Herman Herst Jr

Image result for herman herst jrEvery field has its basic reading list, and people who have spent an enormous time in a particular field are apt to forget sometimes just how good some of the basics are. I have been rereading many of the philatelic works that I read as a young philatelist and am amazed at how interesting and timeless many of them are. At the top of this list is Nassau Street by Herman Herst.
Herman “Pat” Herst Jr. (who got his nickname because he was born on St. Patrick’s day) became a stamp dealer in the 1930s. The Depression era was really the start of the modern period of philately. Before the early 1930s, philately was a highly esoteric hobby that had not made it into the mainstream. Few people collected and not many people in the general population had any feel for what it was that philately was attempting to accomplish. The Depression era changed that for several reasons. First, there were a large number of men out of work (almost a third of the workforce), and, in the days before cable and ESPN, men out of work needed something to do. Philately was inexpensive, and trading clubs grew up all over the country where people collected, traded, and did a little dealing, usually making a profit in stamps and not in money, but most of all keeping busy and out of trouble. Second, Captain Tim and Ivory Snow were actively promoting the hobby on the radio, and a hobby that had been nerdy became mainstream. Adding to philately’s social acceptance was the fact that two of the world’s most beloved leaders, FDR and George VI, were avid collectors, so philately became for a moment in time almost cool.
Image result for herman herst jr bookIf it wasn’t for the Great Depression, Pat Herst probably would never have become a stamp dealer. Well educated by the standards of the time (he had a BA from Reed College), Pat was a journalist in Oregon before he got laid off and moved East hoping to find a job in newspapers. Reduced to being a Wall Street delivery boy, Pat got back into the hobby of his youth and was soon dealing. Pat Herst was a good stamp dealer, but he was an even better stamp writer. His book Nassau Street is about his early years in philately (available from Amazon). It is written with charm and wit, and contains insight from a man who was present at the creation of modern philately. It is one of the few stamp books that appeals to philatelists and general audiences alike, and for several weeks when it was first published it was on the New York Times Bestseller list.
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