Monthly Archives: June 2015

  1. Quality and United States Stamps

    The 2011 Scott catalog has begun "quality pricing" for the first time. The main listing is still for a Very Fine example of each stamp, as it has always been, but now there is a center section that prices most US stamps in different numerical grades. This is not an advance and Scott has lost sight of the fact that sometimes progress is just keeping things the way they were. The reason for the addition was the interest in high grade US stamps and this is an attempt to acknowledge and facilitate this interest. But I have always felt that the emphasis on numerically graded certified stamps was a case of the tail wagging the dog and, rather than showing the strength of our hobby, was a reflection of weakness. New collectors are never numerical graders. They are one of a kind people who wish to fill spaces. Certainly anyone can collect whatever and however they want, but to dignify the grading aberration in the hobby with inclusion in the Scott Specialized catalog gives this kind of coll

    Read more »
  2. The Scramble for Africa

    Geopolitics has always occupied governments. Today it's the Middle East and Central Asia. In the late nineteenth century, European perception was that Africa needed to be partitioned and each country scrambled to increase their area of influence. Like much geopolitics today, this drive was ostensibly motivated by the desire to control natural resources (just as today oil is the basis of our Middle East policy and everyone seemed relieved when huge quantities of rare earth metals were discovered in Afghanistan). In hindsight, most of the scramble for geopolitical influence (in this case colonization) was the economic tail wagging the competitive dog. France did it because Britain did it and Britain did it because France did it. Countries want to keep up with the Jones just as much as people do. (Motives seem so simple when viewed through the lens of a century or two.) The scramble had profound philatelic effects as one of the ways European nations staked their claims in Africa was by

    Read more »
  3. Interphil

    The Federation International de Philatelie sponsors an international stamp show once a year where all of the winners of scores of national stamp competitions compete for the international grand prize. Every ten years the exhibition is held in the United States and in 1976, the first year that I was working full time in the stamp business, the exhibition was held in Philadelphia. It was held in the old Philadelphia Convention center in West Philadelphia near where I had just graduated college, so it was literally within walking distance of my apartment. Hundreds of the world's best collections were in competition and there were hundreds of dealers with booths and tens of thousands of visitors. The exhibits and the noncompetitive court of honor contained all of the greatest rarities from the British Guiana (whose owner theatrically arrived with the stamp handcuffed to his wrist) to many Airmail inverts. And the collections in the competition were the world's best and most valuable. I'

    Read more »
  4. "Is anything alright, Sir?"

    This is the punch line to a rather sad joke. A waiter is waiting on a group of sour customers. Everything is a problem, nothing is good enough. At the conclusion of the meal the waiter, instead of asking if everything is alright, asks if anything is alright. We live in angry times or at least in times where it is acceptable to show just how angry you are. Political discourse is based on the principle of who can express the most hostility towards the other side. Some political commentators and politicians would have you believe that there has never been a worse time in America. But, really, are things worse today than they were in the 1950's? I remember Air Raid drills in elementary school where we went into the hallway and practiced holding our heads between our legs to protect us (I don't know how) from a nuclear attack. Or the 1960's and the Vietnam War and Watergate. Or the 1970's and the gas lines and hyperinflation. Or the fierce recessions of the 1980's and 9/11 in 2001. Certainl

    Read more »