Monthly Archives: February 2011

  1. Zusammendrucke


    There are areas of specialization that are unique to each country or areas of philately. United States collectors are avid about plate blocks and stamp collectors in the rest of the world think we are crazy. Israel collectors esteem tabs. British Commonwealth collectors collect gutter pairs and marginal markings. And German area collectors collect Zusammendrucke. Stamps that go into stamp booklets are printed in panes (usually of six) and those panes are printed in sheets of various sizes. The United States post office does not issue these large uncut sheets to collectors so that all US philatelists can collect is booklet panes and booklets. German philatel
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  2. German East Africa


    The great scramble for Africa in the late nineteenth century found the major European powers dividing up the continent into colonies for economic development. The Germans got into the game a bit later than Britain and for the most part their ventures in Africa were more for the political heft that it gave them than any economic gain. Actually, there were two extremely profitable Colonies-India, run by the British, and the Netherlands Indies (now Indonesia) run by the Dutch-but for the most part the colonies in Africa, no matter who the colonial administrator, were more problematic than profitable (Leopold's brutal slave state in the Congo was the exception). The reason was that lo
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  3. Hermes and the Stamps of Greece


    There is no more appropriate stamp design than the portrait of Hermes, the messenger god in his winged helmet, on the first stamps of Greece. Hermes, son of Zeus, was also the god of commerce so it is not only as a messenger that he is pictured on the first stamp but as the facilitator of commerce which was the major economic benefit of the first postal issues. The Hermes Heads stamps of Greece are among the most difficult in philately to identify, not because the stamps are any more intrinsically difficult than any others, but because the catalog listings are overly complex and specialized to an almost absurd degree.

     The Scott catalog, following the Greek catalogs, make
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  4. Edward VII


    The stamps of the British Commonwealth had a tradition of portraying only the ruling monarch. This tradition continued right up through the early Queen Elizabeth era and now most British Commonwealth stamps have the Queen's portrait along with some commemorative design. In the 171 years of philatelic issues there have only been five monarchs on British Commonwealth stamps. After 61 years of philatelic fame Queen Victoria was replaced on the throne by her son King Edward VIII. This was the first royal transition in philately and there was no tradition over how it would be handled. Would the current issues continue to be on sale until the supplies were exhausted?
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  5. Stamps to Collect while Watching the Oscars


    The Kings Speech is the favorite to win the best picture award at the Oscars this week and Colin Firth is odds on to win best actor for his portrayal of King George VI. Among the most popular stamps in philately are the stamps of the nations that make up the British Commonwealth-former British Colonies. And among British collectors, no stamps are more popular than the stamps of King George VI. George was king from 1936-1952 and the total number of issues that came out with his picture on them (including varieties) runs to the thousands. George VI stamps have increased tremendously in popularity and price the last few years conforming to the theory that each generation of colle
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  6. Mei Lanfang Sheet


    The premier philatelic item of the People's Republic of China is the Mei Lanfang sheet issued in 1962. Many PRC items sell for more but those are mostly stamps from the Cultural Revolution or stamps that were deemed political mistakes and were ordered off sale before being distributed to Post Offices and which somehow found their way into the philatelic world anyway. The history of the rise in popularity of the Mei Lanfang sheet is more or less the story of the rise in PRC philately itself.

     Before Nixon's trip to China in 1972, the stamps of PRC were illegal to import into the United States. As China was still a very poor country, very few sheets were saved and ev
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  7. Stamp Market Winter 2011

    The last of the winter stamp auctions are over and the results have been impressive. Auctions both here and throughout the country have shown the stamp market completely recovered from the recession doldrums that began three years ago. The number of bidders is way up and prices are higher almost across the board. Ebay sellers and internet retailers are reporting dramatically increased sales and these dealers are beginning to actively restock. Areas of strength are British Commonwealth, with virtually every country showing strength, Canada, which had been weak for years and is now showing marked vigor, Western Europe, with prices rising despite the fall of the Euro, and better Latin American stamps. South America in particular has been strong as the economies of many of these countries have been growing strongly and though domestic demand is far below US levels for American stamps, the shortage of fine Latin American collections cause even minor increases in demand to have large impact

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  8. The Philatelic Temple

    A successful religion, besides having appealing theological answers, needs to have a broad psychological umbrella in order to achieve popularity. People come in all psychic shapes and sizes and a successful religion needs to have an attraction to each. To name just three types (and of course most people are a mixture of types), there are good and kind people, scholarly and erudite people, and angry and hostile people. In religion, the first group finds love in their religion, the second studies its transcendental mysteries and the third tends to form the fire and brimstone crowd lurking at the edges. And these are just three of the many types of personalities that a religion needs to find room for if it is going to have more than a fringe or cult interest. Similarly, hobbies, if they are successful, need to provide different psychological spaces for their adherents.

     In philately, again to use just the three examples above, the good and the kind tend to gravitate to mod

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  9. Early Stamp Issuing Models


    There were two main stamp issuing models in the mid nineteenth century- one based on the model espoused by Great Britain and the other on the model in place in the United States. Postage stamps were a form of money and were seen as a prepaid government obligation- sort of a bearer bond coupon. So they needed to be printed in an uncounterfeitable manor and distributed securely. The two models for stamp design helped in this goal. Great Britain used a series of simple portraits of their monarch. Indeed no nineteenth century Great Britain postage stamp portrayed anything but Queen Victoria. The United States model was far more democratic but still held to the stamps as money desig
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  10. Berlin


    Stamps not only exist to facilitate postal communication, but also have political purposes. The French and Portuguese Colonial administrations used postal issues to enforce political claims in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and this is why there are so many small colony issues. A political entity that issues postage stamps is presumed to have more international gravitas. Few people today remember the fierce enmity between Russia and the United States that played out over Berlin after WWII. Berlin was divided into east and west after the defeat of Germany with the Soviets occupying the east of Berlin as they did with east of Germany. The st
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  11. Finland


    The 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 striking
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  12. Trans Mississippi Issue of 1898


    Despite the unpopularity of its first commemorative set, the Columbian Exposition issue of 1893, the United States Post Office commemorated the 1898 Trans Mississippi Exposition with their own set of commemorative stamps in 1898.(And Expositions, which were precursors of World Fairs, were very popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, happening every few years from 1876 to about 1915). But the post office learned at least one main lesson. The total face value of the Columbus set was $16.34 and the pubic had howled that this was too expensive. For the Trans Mississippis the face value was $3.80 a far more affordable amount. The issue has always been one of the m
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  13. 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 given an "A" as the left hand check letter and so across the sheet for the twelve stamps in the
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  14. Columbian Exposition Issue of 1893


    The Columbian Exposition set of 1893 (Scott #230-245) was the world's first commemorative set and it has become one of the most popular sets not only in United States philately but in the world. But this was not always so. Stamp collectors tend to be a conservative group (at least in their philatelic tastes) and early reaction to the stamps was harsh. Philatelic writers of the 1890's found the designs fussy and being unused to pictorial issues they questioned the artistic merit of the designs. Up until then, all American stamp designs had pictured dead white men gazing at the collector from a portrait type of background. Scenes of Indians, ships and even women w
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  15. American Philatelic Society

    In 2007 the APS commissioned a marketing study. The results have been published online at the APS website http://www.stamps.org/almanac/SurveyReport.pdf . The purpose of the study was to determine who joins the APS, why they join, why they stay and what they want as member services to keep them happy. The study also addressed the demographics of membership. Commissioning a study is a great step. Implementing its recommendations would be an even better one. The study is seventy pages long. A few of its insights are that most members both joined and continue to maintain their membership for two main reasons- they want to support their hobby and they want the benefits that membership confers. The study indicated that the APS does a relatively poor job of communicating to members what the benefits of membership are. 30% of members have never even heard of the APS expertization service. Over 60% have never heard of the Estate Advisory Service (which is probably just as well as it is pretty

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  16. Stamp Survival

    The 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 stamp prices-whether such prices are higher or lower relative to popularity than they should be. Are there large quantities of US #1s in dealer hands that would preclude prices rising very much were demand to increase? What would happen if these quantities were dumped? Such questions are import

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  17. Guessing The Next "Best" Philatelic Area


    Most 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.

    " When people ask me to recommend an area like this the count
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  18. Egypt


    One of the things you can count on, like snow in Chicago, is that the stamps of a country take a momentary rise in price when that country is in the news. And no country has been more in the news recently than Egypt. But,even before this, the stamps of Egypt had been increasing in popularity and now may be a good time to think about adding some to your collection. Egypt is a large nation of 80 million people and has a Human Development Index rating of 101 which places it just about in the middle of the developing world. Its economy and education standards are improving. But the main reason that Egyptian stamps should increase in popularity is the increas
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  19. Revolution Philately


    Virtually every historical event has a philatelic component and revolutions and changes in government are no different. Illustrated above are some Iranian items that we found recently in a collection. These were portrait obliterations on Iranian stamps issued in 1925. Ahmad Shah was officially deposed as Shah of Persia in October of 1925 and the Pahlavi dynasty (which ended in the last Iranian revolution in 1979) took over the official reign of government, though this faction had been in de facto control for several years. These stamps have a quasi official status (as provisional revolutionary issues often do). The portrait of the old Shah was obliterate
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  20. APS NEW Membership Drive Faltering

    Every philatelist, member or not, wishes the American Philatelic Society well. For over one hundred years the APS has been the cornerstone of organized philately, offering insurance, an excellent magazine, stamp shows and competitions, and the country's finest library among numerous other benefits of membership. But obtaining and retaining members has been a problem. Forays into real estate and over expansion of the library have led to financial problems which has forced dues increases which has reduced membership which has forced dues increases which has.. you get the point. From a high of over 60,000 members, the APS has just a few more than 36000 today and is coming close to a number at which it will be hard to sustain itself. Though in the internet age membership in the APS is not as necessary to a collector as it was years ago, still, with the demographic trends in our hobby, membership should be higher than it is. In December, the society listed that it got 97 new members which i

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