Three Generations Of Collecting Stamps

Couple of years back a family brought us a collection that has been in their family for nearly 150 years. The collection had been started by their great-grandfather in 1860, carried on by their grandfather, and then their father who passed away last year at more than 90. Most collections that live through many generations in the same family become like rebuilt homes—each generation partially demolishes the home of the previous generation, leaving the foundation but using the bricks and timbers to create a very different residence than was there before. This collection—the Jenkins family collection—was very different. Each of the three collectors created and maintained their own collection which was then held intact by the next generation. As such, the collection offered a wonderful opportunity to view side by side what three generations of serious collectors have done with their stamps and how the goals and aspirations of collectors have changed since the very beginning.
The First Generation
Philmont Jenkin was born in 1840 and died in 1912. He was from one of the original Quaker families that colonized Philadelphia, and his family was the one that gave its name to where our office is today—Jenkintown. The earliest philatelic items in Philmont’s collection are some old envelopes dated from 1855. Like most of the earliest collectors, Philmont had no appreciation of covers. What he did was tear the stamps off the envelope, and what remains is just the cancellation and the rest of the envelope. Philmont was one of the first collectors in the country, beginning his hobby before 1860. His first album, a homemade one, was probably begun about 1865 (there are no stamps in it after that date). It is an old school composition book. The most interesting thing about these old books was how they showed the thinking of the earliest collectors. Philately was a new hobby, but it was also seen as a limited hobby. Jenkin had a page for the stamps of each country. He mounted his stamps alphabetically by country. It never occurred to him, as it never occurred to other collectors of this first generation, that there would soon be more issues than could fit on a page. After he got to “Z” he started over again with “A”. The idea that the hobby was organic with a constant bloom of new issues was not part of the first generation’s thinking. Between 1847 and 1860, when Jenkin began this collection, the United States had issued stamps with ten different face designs. No one could anticipate that ultimately there would be thousands of different stamps from hundreds of different countries.
Jenkin’s family was in the insurance business—specifically they owned a marine insurance reinsurer that eventually merged into Insurance Company of North America (INA). Because of this, Jenkin had access to mail from around the world. As a boy, his father no doubt brought stamps home to him. As a young man he could find his own. Throughout the 1860s and 1870s, the Jenkin’s collection continued to expand. In the 1860s it appeared that he largely only collected stamps from letters his firm received. We can deduce this from the fact that for worldwide issues of the 1860’s, Jenkin’s collection is over represented in higher value worldwide stamps—the values that would have been used to pay overseas postage rates (for instance, he doesn’t have many one penny reds of Great Britain but he has a number of one shilling greens). Jenkin’s first stamp album was an 1871 edition of the hardbound Scott International album, and it was with the purchase of this album that Jenkin began to take philately seriously.
Evidence that Jenkin’s hobby had reached a new level with his purchase of an 1871 Scott album is the fact that almost all the stamps that Jenkin collected in the album are mint. Gone are the poorly soaked or peeled defective used stamps that made up his first collection. Several of the envelopes in the collection point to correspondence with the very first generation of stamp dealers—there is mail from the Senf brothers of Germany, Moens in Belgium, and of course Scott in New York. There are over 1,200 different mint pre-1880 worldwide stamps in this collection, a stunning achievement that makes it a pleasure to look at. All of the imperfs have four margins, and the perforated  stamps are well centered. And every stamp is gummed down carefully with a water soluble paste, as was the style then. It appears that Jenkin’s soaked the original gum off the stamps that he bought and then repasted them.
The Next Generations
Phillip Jenkins was the son of Philmont and was born in 1874. By the age of ten he was helping his father with the collection and soon had an album of his own. Phil was a bit young for his own edition of the Scott International, but his dad got him one anyway, probably as a way to keep his son away from the father’s more valuable collection. Phillip’s collection was largely used, and about 1890 he became one of the earliest purchasers of one of the greatest philatelic innovations of all time—the packet. The idea of a low cost way to buy thousands of worldwide stamps seems intuitive, but packets never existed until about 1890. Phillip bought a pretty expensive packet of 2,500 different worldwide stamps. Today a packet of 2,500 different would cost little more than the handling to put it together and would contain 2,500 virtually valueless stamps. But in 1890, 2,500 different represented a significant portion of the stamps that had been issued to that time, and Phillip’s packet even contained a Penny Black. Phillip continued his worldwide collection until 1901, when he visited the Pan American Exposition and saw the bicolored set that was issued for that World’s Fair and became enamored with United States stamps. Buying the Scott US album, Phillip began to buy older mint United States stamps that he needed.
Phillip’s dad had pasted his stamps into his album. Phillip and his generation were aware that this primitive method didn’t allow stamps to be moved once they had been mounted and often damaged the stamps themselves. Phillip was proud that he used hinges, gunmmed pieces of paper that allowed for removal of stamps if a better specimen came along. The earliest hinges, to about 1910, were made of paper and were little improvement over just paste, but by 1910, gummed pieces of glassine were being used as hinges. Glassine hinges didn’t damage or alter mint stamps when you mounted them, except for a tiny hinge mark. Phillip made some correct decisions and some incorrect decisions in terms of the stamps he chose for his collection and how those decisions would play out in philatelic popularity. He chose high quality stamps—a good choice. Collectors always paid more for high quality than low quality, but the price differentials were not nearly as extreme as they are now. By picking Very Fine stamps, Phillip greatly increased the value that his collection had for current heirs. But Phillip chose to collect United States “simplified.” This was a trend that began about 1910 (and died out by 1940). “Simplified” collectors never went in for such things as the types and shades of the 1851-57s and the grills, and, in the twentieth century, the numerous varieties of the Washington-Franklins. In the early part of the last century, many collectors (and philatelic writers) felt this was a legitimate choice and that the catalogs unnecessarily complicated US collecting. Collecting fashions have many examples of things that could have gone different ways and didn’t, and Phillip missed buying many varieties that would have greatly increased the value of the collection.
Phillip Jr. was born in 1921 and actually owned a Captain Tim postage stamp album and was a boy member of the Ivory Snow Stamp Club. By 1950, Phillip Jr. was collecting United States in a Scott National album, foreign stamps in four volumes of the Scott International hard backed series, and he had a pretty good collection of First Day Covers. About 1965, Phillip Jr. began mounting his stamps with mounts, no longer using hinges. By 1975, according to his family, he stopped collecting saying that there were too many new stamps and that it cost too much for albums and mounts to keep them in.
After talking to the Jenkin family and explaining the history of their collection to them, a wonderful thing happened. The current generation decided that the property was too valuable as a family relic to sell and two of the “boys” of the current generation (they are in their sixties) are continuing the collection.
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