One of the great changes in the stamp world has been the extinction of a species of philatelic professional called the Satchelateer. This type of dealer was common in the early part of the twentieth century and began to decline in numbers around 1980. Satchelateers (and the word is formed from "satchel" which is a large bag) were an important part of the stamp world for nearly one hundred years. They operated somewhat as wholesalers and somewhat in the way that re-insurers do. Here's what they did—dealer A bought a nice collection of, say, US booklet panes and priced them up and put them in his shop. The Satchelateer visited him on his daily rounds from stamp shop to stamp shop and saw what he had acquired. In the course of the Satchelateer's maraudings, he mentioned the fact that he could get some rarer booklet panes if dealer B needed them for a client. Dealer B called his customer and the Satchelateer operated as a middleman, keeping the large dealer network oiled.
But Satchelateers were more than middlemen. They operated mainly in larger philatelic cities like New York and Chicago, though we had a few of them here in Philadelphia. And they were pervasive at stamp shows, walking the floor for the entire time the show was open looking to see who had what and who needed what. Most Satchelateers had a niche. Some were US only, some made their living buying European and Asian stamps and sending them back to their home country. Most had low overhead—bus fare and lunch money were all they needed. The Satchelateers filled a valuable niche in the philatelic ecosystem, oiling commerce between dealers, and accordingly most Satchelateers got whatever credit they needed from dealers to make their middle man operations work. Their word was their bond, and though many looked little better than vagrants, they were an honorable group of men whose word you could rely on.
My favorite of the group was a man named Bruno Goldschlag. Bruno was an Austrian immigrant who came to the United States in the 1930s not to have a better life, but to save his life. In a real life Sophie's Choice, his parents had sent him to a very distant relative in the US in 1938 (Austrians could immigrate to the US to avoid being murdered by Hitler if they had a sponsor who would guarantee them and help them find a job—it is amazing when you look back at this how difficult it was for so many Austrians to find someone willing to help them avoid death—Bruno's parents and sister never made it). Bruno was so personally diffident that today he would probably be placed on the Asperger's spectrum. But we just thought he was shy. Everyone liked him, and at the shows he walked around all day, up and down the aisles looking in at your booth silently. If you had bought something new or decided to lower the price of something old, you called him over. Bruno would nod and walk off and on his next round might ask if he could take the item for a few minutes and on his next round bring you a check. Satchelateers like Bruno provided liquidity, and, as most were more loquacious than Bruno, they were also a great source of stamp gossip.
The economics of the stamp business ended the Satchelateers. Center city rents grew high, and stamp shops closed. Satcheleteers continued to operate at stamp shows, but the Internet provided the coup de grâce to this last area where they provided a service. Today, dealers can have everyone see all of their stock and can lower prices instantly on older inventory. In philately (and everywhere else), the age of the middle man is over. The current system is better for both dealers and collectors. Satchelateers were middle men, and in the old environment they provided a service and provided liquidity and velocity of turn over to stamp dealers. But their profit come at the expense of lower profits to stamp sellers and higher prices to stamp buyers. Though none lament their passing on professional terms, the people, the faces, and the stories were an interesting and welcomed part of the early era of stamp collecting.