Stamp Packets

Image result for stamp packetsEvery kid in the 1950s and 1960s began collecting stamps the same way. We started with a Harris or Minkus worldwide album. Mine was the Statesman Deluxe, which had spaces for over 25,000 stamps. Next up the ladder was the Citation album, which had spaces for over 50,000 stamps, and to which I aspired. What made these albums interesting (and what made philately the social hobby that it was in the 1950s and 1960s for children) was the fact that these albums had illustrations; Harris and Minkus also marketed packets of 10,000 or 20,000 different stamps which contained many of the stamps that were illustrated in the album. Each packet contained not only many of the same stamps, but also many stamps that were different from one packet to the other. This meant that you and your friends could get together with your albums and trade stamps from your packets. Each of us were collecting from the same body of worldwide stamps, and it might be because such packets of worldwide stamps no longer exist that collecting among the young has decreased. Philately is not always an incredibly social pursuit, but without any interaction with other collectors (or at least reading about philately), many people can find the hobby barren.
So what is the story of these packets that made stamp collecting so popular fifty years ago? They are a product of World War II and then the Cold War. Here is the story: Major business and trading houses existed in Germany and Austria. These companies did business worldwide and sold millions of envelopes to dealers who soaked the stamps off of the envelopes to make into packets. Additionally, stamp collecting was always very popular in Central Europe, and dealers there had contracts with dealers in Latin America and Asia to buy huge quantities of used stamps from those countries. Stamp packets require two things to make. First, you need a large supply, which Central European stamp dealers had. And second, you need cheap labor so that, when the stamps are assembled into different units, the packets would be inexpensive enough to sell well in America. The devastation in Germany after WWII provided just this kind of cheap labor. Virtually the entire industrial base of Germany was destroyed in the war. There was no money (until the Marshall Plan) to finance construction or industry; so there was a huge educated workforce willing to work for almost any price. For five years or so the packet industry was centered in West Germany, but as the economy there improved, the stamp packet business moved to East Germany and then Romania, areas of Russian domination after WWII, which never fully recovered until the 1990s.
Image result for Harris stamp packetsPackets like the great Harris packets are not made any more. The reason is more than economic. It is true that there are almost no areas that are currently low wage enough to make packet making profitable, but the other reason is that the great worldwide stocks of packet-type stamps have largely been dispersed. Harris was able to assemble largely identical packets of 10,000 different stamps in great quantity. There simply are no longer enormous numbers of stocks of different cheap stamps, and assembling such packets and making albums for the packet’s contents, as Harris did, would be impossible today.
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