Monthly Archives: February 2013

  1. Plate Number Coils

    It's hard to believe that over thirty years have passed since the first issuance of United States Plate Number Coils (PNC's). These issues were created by the printing of the plate number on each roll of the plate. Most are very common; some are very scarce. However, they are legitimately made varieties, not issued for philatelists and having a provenance similar to plate number blocks and coil line pairs, both of which specialties have been part of mainstream US collecting for nearly a century. But PNC's have had the misfortune to be issued too late, after the period that philatelists take hard core specialization seriously, and so have been relegated to second class
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  2. Another Benefit of our Hobby

    Every age has its greatest fears, and what the early twenty-first Century is most afraid of is boredom. Our world provides constant diversion. Nearly everyone under the age of thirty is perpetually texting and looking at their phone. My TV has over 700 stations (and still nothing to watch). Tired of the book you are reading? Amazon has literally millions of books available for instant download. Most readers spend more time shopping for books than they do reading them. Instant gratification is expected in all phases of life, and people can tolerate every feeling save boredom. Fifty years ago, life had far fewer diversions. We had three television stations, a few local book stores, and people had to develop the skills to figure out what they were going to do with their time.

    Many commentators have speculated that the current penchant for instant
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  3. Stamp Price Moves

    The psychology behind price movements is interesting. When something is scarce on the shelves, we all move to buy it. When it is abundant, we all wait. The gold market has been a classic example of this as has the price run up of Apple stock in the last year. Philately, too, has had its speculations, price run-ups, and periods of quiescent markets, and as with other markets, many collectors sit quietly on the sidelines in quiet periods, only to wish that they had been more actively adding to their collections after the market has moved.

    There have been four major price cycles in the philatelic market since our hobby began. The first in the 1860s, corresponded with the nascence of our hobby. There were virtually no collectors before about 1860; so the early Timbremaniacs, as they were called (after the French word for stamps "Timbres"), create
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  4. Argentina

    Argentinian stamps should be among the most popular in the world. Philatelic popularity is predicated on three things
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  5. The Masters

    Every discipline has a set of arcana that must be learned by those coming into the field. But often, new disciples mistake how much needs to be known in order to be pretty competent. In literature, every generation, since they first wrote, has been in agreement that Shakespeare, Austen, and Dickens have been among the best. Knowing the works of these writers would qualify you as a well-read reader. But each generation of every field of study has more trendy favorites, usually difficult to ascend to and requiring a mastery of the basics of the field to appreciate. These more esoteric subjects sometimes seem to serve as an initiation to prove that you belong to the highest echelon academic club. Thirty years ago in literature, James Joyce was the paradigm of esoteric literature for the erudite. Today, it would probably be Proust or David Forster Wallace.
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  6. The World's First Official Stamp

    Most collectors know the first philatelic story
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  7. Changes in Postal Technology


    Philately has done pretty well maintaining its appeal and relevance even as the technology of how mail has been carried changed significantly over the last 150 years. When stamps were first invented, all mail was carried by foot or by horse. This method of transportation was unchanged since the dawn of civilization (the domestication of horses predates the history of civilization and is thought to have occurred about 5,500 years ago). By 1860, most intercity mail was being carried by trains. Mail that took days to deliver between close cities now took hours, and between further cities and countries mail that took weeks now took days. By 1920, the next great transportation leap was airplanes, and mail was carried by plane in the earliest period at a surcharge because of the added expense (an interesting point is that trains must not only have been faster but cheaper to
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  8. Testimonials

    Apfelbaum acquires nearly all of our stamps from collectors. Collectors call us when they think they want to dispose of their stamps, and heirs contact us when they have inherited stamps. We have bought tens of thousands of collections from collectors and have a happy record of satisfying sellers. The following are six letters that we received last month:

    I just wanted to say what a pleasure it was dealing with you regarding the stamps from my father's estate. From my initial contact with you personally as well as discussing a price with Mr. Apfelbaum, you all exhibited the utmost tact, courtesy, and understanding which made what could have been a stressful experience a pleasure. Your stopping by the house to review the collection and to pick it up for evaluation was a much appreciated additional service.
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  9. US Postage Trickles Downward

    The Great Recession continues to have serious impact on the nation's employment picture, its housing market and, sorry to report, the market for US discount postage. For the last sixty years stamp collectors have bought and put away hundreds of millions of dollars worth of US postage stamps. This amount is far in excess of the amount that collectors would ever need for their collections, even if the most rosy forecasts of our philatelic dreams came true. Collectors do this for two reasons. First, until recently it was a relatively inexpensive to put away a couple of extra sheets of every new issue "just in case" any one of them got "good". Collectors like to tell the stamp equivalent of fish stories-the tale about the stamp that rose in value which was bought as postage from the post office. The economic nonsense of this (buying two hundred losers for one winner) is overshadowed by the bragging rights if you buy something

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  10. Ken Whittle

    When I was an annoying teenager helping out at the Apfelbaum stamp store in the 1960s, every Saturday brought in the fascinating Ken Whittle. Ken was the kind of philatelist that you saw a lot of then. Ken was the archetype of the "solitudinous collector" (or SC). SCs  are people for who philately is very important and who are putting together important collections which they rarely talk about.  Mr. Whittle was extremely well educated and worked as an engineer for Dupont in Wilmington (doing something with fractions of petroleum), was unmarried and lived, full time, at a small residential hotel in Wilmington. When I knew him in 60's, he was always neat as a pin, with a well groomed little mustache. He came in, took off his hat and coat, and to my "Good Morning, Mr Whittle" would always (and I mean always) respond "Greetings and salutations, young man".

    Initially I thought that Mr Whittle collected Civil War material. I s

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  11. Encouraging Kids to Collect

    In all fields there are mantras that people repeat over and over as what would propel them and their organization to the top. In business, the holy grail is exporting to China (you know 1.5 billion people all of whom will soon need your widget), in higher education it is the prospect of eas(ier) college loans, and in philately the idea is that we need to get more kids to collect. These HG's (for holy grails) are not bad ideas in themselves. Certainly, any company that could find the magic way to export a product that 1.5 billion people need (and couldn't be knocked off by them at a cheaper price) would do very well in our competitive world. And easy money does encourage people to take on debt for education, even if is often for education that will be useless for their job prospects or their ability to repay. And no one starts collecting stamps in a serious way for the first time at the age of sixty. Nearly all of us collected as kids and then eith
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  12. National Philatelic Societies

    Today there is only one national philatelic society
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  13. The Stamp Wholesaler

    Philatelists in earlier generations grew up with a wealth of publications and literature that makes many of today's collectors envious. The Internet has meant that one can read about stamps any time for free, but the quality of what is written has diminished significantly with the decline of print publications. Forty years ago, stamp collectors had numerous active weekly publications all vying for subscribers. The best of them
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  14. Customer Service

    My elliptical broke last week. I called the service company, and the next day a service person came out who took apart the machine and told me that the parts were largely worn and needed to be replaced and that he thought that the machine wouldn't be worth repairing. A couple of painless phone calls later and I had a replacement check for the full amount that I paid for the machine two years before. Except for being without my equipment, the process was as smooth as could be
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  15. Phil Ward and First Day Covers

    US First day Covers began in earnest about 1909 and, more than anything, were the brain child of a young Philadelphia collector named Philip Ward. Ward went on to become a major US collector and dealer (in those days of the turn of the last Century, poor liquidity in the stamp market forced many prominent collectors to engage in levels of stamp dealing that would be unusual today) owning a collection and stock that were sold to the Weill Brothers in the early 1960s and which would be worth many millions of dollars today. In his youth, Ward developed a passionate interest in stamps and was one of the earliest collectors to service First day Covers.

    There are two main types of First day Covers
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  16. Making the Best use of Space

    One constant issue that lifelong philatelists have with their collections and an issue about which their families have much to say is about the amount of space that a stamp collection takes up. For many collectors, a lifetime in philately means they have assembled their early worldwide collection (which often runs to many volumes), several more specialized collections (often running many volumes each), some volumes of covers, more volumes of philatelic items that they wonder why they ever bought, and usually several boxes of newer stamps and covers that await sorting and mounting. The average lifelong collection that we buy runs to nearly forty volumes and boxes, and the most common comment that we hear is that the collector doesn't know how it got to be so big and found it daunting to prune it down to a manageable level.

    As you
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  17. What Makes Philately Different?

    Hobbies come in many types from knitting to horse shoes. Philately is categorized under the broad range of collectible hobbies. But philately is unusual in that it has been a very popular hobby for over 150 years and is still going strong. Most collectible hobbies enjoy a brief period of popularity, like Franklin Mint Commemorative Plates, and then fade into oblivion. Popular collectible hobbies, like philately and numismatics, that have stood the test of time, share four broad traits that contribute to their popularity and help them maintain collector interest across generations.

    First, long lasting and popular collecting hobbies need to have an academic or study interest. Not every stamp collector is interested in knowing the intricacies of stamp production or varieties or Postal History. But when a hobby can offer a research and academic interest to its adheren
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  18. Mounting Problems

    To paraphrase Winston Churchill, stamp hinges are the worst form of mounts, except all others. Peelable hinges were a revolutionary innovation when they first became commercially available about 1920.  Before that, hinging was done by using some old stamp selvage or gummed paper, and the results are hideous. Gummed paper never comes off of mint gummed stamps without damaging the stamps. It is because paper hinges of this type were so pervasive in early philately that so many earlier stamps have had the gum soaked off them (and consequently, it is paper hinges that are responsible for the large premium that truly "original gum" early stamps enjoy today).

    When peelable hinges were invented they were a great innovation in the hobby. Stamps could be mounted inexpensively and then removed as many times as needed and remounted without any damage to the stamp itsel
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  19. The 1895 Scott Catalog

    The 1895 Scott catalog was a hardbound edition of over 500 pages. The Scott catalog began as J. Walter Scott's price list, and by 1880 had grown into an annual catalog that listed all the stamps of the world that had been issued to that time, whether Scott had them in stock or not. By 1895, the Scott firm was largely out of the business of stamp dealing and had become a publishing company. Their products consisted of an early hardbound version of the Scott International album, which had spaces for all of the stamps listed in the Scott catalog and the Scott catalog itself and by 1895 had grown into a pretty impressive piece of work.
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  20. Ryukyu Islands

    The Ryukyu Islands are a long archipelago off the main islands of Japan. Settled at an early period, the Ryukyu's independence from Japan is proven by the linguistic difference between the Japanese and Okinawans. Though written with many of the same characters, Japanese and the several languages of the Ryukyus are very different linguistically (and unintelligible to speakers of the other language) showing that the islands had been isolated from contact with Japan for a very long period of time. Japan reasserted control of the Okinawan chain after the Meiji Restoration in the 1860s, and today the traditional Ryukyun languages have largely died out.
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