Monthly Archives: November 2010

  1. The Gift

    Dave and Jenny were older when I first met them in the early 1970's. My first job at the company was working in the shop (we had one then) and Dave and Jenny were regulars. They had married late and because of the economic distress of the Depression had put off children until that wasn't a possibility anymore. Like many older childless couples they grew closer and even parental and protective towards each other and I thought they had one of the fondest relationships I had ever seen. They did everything together-even collect stamps. They both collected United States-Dave with a concentration towards US commemoratives and Jenny with a concentration in Airmails. Dave was proud of his Trans Mississippis. He lacked only the $1. And Jenny's Zeppelins were complete except for the #C15. It was Christmas 1975 when Dave came to me. Jenny was sick he said and this might be her last holiday. She had always wanted to complete the Zeppelins and as their circumstances were modest he wanted to sell hi

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  2. Ireland



    The best model in the twentieth century for an evolved peace has been Ireland and Great Britain. After centuries of British occupation, the Irish finally obtained independence in 1922 through armed struggle and political effort. Early relations between the Irish Republic and the balance of Great Britain were difficult and even in
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  3. Netherlands

    Collectors usually want three things in a philatelic specialty-aesthetic appeal, acquisition challenge and affordability. Each collector defines these terms differently. But we all want the stamps that we collect to be intrinsically attractive. We want our ability to obtain them to equal our interest in the philatelic hunt and we want the cost of the collecting to match our financial ability to afford the stamps. On these criteria there are few more interesting major countries to collect than the Netherlands. The Dutch have always been among the world's most commercial nations and postal use throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries has produced a large supply of material. The stamps are cleanly designed and well printed. And the country has had stable government and low inflation which kept postal rates the same for long periods of time, resulting in relatively few postal issues until about 1960. And Netherlands has the unusual characteristic (if collected by the Scott catalog

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  4. Thanksgiving

    Lost in the daily din of TSA screening screams and should Bristol Palin win "Dancing with the Stars" invective, is a proper seriousness about what we have to be thankful for. We live in the greatest time to live in history. A middle class American today has a far better life than a European king had 200 years ago. Losing a child to illness is highly unusual whereas only 150 years ago one in three children died before the age of six. We have access to more calories, ease of transportation, housing, clothing and entertainment for less money in terms of hours of effort to obtain them than ever before. Life spans are longer and the sciences of the mind allow us to build our capacities for happiness and caring. When my great grandmother came to the United States 100 years ago she left behind her parents and her three sisters. She was 16 when she came with her 18 year old husband and she never saw her family again. One of her sisters was killed in a pogrom, another died in some Stalin relate

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  5. Confidence in America

    Many articles have been written recently about the state of American influence abroad. The President is said to have gotten little in his recent G20 trip to Asia and the Chinese are deaf to our currency admonitions. According to pundits, America's influence in the world hasn't been so low in years. Many disagree- their argument is that a country that can borrow almost unlimited amounts of money at essentially zero interest rates is still the world power they always were. But stamp dealers have a simpler philatelic measure to gauge America's standing in the world. We call it the USSGO ratio(US Stamps Going Overseas). The theory is simple-foreign buyers increase their purchases of United States stamps when they perceive that America is strong and its economy is poised for greater growth. And the index has just reached a new high. Scores of new buyers from Asia, Europe and South America have spent lots of new money buying US stamps in our sales in recent weeks. Admittedly, this is unscien

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  6. Linn' Stamp News

    Several months ago Amos Press combined the Scott Stamp Monthly and Linn's Stamp News. Linn's had always been a weekly magazine and the Scott Stamp Monthly (SSM) was a monthly glossy. Now, three times a month they issue a traditional Linn's (which has light philatelic news and commentary, but which mainly serves as an advertising vehicle) and once a month they combine a traditional Linn's with the SSM (which includes listings of new issues along with their new Scott catalog numbers). This was a clever attempt to extend the shelf life of two declining publications. Linn's subscriber base is less than a third of its peak and SSM was even less. The result is a pretty decent magazine, regular Linn's most of the time and then a bit more spice once a month when they picture the new issues and do additional market commentary. I suggest that you take a look at it, and do it quickly, for it is not clear how long the new publication will be around. The economics of this kind of traditional public

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  7. Cashing In On The Royal Wedding

    There aren't many foolproof ways of making money in stamps but we've got one now. If history is a guide, there will be a mass of William-Kate marriage omnibus stamps and these will be fiercely promoted to non philatelists as a wonderful investment, which they are assuredly not (see yesterday's post). But real philatelists can have a bit of skin in this game. Typically, when omnibus issues like this one get promoted, there is collateral benefit to other topically related issues. Stay away from the Charles-Di issues. There are too many of them. But my bet is there will be a lot of collectors and non collectors looking for the 1948 Silver Wedding Jubilee of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother). I would buy these now. A less expensive bet would be the 1953 QEII coronation (after all she will soon be the Royal Great Grandmum) followed by the first British omnibus set-the 1935 Silver Jubilee of the reign of King George VI. These should perform very well in the short run. And

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  8. The Royal Wedding

    Get ready. It's been 30 years since Princess Diana and Prince Charles graced our albums and you can bet next year's William and Kate extravaganza will produce a record number of philatelically inspired stamps. The last Royal Wedding produced hundreds of issues and this one will produce thousands, even more if you include specialty items, covers and intentionally issued errors. Two quick predictions-first the hype surrounding the wedding will give a short term spike to British omnibus sets in general and to Royal Wedding thematics in particular. And two, five years after they are issued the William and Kate wedding stamps will be a drug on the market. Today, the 1981 Charles-Diana Royal Wedding thematic stamps sell for less than 15% of their face value, not including album costs. We sold a collection recently at auction for $300 which means the owner received $270. Her cost of stamps and albums were over $2600 and that was in 1981 dollars. At 5% compound interest she would have had over

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  9. Post Office Deficits

    When an organization is facing large deficits like the USPS is facing now, the temptation is to look at bold changes. Finding several billion dollars to balance the budget is never easy, but managers are often tempted to forget that a large forest is made up of many trees and that many small changes can have have a big impact on the bottom line. One idea for increasing postal revenues in a profitable area would be to increase the number of collectors buying new issue stamps to put away. Stamps that are bought and put in collections are almost pure profit for the USPS and it's hard to understand why they don't make more of an effort to increase stamp collecting. And what would increase collecting more than anything else would be some kind of limited issue stamps that would go up in value. One of the reasons that stamp collecting was so popular in the 1950's and 1960's was that the stamps of the previous generation were somewhat scarce and began to appreciate in value. Collector's don't

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  10. Trends in Cover Collecting

    There are fashions in philately as there are in most things. In cover collecting there has always been a trend for collectors to acquire postal history that displayed new communication technology. In the early twentieth century Rail Road post office covers became popular. To speed mail delivery in the late nineteenth century, the post office maintained post offices on trains so that mail could receive its final sort on the way to its destination. To keep track of what happened to these letters, cancellations were applied from the railway post offices. Collecting these covers and cancellations was very popular in the 1910-1950 period. When airplanes began carrying the mail about 1920, collectors began desiring airmail covers, mostly early flights. The 1930's saw the rise of Zeppelin cover collecting. And the 1960 saw the rise of space philately. Each of these areas of cover specialization enjoyed keen popularity for a while and then declined (and continue to decline) in popularity. They

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  11. 2011 Scott Specialized Catalog

    About fifteen years ago, the Scott publishing company gave its greatest gift to the philatelic fraternity since the first introduction of the stamp catalog. It was the decision to issue what they called the "Classic Specialized Catalog of Stamps and Covers". Initially the catalog consisted of little more than a reprinted version of the 1840-1940 sections of each country listing in the general Scott catalog. But each year the editors added numerous new listings, cover prices and prices for unusual specialty items. Much of the information in the Scott Classic can be gleaned from the various foreign specialized catalogs that exist for all major European countries and their former colonies. But this requires ten or more expensive foreign catalogs and the difficulties of translation and currency conversion. The Scott specialized is really cool. The France listings, for instance, have the regular Scott numbered listings as well as far more shades and varieties and cover prices. There is a fa

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  12. India and States

    Certainly the stamps of India have increased in popularity in the last ten years. India is one of the more interesting countries to collect as it can be collected at any price point and with wide degrees of specialization. Most Indian stamps are inexpensive, often selling for less that a dollar a set. Even scarcer nineteenth century stamps sell for relatively small prices. The postal history of the country is fascinating. Collectors relish the early British commercial mail, the early military campaigns and how inexpensive and complex the independence period and the partition of Pakistan are. India, before 1948, was a complex federation of independent and quasi independent states. The Convention States (post offices operated by the British) and the Feuditory States (operated by the native rulers) each issued their own stamps and these are among the most interesting and (often) primitive in all of philately. What I like best about Indian philately are three things. First, the stamps are

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  13. Sociological Philately


    A sociologist would look at stamps much differently than a philatelist does. We look at perfs and gum and paper and quality and then, in passing, notice the design. But a sociologist would look only at the design. And he would ask what does the design tell us about the goals and aspirations of the culture that produced it. Stamps are propaganda reflecting how a culture sees itself and how it wishes others to see it. Look at the last 60 years of United States stamp issues. Several main themes predominate. In all eras there are the usual great American issues with prominent scientists, writers and politicians being commemorated but with an increasing n
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  14. Stamps as State Image


    Russian stamps of the 1930's have always fascinated me. They are beautiful and well designed with friendly, internationalist themes and yet they were issued by a vicious regime that was systematically exploiting its citizens and was highly militaristic in orientation. Another aggressive state of this period, Germany, at least was more honest about its goals and had a highly nationalistic stamp issuing policy. In the exaltation of the Volk and the Fatherland its easy to see the factors that led to WWII. But as George Orwell explained so well in Nineteen Eighty-Four, the pathological hypocrisy of the Soviet communist system was without equal in history. Even as he was condemning mill
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  15. How prices rise

    Stamp prices rise in the same fashion as most commodity prices. Stock prices, home prices, even gold show long term linear price rises that masks the fact that, for most short term periods, prices are quite quiescent and often even decline. For most of the 1990's home prices were very stable after the run up in the late 1980's and the decline of the early 1990's. Home prices have declined in the past several years though they are still above their 2000 levels. But does anyone seriously doubt that, baring great economic collapse, home ownership is a good long term investment? Stamps move in a similar fashion. Long periods of stability with prices moving in a narrow range followed by a quick rise. We are seeing more new collectors in the market now as the baby boomers are entering the prime collecting age of 70-85. At this stage of life, intense physical activity becomes less enjoyable and the natural ageing process leads one to more inward looking pursuits. Dealer stocks are at historic

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  16. The Stamp Market in China and Russia

    The greatest strength in the stamp market right now are the stamp markets in China and Russia. These are emerging economies and the demand for stamps there is fierce. And though the demand in each market is essentially for home market stamps (that is the Chinese want Chinese stamps), there is also collateral strength that suggests that long term these two countries could be quite a boon to the international stamp market. The Russians in particular like British Commonwealth stamps and the Chinese are strong collectors of United States stamps and Thematics. Whether this popularity continues or not is dependent on several things. One of factors driving the popularity of collecting in these two countries is de facto currency controls. It is difficult or impossible for wealthy people to move money out of these countries, which is what many wealthy people do to hedge the political risks to their capital. Ever since the Third Reich prohibition on capital movements, stamps have been used as a

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  17. Election 2010

    Today is election day and if you believe the news commentary, this is one of the most important elections in our history and one that will have more impact on our future than any election in years. I remember that being said about virtually every election since I was conscious of elections. And yet the difference between the candidates who are running is, in most cases, trivial. The parties quibble about a few percentage points either way on the tax rates. And they feud a bit over what services government should provide and over what mandates government should require of individuals and business. But real substantive disputes don't exist because both parties agree on the fundamental issue that governments have the power to control people's lives and that governments provide benefits and transfer funds from one group of individuals to another (even the tea party, supposedly so radical, never attacks the largest transfers of all- Social Security and Medicare). The arguments then are not

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  18. The Shades of the 5 Cent 1851-57


    These shades are difficult to identify and many collectors get them wrong. This collector got them right. The Scott numbers from left to right are #27 (Brick Red), #28 (Red Brown), #28A ( Indian Red-this is the scarcest one), #29 (Brown), #30 (Orange Brown-type II) and #30A (Brown-typer II).
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  19. US Market Testing

    Each month I bid on United States lots at five or six major American and overseas auctions. I bid on a small variety of nineteenth century, twentieth century and back of the book items. I don't do this because we need the stamps or to make a profit reselling what I buy. I do it to test the market and to see how broad based any market strength and weakness may be. It's one thing to know what the prices are at your own sale, but any market evaluation must be more broad based than that. Over the last few months we have seen great price stabilization, and small increases, in our auctions. There is more activity in all segments of the market after the recession, which is now officially over, but which still has lingering effects on stamp sales. Especially strong are mint nineteenth century stamps and we have noted a number of large Chinese buyers of US stamps emerging. My bidding at other auctions has confirmed what we are seeing in ours. New collectors are entering the market and demand fo

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