Monthly Archives: July 2017

  1. United States 1c 1861-67

    Good  histories share many things in common. First, the historian must know his subject cold. Good histories are not only about the subject they purport to be about but also place the subject within a place and time context. Second, the historian must be a clear and lucid writer who can make his points in an interesting manner. Good writing should read effortlessly. This goes a long way toward keeping the readers keen, especially in history where a decent amount of minutia and detail are often required. And third, a good history makes broader points about its subject, placing it within larger historical context. Thus Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (kind of the archetype for broad, well written hi
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  2. Comparative Costs

    It is very difficult to compare costs of things from one era to another. Over the last few hundred years though, one aspect of world economy has become clearer and clearer—products have decreased in price relative to labor. An expense book of a sixteenth century English Gentlewoman, that I came across a while ago would be a good example. In 1650, she employed maids for two pounds each per year (plus room and board) and bought several yards of nice, but not exceptional, black silk to be made into dresses for twelve pounds—or six times the rate paid for the years work of a house maid. Today, a very nice silk dress might cost several hundred dollars, thirty or forty times less than the prevailing annual wage for anyone in this country. One could make the case that we have exported the low wage textile jobs to places like Bangladesh, bu
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  3. Sales Tax & Stamps

    Mail and Internet sales have long had an advantage relative to ordinary retail sales in that there was no sales tax charged for interstate sales. Buy a set of zeppelins from your local retailer for a thousand dollars, and it will cost you $60-$80 more than if you you buy them online. This is one of the reasons that there are so few stamp retailers anymore with shops. Because of the sales tax exemption on interstate retail sales nearly all stamp sales take place tax exempt through mail order and the internet. Even most sales that take place at stamp shows are effectively tax exempt as the smaller dealers who have booths at these shows rarely charge tax. This is all about to change.
     
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  4. Stamps Had A Great Run In The 1970s

    The 1970s were the halcyon days of philately. The inflation of the Carter years was fierce, and inflation rates for many years topped 10%. Add to this, currency controls in Great Britain had meant that people began to lose faith in money. Remember for a minute that money has no real value. It is a convention and represents a bearer certificate for goods and services that are only redeemable as long as the person doing the redeeming believes that there is someone who will want to exchange goods and services for the money that he has. When people lose that faith, economies break down. Such faith is bent and deformed by confiscatory taxation and currency controls—anything that makes people feel that their money is not theirs, and that it won't have the buying power that they expect it to. Retreat into precious metals or even stamps is just a replacement of faith, as precious
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  5. 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 increasingly difficult to find. Precancels were never accep
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  6. Philatelists See Red

    Stamps of the earlier eras were color coded. The United States first class postage rate stamps of the Nineteenth century were red-brown (the overseas stamps were blue). So were the first class postage stamps of Great Britain, Canada, and Austria. The reason had nothing to do with design or aesthetics. Red dyes were cheaper. Here's why.
     
    Inks are a combination of a coloring agent and a solvent to move that color
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  7. Three Types of Limited Issue Stamps

     

    The relationship between privately produced stamps and those for public use is a complex one, and how these stamps are classified has a tremendous impact on their future philatelic popularity. Thule has existed, at least on maps and in cartographers imagination, for over 2,500 years. The name really refers to the far north, and whenever early map makers didn't know what was farther north than the farthest thing they could document, they called it Thule. Northwestern Greenland is about as far north as you can get, and so, to honor this tradition of the far north being called Thule, that is what these early miners named it. The stamps that they issu
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  8. One Hundred Years

    Image result for 1913 stampsA century is a long time in history. In 1913, less than 2% of American homes were electrified. Virtually no one had a car; perhaps only a few dozen brave people had flown in planes. There was nearly no surgery; any infection was potentially life threatening. Life expectancy was thirty years lower than today. Smoking was pervasive, and levels of air and water pollution were high, and there were no nuclear weapons. Life has changed dramatically in the last century, certainly more so than in any other. An inhabitant of  England in the year 1100 would have had little
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  9. Three Generations Of Collecting Stamps

    Couple of years back a family brought us a collection that has been in their family for nearly 150 years. The collection had been started by their great-grandfather in 1860, carried on by their grandfather, and then their father who passed away last year at more than 90. Most collections that live through many generations in the same family become like rebuilt homes—each generation partially demolishes the home of the previous generation, leaving the foundation but using the bricks and timbers to create a very different residence than was there before. This collection—the Jenkins family collection—was very different. Each of the three collectors created and maintained their own collection which was then held intact by the next generation. As such, the collection offered a wonderful opportunity to view side by side what three generations of serious collectors ha
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  10. How Many People Collect Stamps?

    Image result for casual stamp collectingIndividual hobbies attract relatively small percentages of the population and always have. Take chess—a cerebral game that attracts many of the same type of people as philately but with significantly more market penetration. The writers at the chess federation website bemoan the fact that though supposedly 600 million people worldwide know how to play chess, only 83,000 belong to their federation and are considered avid chess players. By that standard, we do pretty well in stamps. The Australia post office estimates that there are 22 million collectors worldwide. Linn's stamp magazine draws an interesting picture, dividing collectors into three concentric circles. Th
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  11. Stampless Covers

    Philately is the study and collecting of postage stamps. But mail carriage existed for over a thousand years before the first postage stamp was issued and through the history of our hobby many collectors have ventured back to collect these postal artifacts. These earliest letters that were carried are lost to us and probably were official, military and merchants correspondences. The Vatican maintains an enormous record of over 1500 years of official church correspondence. The model for this was probably similar to all of the earliest mail. Nearly all was carried by church carriers who
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  12. Collecting Philatelic Covers In 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"—very early philatelic covers in each field that caught philatelists' imaginations,
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  13. Russian Stamps in 1940s & 50s

    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 Siber
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  14. Mythicalism on Stamps

    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 framed in a vignette. The pictures in the centers were largely people of some importance (either real or mythical) to the country [examples are in figures 1 and 2]. The 1930's brought a change to this. Probably a resu
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  15. Stamp Exhibitions

    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 f
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  16. Israeli Stamps and What They Show Us About Philately

    When Israel became a country in 1948, it became the perfect philatelic laboratory. For the vast majority of countries, stamp collecting grew up decades after the first stamps of those countries were issued. It was only about 1870 in Europe and the United States that philately began to grow beyond a few early fanatics, which meant that there was 25 or 30 years worth of previous issues that no one had put away. How those first issues were found and saved determined how stamps were collected in the early years. For instance, the great emphasis on blocks and multiples that has defined traditional philately grows out of the fact that
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