Society that, among other things, publishes frequent journals reviewing new publications and offering worthwhile books. Dues are modest per year and to become a member simply write for information to Box 8000, State College, PA 16801. Send in your application today and take advantage of the unlimited knowledge available through this society.
I have no objection to a little stretching of the truth when it results in improving an anecdote or increases the humor of a situation. It is human nature to embellish upon the truth and topping the next fellow seems to be enjoyable in all circumstances.
However, there is one situation where honesty and accuracy is desirable. That is in informing your family of the real worth and finances of your collection. Misleading the Missus in either the direction of undervaluing or overvaluing stamp holdings can lead to some real heartache if she ever must supervise their disposal. Telling her that you have been the world’s best buyer of stamps won’t hold up under those circumstances. On the other hand, making her believe that you spend little or nothing on the hobby when, in truth you put into it all but the baby’s show money is just as bad.
Every man is entitled to a fund, within reason, for his pleasure. Take your wife into your confidence and insist that she know what your collection is worth and what to do with it if something happens to you. You may be saving her considerable heartache in the long run by such frank action now.
Again and again we are faced with the necessity of telling widows or other heirs that the collection they have inherited has only the value of the pleasure it has given to its maker.
The assemblage of common stamps, scattered incomplete sets, mixed used and unused, ordinary covers, and kindred material that many collectors form can only be accumulated in this way. It certainly can be costly if the material is acquired stamp by stamp at top price for each item, but the end result is a collection that duplicates millions of others and one in which an informed philatelist will find no single item of rarity or high value.
Collections of this sort are sold on the basis of the wholesale value of a packet of comparable size. All advanced collectors started out making such a collection. Then they wrote off most of the cost to pleasure and education received from elementary general collecting.
The further advanced a collector becomes, the higher the percentage of recovery of his costs, provided that he adds both quality and scarcity to his collection. Beginning efforts that may carry on for years are certain to be full of mistakes. Only those who learn from their mistakes and go on to more knowledgeable stamp collecting are the ones who may make a gain for collecting.
I have concluded that lack of system accounts for many dealers failing in the stamp business. They buy at favorable prices and sell fairly. They do all the right things except keep stock in a methodical and merchandisable manner.
The easy but unsatisfactory method of using glassine envelopes or stock books as a place to hide stamps of all qualities eventually is costly. Used or unused, very fine or just good, blocks and singles, etc., don’t all belong in one envelope or on one stock page. When you are beginning and the stock is small you might remember where everything is, but you soon outgrow such status.
Time spent going through fifty stamps to find one is time lost. Sales lost because you don’t know what you have are not replaceable. Yet, there are far more dealers and accumulators with “shoe box” stocks than dealers with well arranged, ready for sale material.
And then when the “reaper” calls to end it all, appraisers and buyers are expected to take the time needed to burrow through the endless loose and ill-sorted accumulations, looking for the value that might be there. It was too much effort for the owner to keep things straight but the friendly buyer from the big city should do free what the job the owner never did for himself.
If you are carelessly piling up stamps faster than you can arrange them, call a halt until you catch up. Sort by quality, sort by used and unused. Keep things in order and you will be one of those who succeed. Otherwise, the chance of failure is high.
One of the difficulties faced by today’s stamp clubs is the problem of arranging programs with a broad enough base of interest to hold the attention of a large group of collectors. In recent years, the fragmentation of philately has resulted in collectors who restrict their activities to smaller, more manageable collecting areas. Some restrict their activities to even so small a field as collecting only one stamp and its varieties. Years ago everyone collected everything.
There is no doubt that the answer to this problem is difficult to find. For clubs that meet weekly, the arranging of 52 attractive programs each year constitutes a large sized headache.
There are, in theUnited States, several clubs that have for many years been meeting weekly and enjoying a large and interested attendance. They are well known and they prosper in such cities as Cleveland, Portland, Oregon, Los Angeles, Seattle and Chicago. It would be a service to philately if the programs of some of these clubs as offered over a period of a year could be publicized. It would result in other clubs getting some ideas for their own meetings. I suggest a series of articles each on a different club telling just what their activities were for an entire year. These articles might just furnish the stimulus needed by dozens of stamp groups around the country to spark a renaissance of stamp club activity.
In 1966, in a burst of publicity, the final closedown of a forger and counterfeiter who lived in Merida, Mexico was disclosed. I wish to express my personal appreciation for the part played by various American Philatelic Society officers and members in this drama.
May I say that the dishonest dealings of Raoul De Thuin were known of (for many years) to the American stamp trade. The fact that he sold “rarities” of his own make at great discounts was no secret anywhere. Collectors throughout the world were credulous enough to believe that a stamp dealer located in a remote province of Mexico could continually have such “rarities” and be foolish enough to sell them at a fraction of what they would bring in the great philatelic market, it’s a sad reflection on the judgment used by many in purchasing stamps for their collections.
Undoubtedly, through resale of collections, much of this privately manufactured material has been redistributed and now reposes in collections and stocks where it isn’t recognized for what it is in truth- just junk, even though the APS publishes its book enabling us to recognize these forgeries, some found with regret that believed treasures were worthless. This should result in everyone using greater care in the future.
Questioning the genuineness of rare overprints until they are proved otherwise, is reasonably good sense. The money spent to buy good philatelic literature and learn what is what, should be considered a necessary expense of collecting; and above all, when you are offered stamps at prices far below their normal market value, do more than raise your eyebrows. Knowledgeable dealers don’t “give away” rarities. Buying from dealers who aren’t knowledgeable, sooner or later, results in many regrets.
I recently took a 26 day cruise. There were 17 passengers on the ship. So far as I could determine, none of them collected stamps. Many of them had collecting friends for whom they bought assortments and packets at the various ports where we stopped. Almost all my fellow passengers were between 50 and 70 years of age, well-to-do and they invariably complained of leading boring lives. Isn’t it deplorable that they had not been ensnared by one of the better collecting hobbies earlier in life— one that now, when they have the leisure and the means to enjoy it, would carry them through the dull, uninteresting hours of later life?
The time to prepare for leisure is when you don’t have it. The time to know the joy of a suitable diversion is now so that you can carry it with you into the “later on,” when its need is greatest. The wise man will, in his youth, stake out guidelines for the years to come and place his guide lights at the broad intervals that will make the doing of likable things a part of his plans.
There is a great deal of misleading information in much of stamp collecting publicity. To my mind, the very worst publicity from the viewpoint of recruiting new collectors is the overemphasis of the sale of great rarities for high prices. It frightens off innumerable potential philatelists. They get the impression that only millionaires can make fine collections.
Every reader of these articles knows how untrue that is. They know that for each collector who can afford thousand-dollar rarities there are a thousand people of average income following our hobby and enjoying it fully. As a matter of fact, not one collector in a thousand ever pays as much as one hundred dollars for an individual addition to his collection.
There are dozens or even hundreds of forms of stamp collecting that can be followed for an entire lifetime and not demand the acquisition of costly stamps. So let us make known the possibilities of our hobby for the man who occasionally has to hurry to the bank to cover his checks. Let us stop scaring him away. And, while we are at it, why not introduce a new classification into local stamp shows of exhibits in which no single item costs the owner over ten dollars.
Lest all this be misunderstood, my firm sells many rarities and has in stock at all times valuable and expansive material but we recognize that philately is an avocation suitable to all and that most of us are not wealthy. We appeal for common sense public relations that will not deter many of the prospective recruits from the pleasures of collecting.
We are all aware of the great breadth of interest in stamp collecting. We will realize that it can entertain even the most erudite as well as those of just ordinary learning and intelligence. It not only entertains them but also adds to their knowledge and frequently is the mental tonic so badly needed in these days of taut tension and frayed nerves.
But how many of us know that this self-same hobby of ours is also a useful and important part of the curriculum in schools for special needs people? True, the collections these folks usually form ill not be exhibitable in select philatelic circles; nor will anyone be likely to point to them as being outstanding in the usual ways we judge collections. They are, however, a means of interesting those with relatively low intelligence to recognize beauty, form and arrangement and to add some knowledge of history and geography to an otherwise meager background.
Stamp collecting, to be helpful to those with special needs, should have the guidance from an informed collector or teacher who recognizes the motivation possible in philately. If you can spare the time you will no doubt be welcomed by your local special needs children’s association to aid in this facet of their education.
Many thousands of collectors have never purchased any stamps except as new issues. While I cannot quite understand the pleasure derived from such easy stamp collecting, it is their privilege to collect as they will. On the other hand, every one of them is missing the joy of the hunt, the thrill of the acquisition and the elation of accomplishment that are part of building a collection of earlier issues. You don’t send an order to an agency or a single dealer for a complete collection of Peruor Andorra. You cannot get all the purple stamps of the world by walking into a store and requesting them. Neither can you understand the 19th Century history of Europe quite as well as the collector who carefully and enjoyably, over a period of time, assembles a representative collection of European stamps issued during those years.
And, most surprisingly, it costs less money to collect the older stamps than the current flood of emissions. A budget that can accommodate all the new issues of the world could within a few years afford a Grand Award winning collection of an unlimited number of stamp groups. Of course it would require some study, some searching and some patience, but then the end result of having really accomplished a philatelic challenge is exhilarating enough to most of us to more than repay the extra effort.
Last but by no means least, I have yet to see a fine collection of older material that lacks a market at all times, good or bad. This cannot always be said about collections formed only on new issues.
A correspondent has written to me complaining that my references to First Day Covers are not praiseworthy enough. He objects to my calling them sideline philatelic material. I believe that his objection is based on a lack of understanding of stamp collecting. Actually everything that we put into our collection is “sideline” except the stamps.
The most important part of philately is, has always been and will remain stamp collecting. When we elaborate on this by adding covers, margin markings, Essays, Proofs, pertinent documents, autographs and what not, we are constructively adding to the interest and value of our hobby. I am heartily in favor of all the things that I referred to as sidelines, and my firm does considerable business in each of them.
Still, if we use reason, we realize that the value of every sideline exists only because we are primarily stamp collectors.
Most of us are moody. We feel exuberant on Monday and Tuesday. Then something happens that we don’t like, and all day Wednesday we act as if the end of the world would be most welcome. We are up and down in greater or lesser degree for what are generally trivial reasons.
Stamp collecting suffers its up and downs in the same way. We go great guns on the albums for a period of time. Then, perhaps for no more important a reason than the visit of a disliked relative or the receipt of a thinned stamp in a long set, we are cold to our hobby for awhile.
All of this seems to be the nature of man. It extends to everything he does. The salesman has his good and bad days even while calling on the same prospects. The research scientist bungles as much as he succeeds. The ball player must have his slumps and his phenomenal streaks.
If stamp collecting leaves you a little cold this week, don’t despair. Next week or next month it will again be the greatest.
During more than forty-five years of membership in and contact with Philatelic organizations, I have found them to be almost completely free of the bigotries and antagonisms that so frequently enter into other phases of life. In my personal experience, a man’s ancestry, faith or race have seldom been asked when he applied for stamp club membership.
The international viewpoint that is fostered by stamp collecting may in part be responsible for the general broad-mindedness of its followers. One will certainly gain appreciation of all peoples by contact with them and stamps are the finest armchair method of acquiring each contact. It isn’t likely that anyone familiar with the art, history and great people of a country as portrayed by its stamps will think of those descended from that country as being less than equal to all others.
The followers of any religious faith can only be struck by the similarities of all religions as he studies stamps of religious significance.
The races of mankind join in a stamp album to form a club that is vast in learning, mutually helpful for scientific and cultural progress and despite differences of appearance, includes all the children of the same scheme of nature.
It is very unlikely that prejudice will ever be a barrier to a philatelic association. Our basic item, the postage stamp, is far too cosmopolitan to permit it.
Take a look at the advertisements of stamp dealers. Did you ever notice how few of them stay in the business for as long as five years? Many of the big advertisers of 1960 have long since gone. The new ones in their place will mostly peter out by 1990. This is a tough business. Along with sharp competition we are faced with the ever-present need of fresh stock that cannot be ordered from a factory. The WIPA sheet that our customer wants is not waiting in a warehouse for our order.
Then there are the expensive handling costs of the lower-priced stamps which are a necessary part of a collection and should be available in our stock for our clients.
To cap it off, style trends are endless. The singles collector becomes a block collector just after you have broken up your block stock to have singles for sale. And so it goes. Still, of all the businesses I know, this is the one I prefer. I like the smile of our satisfied clients and I like to greet the number of them we have served for four generations.
In fifty years of philatelic activity it has always been my experience that France is one of the most popular countries. Through good and bad times, war and peace, the land of the Gauls has issued much sought after philatelic material. Of course, the home market in France itself is a strong factor in this popularity; but overseas in the former Colonies, in Latin America, French Canada and throughout Europe, quality stamps of France always enjoy a strong market.
Recent issues of French stamps are artistic gems. Many early issues are classics of considerable value and the so-called middle issues lend themselves to minor specialization at modest cost. There are many albums and catalogs available to aid the collector. This is one country that appears to have a feel for the collector as strong as he has for its stamps.
It is just possible that American collectors can do something about the lagging market in recentU.S.stamps. A campaign of protest to the Postmaster General against the continuing issuance of one denomination commemoratives, each in enormous quantities, might call his attention to the need for change- change sets of stamps with a variety of denominations, each issued in a different quantity. The demand of 75 cents or $1.25 stamps is a fraction of that for the 20c value. Thus, we might once again restore to the stamps of our country some issues that might have more than postage value to stamp collectors.
Another advantage to sets is that a range of subjects pertaining to the same theme can be used. This adds to the potential interest of stamp collecting.
The fact that most of our country’s stamps of the past twenty years cannot be sold for face value when offered in quantity is a reflection on the policy of our Post Office in issuing such large quantities of special issues that philately cannot absorb them.
Let us hope and work for a new policy that will put our stamps in the premium class as are most European issues of recent days.
Do we learn from experience? I believe so. The recent Washington International SIPEX Exhibition certainly learned from FIPEX, for it was conducted on a high cultural level in contrast to the 1957New Yorkshow. The mobs of racing kids and the bourse tables that by their merchandising methods lowered the dignity of stamp collecting were fortunately missing at SIPEX. I am in favor of stamp collecting for all ages, but cannot understand how children in the beginning stage of the hobby can be expected to respect, understand and take part in advanced philately. Do we expect kindergarteners to understand the difference between the collecting of the exhibitors at SIPEX and the album of a ten-year old as there is between first grade arithmetic and quantum theory.
International Exhibitions are for adults, learned in detail with a depth knowledge of stamps that the great mass of collectors neither imagine nor care about. Why try to popularize them to those whose sole interest in attending is to acquire a current issue or a First Day Cover?
A man who fastidiously collects coins and as a side hobby formed a collection of Swiss stamps seemed surprised that we could not pay him top price for the souvenir sheets he had stuck down by their own gum. He protested that we could peel them off the pages if we would take the time.
Another man disregarded the page layout of his albums and without regard for set or chronological arrangement hinged his many thousands of stamps in his album in a hit or miss fashion.
These are just two of the many off-base collectors that I have met lately. Certainly everyone can collect as he or she desires, but as in every other game, there are essential rules to follow in philately. Care of stamps to protect their freshness, neatness or arrangement, proper climate control, careful handling, etc. are basic to every stamp collection. One cannot disregard any of these essential points without paying a high cost when eventually his stamps are sold.
If you ask yourself whether you would pay as much for second quality as you would pay for the very best, you have the answer and also the best reason for taking the best possible care of your stamps.
For many years I have been writing of the folly of buying current U.S.stamps in quantities exceeding the requirements of your collecting and correspondence needs. I have called attention to the huge printings, the low Face value of the issues, the small historical or memorial value of many issues, the poor artistic execution and by no means least important, the lack of popularity of these issues abroad. All these and many more reasons indicate that for at least a generation and perhaps much longer current and recent U.S. stamps when sold in wholesale quantities will not even bring their Post Office or Face value.
Ask yourself how you would dispose of $1,000 or $5,000 or more of three, four and five cent stamps. Industry in the name of economy and efficiency is forced to use postage machines and individuals rarely use more than a few dollars worth of stamps a month. The fact is that most of us cannot dispose of large quantities of postage even at a discount.
Why do thousands continue to put their excess funds into current United States stamps in the hope of making a profit, a profit as unlikely as anything can be?
If our government wants to go contrary to good philatelic principles and print all special issues in quantities far exceeding what would make for a good philatelic market, let it do so, but don’t you tie up funds in this financial lead weight. Spend your money for older and more seasoned philatelic material where you will have a fair chance of making a gain along with having the joy of owning a worthwhile collection.
I am indebted to an article in the Saturday Review for knowledge of one of the most important developments of the 20th Century. It is certainly one that is far removed from stamp collecting, but one that might over the next century affect philately along with all the other activities of man. I refer to the work being done by the Rice Research Institute at its Los Banos headquarters in the Philippines.
Ways are here being discovered to more than double the yield of rice per acre. Improved strains of this grain are being developed that will produce higher protein levels in the hope that the exploding populations of Asia might be fed better than were their fathers.
With better farm yields people will be released from the need of producing food. Many will become industrial and service workers. Living standards will improve. Thus the areas of greatest population density may one day reach the economic level where people have some surplus necessary for luxury. Some will collect stamps and the market for good philatelic material, always responsive to the addition of collectors, will expand. Certainly, this is long-term thinking but what is fifty or hundred years in the history of mankind?
We are all too pat to classify fellow collectors into rigid categories and then picture them according to our own conception of the category. For instance, if we say “He is a collector of German stamps,” the person who uses Scott’s Specialty series is likely to decide that the German collectors must be filling spaces in the same type of album. Topical collectors are automatically classified as being uninterested in philately but closely associated with art collectors. This packaging of collectors is 100% wrong. There are no exactly alike collections or collectors.
I have just returned from a trip during which I closely inspected the holdings of 121 collectors and accumulators. Each collection was distinctive in its contents, form of housing, purpose, quality and scope. Of course several used the same albums, but never in quite the same way. Even those patterned collectors, U.S. Plate Block enthusiasts, managed to achieve considerable variety in their presentations.
You cannot picture the typical collection any more than the typical collector can be imagined. The diversity in our fellow philatelists constitutes one of our hobby’s greatest virtues. And it ensures too, that no matter how “far out” a collection might be, somewhere there is a market for it.
Some people are not interested in learning. They have a way of life and don’t care to add to it in any way. If they happen to be stamp collectors, the part of the hobby that they are enjoying is sufficient and all the articles published plus all the information available from club or society memberships will not change their form of collecting and certainly it is not my purpose to force change on these people. Let them enjoy stamp collecting in their own way.
There is another and far larger group who takes pride in growth. They strive to expand their knowledge, not only in their selected hobby of philately but in every aspect of life that touches them. The pride of learning means much to these people and when they can transfer to stamp collecting some of the knowledge that is available to all who will take it, the joy of the hobby is increased greatly.
Fine stamp collections of course require fine stamps, but in addition they reflect the knowledge and ability of their maker. Combining love of philately with philatelic learning results in a far greater return from our hobby than can be achieved by just gathering stamps.
Most of my readers would be amazed at the number of ex-stamp collectors that there are. These are people who at one time fully enjoyed the hobby including many who expended large sums on it. They may have dropped out for any number of reasons such as the pressure of the business, bad health, financial reverses, displeasure with the action of a dealer, collector or club, etc. Whatever the reason or reasons, we miss them. We particularly miss them if they had either achieved or have the potential for philatelic merit.
These thousands of people are losing an important pleasure by not remaining active stamp collectors. We are losing a broader market for stamps and a greater likelihood of successful stamp organizations by not having them in the fold.
The names of these people are in old membership lists and dealers’ files. A real campaign should be mounted to revive their interest. It may be that all some need is a display of interest to get them back. Others may require some sound statistics on the present health of philately. A third group might enjoy meeting with old friends at the club. This is something for every philatelic organization and business. Let’s go to it.
This is a word to those who worry every time a prominent philatelist dies. They raise the question, “Who will take his place?” Where among the younger generation will we find those sufficiently studious, financially able and with the tremendous love of philately to become great stamp collectors?”
They need not worry. The same questions were asked in 1915 when I was a small boy. They probably were asked in 1895 when my father was a lad. Every generation has its percentage who stand out, who are leaders, who possess the tremendous powers of reasoning and research ability and the drive to see problems through to their solutions.
Today’s young stamp collectors are no different from those of years ago. Some are superficial in their attitude toward this hobby and some are profound. The important thing for this generation is to leave for the next a good clean hobby, uncluttered by petty rackets, unfair practices and excessive speculation.
If we today keep philately sound, the collectors of 1985, 1990 and 2000 will have more than their share of truly great philatelists.
Fire sirens are to attract attention. When they blast off, we stop, look and listen. I wish we had a fire siren for stamp collecting because one is badly needed. Certain stamps of so called hot countries have climbed to the sky due to speculation. They are advertised at prices completely out of line with their true philatelic value. This attracts attention from new collectors who lack the perspective of years of buying stamps and who believe that there is only one way for prices to go; that is up.
Philatelic history is a long pattern of popularity, price rise and bust. There is no reason to believe that the present inflation is any different. Recent stamps that exist in wholesale stocks cannot be rare. If a collector can get particular items in unlimited quantities, they most certainly should not be at ever-rising prices.
The true rarity is difficult to obtain. One must seek it and then, when it is offered, not hesitate about its purchase.
Stamps that are offered in every issue of every magazine are not rarities. They may be and likely are desirable and interesting and they may fill a space in your album but, after you get your examples, don’t fall for the nonsense that increasing prices indicate rarity. Frequently it is the manipulation of insiders that cause this delusion. More often it is the rush of the suckers about to be taken.
Do we learn from experience? I believe so. The recent Washington International SIPEX Exhibition certainly learned from FIPEX, for it was conducted on a high cultural level in contrast to the 1957 New York show. The mobs of racing kids and the bourse tables that by their merchandising methods lowered the dignity of stamp collecting were fortunately missing at SIPEX. I am in favor of stamp collecting for all ages, but cannot understand how children in the beginning stage of the hobby can be expected to respect, understand and take part in advanced philately. Do we expect kindergarteners to understand the difference between the collecting of the exhibitors at SIPEX and the album of a ten-year old as there is between first grade arithmetic and quantum theory.
International Exhibitions are for adults, learned in detail with a depth knowledge of stamps that the great mass of collectors neither imagine nor care about. Why try to popularize them to those whose sole interest in attending is to acquire a current issue or a First Day Cover?
It would surprise you to know how many times I have been ushered into the home of a person interested in selling a stamp collection, shown a pile of albums and asked, “How much will you give me for them?” This to my mind is the very poorest way to sell any collection except one that consists of only the very commonest stamps.
All collectors and dealers will agree that condition is the most important factor in determining the worth of stamps. To be sure of their condition, important items must be examined in a laboratory with black light, enlargers, and other scientific equipment. To assume off-hand that there are no repairs of flaws in a valuable stamp is to invite possible future regrets.
We all know that many imitations and counterfeits exist. No stamp authority can carry in his head all the points that must be checked to determine the status of a large variety of material.
Some collections are figured by catalog value, some by Face value and some by the buyer’s reference to his records of prices realized on past sales. A hasty cataloging or counting can never be accurate. To be done correctly, such work requires both time and patience. Certainly the price records of the purchasing dealer are apt to be voluminous and not readily transportable to wherever the collection may be.
In our opinion the only kind of valuation that is apt to be given under hurry-up circumstances in surroundings removed from a reference library is one that is on the low side. After all, one cannot expect the buyer to overpay on a gamble.
We recommend to those who have stamps to sell that they choose a responsible buyer and then permit the buyer to take a reasonable length of time to examine the material involved, preferably at the buyer’s headquarters where, by the use of his laboratory, library and office equipment, a conclusion of price can be reached that is not the “Stealing Price” of many deals.
The reason why a fine stamp collection with substantial value embracing almost any philatelic category will realize more when sold by a good auction house is explainable in a simple arithmetic lesson.
The important and valuable parts of a collection, that is, those singles, sets, covers and blocks, etc. that have individual scarcity and more demand than supply, seldom constitute as much as fifty percent of the total catalog value involved. In other words, almost every collection includes a high percentage of low-and medium-priced items that are readily obtainable from many dealers.
The choice pieces in the collection can be sold by any method for a good price. They, in a well run auction, reach the cream of buyers and thus they bring a level of realization that will please almost any vendor but then, what of the balance of the collection which, in point of proportion of catalog, is very important?
In auction selling, a huge marker for country collections, remainder lots and odds and ends exist so that the unimportant and somewhat overlooked balance does its share to bring the total net realization to as much as fifty percent more than can be obtained by an outright sale.
It is true that it takes three or four months to sell through auctions, but isn’t it worth waiting for so much more handsome a return?
I marvel at the “hot country collectors.” They are a special breed. They find time to memorize the latest bid and ask prices for Carmania or whatever other country is currently being run up by the insiders. They know exactly how much their holdings advanced in value during the last forty-eight hours and sometimes they have even plotted on graph paper the future of their paper earnings. They are truly a wonderful lot but as most stock gambles they usually neglect to count the duds they acquire during the pursuit of what’s sizzling at the minute.
Speculators and plungers do a service for stamp collecting. They provide the source of supply for later years and this is quite important. The stamp trade cannot afford to carry the huge investment that would be required to assure the new collector of 1986 or 1996 that he can fill his wants.
But when one of the speculatively inclined stamp collectors tells me, as they frequently do, that he cannot spare the time to study the older and classic stamps or that forming a first-rate collection is for patsies, not a shrewd investor such as himself, I begin to wonder. I wonder what we have done wrong in the selling of philately, its pleasures and recompensations, that many of its followers can only read a dollar sign where it says “Stamp Collecting, the World’s Greatest Hobby.”
There is no one best way to collect stamps, nor is there one best reason for collecting stamps. Watching a ten year old boy or girl dream of things beyond his or her reach as each turns the pages of an album is one way to understand the grasp that stamp collecting has for those who will participate. At the other end is the elderly person who has enjoyed the lore of philately during a long life that has been busy and fruitful.
In between are millions who seek in stamps the myriad benefits that they offer including learning, companionship, economic return and mental health.
It is true that the great majority of stamp collections when measured against the giants of the bobby are inconsequential; but it is just as true that in the hours that were spent on their albums the return to every collector was enormous without regard to the size or scope of his efforts.
A hobby fully enjoyed is of benefit beyond measure. Stamp collecting can be and is enjoyed by millions of followers to the great advantage of every one of them.
Pity poor John Doe. He has been saving stamps for over forty years, always with the thought that in addition to the pleasures he received his collection would have sufficient value that when sold at the end of his life would result in a large estate. In his other activities John Doe showed great shrewdness. He joined trade associations and civic clubs so that he could keep abreast of the times and know the best procedures for personal gain. But in stamp collecting he just saved stamps. He didn’t attend stamp exhibitions to see how the other fellow was doing it, he didn’t subscribe to a good philatelic journal to read about trends in collecting, he didn’t even read the introduction to the annual catalogs where much useful advice would be available.
He carefully calculated the annual increases in catalog value of his collection and based his success as a stamp collector on the growth of that total. Unheeded were the little boxes that Scott inserts in the catalog referring to condition being an important factor in value.
And so the years went by and John Doe, through some purchases, much envelope peeling and an occasional gift from a friend accumulated a closet full of albums and boxes with a catalog value in a very high number of dollars. When his doctor suggested that Doe’s days were numbered, he decided to cash in on his stamps.
Yes, you can pity him for the shock of learning that today’s collectors desire fine quality and that stamp dealers already have far too much common material in stock, but then anyone who blindly follows a course in any activity invites a blow of this sort.
We advocate collecting stamps in sound condition with attractive appearance. But one thing we cannot understand is why those who cannot afford the cost of premium stamps are expected to forego placing in their albums the best they can afford.
Most people collect for pleasure. If they enjoy completing, say, theUnited States1869 issues and cannot afford $2,500 for a super-duper ninety cents, why should they keep the space empty when a lesser specimen can be obtained for $250? It is true that if they later offer their $250 stamp for resale it will not bring a premium price but it will sell in accordance with its quality and no doubt produce a fair return. Best of all, the collector had the pleasure of owning a desirable stamp.
The fetish of condition is fine for the few who can buy it. If it deprives many others of some of stamp collecting’s greatest enjoyment, it is harmful when overdone. To expect early United States stamps in only perfectly centered full gum condition to be available in quantity for every prospective collector is to blindly ignore the facts of how they were produced, issued and preserved through the years.
The very few that are available are priced too low at today’s prices. The majority of collectors should forget about them and concentrate on obtaining stamps in the average condition in which they were issued. These they can afford and can obtain.
The worth of stamp collecting to society is primarily in the incentive it creates to learning. It has the flavor of school, lectures, reading, writing, art and economics without being any of these things. The ten-year-old with his five dollar album cannot escape the above any more than the middle-aged, well-to-do collector who uses stamps to fill his surplus time and take some of his excess wealth into a more interesting direction than the stock market.
Every stamp in a collection offers a path to increased knowledge. There is no better clean, wholesome and accepted avocation. Why is it then that we hear talk that stamp collecting isn’t recruiting followers as in the past? Can it be that the dollar sign in all the sensational press releases and articles in the lay press discourages new prospects? Of course, we delight in the knowledge that some “Daddy Warbucks” paid many thousands of dollars for some rarity. But to 99%-plus of collectors it means nothing more than the ability to say that they also collect stamps. Frankly the thousand-dollar items are wonderful to deal in or own but common sense indicates that the handful of potential buyers for them could never affect the hobby except in its rarified upper strata where few of us belong financially. It is a fact that stamp collecting can be fully enjoyed for just about as little cost as any other known hobby. When will some journal of wide distribution get the message and print an authentic article based on the real worth and value of stamp collecting to over 99% of its followers?
In a few cities in the United Statesstamp collectors have established permanent and attractive meeting places. The New York Collectors Club has its fine building on East 35th Street. The clubs of Portland, Oregon, Seattle, Washington and Los Angeles have either buildings or offices that are exclusively for the use of the club members. There are others around the country as well. There are many advantages to this arrangement including being able to maintain a useful library and having a place to meet fellow collectors at any hour, adding to the local prestige of philately, etc.
Early in this century the Philadelphia Stamp Club maintained permanent rooms in the center of the city for many years. The membership of this club included important and busy people who perhaps could seldom visit the club but realized the advantages of membership and considered their dues a small contribution to the cause. During the Depression the club slipped into the inactive status and the meeting rooms were given up.
Today, stamp collecting is stronger than ever with many active people enjoying its benefits. The large cities of America are in need of full-time stamp collectors’ clubs with attractive quarters.
Busy philatelists who may enjoy attendance at these club rooms only a few times a year could benefit from them the same as the retired oldster who might drop by every day. The costs would not be beyond the value of the advantages.
I hope to see soon such local Philatelic headquarters in all large cities. They are well worth the effort needed to establish them.
On July 22nd we are having an unusual gathering at our offices. It will be of about twenty boys ages eleven to fifteen from the poorest section of the city. I doubt if any of these lads ever even heard of stamp collecting, but we plan to present to them a program that will generate excitement and curiosity that may make a few collectors.
We will show them the stamps of a variety of countries and how one can see the other fellow’s way of life through stamps. We will explain the relationship between collecting stamps and the normal acquisitive inclinations of most people.
The program is planned to last about two hours and will be presented by a member of our staff who, when he joined us five years ago, knew as little about the hobby as the boys he will be talking to now.
We do not believe in giving stamps to children to make them into collectors. It is our belief that the children must put something of themselves into acquiring what is needed to follow philately. Accordingly, we hope to establish some kind of an exchange of services with these boys that will earn for them the stamps and albums needed by them.
If only five of these deprived youngsters are made wider-eyed by philately our efforts will be justified. Making them aware and desirous to know is a small contribution for us to make to society
Almost every community in the United States has its United Fund. Through this agency money is raised to support the many needed social services our government permits to remain in private management. If each of these agencies had its own drive for money, the cost of raising the money would be several times that of a combined drive. In addition, there would be the annoyances of being approached frequently and writing many checks for contributions. Almost everyone agrees that the United Fund drive is a good arrangement.
How is it that we haven’t adopted its lesson in collecting? There are philatelists who pay dues to as many as 20 or 30 different organizations in our hobby not because they follow the specialties of most of them but because they assume the responsibility of supporting all of the hobby’s branches. Even lesser collectors usually carry a half dozen membership cards. Most of the organizations represented by these memberships are weak. They depend on volunteer workers to keep them going. Much of the dues received is dissipated in duplication of the work of every other group.
How about the idea of a United Philately of America? Within it every group could function for its purpose, but the centralized organization would assume the financial and administrative details together with editorial and publication tasks that now are scattered. Isn’t this worth thinking about?
I have known him for over twenty-five years. During all that time and probably for some years previous he was a liberal and regular purchaser of philatelic items. While a good part of his interest was in covers bearing postmarks of his own dearly beloved state, he maintained a warm feeling for many other stamp collecting areas and it was as likely as not that his auction bid sheets would list offers for items from many different countries. So he acquired and piled high a truly large collection.
Now at the age when vigor and eyesight were weakened he admitted that some of his albums hadn’t been opened in more than ten years. The contents of drawers of duplications and unmounted material that overflowed their capacities filled a good part of his attic. He agreed that even if he had the vitality he couldn’t inventory all his material within the next year or two. He most certainly lacked the vitality.
I advised that he commence the selling of portions of his collections, particularly those that he hadn’t looked at in years. This would serve several purposes: One, to reduce the problem that his family, who were unacquainted with stamps, would face in obtaining the best possible realization for his estate. Two, to put back on the market items much sought after and seldom available, so that newer collectors could enjoy their possession. Three, to provide a cash fund that would be available to pay the tax on the part of the collection he retained for inheritance taxes are as inevitable as death. For, hard as it is it realize, you must plan for your eventual demise.
I doubt that the old-time saying “At some time or other every boy collects stamps,” is true today. Many children do not collect stamps but not every one or probably even fifty percent of them. I don’t believe all children are born collectors inclined towards saving things of interest to them.
I do believe that when the world of the collector is opened up to them they get a wider vision of life. Touching a stamp from China, looking at a coin from ancient Greece or moving a chess piece of African ivory can have a vast influence on the average, curious child, if accompanying the action is an explanation of its significance. Our stamp albums for children fall down in not placing the space for specific stamps around the exciting story that each stamp can have.
It is not necessary to print an album for 50,000 varieties nor for new collectors to house every stamp by country. It is not even desirable to do so. A fresh look at album publishing might call for the issuance of a magazine-type of album on a monthly basis and formed around stories of stamps geared to the particular age group concerned.
The adult collectors of the next generation will come mostly from the child collectors of today. Can we afford to overlook any constructive means of interesting them in the life-long enjoyment of stamp collection?
Everywhere I go I hear from stamp club members that they are unsuccessful in their efforts to get the support of many of the outstanding collectors of their city. Frequently the leading collectors are the busiest people in town and are already obligated to civic organizations that must take priority over pleasurable ones. Sometimes, too, they don’t care for philatelic publicity because they fear that this might attract burglars. There are also, of course, people who are anti-social and if they wish to enjoy solitary philately that is certainly their privilege. However, a little soul searching by the leaders of the club will usually result in the conclusion that they aren’t offering any good reasons for these people to join with them.
Meetings that are dull and dominated by petty business, by discussions of the latest United States commemorative or some minor perforation fault aren’t going to convince a busy executive that he should become a club member. He expects and requires more than a repetition of what he can learn from Scott’s Catalog if you are to interest him.
Stir up your meetings. Don’t be afraid of controversial discussion. Don’t hesitate to put all the business in the hands of an executive committee. Scout around and develop new ideas from excellent programs. When it becomes known that the stamp club is lively, you will be amazed at how attractive it will become to those who ignore it.
It isn’t often that I condemn a competitor’s business methods but when I do it is almost always because stamp speculation is being accentuated by the one involved. Lately, I have met several collectors who suppose themselves to be “investing” by the systematic arrangement of sending a fixed sum monthly to a dealer. This fellow claims to be clairvoyant about future values and thus able to select for them stamps that will increase in value within a short time (of course the greatest stamp experts of all time never had such an ability). The “investors” in these schemes are usually poor people, limited in their finances and all too eager to strike it rich with a few dollars skimped from the family budget.
The small print of the promoter’s proposition is overlooked or if read, is not completely understandable to anyone but a lawyer. The victims are totally unaware of real values of the fact that most stamps must advance at least 100% in net market price for the collector to be able to recover his cost in selling to the trade and that a few items he will acquire from the promoter that do advance will be heavily outweighed by the many that don’t increase in value.
Promoters such as these lack the philatelic ability to sell stamps for the pleasure and learning they give the collector. They, in fact, have no personal appreciation of the joys of philately or they wouldn’t attempt to undermine the hobby with harmful schemes.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to get very much for a dollar. The “good old days” of the 5 & 10 cent store that later became the 25 & 50 cent store and now are again the 5 & 10 (but dollars instead of cents) are gone forever. I can think of nothing but stamp collecting that can be indulged today for pennies. The old “nickel rocket” baseball is now $2.00. The golf club that charged $75 a year is now $475. Movies in center city are $4.50 and up.
Only in stamp collecting are some things available for pennies. Yes, thousands of stamps can be bought for less than a dime each and best of all, included in this bonanza are some of the world’s most interesting varieties. While it is doubtful if these lower-priced stamps can be obtained individually at such low prices, in collections and groups practically all are available.
This means that stamp collecting can be introduced to newcomers at a lower cost of any similar hobby. It doesn’t imply that valuable collections can be formed for a few cents but certainly that they can be developed into potentially exhibitable properties, not to compete in rarity but to attract the attention of others to a project worth understanding and developing. Most stamp firms could not exist solely on the income from small sales. They must develop a rarity trade and business volume to provide the profit margin required. However, small buyers who understand the economics of these items can, by judiciously accumulating their funds until a sizeable purchase can be made, find many stamp dealers anxious for their trade.
For the past week I have been listening to people comment on the presidential election, the candidates, and the issues. It is simply pitiful to contemplate the amount of misconception, misunderstanding and willful misrepresentation concerning the statements of all the candidates.
We have similar conditions in the stamp trade. Every catalog or advertisement states what is meant by its descriptive terms. An item or lot described as v.g. (meaning very good) is not far up on the condition pole, as v.g. is in most catalogs definitely stated to be a lot with minor faults. Now it makes no difference what you, the individual mean by v.g., you must, in fairness accept the terms of the seller as stated in his catalog. He is not about to ship fine merchandise for a v.g. description just because you think that term should mean fine. On the other hand, nearly everyone in the stamp business will cheerfully make a refund for true errors that they have made in description. Please, for the sake of your own satisfaction, read carefully all the small print explanations of what you may expect if you send orders or bids to any stamp dealer. Don’t try to make their terminology fit your interpretation. All conditions must be construed as the seller explains his grading.
There will be a great increase in the harmony in our country if people will be more careful in making judgment of statements and public figures. So too, will your satisfaction in stamps be greater if you refrain from bidding on good quality when you intend to buy only fine or very fine.
It is time to stop downgrading stamp collecting. Certainly, a seven-year old can be a collector of stamps without really having the least idea of its purpose; but, in the main, when we refer to stamp collectors, we refer to those who understand to some extent the complicated pattern into which our avocation has advanced.
We are no longer queer individuals peeling foreign stamps from wastebasket findings and gluing them into albums. In fact, we haven’t been doing that for close to a century. We are, if we fit the design of most philatelists and embryo philatelists, people who, through the study and classification of the rules, regulations, publications and emissions of the Postal Services of the world are adding to historic knowledge and understanding. We can and do arrive at concepts of worldly development and progress; economic, educational and otherwise, as a result of research into postal communications systems.
Gone forever are the days when we measure a stamp collection by its size. Gone should be the desire on the part of some of us to possess certain stamps just so we can gain applause for our display of wealth. Today is the day of utilizing philately as a method and in fact, as a motive to increase awareness, greater learning and a fuller understanding of the many nations and races of this fascinating world.