Bill Bilden

William O Bilden passed away  recently at the age of 94. I came across news of his death the same hour that I saw an old Philatelic Foundation Certificate with the name of Harry Keefer on it. Bill and Harry were two prominent dealers of the 1950’s and 1960’s who were part of new wave of post WW II collectors and dealers who radically changed the ways of philately.

Until the end of WW II, stamp collecting was all about stamps. There were people who collected covers, but there were very few cover collectors who did not also collect stamps as their primary interest and then added cover collecting as an additional interest. Except for such items as Civil War Patriotics and Pony Express covers, where the cover itself is the story, most pre war cover collecting was about the stamp first. Collectors enhanced their stamp collections by trying to add covers to them. This began to change about 1945 when a new generation began to emphasize cover collecting in new ways.

The cover and its usage became king and the term Postal History was developed to mark cover collecting’s divergence from traditional philately. Collectors began to collect state and county postal history, attempting to get covers used from many different post offices. Where this type of collecting differed most significantly from traditional philately was that the emphasis was on the cover and the postal markings. The stamp that was used was a secondary, not prime, consideration. Bill Bilden was in the forefront of this new way of experiencing our hobby (later dealers like Bill Fox, Bill Boggs and Abe Seigle followed in this tradition). By 1975, when I got spend some time with Mr. Bilden, he was already well established and well respected in the cover end of the business.

Bill explained to me that he became interested in covers because he felt that philately had become too vast because of the huge numbers of newer stamps that were being issued (he had felt this way in 1945-I can only imagine what he must have thought at the time he died when the number of stamp issues extant had increased five fold). He felt cover collecting was a way to limit what was needed and he had always been drawn to covers by letters and the additional historical perspective that cover collecting has that traditional philately doesn’t. Further, he looked at the vast supply of stampless covers-those letters used before 1847 when the US issued its first stamps. Stampless covers were very cheap in the pre war period. Bilden felt he could buy up quantities of them and profit by their increase in value as postal history collecting made them a necessary part of philately.

We often tend to think of our hobby as static and not much prone to change. But in the last fifty years we have seen postal history collecting become an important part of philately, Never hinged become demanded to an increasing degree by all collectors,  and the overwhelming acceptance of collectors of single country, rather than world wide collecting. This doesn’t even include the vast changes in buying and selling that the internet has occasioned. We are apt to think that these changes have been random and unforeseen. But Bill Bilden foresaw the cover collecting change and then actively encouraged our hobby towards that end. He was relatively unknown by this generation of collectors, but has been one of the most significant dealers in the history of our hobby.

Share on:
Shopping Cart
Scroll to Top