Stamp Collecting Life Cycles

We bought the lifetime collection of a Walter Lewis recently. He had never sold a single stamp or album or cover so his collection is perfect for analyzing philatelic life cycles. Lewis began collecting stamps in 1940 at the age of 11. His first album was the Scott International Junior album. The Scott Publishing Company had began publishing the International album for world wide stamps in the 1890’s. Until the mid 1930s the album was issued annually in hardbound volumes. Until about 1900, the Scott International had spaces for all world wide postage stamps and Cut Squares (made from postal stationary and postal cards). After 1900 to about 1930, the Scott International tried to have spaces for all world wide stamps. In the 1930’s, the Scott International became a loose leaf formatted album which could have yearly supplements added. There were so many world wide postage stamps by 1930 that Scott made no pretense of trying to have spaces for all stamps. A younger collector, like Walter Lewis in 1940, never would have gotten a Scott International as the scope of the album was too vast for a youngster and the price of the album was too costly. In the late 1930s, to fill this market niche, Scott began publishing the Scott International Junior, which had abbreviated listings for each country, and , with spaces for more than 25,000 stamps, still provided a young person with plenty of collecting challenges. Lewis had that album.

By 1950, Lewis was 21 and his collecting had progressed in scope, even though his years at the University of Pennsylvania perusing an engineering degree left little money for advance philately. As a graduation present from college, his older brother and sister bought him the large Scott International Album. This album was pretty much put on his shelf as time and finances made stamps impossible. By 1960, Walter Lewis was married and had three kids and for his thirtieth birthday, his wife bought him a Scott National US album. Lewis’s interest had changed to specialized United States stamps and in the limited amount of time that he had for philately at that time in his life and with the limited financial resources that his family of five allowed him to spend on his hobby he still pursued philately.

Walter Lewis began to turn to his US collection in earnest after 1970. He maintained all of the newer issues mint which he bought from the Post Office and began to seriously collect earlier issues, used to 1900 and mint after that. Now in his early forties, with his children taking less of his time (though still most of his money) Lewis began to have the leisure to inventory his holdings and plan what his collecting was going to look like for the rest of his life. Adding stamps gingerly and as he could afford them, Lewis, as an engineer, had tremendous inventory and organizational skills. In the 1970s, he added plate blocks and by 1980, Walter Lewis was very ready to begin serious collecting. He was 51. His kids had graduated college and he had the means and the determination to make a fine stamp collection.

For the next thirty years Walter Lewis collected carefully and diligently, spending on average about $10,000 per year. He stopped buying newer issues, rightly figuring that since the current newer issues were selling at a discount to face value because they were so common, there was little likelihood that anything current would go up much in value. Lewis bought from reputable dealers and by the time he passed away last year he was at the point where he needed only 23 stamps to complete his US collection. He bought nice quality, but not the nicest realizing that chasing perfection was not philately at all. His collection was sold for $510,000- some 40% more than his very careful inventory had said he spent. His was a lifetime love of a hobby. He had fun and pleasure and made a bit of money. I knew Walter for the last thirty years and talked to him a few weeks before he died. Certainly his wife and kids came first, but among the things in his life of which he was most proud and which gave him most joy, philately was high on the list.

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