The Great Schism

Historians mark two types of dates in history. There are dates like 1066, the Norman Conquest of Britain, which are known at the time to the players involved to be significant dates in which vast changes have occurred. And there are dates such as 1054, which marks the Great Schism between the Roman Catholic church and the Eastern church of Constantinople. The two churches had been feuding for years and 1054 marked a dividing point that is largely a  historian’s construct. As the schism was a process, the date for it could have been fixed either a century or two before or after. Had any real attempts at reconciliation occurred, 1054 would be meaningless to us now. We have such different types of dates in philately. 1840 is our Genesis, for really there is no philately without stamps and 1840 marks the date of the first postal issue. But I think 1990 will come to be known as a seminal date in US philately, perhaps the Great Philatelic Schism. This is the date that the USPS began issuing sheets of 20 of US commemoratives. At the time the change seemed minor. Stamps that were previously issued in sheets of 50 were now issued in sheets of 20. But the effect was profound. It eliminated plate block collecting, where a full sheet had to be bought and the plate block retained and the rest of the sheet used as postage. Collectors just started saving the full sheets of 20. And because collectors began saving the full commemorative sheets the amount that collectors had to spend on their US new issues increased five fold, so they had less to spend on other stamps for their collections and prices grew soft.  Combine this with far higher nominal values of the stamps over the years and it is clear that a higher and higher proportion of US philatelic money is tied up in postage type material. And this material has decreased in value for the holders of it-from full face value when it is purchased at the Post Office to 60% when it is sold. So 1990 is the year that philatelic historians will look back and date as the time of the final disconnect between traditional philately and New Issue collecting-of the bad deal that made it harder for unsophisticated collectors to make their hobby financially worthwhile.

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