Monthly Archives: April 2015

  1. What I would Collect

    After forty years and millions of auction lots, I still get excited by many different kinds of stamps. What I would collect is stamps that I rarely see. For instance, yesterday I wrote up a Morocco collection complete mint 1956-2000. It cataloged about $800 and will sell for about $200. It contained over 800 mint stamps nearly all beautifully engraved and all having the finest philatelic production values. They commemorated famous Moroccan politicians, Islamic scholars and leaders and Arab art, artists and scientists. All that beauty, history, and difficulty of acquisition for about 25c per stamp. And I never saw most of these stamps before. Once a collector gets out of the narrow "major country" collecting syndrome, it is truly amazing how much beauty and rarity there is in this hobby for so little cost.

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  2. Digitization

    The American Philatelic Society has begun to digitize their library. This involves scanning books a la Google and making the library's vast collection of books and periodicals available online. It's a smart move and one that unfortunately was not foreseen when the society changed main offices a few years ago largely to house the library's growing collections. (If it had been foreseen, the move would not have been made and the society's finances would be in much better shape.) Now once a book or periodical is scanned it can be warehoused or sold off so the space the library will need will be small indeed. A reading room and open stacks with a thousand or so of the more requested books and periodicals should fit the bill. For many years, the library consumed a disproportionate share of APS resources. Very few members ever use the library or even have much of an interest in academic philately. Again, most members were willing to support the library within reason but this new solution shou

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  3. Euro in luck

    The Euro has declined against the dollar by nearly 20% in the last six months. This is good news for American collectors. Though everything we buy and sell is denominated in dollars, most of the demand for better European stamps come from their home markets. A set of Austrian Renner sheets sells for about 1000 Euros in Vienna. Last September that was $1500. Now its $1250. European bidders underpin the American Auction market for better foreign stamps so when the Euro is down the price of those stamps trends down as well. Currencies always fluctuate. But our experience is that whenever a rapid change takes place in currency values a rebound in the other direction usually follows. Even if the Euro union should fall apart, the stronger economies of Northern Europe will see their currencies higher against the dollar than they are today. It is probably a good time to consider filling your album with some of those better European sets you've wanted.

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  4. Robert Lippert and Dale Hendricks

    Two old time stamp dealers died last week-Robert Lippert and Dale Hendricks. Bob Lippert was 82 and Dale was close to eighty. I hadn't seen much of them the last ten years or so but in the 1970's they both came regularly to our auctions and for many years Bob was our number one customer. Both men ran prominent stamp businesses in the 1970's and 1980's. As their businesses declined in the 1990's and afterwards, it showed how stamp selling had changed. Until twenty years ago, there were innumerable small stamp auctions in this country. Usually they were called Mail Sales which meant that they were auctions without floor competition. Average lot prices were low - typically in the $5-$250 range- a tier or two below the average range at Public Auction. There were hundreds of these Mail Sales a year. J&H Stolow alone offered 200,000 lots a year. We offered over 150,000 lots per year, first under the name Discount Stamp Co and then under our house brand. Dale and Lippert were mostly Mail

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  5. Memory

    I just got a call at the office from a man who is a new customer. He had a question about something to do with one of our online sales and we started talking about the snow in Boston where he lives. Out of the blue I told him I went to Tufts University in Medford for a time and we realized that we were in the same class there. Such coincidences are always memory factories for me, summoning up forgotten images of dorm rooms, friends, classes and parties. It made me realize that one of the things I like best about stamps and the stamp business is how it jogs the memory. Usually when I see a rare stamp, one that I haven't seen in a while, I get instant, vivid memories of the previous ones I've seen. Often, the memories are fleshed out. I see the person who showed me the stamp or who I sold it to. I see the centering and perfs of the previous ones and how they differ from the current example. This poignancy and vividness of memory is remarkable and my wife tells me very selective. Otherwis

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  6. Detecting Forgeries

    Almost from the very day that Philately began as a serious hobby, stamp collectors were plagued by forgeries. Forgeries exist in two types; those made for philatelic consumption and those produced to defraud the postal service of revenue (called postal forgeries). These postal forgeries are in nearly all cases not only very rare but highly collectible and desired as examples of postal history. But philatelic forgeries are rarely scarce, and seldom desired by stamp collectors. But they do turn up unwanted in many stamp albums and though detailed counterfeit detection is work for experts, there are many things even a casual stamp collector can know that can help spot a forgery or at least arouse suspicion.

    Most philatelic forgeries were not produced to defraud collectors. A century ago, stamp collecting was not the detailed discipline that it is today. Catalogs were not comprehensive and new finds of previously unknown stamps issued many years before happened frequently. There

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  7. Protecting Your Stamps From Theft Or Fire

    For many years, few stamp collections required many steps to be taken for their security. Few were valuable enough for the average burglar to bother with and even if damaged by fire the low value of stamps in general meant that they were easy to replace. But the rise in philatelic values in the last fifteen years, both actual and relative to the rise in prices in general has made a good stamp collection eagerly sought after by even common criminals and difficult to replace in the case of fire loss.

    Most people never experience a house fire. And even though burglary rates are alarmingly high, most residential areas have few and these are generally of the "steal the silver and run" kind. Still, statistics say that the average person can expect to be burglarized at least once in his life and some steps can be taken to mitigate the risk of losing your stamps.

    A safe is very important in protecting a collection, but oddly, more effective for fire than for theft. This i

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  8. Collecting Cleverly

    Most stamp collectors collect for fun pure and simple. But there is no reason why a stamp collector cannot have fun and maximize his chance at making a little money when he goes to sell. Unlike photography or skiing, philately is one of the few hobbies where the participant's investment in his pastime not only is partially conserved but in many cases it can be increased. Going about collecting with a view towards appreciation does not mean that you are an investor. But such collecting is not for everyone. Some people choose what they wish to collect for completely aesthetic grounds and will not be persuaded otherwise. That is fine. But if you want to collect in a financially clever way, here are some things that you should know.

    First, foreign new issues generally do no go up for at least twenty years after their issuance. There are exceptions to this rule, but for every one, there are a thousand sets that conform. This makes new issues a rather bad buy from a conversation o

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  9. Exhibiting Your Stamps

    Most collectors never exhibit their stamps, except perhaps to show their collection to a friend or family member. But many collectors derive great enjoyment from displaying what they have to others in an organized, systematic kind of way. And while a collector may exhibit in any manor that he wishes, certain guidelines can aid in securing the two goals of most exhibitors. Those goals are the accuracy, appeal and aesthetic beauty of your presentation and second, success in obtaining the awards that are part of the stamp exhibiting process.

    Exhibits must be specially prepared. No one, besides your friends, want to see your album pages. Your album pages, while giving you considerable enjoyment in filling, are essentially quite like any other collectors' who collects the same material as you do. You may have some items that he is missing, or vice-versa, but there is considerable similarity in most collections.

    It is wise to specialize, that is restrict what you're exh

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  10. Inexpensive Specialties

    Most collectors would probably love to specialize in "Inverts of the World". But few have the resources and even among those who might, there is distinct resistance in many people to spending hundreds let alone thousands of dollars for each stamp you put in your collection. But if you have reached the point of no return in your specialized "Inverts of the World" collection or are just now thinking general collecting is a bit too broad, you should know that specialization need not cost your children their college education. Specialization, like hotel rooms, comes in four categories- very expensive, expensive, moderate, and cheap. But unlike hotel rooms (where occasionally price equals quality) all you really get from expensive specialties (such as mint USA) is higher priced stamps, not more fun. Indeed, there are many specialties that a collector can come quite close to completing for a surprisingly modest amount of money. And many of these specialties contain rare and elusive items tha

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  11. The Stamp Family Apfelbaum

    The first stamp dealing Apfelbaum was Maurice Apfelbaum who listed his occupation in the 1910 US census as "Stamp Dealer". He began dealing when his son Earl was only four years old, and by the time Earl was ten he had begun collecting stamps and was going around to dealer shops and bourses with his father. Stamp collecting was different one hundred years ago than it is today. Most stamp business was done at bourses or in dealer shops, that is face to face, and little stamp business existed outside of major urban centers. Collectors in the country saved up for their annual visits to New York, Chicago or Philadelphia where they would go to the many stamp shops there and purchase a years' worth of collectibles. Earl and his father continued dealing throughout the teens and twenties but it was not yet a full time business, rather they dealt their duplicates and did a little trading as so many collectors did in those days to offset their stamp collecting habit.

    The Apf
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  12. The Secrets of Reperfing

    The first postage stamps were issued without a preordered method of separation. In 1840, it was revolutionary enough for the stamp itself to be issued. Rowland Hill hardly thought it necessary to provide Great Britain's postal users with a means of separating their stamps apart, or, in the case of large mail users where speed was essential, razors were used so that entire rows, several sheets deep, could be separated at once. Such separating methods were crude, and resulted in many stamps being damaged. The situation caused complaints in 1840, and it has been a bane of collectors even today.

    In 1847, Henry Archer, an Englishman and a contemporary of Hill's, proposed that a separating machine of his own design be used to place tiny holes between the stamps so that separation became a simple matter of tearing and not the laborious process of cutting apart stamps. Archer's first invention was a rouletting process, where cuts were made in the paper between the stamps, which, wh

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  13. United States Overprinted Issues

    5815_lg 56_2Compared to most countries, the United States has overprinted very few of its Postage Stamps. Overprints are usually the result of rapid changes in political and economic conditions that necessitate new rates and regulations and our nation has been fortunate to have a relatively stable domestic history (at least since 1865). Germany for instance has hundreds of different overprinted issues caused by inflation (which at its height caused its stamps t

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  14. Countries to Collect

    350208aProfessional stamp dealers get asked from time to time from collectors to recommend a country to collect. I have a few favorites that I often suggest. My criteria are simple. First the stamps of the particular country have to be attractively produced. Second, they have to be readily available so that the search doesn't replace the collecting. And third, the country has to be affordable. Accordingly, I don't often recommend the United States as a collecting country for the simple reason that it is not affordable. There are many US stamps that sell for $5000 or more. Similarly I don't recommend Great Britain or Germany. I find the stamps of most Central American countries una

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  15. Official Stamps

    343672aOfficial stamps are stamps issued for government use. Since most postal services have always been run as government monopolies, government agencies have usually had free postage. Official stamp issues (rather than regular postal issues used by government agencies) have largely been a matter of accounting control and to prevent government workers from converting postage stamps to their personal use. The United States was among the counties that made the most use of Official stamps. Unlike Argentina and South Australia, each of which overprinted hundreds of varieties of Officials for use by each governmental department, the US issued separate stamps for each department with a total of

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  16. Special Service Stamps

    334616a 350653aStamps proved to be such a wonderful invention that most countries began to issue stamps designed for special uses beyond first class mail. The Scott catalog makes it easy to determine what special use a stamp was designed for as it gives alpha character prefixes to special service stamps. Thus "B" numbers are for Semi Postals (stamps that have an additional charity value added to the face value), "C" numbers are Airmails

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  17. The Genius of Postage Stamps

    324599aPostage stamps proved to be a vital technological innovation. In a world where most innovations are beyond the ability of most of us to understand let alone initiate ourselves, the obviousness of most technological innovations before 1900 is shocking. Look at the variations of plough technology and agricultural yields (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plow). throughout history. These simple changes made monumental differences in living standards.

    Our little gummed tabs of paper produced a revolution in communication that in depth and scope rivalled only the Internet of today. Before the Penny Black, to send a lett

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  18. You Can't Improve on Perfection

    Very few things have changed as little during their lifespan as has the Postage Stamp. With the exception of perforations (added about 1850) and self adhesive gum (added about 1970) the actual appearance of stamps (printed pictures on small adhesives representing proof of payment for a service) and their use is virtually unchanged since their invention. Its hard to think of any technological design so little changed in 170 years. When a product changes so little in such a long time and retains its original use it means its inventor really got it right the first time (how many improvements have you seen on the hammer?) Perhaps that is one of the reasons for the enduring nature of our hobby. Pick up your collection that has stamps from nearly two centuries and they are all fully recognizable as postage stamps. In a world where TV screens will soon be disguised as wall hangings and automobiles drive themselves, collectors find that reassuring.
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  19. Correspondence

    As details of Hilary Clinton's private email account have become public, I have been struck by how easy it appears to hack into someone's email account. Governor Palin's email was hacked last year and it appears that the sanctity of private correspondence is another casualty of the high tech age. One hundred fifty years ago if you wanted to communicate with anyone at a distance you could only write. Once a letter was placed in the mail, its privacy was protected by public statute (it still is). But people did save their correspondence, often rereading letters from loved ones whom distance and circumstances had separated by years. And stamp dealers often come in possession of these old correspondences as they are often kept with stamp collections as part of estates. One of the most touching personal stories I ever read came from one of these family correspondences that had not been read in over 100 years.
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  20. Banknotes

    I've always divided US philately into seven subsections, largely for ease of study and because the characteristics of the sta348073amps from section to section are so different. The divisions are stamps to 1869, the Banknotes(1870- 1893), Bureau Issues period (1893-1912), Washington Franklins, modern, Back of the book and Revenues. Each of these sections has various predominant elements that distinguishes it from the others and though serious philatelists may argue as to which are the most predominant characteristics of any of the subsections, I think most would agree with me that there is enough differentiation betw

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