Blog

  1. Snow

    Image result for snowThe weather forecast in Philadelphia is for over 6" of snow beginning tonight and lasting through tomorrow morning. My first philatelic memory is suffused with snow. I was in the third grade and had just received my first stamp album from Santa for Christmas. It was a Harris Statesman Deluxe album and it came with a packet of a thousand different worldwide stamps, a pair of tongs, and a pack of Dennison hinges. For Christmas that year I had also gotten a small rocket launcher set so the stamp collection got opened and then laid on a shelf. We had a rule in our house when I was little that we weren't allowed out sleddi

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  2. Finland

    Image result for Finland PhilatelyThe classic stamps of Finland are unlike any of the other stamps of Europe. The first issues are very simple in design and have a crudeness that is only matched by the Cotton Reels of British Guiana or Indian Native States. The second issues are stamps picturing the Finnish Coat of Arms and have the most interesting roulettes of any philatelic issues ever. Roulettes are cuts in the paper to facilitate stamp separating and are used instead of perforations. The technology never caught on because it was hard to keep the cutting knives sharp and the rouletting process made it difficult to separate the stamps without tearing them. The Finnish roultettes are among the most str

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  3. Check Letters

    There were several concerns that were raised against issuing postage stamps when Rowland Hill advanced the idea in the late 1830's. Most of the objections were of the "not invented here" variety which is part of a normal human resistance to change. But three major objections -counterfeiting, reuse of postage stamps and accountancy issues- were solved or ameliorated with one simple innovation-check letters.

    Check letters are simple a way of indicating where in the sheet a stamp was printed. Beginning at the top of the sheet all of the first horizontal row of stamps was g

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  4. Stamp Survival

    Image result for 19th century printingThe problem of what quantities exist of different classic stamps has been one of the great difficulties of philatelic research. Before the days of the Internet nearly all classic stamps that were sold were not illustrated so it was impossible for any census taker to know if he had counted a given specimen before. Counts of stamps such as United States 5c and 10c 1847 tend to be little more than guesses. We know that approximately 3.8 million 5c and 900,000 10c stamps were sold over the postal counters (that is delivered to post offices and not returned as unsold). But how many have survived the ensuing 160 years and still exist in collectors hands? Such numbers are important for anyone pondering

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  5. Guessing The Next Best Philatelic Area

    Image result for PakistanMost collectors collect what they like for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with the popularity of the area or the potential for financial growth in what they collect. Others collect whatever is the "hot" area hoping to ride the train of popularity to make their collecting not only fun but profitable. Both are fine ways to go about your hobby. But many want to collect an area that is fun, challenging and currently inexpensive and that has the potential for price growth greater than the hobby as a whole.

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  6. Stamp Theft

    Image result for crookRobberies of stamp collections used to be a real problem. In the 1970's a large ring of stamp thieves were caught. They had an APS membership directory with them that they were using to figure out who to knock off next. When I was on the Board of Directors of the APS in the early 1980s, my home was burglarized, as were the homes of several other board members. But, stamp thefts have decreased in recent years and usually when philatelic materials are stolen it is part of a general burglary and not stamp specific. Insurance rates for stamps have dropped dramatically in real terms over the last thirty years. The reasons for the decrease in stamp theft are three. First, stamp prices have declined relative to the value of most other things. A mint US #C18

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  7. Some Characteristics of a Successful Hobby

    Image result for hobbyHobbies are successful when they allow a diverse group of participants to engage in an activity where they can find enjoyment. Over the last 150 years, philately has been one of the world's most successful hobbies, having millions of devotees. To be successful a hobby has to offer many things. It must have differing levels of appreciation- novices must find it immediately appealing on a visceral (or in the case of philately, visual) level and it must offer increasing pleasures and rewards to participants as they become more involved. If the hobby never gets more serious or involved more intelligent people soon tire of it. Philately is wonderful on this count. From the preliterate child sorting stamps by design

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  8. Philatelic Vacations 1930

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

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

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  9. Philatelic Opinions vs Guarantees

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  10. A Theory on Collecting

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  11. Postal Pricing

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

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  12. Super Specialization

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

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  13. Universal Postal Union

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

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  14. Production Values

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

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  15. Highest Face Value Stamp Ever

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

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  16. Tao of Philately

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

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  17. Minutia

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

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  18. Telephone and Telegraph Stamps

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

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  19. Advertising

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

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  20. The Danger of Estate Sales

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