Monthly Archives: August 2011

  1. Stamp Market in Europe

    Every year I try to go to a few European auctions, maybe buy a few things, but really more to get a sense of what major European sellers are saying and doing.  The sellers I met with in Europe are pessimistic.  And they have reason to be. The Euro crisis is weighing on European perceptions in a way that is difficult for Americans to understand. Perhaps the greatest international success of the last sixty years has been the integration of Europe culminating in the Euro. With our short term focus on the current events of today, we forget that Europe has been racked with strife for millennium and that, when historians five hundred years from now write about the last two centuries, the series of wars between the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 and WW II (which includes WW I) will probably be seen as one large, long conflict related to European unity  (Remember, it is historians that name and group conflicts-the people  involved in The Hund

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  2. Special Stamps

    Special stamps are categories of stamp issues that indicate a limited or specialized status for the stamps in question. Special stamps include Semipostals, Airmails, Pneumatic Post, Special Deliveries, Registration stamps, insurance stamps, newspaper stamps, Official stamps, Revenue stamps and much more. For most stamp issuing entities there are far more special stamps than there are regular postage issues. The United States for instance has issued over 3000 regular issues, but there are far more than 3000 Revenue issues alone listed in the Scott catalog. Belgium has issued over 1200 Semipostals and over 500 Parcel Posts. Austria has hundreds of Postage Dues, Italy has hundreds if not thousands of Offices Abroad. These stamps originally were issued as special stamps as a form of internal post office control to signal to postal workers that a special service had been paid for and was needed.

     Postal service has become very streamlined world wide in the last fifty years a

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  3. Picasso Paradox

    Pablo Picasso is not only a famous artist whose works sell for enormous sums but he was also one of the most prolific workers ever. Living into his 90's, Picasso created over 50,000 works. That an artist who has so many works extant can still be so pricey is a testament to three things. First, intrinsic quality and popularity. Second, the great number of people interested in art. And third, the importance of art museums in taking works off sale and increasing the value of the work that is available to collectors. Never underestimate the value of art museums in increasing the value of art work. Most of the work of popular artists is tied up in museums resulting in a much smaller pool of their work available on the open market. The list of the world's hundred most popular art museums doesn't list any in Philadelphia and yet there are over twenty art museums in my area alone. To imagine that there are ten thousand decent art museums world wide all of which would love to have Picassos is n

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  4. Advantage of World Wide Collecting

    World wide collecting's main advantage is the quantity of material that a collector needs for his collection. A specialist, even in an area as seemingly vast as United States stamps soon gets in the position where most of his collecting time is spent looking for material for the collection or working to obtain funds to afford the items that are needed for the collection. World wide collectors never can even approach completion and always have little groups of thousands of stamps that need sorting and evaluating before they can be placed in albums and stock books. It was this type of collecting that largely existed in the earlier years of philately and, even as our hobby changes to the more specialized one that it is today, until thirty or so years ago most collectors maintained a "for fun" world wide collection that was to them what a Jackie Chan movie is to a serious film person today. Earl Apfelbaum was always extolling the virtues of world wide collecting. He saw it as more educatio

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  5. Flow Theory

    Fifty years ago, the vast majority of stamps sold between the same fifty thousand collectors and dealers. How could it have been otherwise? In 1960, except for a few major cities,  stamp shops had begun to close (they are almost all gone now). Linns had about thirty thousand subscibers but many of them weren't active buyers. To buy stamps you had to go to a stamp shop or get Linns (or another stamp weekly) or get a stamp company price list or auction catalog. One had to actively pursue stamps in order to buy them.  I know our business was dependent on the same two or three hundred customers.

     Fast forward to 2011. EBay has expanded the market beyond anyone's dream. Three  EBay sellers that I know have between them over 250000 feedbacks and that means sales to unique buyers over the last ten years. The implications for our hobby going forward are enormous in this regard. In 1960, with the vast majority of stamps trading in the same small pool, &n

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  6. Switzerland

    Switzerland was one of the world's first issuers of stamps and the country continues to be one of the most popular philatelic areas. The first issues of Switzerland are called the Cantonals and the first of these was issued in 1846. Switzerland has a federal system of government, similar to the United States in that sovereignty rests with the states which united and set up a constitution governing the relationship between Federal government and the state governments. Over time in the United States, the Federal government has assumed more power and the states less. The same thing has happened in Switzerland except that the Swiss states or Cantons as they are called have retained more of their power vis a
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  7. Dollar Strength

    As we move into fall, the stamp market traditionally experiences strength and this year appears like it will be no exception. Stamp prices seem strong across the board. US prices are pretty good. British is very strong and European stamps are doing better than they have in years. This is all the more remarkable as the dollar has gotten stronger against the Euro and this lowers the prices (in dollar terms) that European stamps should be selling for. Additionally, the Euro countries are undergoing a serious crises which has even put the continuance of the Euro in question. Essentially the issue is that Germany and France have far stronger economies and far lower debt than the rest of the Euro group and there is considerable political pressure in these two countries not to bail out the rest of Europe. How Europe bears this stress on the Euro will determine the future of European integration.  If the Euro is jettisoned and the countries of Europe go back to their old currencies t

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  8. Jacques Minkus

    Film and philately share a golden era with personalities larger than life,  from a time that is quite different than our own. Jacques Minkus was such a personality. Minkus's method of selling stamps was to open concessions in major department stores and at its most extensive he had over 35 different shops in many of the largest department stores in the United States including Gimbels in New York. Until about 1960 when retailing trends changed and department stores began to rethink the concept of carrying everything under the sun, more collectors were introduced to our hobby by Minkus stores than any other retail source in the nation.

     Minkus printed his own catalogs and albums and created a sort of alternate universe of philately with novel ways of organizing collections. America had previously been the dominion of Scott but in Minkus world there was no distinctions between the postal purpose of issued stamps in the collecting of them. In his albums

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  9. Freedom (of Information)

    I remember reading once that the downfall of the Soviet Union began with the Xerox machine. Totalitarian governments require control of information as free thinking is inimical to dictatorships and xeroxing allowed anyone to copy and distribute forbidden materials. Orwell's 1984 portrays this clearly. In his dystopia, not only is current content carefully controlled, but history is constantly rewritten to fit current needs. Stamps fit into this discussion in this way. In 1840, political freedom was a scarce commodity worldwide. Beyond the United States and a few areas in Western Europe, most nations were ruled by some form of monarchy, dictatorship or oligarchy. Easily over 90% of the world's popula
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  10. Penny Black's Big Sister

    When the Penny Black was first issued in 1840, it was part of what collectors have come to accept as a six item set. There was the Penny Black which  prepaid the postage for any letter sent throughout Great Britain under 1/2 ounce. There were four different items of postal stationary called the Mulready envelopes by collectors and listed by Scott as #U1-4. And there was a two penny version of the Penny Black issued in blue which prepaid the postage for up to one ounce anywhere in Great Britain. Penny has gotten all the attention from collectors, but her older brother Twopence deserves a bit of attention too. The 2p is printed in beautiful shades of blue ranging from pale or powder blue to almost a royal
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  11. The Future of the US Post Office

    The United States Post Office is losing money at a pace that would drive any business into bankruptcy. Their business model is unsustainable and their cost structure makes solvency under the current model impossible. If the USPS were a private company it would be dismantled but because it is a quasi governmental agency politics has kept it bailed out until now. The Recession and economic problems  have kept both political parties from wanting to deal with the post office issues at this time. The Obama administration does not want the massive lay offs and reneging on pension liabilities that a postal bankruptcy would produce. And the Republicans don't want the massive (especially rural) Post Office closings, curtailing of postal service and price increases for rural areas that privatization would entail.  But eventually the problem must be addressed and the question is what the solutions to this problem will look like to our hobby. My guess is that&nbs

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  12. H E Harris

    Most of us grew up collecting stamps that were sent to us from the H. E. Harris company. Henry Harris founded his business in the 1920's and was a tireless promoter of philately. During the Great Depression, he sponsored radio shows and advertised extensively, introducing a generation of collectors to his approval method of buying stamps. Collectors signed up for Harris approvals, and stamp selections were sent to their homes for them to peruse and purchase what they wished. By the 1960's Harris was still a huge approval dealer and was advertising extensively in Sunday newspaper comics sections and in youth magazines such as Boys Life. Harris had an extensive publishing arm and most of you reading this probably had a childhood Harris album, be it The Statesman Deluxe (which I first collected in) or the Citation Album (to which I aspired) and which boasted space for "over 25000 different stamps"). Harris had a line of packets, sold supplies and maintained a stock of

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  13. Specialty Albums

    Most collectors collect in albums and most of the albums used are preprinted specialty albums. There are several main publishers of albums. The largest American publisher is Scott and American albums are also published by Minkus, White Ace, and Mystic. Three German album manufacturers make a broad group of specialty albums. They are Lighthouse, Schaubeck and Safe and rounding out the world's major album producers is the Dutch company Davo. The various album companies produce different quality products and are aimed to different markets. The Mystic Heirloom album for United States stamps has become a very popular album and is well printed and represents good value. The top of the market for United States albums is Lighthouse, especially their hingeless specialty series which is well laid out and on beautiful paper. The downside is price. A complete set of the Lighthouse US specialty albums runs over $1000 just for the albums. A very good compromise is the Scott specialty US album. This

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  14. Museum

    This weekend I visited an antique car museum in Norwich New York. I am not an old time car fan particularly and I went there with a relative who was. There was not much text to the exhibit, just 130 restored cars that were produced between 1904 and 1935 . Most of the manufacturers and models I had never heard of. The point is that this exhibi
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  15. Danish West Indies


    If the European imperialist designs for Africa that occurred in the late Nineteenth Century are called, because of its frenzied quality, the scramble for Africa, then the colonization of the West Indies that occurred in the early Seventeenth Century could be called the scramble for sugar. Sugar cane and beet are not native to Europe and cheap sources of sugar fueled the colonization of the new world (and with it workers to grow and process the sugar-slaves). Great Britain largely won this first scramble (as they did the one for Africa) and had a score or more of plantation colonies from Antigua to St Vincent. The French took what they could and tiny Denmark, not to b
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  16. Greenland



    There is a rule in determining philatelic popularity and it states that countries are collected in proportion to the popularity of stamp collecting in the home country. This accounts for the widespread philatelic popularity of say the United States or Great Britain or Germany. And it accounts for the relative philatelic unimportance of say Haiti or Paraguay. But there are countries that don't fit this rule and which are very popular despite very small home markets. The reasons for this fall into a couple of categories. Viet Nam has become an important philatelic country despite few internal collectors. This is because the large number of
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  17. Sweden UPU


    One of the most attractive sets ever produced is the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Postal Union set issued by Sweden in 1924. This set is attractively designed and engraved and has been on most collector's short list of favorite stamps. But, there is another reason to acquire a set if you don't already have it. The UPU was set up in 1874 and was one of the first successful examples of international cooperation. The UPU agreements enabled smooth carriage of mail, reduced rates and speedier communications. I wrote about the UPU in my May 6th post (which I didn't realize at the time was the 170th anniversary of the Penny Black being issued as the world's first s
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  18. Iceland



    Some countries have small populations, stable domestic politics and little international impact but yet are philatelically very popular and important. Two countries that fit this model are Liechtenstein and Iceland. Both are part of a larger philatelic collecting group (in the case of Liechtenstein it is the Swiss-German area and for Iceland it is the Scandinavian area). This means that these areas enjoy popularity far in excess of what would be natural, based on their internal population. The entire country of Iceland has a population of 330,000, a number that would scarcely support any domestic philatelic ma
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  19. When Stamps are More Than a Hobby

    About twenty years ago an old customer of ours Walter Schwarz wanted to sell his stamps. Walter was a good friend of mine despite the fact that he was 80 and I was in my early thirties. His story was compelling. Walter was an Austrian Jew living in Vienna when the Anschluss made it obvious that it wasn't healthy to be Jewish in Austria under Hitler. Famous Jews like Sigmund Freud with international contacts were able to get visas to countries where they could emigrate and save their lives. But Walter was a commercial artist, creative sure, but modest in means, young and without friends in high places. He had the resume of the kind of person who couldn't get out, who got sent to a concentration camp and died. But Walter had an idea. He went to the Vienna library and got phone books for American cities and wrote to people in the United States who had the same last name as he had begging them to sponsor him and save his life (his name was Schwarz without a "t" so it made for a bit of a ho

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  20. Ron Daresh

    Almost thirty years ago Ron Daresh came into our office which was then located on Kennedy Blvd in downtown Philadelphia. His Dad had been a collector and he had the stamps loaded into the family home in which he lived in Charleston,West Virginia. I made arrangements to go see him and flew down there a few weeks later. Daresh had one of the weirdest lives I have ever seen. He worked for the state in some mid level sinecure as his deceased father had been a party functionary in the Democratic party which had controlled West Virginia for 75 years. He lived with his mother, who was senile and with his wife. His marital reltionship was right out of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolfe". His wife Angie,was a pleasant enough woman, to me. And Ron was pleasant enough, to me. But when they spoke to each other it was as if they had a lifelong pact to do whatever they could to make the other as miserable as possible. Ron was one of these sellers who won't let you quietly go through the stamps that ar

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