Monthly Archives: April 2011

  1. Sperati

    While Francois Fournier was a philatelic facsimile maker whose work fools only novices or collectors who have never seen the real thing, Jean de Sperati spent his life creating forgeries designed to undermine the most knowledgeable philatelists. Even his book that he wrote "Philatelie sans Experts" (Philately without Experts) shows his prime motivation was the thrill of creating forgeries that even great experts couldn't tell. And Sperati's work is good, so good, in fact that until about 1920, when it became known that he was doing forgeries, stamps that he made in his workshop would routinely get certificates of genuineness from the most prestigious certi
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  2. Kennedy

    The question over what John Kennedy's assassination did to his historical reputation has long been debated. The signature achievements of the late twentieth century progressive agenda-the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Medicare in 1965 were accomplished after Kennedy's death. But surely the sympathy that his death aroused helped the massive Democratic victories in 1964 that allowed those progressive achievements. Indeed, much of the political fighting of the last fifty years has been attempted to push back against the Civil Rights Act and Medicare, culminating in the current Republican plan to eliminate Medicare for everyone under the age of 55.
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  3. Francois Fournier

    The early days of philately were far more colorful than today. Dealers like J. Walter Scott eagerly waited until the US Local companies were outlawed by congress so that he could buy up the plates from the defunct companies and issue "reprints" to collectors. The rules and protocols that govern our hobby today didn't exist then and most collectors thought as little of genuineness as they did of quality. When heirs call us to tell us that they inherited their great grandfather's collection and that we don't have to worry about the genuineness of the stamps because they were bought so long ago, we respond that if it was their father's collection we would be more sanguine about genuineness but that concerns in this area increase in proportion to how long ago the collection was created.
           Francois Fournier perfectly illustrates this change in our hobby. He did not become a stamp dealer until late in life, beginning about the age of fifty in 1905. He

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  4. Italo Balbo

    Stamps and flight have both had roles in state propaganda machines at various times and never more so than in Italy in the 1930's. Bennito Mussolini came to power in the early 1920's and one of the goals of Italian fascism was to increase the Italian sense of identity as a way of uniting the country. Air travel was new and after Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic in 1927 air travel was as promoted and romanticized as space travel was in the 1960's and 1970's (and no doubt world exploration was in the 1500's). Italo Balbo was a young Italian who knew nothing about airplanes and flying but he knew about propaganda and popularity and more importantly he was polit
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  5. Nepal

    Nepal is bound in the north by the Himalayan mountains and in the south there is a fertile plain that eases into the Indian heartland. The neighbor to the north, Tibet, is inaccessible because of the more than four mile high mountains so the land to the south, India, has always had great influence on Nepal, supplying immigrants and religious and cultural ideas. It is not surprising, then, that the classic philatelic issues of Nepal have a strong feel of the more primitive Indian Native States' issues. The first stamps of Nepal were issued in 1881 and were really postal issues of the same class as that of the Indian States. Nepal's relations with the outside world were handled
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  6. Dollars to Donuts

    There is an expression that is used to express a sure thing-a bet at such high odds that the bettor is expressing his profound feeling that what he is betting on is all but a certainty. "Dollars to Donuts" is an expression from the 1920's, when donuts sold two for a nickel, that the bettor was so sure of his position that he was willing to offer fifty to one odds. Today, the power of this expression has been lost to inflation. Donuts sell for more than a dollar each at most places so that the bet, rather than expressing a certainty, shows the speaker to be rather unsure of his position.
          So it is in the old sense of the expression, that of a certainty, that I use dollars to donuts to place the following bet. Fine quality rare postage stamps, especially scarcer varieties, will continue to gain in price and popularity in the years ahead. When I look at the amount of stamps that are offered for sale each month it is startling how few of the truly scarce

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  7. Ethiopia

    In many ways, Ethiopia is a land that time forgot. Always independent, Ethiopia was ruled by a monarchy that traced its origins back to the second century. Because of its strong internal government, Ethiopia was one of the two African countries that was able to resist the European imperialism of the nineteenth century and retain its own government (the other country to retain its independence after the Berlin Conference of 1884 was Liberia). Ethiopia is a remarkable country in many ways. Home to nearly ninety million people, the country has its own calendar (which calculates the years differently than ours so that it is currently 2003 in Addis Ababa) and i
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  8. Stellaland

    The political history of South Africa is fascinating. Originally settled by the Dutch in the sixteenth century, South African areas long bounced back and forth under control of the Boers (as the native Dutch decedents were called), the British, who added South Africa to their list of imperial ambitions in the eighteenth century, and native African nations who were displaced by the immigrants and wished for their land back. The Boer Wars of the late nineteenth century were the culmination of decades of strife and the philatelic result was a plethora of philatelic entities. One of the more interesting was Stellaland which issued its own stamps in 1882. It is not clear that anyone recogn
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  9. Stamp Auction Network

    It's no great revelation that the Internet has revolutionized all businesses and the stamp business in particular. Much has been written about the impact of EBay and, clearly, EBay has changed the way stamps are sold. But perhaps equally important, especially at the higher end of the stamp market, has been the impact of Stamp Auction Network ( Since its founding about ten years ago it has continually expanded, adding dealers and auctions so that today it is the first place serious collectors go when they are thinking of adding philatelic material to their collections. For sellers too, the impact has been profound. We can offer our stamps to the broadest most sophisticated group of ready buyers in the philatelic world and the commonality of look and platform makes it easy for buyers to find what they need. The transformation in the stamp auction business has been enormous. Catalog production and lead time is down significantly. Many collectors have such arca

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  10. Heligoland

    Located 30 miles off the coast of mainland Germany, Heligoland has a long philatelic history. Originally ceded to Great Britain by the French after the Napoleonic wars, Heligoland had long Danish roots and the local language is a variant of Frisian which is the dialect of Danish that is thought to be the basis of early English. The invasion route across the North Sea that brought Saxon invaders to Britain was past the Heligoland Islands. The key geopolitical activity during the Nineteenth Century for most European countries seemed to be building spheres of influence. This was effected mostly by occupation and setting up Colonial governments and the British i
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  11. Anjouan

    Anjouan is part of the Comoro Islands group which are a small group of islands between Madagascar and Africa. The islands were long a French dependency and for a brief period around the turn of the last century issued their own postage stamps. The stamps are part of the design called the Peace and Commerce set and they are the same for scores of French Colonies. The Peace and Commerce sets are long definitive sets in which the name of the colony imprinted in a tablet is the only difference between the sets. Anjouani postage stamps served little postal purpose and were largely available from the French philatelic agency in Paris. Anjouan briefly made news a few years ago when th
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  12. Pneumatic Post

    Civilization requires communication. As societies have developed, communication has developed with it, both for personal use and for commerce. Throughout the early stamp issuing period many different ways have been tried to speed mail delivery (and remember before electronic communication, the only way to communicate at a distance was by the post). Postal agencies tried airmail. They tried balloons and railroads and trolley cars and even the Pony Express. Speed of communication was always at a premium especially in business where the value of timely information could be immense.
            In the late nineteenth century several
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  13. Italy Airmails

    Collecting airmail stamps was a far more popular specialty forty years ago than it is today. Airmail was a major technological advance in communications. Before 1920 the quickest any paper communication could get from one place to another was approximately five hundred miles a day providing expensive railroad lines had been laid. Railroads were ubiquitous in the United States and Great Britain but in many less commercial countries (say Mexico or Italy) communication between far flung areas was slow. Planes and small runways were far cheaper than railroads and Italy among other countries made a concerted effort to promote early airmail flights. By 1940 Italy had issued 105 airm
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  14. Philatelocracies

    There are an increasing number of philatelocracies-countries that exist largely to issue stamps and whose independent political status is made possible by the revenues generated by the sale of philatelic items. There are scores of philatelocracies now-places like the Grenadines of St Vincent or Guernsey- places which exist because of sales of stamps to collectors. Today, they are largely smaller islands or political subdivisions of larger nations. In the late Nineteenth Century, philatelocracies were even more common. Many of the French and Portuguese African issues of the 1890-1915 period which comprise thousands of issues from scores of fragmented geopolitical
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  15. Italian Advertising Stamps

    Attempts to help balance postal budgets produced many advertising ideas over the years since the first postage stamps were issued. The Great Britain Mulready envelope which was issued coincidentally with the Penny Black in 1840 was the first to bear advertising. In this case it was privately done but the advertisers sold the envelopes to users for less than face value to encourage their use. New Zealand experimented with what are called backprint advertising which was printed on the backs of some late nineteenth century stamps and then sold by the advertisers below face value to encourage use. But government sponsored advertising began first in Europe in the early part of the N
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  16. Mint or Used

    The first basic question that new stamp collectors face is whether they should collect mint stamps or used stamps. Generally, this decision is made in the very first phases of collecting. It is usually a decision that is made more on impulse than on careful evaluation of the pros and cons of each type of collecting and too often it is immutable with the collector sticking to his choice of mint or used to the end of his philatelic days. The question of whether it is more rewarding to collect mint stamps or used stamps is not a question of logic or argument but one of temperament and taste. European collectors have long had more appreciation of nice used stamps, feeling t
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  17. Manzoni

    Alessandro Manzoni was a great Italian writer whose writing contributed to Italian cultural nationalism in the Nineteenth Century and led to the unification of Italy. When he died in 1873 Giuseppe Verdi wrote his famous requiem in his honor. Manzoni's most famous novel is The Betrothed, a long and involved story that is to Italy and the Italians what Hugo's Les Miserables is to the French and Tolstoy's War and Peace is to the Russians. These are works that encapsulate the national story of their respective nations (often in allegorical ways) and the characters are national "types"( The United States doesn't have a book like this and those of us who went to school in the sixties
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  18. Italian Office Abroad

    The late Nineteenth Century saw the major European powers in an enormous scramble for colonial influence. And one the hardest scramblers was Italy which was a latecomer to the nationalism game and had a lot of ground to cover in a small amount of time. Until 1861, Italy was a collection of some half a dozen states that were totally sovereign in themselves. Italy consolidated in a burst of nationalism under Garibaldi and one of the first manifestations of nationalistic pride was the search for overseas colonies and areas of influence. This was a bit of inexpensive and risk free flag waving that could put a nation state in the top rungs of imperialistic power for ve
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  19. Italian Area

    Most American collectors who wish to venture past the home country predilection for collecting only United States stamps learn about the stamps of the British Commonwealth. Some go to Germany and Area and some few more to France and Colonies. But one of the major collecting areas is the Italian area. Italian philately has it all. Italy confederated in the late Nineteenth Century like Germany and so has numerous State issues such as Tuscany and Roman States that were issued by political entities that were later unified by Garibaldi. Italian philately has the intrinsic interest of Italy proper with thousands of well designed stamps with numerous difficult to find varieties only some of which are listed by the Scott catalog (most of the rest are listed by the specialized Italian catalog-Sassone). The airmails of Italy are very popular as are the postage dues and parcel posts. Italy has WWI and WWII issues including Occupation stamps that are as interesting as Germany's and the Italian Col

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  20. Seven Years of Plenty

    Perhaps the most famous dream in history was Pharaoh's dream in Genesis about the thin and fat cattle that Joseph interpreted as predicting seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. Neurologists today believe that dreams are part of our inner psychology and don't have any predictive power on events over which we have no control. But Joseph's interpretation of Pharaoh's dream was an accurate representation of the religious world view of the time - God controls the future and showed his intentions to us through dreams. Though it is not predictive,  the seven years of plenty and the seven years of famine dream speaks to the way people look at the material world and has implications for our hobby.
           Philately's popularity has ebbed and flowed throughout its 120 year history. There is always a hard core layer of passionate collectors and they are probably the kind of collectors who most of us know-people whose hobby is pa

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