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 wa
Monthly Archives: October 2017
- Posted October 31, 2017Read more »
- Posted October 30, 2017Read more »
Many philatelic writers have commented on the poor rate of success of stamp dealers. Look at a Linn's Stamp News from 1960. With the exception of one or two companies (including Earl P. L. Apfelbaum, Inc.), there are very few professional stamp firms still active that were in business then. Certainly the world changes and businesses change, but in most major industries that are still around, the important players of 1960—the Ford Motor Companies, the General Electrics, and the Corning Glasses—are still major players today. There are two reasons for this, and they tell us a lot about the hobby.Most stamp professiona
- Posted October 30, 2017Read more »
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—this after all was his life—and he included in his total every stamp, no matter how defective and whether or not it was a forgery. His total catalog value was well over $700,000. James had typically bought uncatalogued lots, the kind that can be found at the end of our auctions and at the end of every mainstream auction. These lots are collection balances, stocks, mixtures—usuall
- Posted October 30, 2017Read more »Philatelists come in many shapes and shades. They have many interests outside the hobby and widely different educational backgrounds. They hold occupations as different at tobacco magnate (Maurice Burrus) to judge (William Rehnquist). Politically and economically diverse, stamp collectors can usually be relied on to agree on one thing—they hate innovation in stamp production. What was good enough for Grandpa is good enough for them.This is not a modern phenomenon. There have been th
- Posted October 30, 2017Read more »
Philatelists today are apt to look askance at the new issue policies of many countries. Between 2005 and 2015 the United States issued over 1,100 different stamps. Did we really need that many? OK, maybe we did; after all we are a diverse nation of over 300 million people (with plenty of special interests that need to be commemorated). And we are a robust commercial nation generating tens of billions of pieces of mail annually. But did Grenada also need 600 different stamp issues during the same period. Grenada in square miles is about the size of the city of Philadelphia and its population of 110,000 is only 3/100s of a percent of the US population. On a pro rated philatelic basis, if Grenada's issuing policies were to mirror the US, Grenada should be entitled to a new stamp every seven years. And Grenada is hardly the most egregious example.
- Posted October 30, 2017Read more »Most collectors know the first philatelic story—Genesis of our hobby—the issuance of the Penny Black. Even more interesting is the story of Penny Black's twin sister, the 1840 1 penny Official. Rowland Hill envisioned twin stamps, the Penny Black for public use and the Penny Black Official for Official use (then, as now, the government sent tens of thousands of letters per year in furtherance of official business). The difference in the stamp between the regular issue and the Official is slight— the change being in the check letters being "VR" on the Official stamps. The plan was a good one; the realization of the plan was more problematic.
- Posted October 27, 2017Read more »
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 Joyc
- Posted October 26, 2017Read more »Argentinian stamps should be among the most popular in the world. Philatelic popularity is predicated on three things— the education level of the nation, its wealth, and the natural collecting/object acquisitive nature of the ethnic group that makes up the bulk of the people. This can be most clearly seen by comparing the world's most active philatelic nation, Germany, with the world's least active, Bangladesh (Haiti would fit as "least active" too, and closer to home, but there is actually a small but active ex-patriot Haitian community in the United States that collects Haiti stamps). Germany is one of the world's wealthiest countries with a very high education level, and&
- Posted October 24, 2017Read more »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. 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.
- Posted October 23, 2017Read more »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.
- Posted October 19, 2017Read more »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
- Posted October 17, 2017Read more »
Most fans of philatelic history— that is, the history of collecting stamps rather than the stamps themselves— have learned what they know through hands on work with stamps. There are very few books that retell the evolution of our hobby. Largely, it is learned by reading old journals, looking at old auction catalogs, and stamp dealer price lists and general catalogs. By looking at subscription numbers and membership evaluations, by perusing older collections and seeing how collecting goals have changed over the years, by analyzing what was being offered and to w
- Posted October 13, 2017Read more »
German stamps have always been among the most popular of collecting specialties. The German Area is vast philatelically and has typically been broken down into sub-specialties. Few collectors, especially native Germans, attempt it all. The philatelic breakdown is as follows: pre-German Confederation-States collecting, 1870-1930 Empire, and Wiemar Republic, 1930-45 Third Reich, and post 1945 Bundes Republic (in English, Federal Republic). There are many additional subpecialties, such as Colonies or Occupations, but it is by these era divisions that the main country of Germany is usually collected.
- Posted October 12, 2017Read more »Ireland's history influenced its philately to a much greater degree than did the history of most other countries. Ireland was subjugated by the British around 1600 and passionately fought for its independence for over 300 years. The first Irish stamps were issued in 1922 after independence had finally been obtained from Britain. There are several aspects of Irish stamps and their collecting that are peculiar to that country and w
- Posted October 09, 2017Read more »
The United States Post Office has had a close relationship to the hobby of stamp collecting throughout the history of the hobby. The first US postage stamp was issued in 1847, and by 1860 there was an active, if by later standards small, coterie of avid collectors. The USPO was the first worldwide postal service to recognize philatelists, which it did in 1876 with the Reissues and Special Printings for the 1876 Centennial Exposition. 1876 was a well promoted celebration of American Exceptionalism, and the Post Office contributed its part by reissuing stamps that had been made prior to 1876, so that an example of every American postage stamp could be on sale for collectors at the 1876 Exposition in Philadelphia. These reissues used the original plates and can be distinguished from the originals by shade and paper. They have always been difficult stamps to identify and have caused much confus
- Posted October 06, 2017Read more »
By 1900, the philatelic world was already too vast for anyone to complete. Their first specialty albums began to appear about 1920, and it was these albums that drove the push towards increasing specialization. Until about 1960, nearly everyone entering the hobby began a general collection. Packets and general albums which had spaces in them for the stamps that were in the packets were everyone's way of beginning collecting. But today, there are just too many stamps that have been issued for any but the hardy to try to collect all of them.Specialization began as a way of managing the collecting habit. Instead of the million or so different stamps that are li
- Posted October 05, 2017Read more »Modern mint stamps issued since 1990 sort out into three broad categories—bad investments, better investments and reasonably good investments. First, a little background. Throughout philatelic history, buying new issue mint stamps as they came out and holding them has been a mixed bet. Obviously, the few philatelists that did this in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century reaped large rewards. They bought stamps in a nascent hobby and sold them years later into a market eager for earlier mint stamps. By 1960 this path was well worn, and many collectors were putting away quantities of mint worldwide stamps for sale into an increasingly popular hobby, except that it didn't really work out this way. Philately never grew fast enough to absorb the quantity of mint stamps that were put away in the period 1960-1990, and prices for most worldwide stamps from this
- Posted October 03, 2017Read more »
United States coils have always presented a problem to stamp collectors. The first problem was whether they should be collected at all, at least as major numbers with spaces in all the stamp albums. US coils were the first worldwide coils to be issued and were done so at the behest of large businesses that did a great deal of mailing. In the days before postage meters, it was much easier to get a coil roll and place the stamps on envelopes without having to tear them into strips or singles first. Within a few years, large machines were affixing coils for mailing houses, and the Postal Service was issuing coils in rolls of up to 5,000 for their machines. The real issue for stamp catologers at the time was how to list coils. They are stamps of a different format
- Posted October 02, 2017Read more »Most collectors put their stamps in stamp albums, and preprinted albums have existed since the very earliest days of our hobby. Scott began producing stamp albums in the United States in the 1860s, copying the first stamp album producers in Europe. The most unusual thing about stamp album producers is how concentrated the business is in just a few hands and how little the stamp album manufacturers have changed over the years.The album business today is controlled by a half a dozen co