Monthly Archives: June 2013

  1. Reform can be a Great Thing

    The nineteenth century was a wonderful time for progress. Rapid scientific advances and technological innovations created a mindset that change was possible, even preferable, and that change could be a positive force. The current attitude is "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." In the nineteenth century, people looked for better ways to do things.  People like Thomas Edison didn't happen upon new ideas; they actively looked for things to invent. Rowland Hill wasn't just an innovator; he called himself a "Reformer." He turned his attention to Great Britain's postal service in 1838, and philately is the result.
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  2. Fascination Philatelic

    A collector challenged me recently in an email. Find the first stamp object on your desk, and write an article on it, the only rule being that the item have no obvious philatelic value. As soon as I finished the email, my eyes alighted on the item found above.

    The Dutch stamp on this cover is one of the most common stamps of the world, similar to the 1
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  3. 1901 Pan Americans

    At the turn of the twentieth Century, the Post Office of the United States was under constant criticism from philatelists because of our stamp issuing policy. The Post Office had decided to commemorate the 1893 Columbian Exposition with a long commemorative set, and the set they produced (Scott #230-245) had a face value of over $16 (the average weekly wage that year was less than $10). The Columbian set was just part of the high cost of collecting in the 1890s. In the mid-1890s, the Post Office had issued a long definitive set with a postage value of over $10. And a few years later, the set was reissued on watermarked paper. To philatelists, watermarked stamps
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  4. Stamp Exhibititions

    Like most issues that really don't matter in our hobby, there is somewhat of a dispute over when and where the first philatelic exhibition took place. The first stamp shows that called themselves "philatelic exhibitions" began about 1920 in Europe. But there is considerable logic for allowing that the Centennial Exhibition of the United States (which took place in Philadelphia in 1876 to mark the hundredth anniversary of American independence) also had a significant enough philatelic component to call it a stamp show. The Post Office ordered examples of all United States postage stamps to be on display and sale during the show. And for issues that were out of print, reissu
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  5. Fool Yourself but Don't Fool Your Family

    James had been a fireman in New York and had retired to a small community in North Carolina with his wife when he left work with a disability  in his fifties. For the last ten years he had bought and sold stamps, usually buying low-end, defective remainder lots at auction, culling out the better stamps, selling some things at a few local shows, and building up a very considerable stock in terms of volume. James had meticulously cataloged every stamp in his stock
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  6. Mythicalism in Stamp Design

    Figure 1

    Figure 2

    Until about 1930, stamp designs were very conventional. Playing off a stamp's role as a form of money, the first designs were largely coin type centers f
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  7. Why Are There So Many Defective Columbians?


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  8. Russia from the 1940s and 1950s

    The stamps of Soviet Russia have special fascinations. In the period after WWII, Russia was still under the rule of Josef Stalin. There is quite a historical debate over who was history's greatest monster. Stalin may not rank number one in murders, but when it came to vindictiveness and pathological paranoid homicides, he would have to rank in first place. There were very few friends or allies that Stalin didn't turn on and murder (Hitler was a monster, but at least Goebbels and Bormann liked him). Stalin's purges fell on ethnicities (like the Georgians) and on his own political apparatus. Even stamp designers could be hauled off to Siberia or shot for "counter revolutionary" c
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  9. Philatelic Cover Collecting in the US

    Cover collecting is the generic term for collecting stamps on envelopes. It includes two broad categories: Postal historical covers, that is, stamps on envelopes collected to show the stamps as they were used for postal purposes, and Philatelic covers, that is, covers made for collectors, usually to commemorate some special event. Philatelic covers come in four broad types: First Day Covers, Naval or Ship covers, Airmail related covers, and Space covers. In most cases, philatelic covers grew out of a small group of classic preparers or "accidentals"
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  10. Collecting With Vision

    Fashion is as prominent in philately as it is in clothing or movies. Over the 150 years of our hobby many items that were once popular have lost collector appeal and some areas that were once neglected are now more popular. In the 1930s and 1940s precancel collecting rivaled  all of the mainstream US specialties in popularity. Precancels are stamps that are sold already cancelled by the post office to indicate bulk rate mail usage. These stamps were enormously popular with thousands of different types existing  based on city and denomination. By 1950, bulk rate payment was indicated by printing on the envelope and precancels were no longer needed. Their popularity quickly died (part of the reason too for the decline of the popularity of precancels is that they became
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  11. Advanced Warning on Border Issues

    Since 1846, the United States has never been at war with one of its neighbors (we had a few military excursions into Mexico over the years, but they were more to keep peace at the borders and weren't wars). This peace among huge geographically contiguous countries (the border with Canada alone is over 5,500 miles) is unknown in world history. Until the last fifty years, European borders have shifted constantly, mostly through war or the threat of war. This peace in North America and in the post-WWII period in Europe is largely possible because of the overwhelming military and economic strength of the United States. The peace is a modern version of Pax Romana, the pe
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  12. The Best Financial Stamp Collecting Bet for the Future

    There are many reasons why philatelists pick the specialty that they do. Many collectors have an ethnic or nationalistic aspect to their collections. You see many Americans collect United States stamps and many Germans collecting Germany and this holds especially true for ex patriots who tend to collect their home country in greater proportion to retain a sense of identity. Many people choose their specialty for financial reasons. All of our stamp budgets are limited and many collectors choose what they specialize in so as to get the most bang for their philatelic buck. Collectors of Latin America can get the pleasure of the chase and the pride of owning many very rare items at a very small percentage of what stamps of comparable rarity would sell for if they were issues of major counties. Collectors who like the joys of completion often cho
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  13. Artificial Intelligence

    The past thirty years have seen enormous technological changes in the computing and information processing field. In our hobby, the changes that have occurred as a result of this have been transformative. Stamp shows have withered, society membership has declined, philatelic publications became extinct, and nearly all stamps are now sold and listed and read about online. The changes that computers have wrought have certainly been pervasive in our hobby, but the best is yet to come.

    Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been in the works for years. Defined simply, it is the point at which computers have progressed to where they can think for themselves. Humans define the task (at least for now), and computers figure out how to do it. Google already has a car that drives itself. It is primitive and needs work, but who doubts that it is the way the future will look? The time f
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