Monthly Archives: May 2012

  1. Duck Stamps


    For over 75 years the United States has issued stamps for Duck Hunting. To go hunting, each year a hunter must purchase a (now $15) Federal Duck hunting stamp and usually a state duck hunting stamp as well. The proceeds from the sale of the stamps are a user tax, going back to wetlands and duck management programs. The Federal Duck Stamp program is one of the oldest user fees that the government has imposed. Duck stamps have long been very popular among stamp collectors and have also gotten a boost from the fact tha
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  2. Procrastination

    Broadly speaking, there are two types of philatelic items-those that are offered frequently and are readily available, even though their price may be substantial. And the second type of philatelic item is one that is rarely offered and of great rarity, even though the price may be quite modest. An example of the first would be a US #1. This is a supremely popular stamp-the first issue of one of the world's major philatelic countries. It's a bit pricey because of its popularity but a collector would have no trouble finding one. Right now, our company has fifteen for sale ranging in price, depending on quality, from $130 to$250 and on EBay right now there are over thirty. This stamp, and even Airmail Inverts at $150,000 fits in this category, is readily available to any collector who has the money and desires it. The second category are stamps that are far more elusive-stamps like many of the Italian Offices or Portuguese Colonies or early St Pierre and Miquelon. The list of stamps

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  3. Prognosticating

    Throughout philatelic history, writers have been predicting the next great philatelic area-the next specialty that will take off in price. Predictions are usually founded on one of two criteria that predict the supposed increase in the popularity that the stamps will undergo. Either the economy of the country will take off creating a pool of desperate collectors eager to buy the older issues that you should have put away (if only you had listened to the prognosticator). Or there is some intrinsic not fully understood rarity factor that collectors will ultimately discover and make them eager to buy stamps that you (had you listened to the prognosticator) should have put away in quantity. The problem with predictions is that they tend to be very accurate in hindsight and and we tend to forget all the ones that haven't panned out. For the last fifty years Brazil was always going to be the next best country. The economy was going to boom and 120 million Brazilian collectors would enter the

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  4. Memorial Day

    Before it became the holiday that commemorated Americans who have defended their country in war, Memorial Day celebrated the end of the Civil War. It was felt by many of the former Confederate States that Memorial day was a Northern holiday that commemorated the North's victory in the Civil War and for many years Memorial Day was not celebrated in the South. Throughout the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century there were markedly different feelings about the Civil War, its causes and its aftermath. The philatelic fallout from this was the establishment of two national philatelic organizations-the American Philatelic Society and the Southern Philatelic Society. Both organizations were established
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  5. Wendy Williams

    When I was first coming into organized philately some 40 years ago there was a charming older woman named Wendy Williams. Wendy was about sixty then, worked in one the records offices in Philadelphia, had been married, was now divorced and had no children. Whatever club meeting you went to in the Philadelphia area in those days you were sure to see Wendy. On Mondays, she was at the Frankfurt club, on Tuesdays in Springfield and on and on. An avid stamp collector could have coffee with Wendy pretty much every day of the week. And she was not an idle hanger on. I believe at her hay day in 1975, she was, at the same time, Secretary Treasurer of three clubs and Vice President of two more. She ran the hospitality committees of almost all of the clubs she belonged to, was membership chair of several others and was auctioneer at several more. Once when the plumbing got stuffed up at one club... but I exaggerate. Everyone loved Wendy. She was stamp mom to us younger collectors a

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  6. A Secret About Stamp Collectors

    I have spent a life time around stamp collectors. My father and grandfather were both stamp collectors, and I got my first album at the age of six. I have belonged to over ten clubs and have been a professional philatelist for over forty years. There is a little known secret about stamp collectors that for the most part they don't want you to know and that they hide with all their might, and the secret is this: stamp collectors are usually kind and gentle people. Sure there are some bears in the hobby and people who take advantage of others and who are mean spirited, unkind or who expect something for nothing. Collectors are not perfect but they are generally pretty nice guys. I write and talk to scores each week and they are eager to talk about what they are doing and how they collect. And they have other interests outside the hobby and love their families and are really very nice
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  7. Wonderful Albums-Cheap Price

    There is an unfortunate hobby arc that goes like this. A wealthy person decides that he wishes to be an enthusiast, buys an enormous amount of gear, and loses interest before he has gotten any of the real enjoyment out of his new whim. This is the fly fisher who has all the latest Orvis gear or the guy with the 120" projector screen in a private home. In philately, this shows itself in the new collector who buys a large set of very beautiful and expensive matched hingeless specialty albums, fills them with thousands of the mostly more basic stamps and loses interest in our hobby before all the real fun begins. For the great pleasure of philately is the chase, searching for difficult to find material and slowly creating a fine collection from which you learn and derive joy. But these ephemeral collectors provide a benefit for other collectors in the sense that plankton provides a benefit for whales. They create a constant stream of fine, barely used specialty album c

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  8. Specialty Research

    One of the greatest difficulties in our hobby is passing specialized information from one generation to the next. Philatelic books are often indexed and catalogs exist of book titles, but the vast majority of philatelic writing is (and was) for periodicals, and no adequate philatelic periodical index exists. During the later years of the Nineteenth Century, there were scores of monthly philatelic journals that printed scholarly and semi-learned articles about stamps, and nearly all of this material is lost to us now. We still have access to these periodicals in our better philatelic libraries such as the American Philatelic Research Library, but only readers who have the time and geographic access to thumb through these journals can use them. And these journals and articles are nearly useless to students who want to know what was written about their subject in the past. Years
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  9. The Great Schism

    Historians mark two types of dates in history. There are dates like 1066, the Norman Conquest of Britain, which are known at the time to the players involved to be significant dates in which vast changes have occurred. And there are dates such as 1054, which marks the Great Schism between the Roman Catholic church and the Eastern church of Constantinople. The two churches had been feuding for years and 1054 marked a dividing point that is largely a  historian's construct. As the schism was a process, the date for it could have been fixed either a century or two before or after. Had any real attempts at reconciliation occurred, 1054 would be meaningless to us now. We have such different types of dates in philately. 1840 is our Genesis, for really there is no philately without stamps and 1840 marks the date of the first postal issue. But I think 1990 will come to be known as a seminal date in US philately, perhaps

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  10. Linear Isolation

    Philately is the result of one of the great social innovations in the history of communications- cheap and rapid postal messaging. Before 1500, the only communication that was available for most people was direct conversation. You visited distant family and friends yourself or received word from them from the people who had seen them. Letters for anything other than the most momentous events became more and more common after 1500 and by the advent of cheap postage (furthered by stamps in 1840) the post had made family communications very pervasive. Many lithographic pictures of the time exist of families reading together the mail that had come from distant relatives and drafting their collective responses. Today, with letter writing virtually nonexistent people have turned to email and cell phones for their communication. But even though these new technologies allow us to be i
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  11. Quality and Handling


    If you ask them, stamp collectors and dealers tell you that they never damage stamps when they handle them. They always use tongs correctly, hinge and mount their stamps carefully so that the stamps never stick or are thinned, and never crease a corner or damage a perforation. But the evidence presents a very different picture. The dollar values of the 1893 Columbian issue (Scott #241-245) were, from the very first, an issue that went almost entirely into philatelic hands. The highest denomination issue ever created by the United States Post Office before these stamps were issued was a 90c value and here were five different dollar issues with a total of $15 face value that were issued together. Fifteen dollars in 1893 was a week's wages for a skilled laborer and was far in excess of any normal postal fee so it is clear that the sta
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  12. Numismatics and Philately

    Numismatics presents a problem so profound that it is ignored by most coin collectors: what to collect. Coins have been issued for well over 3000 years by thousands, if not tens of thousands, of political entities. This has presented a problem for coin collectors that we stamp people have not yet had to face. There are not catalogs that list all the coins that have ever been issued as we have in stamps. And how could there be? There are too many coins from too many places that are no longer self governing. And many coin issues are undocumented, issued long before agencies of the state formally ordered such things. Such coins were issued by whim, sometimes with little state oversight and new varieties of ancient and medieval coinage are constantly being discovered. Stamps have only been around for 170 years, all in the literate period of world history, where researchers have be
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  13. Expensive Stamp Albums

    The issue of expensive stamp albums threatens the foundation of our hobby. Scott specialty albums retail for a couple hundred dollars each, as do White Ace specialty albums. Hingeless specialty albums and the classy European imports are even more expensive. There are no inexpensive general worldwide albums like the Harris line that so many of us cut our philatelic teeth on years ago. Expensive albums raise the barriers of entry to our hobby. A new collector must spend many hundreds of dollars before he can even begin getting stamps. Young collectors are closed out by the initial expense, and collectors who don't use albums are rarely as ambitious in their collecting as philatelists who use fine stamp albums. This is because a good album is part of the collecting process and creates demand by laying out pages that can be completed and others that tease and encourage the collect
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  14. Maximizing Your Return

    If you wish to collect stamps and get the maximum amount back for the money that you spend, there are a few tips you should know. First, buy only more expensive stamps-those costing above a hundred or more dollars per set and avoid buying the lower priced stamps that fill in the spaces around sets like these in your album. This is because many dealer expenses are fixed and are pro-rated over each unit in a collection. This means that when you are buying and selling better items, you are paying less overhead and getting more of the dealer cost for what you buy. Second, buy only used stamps. The reason for this is that the quality evaluations of gum have changed markedly over time and are likely to do so further in the future. A light hinge mark, entirely acceptable to the majority of collectors today, might well be unacceptable in the future and you don't want to be on the wrong side of
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  15. Bi Colors

    Before the advent of the Giori Press, which allowed easy multicolor printing, the United States Post Office issued primarily single colored stamps. This was because bi color stamps, under the traditional engraving process, required different runs through the press for each color. This was time consuming and created "registration" problems, that is problems of the colors aligning correctly one to the other. But other, more disastrous, problems, such as inverts, could occur. To 1960, the United States issued less than 20 bi colored stamps. The first were the higher values of the 1869 with two of the three values being known inverted. The next issue was 32 years later, the 1901 Pan American issue and two
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  16. Margin Initials


    Most collectors feel that specializing in a single country qualifies them to state that they are a "specialist" when it comes to their philately. But many collectors go even further than just one country and collect a single issue such as the Washington Franklin issue of the United States. Some go even further than that and collect the plate numbers and plate number blocks and some go even further than that and collect initials that are found in the side corner margins of Washington Franklins. These initials are a form of accountability markings to let people know after a stamp was printed who was responsible for handling the plate. There are three types of initials found on thes
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  17. Traditional Stamp Dealer and EBay

    When EBay first began to gain in popularity some ten years ago, there were predictions that it would ultimately mean the demise of mainstream stamp dealers. Events have played out rather differently. On any given day, the philatelic part of the EBay empire has over two million stamp lots listed for sale in either the stores or at the auctions. This number is both EBay's success and its weakness. This number makes it very difficult for collectors to establish rhythm with any one seller. What has been the traditional philatelic relationship between sellers and buyers is impossible to develop with EBay. Traditionally, collectors have made the majority of their purchases from one or two dealers. Once a collector establishes that he likes a dealer's offerings, quality, prices and service, the collector tends to maximize the efficiency of his time by going to that dealer's website first. Collectors have found what consumers in general have found-that unlimited choice presents almost no

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  18. Bullies

    Bullying, the cruel treatment of someone who has caused you no harm, is not just limited to political candidates and school boys. It intrudes in our hobby as well. About twenty years ago there was a very prominent and wealthy United States collector-Jerry. Jerry came to our office once to view an auction and the way that our office was set up in those days was that I could hear most of what went on in the auction viewing room, although I couldn't see in nor be seen. We had a young man working for us then who had a slight mental disability. He was sweet and hard working and eager to please but he was mentally a bit slow. Anyway, he wasn't getting auction lots fast enough for Lord Jerry and Jerry verbally lit into him with one of the most offensive verbal tirades I have ever heard, yelling egregious insults at this young man who was too slow to respond and needed his job too much to do so in any case. To my eternal shame I sat in my office and did nothi

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  19. Private Proprietary Stamps (Match and Medicine)


    There are many aspects of United States Philately that simply don't exist with the stamps and the collecting of other countries. Certainly, the emphasis that American collectors have placed on Revenue collecting is unparalleled in the philatelic world. Revenues are stamps that are issued by governments for tax paying rather than postal purposes. United States collectors have a huge number of these stamps to choose from, not only in the general Revenue category but in specialized revenues as well. In the post Civil War period the
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  20. Three Philatelies Part II

    The three different kinds of collecting have different strengths right now and differing market futures in my opinion. Mainstream Philately will continue with its strength largely determined by the number of new collectors who come into the hobby. Over the next decade or two we should continue to see relative strength as the Baby Boomer generation enters its greatest collecting years. After that, less strength in the mainstream areas of the hobby is likely. The competition from newer issues, the decline in newer collectors that surely must result from the lack of a current generation that saves stamps, and the fact that the future of postal services around the world is problematic, makes the long term future for mainstream Philately worrisome. High-end Philately should do better. Although it is hard to predict what price levels will be like, the very rarest stamps will always find ready
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