Lucky Lanie

Lanie Murphy was a lucky young woman. On her twenty first birthday, her grandfather gave her a group of stamps that he had received from his father when his father died. The great-grandfather was never a stamp collector; rather, in the 1920’s, flush with money from his job on Wall Street, he bought a mint block of four of every new issue as it came through the Post office near his office. Many people bought stamps like this during the 1920’s. Lanie’s great-grandfather bought them, put them in glassines, and never looked at them again. They remained in perfect quality, which, more than their rarity, made them very valuable.
It is obvious that all mint stamps from the classic period of philately started out as perfect. Each mint stamp was purchased at the Post Office with full original gum, no creases or short perfs, or thins. The only quality criteria that a collector buying a new mint stamp needed to look out for was centering. So how did so many of these older stamps come to have thins and creases and heavy disfiguring hinge marks? Stamp collectors, generally using the best care that they know how to use, have been responsible for nearly all the damaged stamps that have come down to us today. Careless handling and storage is the culprit. To run some rough back of the envelope numbers, suppose the total value of pre-1940 stamps sold worldwide each year is $200 million (this is a guesstimate derived from estimates of Auction sales in the US and Europe and Ebay and Internet sales). And suppose about half of pre-1960 stamps have been reduced in value in some way, either by hinging or by becoming faulty (the number of damaged stamps is probably much higher. This figure assumes few stamps near the end of the period-1940-are damaged but that most stamps at he beginning -1840- are damaged). And assume that the average damage reduces the value of the stamps by 50% (it’s actually more). Using this rough analysis, the amount of collector caused damage to stamps amounts to over $50 million for each sales year. If we further assume that the average stamp turns over every 20 years, we realize that the amount of damage caused by collectors to stamps in their collections represents an aggregate loss of half the value in philatelic hands-nearly a $1 billion dollar loss.
The losses caused by collector handling is tremendous and would be tragic enough if it were all in the past, like some horrible war or pestilence that does its damage and then moves on. The truth is that many collectors still are active damagers of their stamps, mostly in the way that they store them. And most of the storage damage occurs not by the collector himself, but rather by his family after he dies because they have no appreciation for the care that philately requires. So Lanie Murphy was very lucky. Her great-grandfather bought the right stamps at the right time; her grandfather stored them well; and she was smart enough (or lucky enough) to badly want a car and so turn a commodity for which she couldn’t properly care into one that she could. Lanie was quit oblivious to all of this. She thanked us profusely (and her ancestors as well) and took
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