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Vanity keeps Philately alive!

“It’s true that young people don’t write letters or really know what stamps are, and that, generally speaking, stamp collecting is for an older generation that is slowly dying out, so far fewer people collect stamps nowadays than they did in the past,” says Douglas Muir, senior curator of philately at The Postal Museum in London. “But people are still extremely honoured if they appear on stamps, and you get far more publicity about stamps in newspapers these days than you ever used to.”

Etching your way into history by Royalty; Politicians and by those genuine accomplisher is something we have accepted, much like many other unquestioned impositions.

However over the last few decades, vanity by the commoners ( like me) have infested both the digital and real world.

If you are not on LinkedIn, and/or Facebook, and/or Twitter and/or Whatsapp and/or etc etc. You are probably non-existent ( and if I can be audacious enough to say irrelevant) as far as the digital world is concerned.

And if you are, well, of course you are. You are reading my blog. You have a reign and rein on your digital presence. You would have possibly and surely succumbed to this plague which is called vanity.

It strikes quietly uncontrollably and unconscious to many, to others it’s merely a competitive response.

And how it grows, triggers are everywhere must have been your surprise birthday party ( you had no idea you ruled so many hearts ) or your newly minted certification at a course ( latent genius ) or a recent acquisition ( hope we are taking Tesla and not Lamborghini). Or just a change of partnership ( personal or professional – everybody cares).

We post, and we share and we like and we go viral with this infestation of our glorious feet’s and hourly and weekly sense of dis appropriate accomplishments with the unfailing assumption that the world won’t “live another day” till they applauded to your blessed existence ( even if they don’t)

Well, who am I to preach, who in this crazy world doesn’t want the love ( as fake as it might be) ! It’s human to be vain.

So here I am sharing the opportunity for you to continue your persuasion in vanity into the glorious pages of history, or should I say sheet, ahem- may be just say, adhesive paper.

Many lovely desperate ( for commercial viability) postal departments of a few countries have found your sweet spot.

Vanity and they are at your service to flame your fire.

Getting on a stamp

Until quite recently, appearing on a stamp used to be something of a double-edged honour. In most countries, unless you were the head of state, one crucial condition for being so honoured on a postage stamp was that you were dead – and have been that way for at least five years.

In the UK, the birthplace of the postage stamp, the first living recipient of this honour was Sir Francis Chichester, whose boat Gipsy Moth IV, featuring its skipper’s definite if unidentifiable image as a small figure on deck, appeared on stamps in 1967 in celebration of the sailor’s singlehanded circumnavigation of the world.

Until then, the ban on picturing living people on stamps was an unwritten Post Office rule in the UK, and therefore the commonwealth stamp world and one that is still broken only rarely, and not always overtly. 

A stamp in 1999 honouring Freddie Mercury, the singer with the band Queen, who had died eight years previously, also featured in the background the unmistakable figure of the band’s drummer, the very-much-still-alive Roger Taylor.

But the tribute of the first starring role as a living subject on a stamp was reserved for cricketers Michael Vaughan and Freddie Flintoff after England’s victory over Australia in the Ashes series in 2005.

In the US, a statutory restriction on the use of portraits of the living on currency, dating from 1866, was also applied to postage – until in 2011, the United States Postal Service announced it was “dropping a rule that currently requires an individual to have been deceased at least five years before being honoured on a stamp”. 

In a move that looked suspiciously like a cynical effort to make philately both cool and commercially viable again, members of the public were urged to use social media – ironically – to nominate “acclaimed musicians, sports stars, writers, artists and other nationally-known figures” for consideration as subjects for stamps.

Well, now that was a start, but not quite so enamouring to the younger generation ( who we are counting upon to carrying on the baton of philatelic pursuits and not render our vintage collections worthless)

So how do we solve a problem like Mariaaaa… as the song goes.

Aha! #HarryPotter is summoned and #Avengers are called in #Starwars and #StarTrek collide while #lordoftherings vibe with #GamesoftheThrones and of course the #Pixar and #Disneyland characters have there own special commemoratives to ensure everlasting place in #philatelic history.

All this efforts to lure the young into stamp collecting. A win-win commercial arrangement.

Well if you are famous ( and saleable) anybody and nobody who has earned instant fame over the last few quarters are now on an adhesive paper which in other words is called a collectors item.

I have this uncanny premonition that publicists and advertising agencies will soon feel very threatened about their livelihood. Superstars shortcut to the hearts, minds and albums of their fans are just a call away to the post office stamp artists team!

Well, do we stop here. Oh no! We don’t. Vanity is much much more personal.

It’s not good enough that I have the entire collection of #wonderwoman stamps. I am wondering woman – why am I not on a stamp!

So, voila the not so artificial intellect of our friendly neighbourhood post office just went into a eureka nebulous state.

Selfie Stamps wave.

Postage stamp with your own ( or family) picture is the latest missile launched by postal offices of various countries such as USA, UK, Australia, Austria, Bhutan, Canada, Finland, India, Indonesia, New Zealand and a few more.

For example, The United States Post Office allows you to make custom postage stamps from your own photos, but you must use one of the organization’s approved third-party vendors. As explained on the U.S.P.S. website, custom stamps can be designed and purchased from PhotoStamps, PictureItPostage and Zazzle.

You can get your personalized stamps in a variety of sizes and monetary values. Most vendors also offer a collection of stock images you can use for your stamps. You can use your own logos and graphics to create postage, postcards and envelopes as well — which can come in handy for wedding announcements, family reunions and other events.

Custom postage stamps cost more than the standard versions available at the post office. Prices vary by vendor, stamp size and amount.

So as you can read, we are been nudged to remain self indulgent and in our family history be itched as the first’s to be on a postage stamp.

I wonder, if this doesn’t do the trick for keeping philately alive…. what will !

Yours truly vain,

Kheyati

Spanish stamp fraud

On May 9, 2006, Spanish police raided 21 homes and offices of Afinsa Fienes Tangibles SA, the world’s largest postage-stamp dealer, and rival firm, Forum Filatélico. They charged eleven men with running a $6.4 billion pyramid scheme that took in some 343,000 investors – 1 percent of Spain’s entire population, making the fraud one of the largest in Spanish history.

An economy either is in trouble or has lost its sense of balance when investors shy away from tangible capital formation in favor of buying postage stamps and similar collectibles. Unlike machinery and technology, stamps do not produce real goods and services. They have long since been printed and sold by the government, and will never be used actually to mail letters. However, stamps have shown themselves to be a great vehicle to attract savers who think that buying them can produce an exponential earnings growth – or more technically, “capital” gains, if we can stretch economic terminology far enough to call a stamp collection “capital.”

If value resulted merely from scarcity, then postage stamps, coins and master paintings all would seem to increase almost automatically over time, just like most land does. But these trophies of wealth do not promote rising production, consumption or living standards. As stamps do not earn money by employing labor to produce goods and services, their price gains are neither profit nor capital gains as classically understood. They are what economists call a windfall.

The Spanish postage-stamp scheme seems to have taken off in 2003, the year in which Spain’s free-market conservative government deregulated public insurance and oversight for non-financial investment funds. Afinsa Group bought two-thirds control of the New Jersey stamp and coin auction house Greg Manning and merged it with the Spanish auctioneer Auctentia to create Escala as the world’s third largest auction house (after Sotheby’s and Christie’s). Escala moved its operations to New York City and listed its stock on the Nasdaq over-the-counter market. Despite the stock market’s lethargic trend, the company’s earnings showed such rapid growth that in just three years its share price soared from under $5 to $35, tripling in 2005 alone.

Afinsa’s purchases accounted for 70 percent of Escala’s profits, thanks largely to the fact that as its Spanish parent’s sole supplier, Escala marked up its stamps by a reported 1,150 percent, out of all proportion to the usual 25 percent. Afinsa thus was carrying stamps for which it paid 58 million euros on its books at €723 million, over ten times their catalog values – which are fictitiously high in any case, being published mainly for the benefit of stamp dealers to give their customers the idea that they are getting a good buy. But as Forum Filatélico’s chairman, Francisco Briones, explained to a reporter from London’s Financial Times: “It was ‘normal’ to charge clients such inflated prices because of the services provided . . . including the custody and conservation of stamps.”

Afinsa paid its stamp investors an annual rate of 6 to 10 percent interest, beating most competing yields as the global financial bubble was pushing interest rates steadily downward. (Spanish government bonds paid only 3.5 percent.) To build up trust, Afinsa gave its clients post-dated checks for the gains that were promised. It also promised to buy back the stamps it sold, at the original price. This gave an appearance of liquidity to the normally illiquid market in stamps, fine arts and other collectibles, where 25 percent commissions to auction houses are normal. These ploys convinced the majority to simply re-invest the money to buy yet more stamps, which the company held in its offices ostensibly for safekeeping and preservation.

Money poured in, giving stock-market investors in Escala much higher returns than the stamp-buying customers nominally were receiving. As one news report remarked, why buy stamps and coins when you can invest in companies dealing in them? But within a week of the arrests, Escala’s stock plunged below $4 a share.

The denouement came shortly after Lloyd’s of London withdrew from a €1.2 billion policy to insure Afinsa’s stamps. One of its experts noticed that if $6 billion really had been invested, it would have bought up all the investment-grade stamps in the world many times over. The fact that stamp prices did not reflect any such extraordinary buying implied that few bona fide stamp transactions occurred at all, and there had been a massive over-billing.

Victims of Afinsa’s stamp con protest in front of the Spanish National Court in San Fernando de Henares, Spain, Nov. 19, 2015. EPA-EFE FILE/FERNANDO VILLAR

Afinsa often bought the stamps from Guijarro at 8 percent of their value listed in philately catalogs and re-sold them at a monstrous profit of up to 1,150 percent. Just between 2000-02, it spent 57.88 million euros on the stamps and sold them for 723.55 million euros.

As matters turned out, most of Afinsa’s stamps had no investment value. This explained why there were no receipts for transactions with Escala. The police found €10 million in €500 banknotes (worth about $650 each at the exchange rate of $1.30 per euro) by breaking open a newly plastered wall at the Madrid home of Afinsa’s main stamp supplier, Francisco Guijarro. What they could not find were any receipts for the stamps that he allegedly bought. And despite the remarkably high markups charged for curating the stamp collection, it was rife with phonies, as Lloyd’s had suspected. Concluding that the bills Senor Guijarro had sent to Afinsa were just a cover for a money laundering operation, the prosecutors charged the family members and officers who controlled Afinsa with embezzlement, money laundering, tax evasion, fraudulent bankruptcy, breach of trust and forgery.

After a lengthy trial that stretched for almost a decade, Afinsa’s executives were convicted by the national court in July 2016 and sentenced to up to 12 years in prison, although the Supreme Court later reduced Cano’s sentence to only eight years.

The arrests recalled memories of a more famous U.S. fraud involving postage stamps some 86 years earlier, in 1920, by Charles Ponzi – the man who bequeathed his name to history in the form of Ponzi pyramid scheme. He is reported to have arrived in Boston in 1903 with only $2.50. Not speaking much English, he took menial jobs. Fired as a waiter for shortchanging customers, he moved up to Montreal and became an assistant teller in an Italian immigrant bank. It grew rapidly by paying double the normal 3 percent rate of interest on savings accounts, but failed when its real estate loans began to go bad. The bank’s attempt to give the impression of solvency seems to have given Ponzi the idea of paying interest out of new deposit inflows rather than actual earnings.[3] As long as clients felt they were receiving interest regularly, they tended to be calm about the principal balance.

Ponzi was sent to a Canadian prison for forgery, and then was jailed in Atlanta for trying to smuggle Italian immigrants into the United States. After his release he moved back to Boston and got a job selling business catalogs. A Spanish customer sent him a postal reply coupon, which allowed its holder to buy stamps in foreign countries for return mail rather than using domestic currency to buy a stamp.

Prices for these coupons were long out of date, having been set in 1907 by the International Postal Union. World War I drastically shifted exchange rates, enabling buyers to pay a small amount in Britain – or even less in Germany with its depreciated currency – and obtain a return stamp order that was good in the United States.

The markup on these tiny postal orders was large. An American penny could buy foreign stamp orders that could be converted into six cents in U.S. stamps, for a 500 percent profit. The problem was that it would take a truckload of such postal orders to make serious money. A million-dollar investment would involve a hundred million penny coupons – which then would have to be converted into stamps and sold in competition with the U.S. Post Office, presumably at a discount, mainly in immigrant neighborhoods.

Focusing on the principle of arbitrage rather than such laborious implementation, Ponzi explained that he could make a 400 percent gain after expenses. He promised that investors could double their money in 90 days, pretending to take due account of the costs and shipping time from Europe to America. When his Securities Exchange Company paid early investors the high returns he had described, they spread the word to others. Ponzi’s inflow of funds rose from $5,000 in February 1920 to $30,000 in March, and $420,000 by May. By July an estimated $250,000 a day was flowing into his firm, mainly from small investors who let their book credits build up rather than taking out their money. Some people put their life savings into the plan, and even borrowed against their homes.

Ponzi spent most of the money on himself, buying a mansion and bringing his mother over from Italy. The financial reporter Clarence Barron (publisher of Barron’s) noted that if he really had invested the money as he told his investors he had done, Ponzi would have had to purchase 160 million postal reply coupons. Yet the post office reported that few were being bought at home or abroad, and only 27,000 were circulating in the United States.

Federal agents raided Ponzi’s offices in August, but did not find any postal reply coupons, just as Spanish police did not find investment-grade postage stamps in the scheme’s 2006 replay. Ponzi was sentenced to prison yet again, but jumped bail and tried to make some quick money selling Florida real estate. He soon was recaptured, and was deported back to Italy upon his release in 1934.

What Ponzi sold was hope, pandering to peoples’ unrealistic desire to believe that a new way to make easy gains had been discovered, with no visible upper limit as to how long gains can persist in excess of the economy’s own rate of growth. It is a measure of how much harder it is to make returns in today’s world – and hence, how little hope needs to be excited – that whereas Ponzi promised to double his investors’ money every three months, the Spanish stamp scheme paid only a 6 to 10 percent annual return. Neither fraud actually made any trading gains or profits, but simply paid investors out of new money coming in from fresh players. New inflows were treated as earnings. That’s how pyramid schemes work.

It was almost as if the Spanish operators had read one of the biographies of Ponzi that began to appear as observers noticed the common denominators between the global financial bubble of the 1990s and earlier bubbles. These bubbles provide a classic contrast between the real wealth of nations and what the business press these days calls “wealth creation” that simply takes the form of rising asset prices – “capital gains,” most of which are land-price gains.

No doubt stamp collectors would have viewed the bidding up of stamp prices as wealth creation if it actually had occurred. But all it would have achieved was to inflate the price of old stamps, much as the world’s growing ranks of billionaires were bidding up prices for master paintings and modern art, designer furniture and beachfront homes. If all the economy’s savings went into Rembrandts and Picassos, their price obviously would soar, just as putting $6 billion into postage stamps would have established higher plateau levels for stamp prices.

The flow of funds into any category of assets bid up their prices. This is true most of all for land, one of the most universal economic needs and conspicuous-consumption status measures. But does this really “create wealth”? Do market prices reflect use values, living standards and the progress of civilization?

The requisite characteristic for such price gains is indeed scarcity, but not so much that there is not enough for large numbers of buyers to make a market. If psychological utility is the key, “scarcity” has value only as a compulsive acquisitive character – wealth addiction. It means having what other people lack, with connotations of denial.

Today’s balance sheets confuse bubble wealth with real capital formation. “Investment” has become whatever accountants say they are. So have asset and debt values, given today’s leeway for financial fiction. The practice of “marking to market” permits accountants to project hypothetical gains at astronomical rates of interest, or trivializing by discounting, applying purely mathematical functions that have lost all connection to realistic rates of growth. The result is that the financial sector itself has become decoupled from the “real” economy.

The tragedy of our time is that saving today is being diverted in ways that are decoupled from real capital formation, but merely add to the economy’s debt and property overhead. To distinguish wealth from overhead, this book starts with real estate, and then reviews the stock market, advance saving for pensions and health care via a flow of funds into the stock market to create capital gains. My aim is to show how different the actual economy is from what economic textbooks teach. Economic statistics have been hijacked to the cause of special-interest pleading. All but lost from sight is the common weal.

Suppose that Ponzi actually had bought International Postal Orders, and that the Spanish stamp companies actually had invested $6 billion in rare philatelic items and coins, driving up their price to create paper gains for the investors. To whom would they sell, in order to take their gains? (This is the proverbial “greater fool” problem.) More to the point, how positive would have been the broad economic effect of such asset-price inflation?

The recent stock market and real estate bubbles are much like pyramid schemes in the sense that what is bidding up stock and property prices is an exponential inflow of new money from pension plans and mutual funds (for shares) and bank credit (for real estate). Venture capitalists are “cashing out” while corporate managers exercise their stock options.

Suppose that mortgage-packaging companies are honest in their appraisals of current price trends. The real estate bubble is nonetheless speculative and postindustrial. The analogy is found when financial managers endorse government policies that encourage the inflation of price for stocks and bonds, stamps and coins, Rembrandts and modern art by claiming that this creates wealth and hence, by definition, pulls living standards and culture onward and upward.

What is wrong with this picture? For starters, it fails to define value as distinct from price, windfall and capital gains as distinct from earned income. It also neglects the fact that market prices rise and fall, but the debts remain in place. And when debts cannot be paid, savings are wiped out.

On May 9, 2006, the price of Escala shares fell by half as news of the police raids spread. By Friday its stock was down almost 90 percent. On Monday it jumped by 50 percent, from $4.34 at Thursday’s close to $9.45 a share. Hedge funds were making and losing money hand over fist, dwarfing the gains and losses made from stamp trading. A veritable market in crime, punishment and beating the rap was in play.

What does this have to do with true capital formation? Individuals are getting rich while the economy is polarizing between creditors and debtors, property owners and rent-payers. Unproductive investment occurs when it takes the form of windfall “capital” gains, and when it involves going into debt for real estate, stocks or bonds, or “collectibles.” Unproductive credit occurs when commercial banks make loans that merely finance the purchase of property, companies or financial securities already in place.

Two centuries ago, French followers of Count Henry St. Simon outlined an industrial system that was to be based mainly on equity financing (stocks) rather than debt (bonds and bank loans). Their idea was to make industrial banking a kind of mutual fund, so that claims for payment (and hence, the value of savings) would rise and fall to reflect the economy’s earning power. The industrial banking that developed largely in Germany and central Europe differed from the short-term Anglo-American collateral-based trade credit and mortgage lending. But since World War I, global financial practices have been more extractive than productive.

The consequence has been that debts on the economy-wide level have grown more rapidly than the ability to pay. Instead of reducing this debt overhead by earning their way out of debt, economies have sought to inflate their way out of debt. However, the mode of inflation is not the familiar rise in consumer prices, much less wage inflation. Rather, it is asset-price inflation, emanating largely from the United States. Since the gold-exchange standard gave way to the paper dollar standard in 1971, the U.S. economy has become unique in being able to create credit – and foreign debt – without constraint. The result has been an unparalleled growth in debt relative to income, production and wages. This “debt pollution” has been likened to environmental pollution. It is the financial equivalent of global warming.

We have entered an era in which financial markets resemble the stamp-buying funds. Governments have replaced industrial growth with purely financial wealth creation in the form of a real estate and stock market bubble. This has turned the economic universe upside-down relative to what the classical writers expected to result from the technological progress unleashed by the Industrial Revolution and its parallel agricultural, commercial and financial revolutions. Property and credit have become costs instead of a benefit, institutional forms of rent- and interest-extracting overhead rather than helpful inputs.

Latvia’s Map stamps of 1918

On 9 September 1918 the Latvian postal authorities give an order for the printing of 3.000.000 stamps. The value must be 5 kapeiki. In total 11.956 sheets of 228 stamps were printed: 2.725.968 postage stamps.

After Germany signed the Armistice with the Allied Powers on 11th November 1918, Latvia quickly proceeded to declare its Independence on 18th November 1918 – though German troops and administrators remained in Latvia until late in December.

The Latvian government in Riga took delivery from the Riga printer of the first instalment of Map stamps on 17 December.

The first stamps were delivered on 17 december 1918 on the main-postoffice of Riga. Some consider 27 december -the main postoffice of Riga under control of Latvia- as the first day of issue of the first Latvian stamp.

The stamps were printed by printing house Schnakenburg in Riga, later -end 1919- the Latvian state-printing house. After the war in Latvia there was lack of paper, so the stamps were printed on the back of German military maps.Collectors can specialize in plate errors, but also in types of maps.

Front side of the stamp

Backside of the stamps

The first illustration below shows a blank philatelic cover cancelled 18th December 1918 but this is unusual – most Riga cancellations on Map stamps are dated for the last five or six days of December. Then the trouble begins.

The Latvian Government evacuated from Riga on 2 January 1919 and on the 3 January 1919, Soviet Latvian troops entered the city.

The government evacuated first to Jelgawa (Mitau / Mitava) and then to Liepaja (Libau, Libava).It returned to Riga on 22 May 1919 and took delivery of more Map stamps (which may simply have been kept in store during the Soviet occupation). But it seems doubtful that these new supplies were issued.

So if you are looking for postage used Map stamps, then for Riga they will only be found in a 14 day period from 18 December to 1 or 2 January. After that, they can be found from other cities and towns – but rarely – and they were soon replaced by further issues with a wider range of values – the Map stamp only exists in one 5 kopeck denomination.

These unaddressed items are not so common – either they had addresses written in soon after or they were “harvested” for used copies of the Map stamps and so no longer exist.
A bit more ambitious are Registered covers like this one. But it has no cancellation on the back and is one of a batch which were probably handed straight back to the “sender”. 

The 20th century threw Latvia into endless trials and turbulences: a revolution, two world wars, freedom fights, several occupations, deportations, refugees and a large exodus among them. However, this was also the century when the Latvian state was created. In the aftermath of World War I, realising its right of self-determination the Latvian nation became a sovereign in the territory which since times immemorial had been inhabited by Latvians.

In June 1940, Latvia was occupied by the Soviet Union. Fifty years later, on May 4, 1990, Latvia proclaimed its independence again and obtained full independence on Aug. 21, 1991.

The stamp even Bill Gates couldn’t have afforded

During the post-World War I era, Germany was wracked by one of the most famous and spectacular bouts of inflation in history. Under the strain of huge war reparations demanded by the victorious Allies, prices for everything from pumpernickel to postage stamps soared out of control.

To put things in perspective, consider this: In July of 1923, the rate for someone to mail a letter from Germany to the United States had risen from 300 marks to 900 marks (equal to a little more than half a cent in U.S. money). Only three months later, the cost to mail that same letter was 6,000 marks. By November, the mark had plunged even further, and stamps were being printed at values as high as 20 billion marks.

Beginning in August 1923 and proceeding through October of 1923, the postal service began applying re-valuation overprints to existing stocks of lower denomination stamps. The re-valuations ranged from 5,000 Marks to 2,000,000 Marks.

The 1923 postal rate table, for domestic / foreign letters under 20 grams, is shown below.  By October of 1923, 2,000,000 Marks wasn’t even enough to mail a single domestic letter, thus by that time, most of the re-valued stamps, shown in the images above, were all useless. 

Letter Postage Rates for 1923
For Domestic / Foreign Letters, Less than 20 Grams

1923-JAN-15 — 20 Marks / 150 Marks
1923-MAR-01 — 40 Marks / 300 Marks
1923-JUL-01 — 120 Marks / 800 Marks
1923-AUG-01 — 400 Marks / 3,000 Marks
1923-AUG-24 — 8,000 Marks / 60,000 Marks
1923-SEP-01 — 30,000 Marks / 200,000 Marks
1923-SEP-20 — 100,000 Marks / 750,000 Marks
1923-OCT-01 — 800,000 Marks / 6,000,000 Marks
1923-OCT-10 — 2,000,000 Marks / 15,000,000 Marks
1923-OCT-20 — 4,000,000 Marks / 30,000,000 Marks
1923-NOV-01 — 40,000,000 Marks / 200,000,000 Marks
1923-NOV-05 — 500,000,000 Marks / 4,000,000,000 Marks
1923-NOV-12 — 5,000,000,000 Marks / 40,000,000,000 Marks
1923-NOV-20 — 10,000,000,000 Marks / 80,000,000,000 Marks
1923-NOV-26 — 40,000,000,000 Marks / 320,000,000,000 Marks
1923-DEC-12 — 50,000,000,000 Marks / 300,000,000,000 Marks

Due to the rate of hyperinflation, the previously surcharged issues had become obsolete. This required the creation of a new series of postage stamps, suited to keeping up with the rising postal rates.

The stamps shown above in denominations from 500,000 Marks through 50,000,000,000 Marks, were issued in October 1923. Actually, after about two months, these new stamps were also on the verge of being obsolete. By the beginning of December 1923, a domestic letter cost 50,000,000,000 Marks to mail, and a letter being mailed outside Germany cost 300,000,000,000 Marks.

During this period of runaway inflation, it became harder and harder to cram enough stamps onto letters and documents to pay for postage or revenue stamp fees. According to sources, one Swiss document had to be sent with 10 feet of paper attached to it, just to hold the required amount of revenue stamps. Eventually, the situation became so bad that Germany temporarily stopped requiring stamps to mail letters. Instead, they allowed customers to pay for postage in cash at the post office, and officials would simply mark the letters as paid.

In December 1923, hyperinflation in the Weimar Republic ended! A new currency, the Rentenmark, was instituted, and the German economy began to recover.

In 1924, one Rentenmark (or Reichsmark) was equivalent to ONE BILLION Papermarks of the Weimar Republic hyperinflation period. Exchanging the old paper currency was futile, and many people, businesses, and banks, either re-cycled the old paper Marks or threw them in the trash.

The new series of stamps, again denominated in Pfennig, shown above was issued December 1, 1923.  

They all feature a circular central design, with the numeral of value printed over it. The numerals were printed separately from the stamps, so there are also many shifts on this series. This whole series also exists imperforate and with missing value numerals. Most of them are scarce and expensive.

It would be unfathomable to even imagine the effect the hyperinflation had on businesses that relied on mail advertising, mail billing, mail order sales, etc., and on people, who may have lost their homes, possessions, or that may have even starved to death, because they didn’t have the means of paying for food or necessities. History would soon forget the hyperinflation of 1921-1923, and Germany would once again become a thriving nation, but the German people would NEVER FORGET the pain and suffering they endured through this period in history. Combined with the Great Depression at the end of the decade, these events would lead to the eventual downfall of the Weimar Republic. 

Ukrainian Connection on the Zeppelin Service

The Graf Zeppelin was Dr. Hugo Eckner’s crowning achievement in the concept of the zeppelin. Even though the later Hindenburg and the Graf Zeppelin II would be technologically superior to the Graf Zeppelin, no other airship was so beloved by nearly all the world.

The pioneering flights of the giant German airship made front-page news around the world. The dirigible became the first commercial aircraft to span the Atlantic Ocean in 1928 and it set other aeronautical records in subsequent years. Before being decommissioned in 1937 and dismantled in 1940, it had traveled further than any zeppelin before or since: 590 flights, more than a million miles and 144 ocean crossings.

Two collectors of Ukrainian background sought to have mails transported on this new aerial conveyance. The renowned collector Eugene Vyrovyj and the stamp dealer Katherine E. Shattuck (later spelled Shutock) were philatelic associates who set up a trans-Atlantic correspondence. Both were members of the Society of Ukrainian Philatelists in Vienna, Austria. While he was a Ukrainian living in Prague, Czechoslovakia, she was an American-born Ukrainian (both mother and father having emigrated from Chernivtsi in 1902. The U.S. address on several of the covers that appear in this article was also the address of Miss Shattuck’s ECHO Stamp Co. Both parties conducted many successful and unique stamp exchanges over a number of years.

Mr. Vyrowyj and Miss Shattuck would address and send envelopes to each other – in quantity cancelled at special events. Subsequently, a received portion of the envelopes would be returned to the other in normal mail.

Figure 1a
Figure 1
Figure 1b

Figure 1 is a cover from the Graf Zeppelin that raveled on the return (second) leg of the first round trip between Germany and the U.S. The airship first arrived in Lakehurst, N.J., on October 15, 1928, after a 111-hour flight from Germany. It left the U.S. on October 30 bearing a great deal of commemorative flight materials, including the illustrated cover, which was mailed by Miss Shattuck to Mr. Vyrovyj. The envelope carries 6 cents airmail franking and a special violet commemorative marking that proclaims: “First Flight Air Mail Via Graf Zeppelin, United States – Germany.”

The return flight was much faster, since the aircraft was now riding the prevailing westerly winds. The cancels on the reverse reveal that the ship arrived at its home base of Friedrichshafen on November 1 and was delivered to Krale Vinohrady in Czechoslovakia two days later.

Figure 2a
Figure 2
Figure 2b


Figure 3
Figure 3


Figure 2 and 3 are a postcard and envelope both highlighted with the same round blue cachet that in German states: “The Airship Graf Zeppelin, First America Trip [of] 1929.” (This flight was the aircraft’s second trip to America.) Both items were mailed by Mr. Vyrovyj to Ms. Shattuck on or about May 16, 1929 (note special black “Luftschiff Graf Zeppelin” [Airship Graf Zeppelin] cancellation). However, 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) into the flight engine trouble developed and the ship became unmanageable. The Graf Zeppelin drifted a considerable distance in a short time. Finally, with the assistance of a ground force, it landed at Cuers, a French military airport. It took several days for temporary repairs to be made, after which the Zeppelin headed home, landing safely at Friedrichshafen.

All the mail that was on the zeppelin was overprinted with a red, one-line, German inscription that stated: “Conveyance delayed because of a break in the first American journey.” Mails received subsequently, while the Zeppelin was being repaired at its home hanger, did not carry this marking. Consequently, mail with this overprint has a greater value, for fewer items were carried on the original aborted flight.

On August 1, 1929, after the engines had received extensive repairs, the zeppelin again departed for its second Atlantic crossing, this time completing the trip without further incident.

Figure 4a
Figure 4
Figure 4b

The Graf Zeppelin‘s subsequent excursion was its most ambitious to date: a journey around the world. This trip was as big a global news story as the moon landing 40 years later. Carrying 16 passengers and a crew of 37, the airship left Lakehurst in the early morning hours of August 8, 1929. It made only three stops on her 19,500-mile trip. The first destination was its home base in Germany.

Figure 4 is of a pre-stamped 5 -cent airmail cover (with 1 cent stamp added), mailed by Miss Shattuck to Mr. Vyrovyj and carried on the first leg of this historic trip from the U.S. (postmark is New York on August 7, 1929) to Friedrichshafen (arrival cancel of August 10). The item was subsequently forwarded to Prague, arriving two days later.

From Germany the ship flew over Siberia to Japan, where it made its second stop in Tokyo. It next proceeded westward over the Pacific to Los Angeles for its final stop and then returned to Lakehurst on August 29, having journeyed for 21 days, seven hours, and 26 minutes – a new record for around-the-world travel. More amazing was the fact that only about 12 of those days had been spent in the air. The round violet cachet on the cover proclaims “First Round-the-World Flight, U.S. Air Mail” and lists the three stopover sites of the flight as well as Lakehurst, the beginning and end point.

Figure 8a
Figure 5
Figure 8b

The above pictures, figure 5, is of a postcard traveling in the opposite direction, once again making a groundbreaking journey – this time a Europe-Pan American tour. The German message in the round, light red cachet reads: “Airship Graf Zeppelin, South America Trip 1930.” This time Mr. Vyrovyj used a typewriter to print out Miss Shattuck’s address, as well as a short inscription under the cachet: “By Airship Graf Zeppelin to Lakehurst.”

His Ukrainian message on the back contains instructions for his philatelic partner. It reads:

Prague May 14, 1930
Highly Esteemed Miss Shattuck!

I am sending you three cards and four letters. If you like, keep for yourself one card and one letter and return two cards and three letters to me in a registered letter. If you like, you may retain one additional letter. Please also send me two-three letters by zeppelin, franked only with airmail stamps and not with some others. Sincerest greetings and I wish you all the best. E. Vyrovyj

P.S. [In the left margin] In another letter I inserted a prepared addressed envelope.

On May 18, 1930 the Graf Zeppelin left for Seville, Spain – the first stage of its Europe-South America-North America flight – and arrived the following day. Note the cancellation dated the 19th, which was undoubtedly applied in flight. Shortly after midnight of the morning of the 20th, the airship departed for a long (6,400-kilometer, or 4,000 mile) flight to Pernambuco, Brazil, arriving on May 22 after a flight of 61 hours. On the 27th, a short flight was made to Rio de Janeiro. After 70 minutes on the ground, the zeppelin returned to Pernambuco. The following morning, the aircraft proceeded northward on its historic trek, heading for Havana. Because of the weather, the ship skipped this rendezvous and continued on to Lakehurst, arriving at daybreak of May 31. The ship returned to Friedrichshafen by way of Seville, Spain.

Figure 9
Figure 6
Figure 10
Figure 7

Figures 6 and 7 are items apparently prepared by Miss Shattuck, but never carried on the last leg of this journey. The applied stamps were quite high-value for their time and were part of a three-stamp set released by the U.S. Postal Service in the spring of 1930. The stamps were specifically issued for use on mails carried on the first Europe-Pan-America round-trip flight of the Graf Zeppelin in May of 1930. Relatively few of these stamps were issued and today they are among the most valuable of all U.S. airmail stamps. The stamp in Figure 6 might be worth about $200, while the one in Figure 7 about $400. Why these two items were never mailed remains a mystery.

More about the U.S. Graf Zeppelin stamps

In February of 1930, Hugo Eckener, the pilot of the Graf Zeppelin, went to Washington to receive the National Geographic Society’s Gold Medal for his around-the-world flight. He used this occasion to lobby for and convince the U.S. Post Office to issue a set of zeppelin stamps.

Mail carried aboard the Graf Zeppelin airship bearing three U.S. Graf Zeppelin airmail stamps, first issued in Washington DC, April 19, 1930

The stamps, valued at $.65, $1.30 and $2.60, were quickly designed and placed on sale initially at the Washington post office and the Philatelic Agency on April 19, 1930. Two days later, they began to be sold at other post offices. This was about a month before the airship’s next scheduled big flight, from Europe to South America and then North America. The stamps were withdrawn from sale at post offices on June 7, 1930, a week after the arrival of the aircraft in the U.S. The stamps continued on sale at the Philatelic Agency for the benefit of stamp collectors until June 30, 1930. Subsequently all remainders were destroyed.

The $.65 and $1.30 values were used for postcards and letters respectively carried on the last leg of the journey from the U.S. to Seville, Spain and Friedrichshafen. The $1.30 and $2.60 values were used for post cards and letters respectively carried on the round trip flight Friedrichshafen to Friedrichshafen or Seville. These latter items were delivered to Germany by boat and forwarded to Friedrichshafen for the start of the trip.

Very few of these Graf Zeppelin stamps were sold. The U.S. and the world were still in the throes of the Great Depression and the $4.55 value for the set represented a week’s food allowance for a family of four. One million copies of each stamp were printed, but less than 8 percent survive and they remain the smallest U.S. issue of the 20th century (only 229,260 of these stamps were ever purchased). Despite this fact, the U.S. Post Office was able to present Dr. Eckener with $100,000 raised towards the expenses of the trip.

About Count Zeppelin and the flight around the world

Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin (1838-1917) was a retired German brigadier general who developed the rigid dirigible, a lighter-than-air vehicle that became known as the zeppelin. His first craft was completed in 1900. Despite many setbacks, Zeppelin persevered and continued his research to modify and improve his designs; in 1910, one of his airships was able to provide the first commercial air service for passengers. One of Zepplein’s closest associates from 1906 was Dr. Hugo Eckener. After World War I and Zeppelin’s death, Dr. Eckener became the chief proponent of dirigible travel.

Even with all its novel design innovations and the excitement and support of the German people, getting the Graf Zeppelin built was slowed by the lack of money. It had taken a plea to the German people by Dr. Eckener to raise most of the funds to have it built and more arm-twisting in the government to get enough monies to finish the ship. Finally christened on July 8, 1928, the ship was launched on September 18, 1928, but further financial support was needed to keep it flying. Such support was found by way of an American businessman and airship supporter, William Randolph Hearst.

Hearst put together a shrewd deal with Dr. Eckener that would benefit both the Zeppelin Company and Hearst’s newspaper companies. Hearst would put up the money for a global flight of the Graf Zeppelin that would gain it the publicity it would need to form a solid reputation for dependability. In return, he would get exclusive U.S. rights to the story.

Figure 6
Dr. Hugo Eckener

Figure 5
Figure 8

Dr. Eckener, having been a journalist and writer before going to work for Count Von Zeppelin, knew how to make the most of this publicity and did so at every opportunity. The global flight would begin in Friedrichshafen and proceed to Lakehurst, N.J. Lakehurst would then mark the official starting point of the journey, as stipulated in the contract drawn up by Hearst.

Although the Graf Zeppelin was not the first aircraft to circle the globe, it was by far the fastest. What took months for a British military heavey bomber to do, with many breakdowns and hardships along the way, the Graf did in three weeks in comfort and style with a full passenger load over much previously uncharted land (Figure 8). The trip was a complete success and the world, particularly the US, caught “Zeppelin Mania.” Once safely moored at Lakehurst, Dr. Eckener was treated to a ticker-tape parade in his honor in New York City and the newspapers dubbed him the “Magellan of the Air”.

Figure 7
Figure 9

Six different Graf Zeppelin badges commemmorating the round-the-world flight were made available at auction (Figure 9). Made of heavy copper, each badge type was enameled a different color: blue, green, yellow, red, black, and white. These 4.5 cm (1.75 inch) medallions were slightly domed to give a globe-like effect to the central hemispheric map that appears on each badge. The four major stops of the journey were spelled out in the outer frame and their initials (L, F, T, and LA) appear on the maps and on the backs. The badges were almost cetainly manufactured in Germany and indicated by the “Tokio” spelled on the frame.

The evolution of Postage stamps of China

Postal history of China is very fascinating as much as intricate if one considers the gradual decay of imperial China, the years of civil wars, the Japanese Occupation in the 1930s and World War II.

Imperial China
Early records from the first millennium BC show evidence of regular governmental postal service during the Chou Dynasty.  By the 12th century, organised postal services existed as per Marco Polo’s records.  He reported the mailing of private letters by the Min Hsin Chu (a system of letter guilds) and the setting of post stages, as many as 10,000.

The Treaty of Kyakhta in 1727 allowed the regular exchange of mail between Imperial China and Russia.  In the 19th century, the Opium War ended the policy of isolation and ‘treaty’ ports opened, allowing some countries to operate their ‘foreign post offices’ from 1844.  

In 1865, Shanghai organised its own local post and the Englishman Robert Hart set up a mail service for the Imperial Maritime Customs for carrying consular mail to and from the ‘treaty’ ports.  This function was available to the public on May 1878.  Hence, China’s first postage stamps, the ‘Large Dragons’ were issued to handle payment, and were inscribed “CHINA” in both Latin and Chinese characters, and denominated in candareens.

Initially, all mail to foreign destinations went through Shanghai, but by 1882, twelve post offices opened.  Twelve years later, the postal operations were reorganised, Min Hsin Chu and the Shanghai local post ceased to operate, Customs Port became the Imperial Postal Service (effective 1 January 1897) and the postal system adopted cents and dollars as the new units of currency.

The lack of postage during the first half of 1897 forced the use of existing postage and revenue stock surcharged in cents, with some varieties.  The first new stamps, inscribed “IMPERIAL CHINESE POST” went on sale in August 1897 with twelve values, ranging from 1/2c to $5.  These lithographed stamps were printed in Japan and used desgns of a dragon, a carp and a wild goose.  

The paper was watermarked.  The following year, a new series of engraved stamps printed in London were issued in similar designs by using thicker Chinese watermarked paper.  The inscription changed to ‘CHINESE IMPERIAL POST’.  

New printings commenced in 1899 but used non-watermarked paper and from this run, stamps were in use until the end of the Empire.  It’s noticeable that the compliance to the Universal Postal Union saw the introduction of three values and the change of some colours.  

The anniversary of the first year of reign of Emperor Xuantong was ideal for the first Chinese commemorative stamp in 1909, printed on 3 denominations and depicting the ‘Temple of Heaven’ in Beijing.

Revolution and Republic

The 1910s – 
The revolution of 1911 resulted in overprints on the imperial stamps in 1912. Examples of  the overprints are that of ‘Foochow’ (neutral post office available to both sides) and ‘Nanking’ and ‘Shanghai’ (indicating part of the Republic of China).  Postmasters throughout the country used unofficial overprints.  

The first new designs of the Republic were two commemorative sets of 12 each, the first set depicting Sun Yat-Sen and second Yuan Shikai.  Both issues were available from 14 December 1912.

5-cent “junk” from the redesign of 1923

Chinese definitive postage stamps made their mark in May 1913 with the release of the ‘Junk design’ stamps.  Progressively, the higher issues depicred a farmer reaping rice and the ‘gateway to the Hall of Classics’.  Initially printed in London, the stamps were manufactured in Beijing from 1915.  The series was re-engraved in 1923.

The 1920s – 
China produced new commemorative issues, of four stamps each, during the 1920s.   These are the 25th anniversary of the Chinese Post Office (1921), the Temple of Heaven / New Constitution (1923), Marshal of the Army and Navy Zhang Zuolin (1928), the Unification of China / Chiang Kai-Shek (1929) and the State Funeral of Sun Yat Sen (1929). 

The 1930s and 1940s – 
In 1931, new definitives depicting Sun Yat Sen and in 1932, the ‘Six martyrs of Kuomintang’ were printed in volumes and were well used in the next several years.  

Manchuria was invaded in 1931 by the Japanese and ‘Manchukuo’ issued its own stamps.  During World War II, some existing postage stamps from previous issues were surcharged.

Chinese definitive postage stamps made their mark in May 1913 with the release of the ‘Junk design’ stamps.  Progressively, the higher issues depicred a farmer reaping rice and the ‘gateway to the Hall of Classics’.  Initially printed in London, the stamps were manufactured in Beijing from 1915.  The series was re-engraved in 1923.

The 1920s – 
China produced new commemorative issues, of four stamps each, during the 1920s.   These are the 25th anniversary of the Chinese Post Office (1921), the Temple of Heaven / New Constitution (1923), Marshal of the Army and Navy Zhang Zuolin (1928), the Unification of China / Chiang Kai-Shek (1929) and the State Funeral of Sun Yat Sen (1929). 

The 1930s and 1940s – 
In 1931, new definitives depicting Sun Yat Sen and in 1932, the ‘Six martyrs of Kuomintang’ were printed in volumes and were well used in the next several years.  

Manchuria was invaded in 1931 by the Japanese and ‘Manchukuo’ issued its own stamps.  During World War II, some existing postage stamps from previous issues were surcharged.

25 cents on a stamp of 1931

Kansu surcharge on a stamp issued in 1940-41

Although not the first appearance of Chiang Kai-shek on a stamp, this October 1945 commemoration of his inauguration includes a broader array of nationalistic symbols.

Towards the end of the War, the Nationalist Government was still struggling with the Communist forces.   Still, the postal authorities were able to release some commemorative issues on President Lin Sen who died in 1943, the anniversary of Chiang Kai-Shek in October 1945, and for celebrating the Alllied victory.

Severe inflation required a steady stream of overprints; this $2000 value is from 1946

Needless to say, as with many European countries affected by the War, China experienced increased inflation in 1945 and 1946.  The need for postage of higher values necessitated the release of older stamps with surcharges up to $2,000.  A new design of Sun Yat Sen was inscribed with the value of $5,000 but in the following year another issue came out with $50,000 that was superceded with the 1948’s $5,000,000 stamp!

Adoption of a gold yuan standard delayed inflation only for a short time. This $1000 stamp was issued in early 1949.

In 1948, the ‘gold yuan’ standard was adopted and existing stamps were surcharged with values from 1/2c and up.   This currency reformation proved infufficient due to inflation as by early 1949, the overprinted values reached the $5,000,000 mark!  In desparation, the government printed undenominated stamps and sold them at the daily yean rate.  
Later, the silver yuan standard was adopted and more stamps were overprinted.  By August 1949, the Nationalists’ last issues were denominated in silver Yuan.

The postal system of the People’s Republic of China was established in Beijing in that year and was expanded to the liberated areas.  This enabled the authority to cease the sale of regional stamps by end of June 1950, with the exception of the Northeast Liberation Area and the Port Arthur & Dairen Post & Telegraph (by end of 1950).
The unified administration issued its first postage stamps in October 1949 that consisted of four with designs of ‘lantern and the Gate of Heavenly Peace’.

This silver yuan overprint on a revenue stamp was used for only a few months in mid-1949.

The first definitive series were released in February 1950 and featured the Gate of Heavenly Peace against a background of clouds. These stamps came in nine values ranging from $200 to $10,000.  
The design was modified several times over the next few years and today, philatelists have identified six issues.   By the end of 1950, all provinces were entered into the unified postal service.

Like much of the global economy these days, the center of the world’s multibillion-dollar stamp-collecting market is shifting east. Auction houses are sprouting up in Hong Kong, Singapore and Beijing, and rich collectors are catching the bug, especially in China. All of that is helping breathe new life into a hobby—and for some, an investment strategy—that was starting to seem decidedly passé in the West. Without rich Chinese collectors, some experts say, stamp collecting would have continued its long, slow decline from mainstream hobby to near-extinction.

At least a third of the world’s 60 million stamp collectors are now in China, and the number is growing rapidly, Stanley Gibbons says. China, including Hong Kong, has also become a big stamp-trading hub, with at least six auction houses in Hong Kong and another four major houses on the mainland plus several smaller ones, most opening in the past four years. Stamp shows have proliferated, drawing hundreds of thousands of buyers and gawkers at a time when similar events in the U.S. are lucky to break into the five figures.

Online exchanges have also sprouted, with tickers scrolling across the screen like stock markets. Stanley Gibbons says Asian clients now make up 5 percent of the firm’s investments in terms of volume—but almost 18 percent in value, as they spend more.

How much more? Three years ago, two sheets of the first ever-issued stamps for Formosa, the name of the island that later became Taiwan, sold to a Hong Kong collector for HK$10.4 million, or over $1.3 million.

In 1895 China ceded Taiwan to Japan. The Taiwanese reacted by establishing the short-lived Republic of Formosa, which issued its own stamps.

In 2011, a block of four stamps from 1968 called “Chairman Mao’s Inscription to Japanese Worker Friends” sold for more than $1 million at a Hong Kong auction.

The stamps, which feature Chairman Mao’s handwriting declaring that the revolution would succeed in Japan, were printed but never issued—except through a post office in Hebei, China, which started selling them before they were canceled. 

This great rarity is understood to be the largest existing multiple and probably the only surviving block of four of the stamp.

Last year, a pair of 1941 stamps that featured Sun Yat-sen, the revolutionary leader who began the Republic of China in the early 20th century, sold for $709,000 at an auction in Hong Kong. Like many other expensive stamps, their value was due to human error: The text and the $2 sign were printed upside down.

Chinese buyers tend to like alternative investments, from art to jade to homegrown liquors—and now stamps. According to a report by the private-wealth division at Barclays, China’s high-net-worth individuals put 17 percent of their wealth in these type of investments, compared to 9 percent of America’s rich and only 7 percent of the British wealthy. Stamps are also a relatively cheap collectible for countries that have new and growing middle classes and the hope is their young population will wish to take up Philately as a hobby, keeping the demand for their country stamps growing.

Fingers crossed!

How not to sell a heirloom stamp collection

To a stamp collector, inheriting a relativeʼs stamp collection is almost like winning the lottery. But a non-collector who inherits a stamp collection has a dilemma: he or she has heard that stamps may be valuable, but hasnʼt a clue how to find out the value of their new collection, much less how to turn it into cash.

Stamp collecting is a surprisingly fascinating field, but a pastime that is literally dying. Many people are INHERITING stamp collections — with absolutely no interest in the hobby, or knowledge of what the collection is worth, or how best to sell it.

The inheritor of a stamp collection has three choices, as long as we ignore the fourth one, which is to put the collection in storage and forget about it, and that is not a good solution.

The three choices are these:
   1. Become a collector
   2. Donate your collection
   3. Sell your collection

Please bear in mind that these choices are by no means equal, or necessarily advisable, today we focus on the 3rd option.


Selling stamps drops you into shark-infested waters. Dealer and collectors know full well the ignorance of most people when it comes to what the value is of stamp collections they own — especially so for the folks who inherit such windfalls.  The temptation is overwhelming to pay the minimum needed to unburden the disinterested of their stamps — it’s human nature, and not worth getting too worked up about.  It’s what MOST people would do.

EXAMPLE:  This month a local woman went to an international stamp show with her collection of Chinese stamps. She walked up to this one table, where the dealer gladly paid her $400 for a collection that was worth at least $10,000 — and likely MUCH more.  

Best Advice: 
=====
Most of us who inherit a stamp collection would want to believe
it’s precious– a good place to start is by meeting a few ( not one ) assessors who could estimate the worth of the collection.

Once assessed an option for you would be to donated some stamps to a local charity directly and took the write-off of the ones which may not be to your care taking best. How to sell, using a local dealer and eBay — mostly for the experience. But the most valuable part of the collection you could approach an auction house to sell at a major show. It’s pretty clear that, if you DO have a valuable stamp collection, the auction option is normally going to yield you the best return — though this option is not without pitfalls as well.
====


HERE’S SOME OF WHAT WE LEARNED:

1.  Trust no one.  Or at least, don’t BLINDLY trust people in the business.  Indeed, often it seemed the more sincere and friendly the dealer, the less likely you’ll be getting a good deal.  However you will still have to go through a grind. You could check some of the online portals who offer indicative current price to stamps.

2.  Trying to figure the value of a stamp is daunting to the uninitiated. MANY factors are in play beyond simple scarcity.  The QUALITY of the stamp is all important — new or franked, how “badly” franked, WHERE it was franked (some collect based on such an odd factor), the adhesive method used to put the stamp in the album (and the resulting damage to the stamp), the number of perforations (!), centering (big factor), country, etc.  Suffice it to say that — unless you become a collector yourself — this analysis is beyond the capability of 99.9% of the populace.

3. If your stamps do indeed have collector value, figure out a way to get a number of people to “bid” on them.  This can be done at a stamp show (bigger is better), but in this day and age, there are two options:
   A.  Stamp auction

   B. Amazon / EBay and a few other internet sales

4. Modern stamp auctions are mostly internet auctions.  Only a tiny fraction of the bidders are actually in the room.  And things move lightning fast, as seldom is there a bidding war.  We found that at an action we visited, the average time for an item to be sold (or not sold) was TEN SECONDS!  Elaborate efforts are made by the auction houses to put out the information on their offerings in both hard copy auction books and Internet format prior to the auction — and naturally bidders are worldwide. 

5. Recommendations from collectors as to who to use as an agent in such sales can be quite helpful, but always be aware that some get a small kickback for referring sellers to auction houses, etc. Ask around. You could invest a fair amount of time at a REMARKABLY well-run local stamp club, and the collectors/curators who would be anxious to share their expertise.

6. Because of the difficulty in grading stamps, the best way to sell on eBay/Internet is to do it on consignment.  Yeah, your agent gets a hefty chunk of the proceeds, but we could not have done it any other way.  Selling a lot of items on eBay is a business in itself with many aspects few master.  But if your collection is worth much more than a $1,000 or so, the stamp auction house may be the better way to go.

7. Unless you are desperate for cash, take your time.  No rush. You’ll probably net more from the sale.  And the process itself can be surprisingly interesting.

8. A ROUGH gauge of the value/scarcity of a stamp is stampworld.com. But understand that some of the prices are usually inflated values. A rough rule of thumb is that a stamp can be sold for 15%-25% of the catalog listed price (new and used listed separately).  But there can be a remarkable difference, depending on supply and demand — and quality. Occasionally a stamp can sell for even MORE than catalog — but that is seldom the case. Remember, it’s supply and demand that (should) establish value.  And then you have to consider the cost of doing the sale — when thinking of what you will NET in such transactions.

We hope this information is helpful.  If you still insist on getting ripped off just to quickly get rid of your stamps, let me be the first to offer you an incredibly “unfair” pittance for your collection.  But my advice?  Reject this offer!

I’ve been holding off on the bad news but here it is – most stamps and stamp collections are worth little to nothing.
• Mint stamps with original gum on the back are worth more than used stamps
• Earlier stamps are worth more than modern stamps
• Stamps with any faults (creases, tears, thins, etc.) are worth far less than those in perfect condition. One thing that is common with most collectibles, especially stamps, is that condition is everything. The same stamp that normally sells for $100 may not even be worth $10 if there are creases, thins, tears, etc.
• Boxes of loose used stamps are usually worth very little
• Stamp albums that are sparsely filled are usually worth very little
• Stamp albums for children or beginners are usually worth very little
• Used US postage stamps printed in the last 70 years are worth almost nothing
• Mint with original gum stamps printed in the last 70 years are, with a few exceptions, worth less than their face value and can be used for postage without worry. The net effect is that virtually all US stamps produced since the 1930s are available in quantities that far exceed collector demand so stamp collecting values have suffered. Sadly, for many stamp collectors that means that their stamp nest egg is worth only a fraction of what was originally paid.
Many stamps are rare but not valuable because there is not enough demand to drive the price up. But find a rare and high demand stamp and watch out. A handful of the crown jewels of philately have sold over the past few decade for multi-million dollar sums.

Coded Messages of Love

Postal deliveries were such a celebration in yonder years by one and all– so it was practically impossible to get mail to someone without the entire household knowing about it. At a time when ‘Victorian morals’ were central and privacy wasn’t, this made personal, private messaging between couples very difficult.

So, how did they speak their feelings without writing it?

They coded it into the positioning of their stamps.

Apparently the ‘secret stamp code’ actually emerged back in the ‘receiver pays’ mail era as a way to dodge exorbitant postal fees. The sender could encode a simple answer into the placement of their stamp on the envelope – perhaps ‘yes’, ‘no’, or ‘come at once’. The receiver could then examine the envelope, extract the message and then refuse to pay the delivery fee for the unopened letter.

Obviously, this became redundant in the ‘penny post’ era but later couples adopted the system for their own needs. Here’s an example.

Will writes to Miss Laura Leech

The postcard above appears perfectly innocent to anyone scanning it. Will is asking Laura if “Bob is having some dainty dishes“. A little oblique – perhaps an ‘in-joke’ – but nothing improper.

In reality, the stamp tells another story. Will was telling Laura: “I’m longing to see you“.

This stamp messaging system was used across the postal systems of the world although there was significant variation between countries. Some system relied on where the stamp was placed on the postcard while others were concerned only its orientation to the page.

The system was remarkably subtle and sophisticated. Messages could be as simple as ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ but also as complex as:

  • “May I ask for your portrait?”
  • “Take care. We’re being watched.”
  • “I think you are very ungrateful.”
  • “My heart is another’s”
  • “I have discovered your deceipt.”

Of course, postcard companies often saw the code as a great opportunity to sell more postcards. They printed millions of these stamp messaging guides from the 1890s onward, though there was never a centralized body standardizing the code from region to region. Variation and mutation happen naturally.

As a consequence, some guides prescribe that a 90º right-turned stamp means a hopeful “Reply at once!“, while other guides would interpret the same stamp as “I wish for your friendship, but no more“.

I suspect there must have been thousands of star-crossed lovers who’s dreams were dashed by a misread coded message from a potential partner. Who would have thought that the mundane act of attaching a stamp to a letter could be loaded with such social danger?

Yet, the mystery and the wait was worth it in those times. The Instant world of today cannot phantom this evolution!

Did you know ? Fun facts on philately

Guinness World record for HM QEII

In April 2001 Gibraltar achieved a Guinness World Record by issuing the fastest stamp in history. A photograph of HM Queen Elizabeth II was taken that morning at Buckingham Palace for the Gibraltar stamps,. The photo was emailed immediately to the Bureau’s office in Gibraltar where the sheet was designed by Stephen Perera and then sent to the printers who commenced printing at 10.00am that same day. At midday, a representative of the Crown Agents flew to Gibraltar with the printed stamps and the stamps were put on sale that same afternoon (exactly 624 minutes after the photograph was taken.) The media published the story as follows; “Gibraltar gives a World Record to HM Queen Elizabeth II for Her Birthday!

Abdul Rasul’s trove of 5,915 mosque stamps sets a world record

Mr. Rasul, a 41-year-old IT professional who has entered the Guinness Book of Records for the largest collection of 5,915 stamps featuring mosques. The oldest stamp in his possession was released by the Afghanistan government in 1892. Mr. Rasul also has a rare stamp with inverted centre — printed upside down — released in Somalia in 1902. 

There have been postage stamps that are records

Bhutan, an Asian nation in the Himalayan Mountains, issued a group of postage stamps that were actually phonograph records. These stamps, issued in 1973, had native folk songs recorded on one side and could be played on a record player. 

Products were advertised on the back of stamps? 

Sometime before 1883 advertising for various products was printed on the back of U.S. three-cent stamps. 

Candles were once used to determine the postage rates? 

In 1693, letters were held in front of a candle to determine the postage rate. The less the light shone through, the more costly the rate. This was known as candling. 

An undersea post office actually did exist! 

It was established in 1939 as part of a scientific facility on the sea bed off the Bahamas. They used a special oval postmark that was inscribed “SEA FLOOR/BAHAMAS”. Here you can see the post office depicted on Bahamas 5 shilling stamp issued in 1965. 

A stamp was created on the Moon! 

In 1969 during the Apollo 11 moon flight, the astronauts took with them a die of a postage stamp which they pulled an impression of when they touched down on the moon. Thus, creating the moon’s first postage stamp! Once the die was returned to earth it was used to produce the 10 cent airmail stamp issued in September of 1969. 

The world’s largest; smallest and Oldest post offices

Chicago – biggest post office

Ochopee, Florida – smallest post office

Sanquhar Post Office (Scotland) – oldest working post office

The world’s largest post office is the head post office in Chicago, Illinois. The smallest post office in the world is located in Ochopee, Florida. 

Sanquhar Post Office (Scotland) has the exclusive title of oldest working post office in the world. Having been in continuous operation since 1712, the tiny post office has more than a 300-year history.

Can you believe Cats were used to deliver the mail! 

I’ve heard of many different types of animals being used to deliver mail – camels, reindeer, horses, dogs, pigeons, but CATS? Well it’s true. In 1879 Liege, Belgium employed 37 cats to carry bundles of letters to villages. This service didn’t last long as cats proved to be thoroughly undisciplined. 

Great Britain is the only country which issues stamps without its name printed on them. 

Instead the profile of the monarch appears on British stamps. The Universal Postal Union allows this because Britain was the first country to issue stamps. 

The first post offices in America were bags hung in taverns. 

The mail was handled by captains of ships. 

When stamps were first issued, they had no gum on the back. 

And if paste was not available, mailers sometimes pinned or even sewed stamps to envelopes. 

The first touch of humor did not appear on a U.S. stamp until 1963. 

The 5-cent City Mail delivery stamp was issued for the 100th anniversary of free city mail delivery. The design, by Norman Rockwell, featured a letter carrier holding an umbrella, followed by a smiling boy and a little dog.

10 Agents of Deterioration of stamps

Knowing the Agents of Deterioration and preventing them is important for private collectors as well so they might preserve family treasures for future generations. Below is a basic summary of the 10 Agents of Deterioration in no particular order:

Theft and Vandalism is willful damage to artifacts that is either premeditated or a “crimes of opportunity”. At home, similar precautions can be made based on the value of your collection, but locking high value artifacts away is an easy step to prevent theft or vandalism.

Fire can cause smoke damage, partial or total loss of the artifacts. As a result, it is important that fire prevention be given the highest priority possible. Fire suppression systems are advisable, at home it is important to have a fire extinguisher accessible. If some artifacts are of very high value it would be worth looking into acquiring a fire-proof safe.

Water damage can result from natural occurrences, technological hazards, or mechanical failures. Water leaks and floods are the most common causes of water damage, but can also simply be caused by spilling a beverage. Water damage causes warping and tidelines to your artifacts. It’s advisable that such precious collections are stored at least six (6) inches off the floor and inside cabinets in anticipation of a leak or flood. Storing artifacts off the floor and not placing drinks near your most treasured artifacts will drastically cut down on the danger of water damage at home.

Light damage is caused by overexposure to natural or artificial light. A loss of historical and monetary value can occur when artifacts fade from exposure to excessive light. The best method to prevent light damage is to store artifacts away from direct light.

Incorrect Humidity can cause more damage than temperature. Large fluctuations in humidity can cause the artifacts to warp or grow mold. Attempt to keep humidity between 35% and 55%. It is important to keep artifacts out of basements and attics where the biggest shifts in humidity can occur.

Incorrect Temperatures that are too low or too high can damage artifacts adversely based on the material of the artifact, often accelerating deterioration. Attempt to keep temperatures between 65°F and 72°F. It is important to keep artifacts out of basements and attics where the biggest shifts in temperature can occur.


Pollutants
 can be natural or man-made gases, aerosols, liquids, dust or dirt that are known to accelerate decay of artifacts. Aerosols and liquids that are commonly seen around artifacts are household cleaners, bug sprays, and detergents. The chemicals within these sprays can attach to the artifact and will slowly cause it to decay. When cleaning near an artifact, spray directly onto the cloth, away for the object and then wipe down the surface.

Pests, such as microorganisms, insects, and rodents, can make a feast out of artifacts. They are attracted to artifacts made from plants and animals, such as paper and fabrics. They especially enjoy cardboard boxes, so best not to store any family treasures in them. Having a regular pest inspection to check for infestation is vital to preventing any damage.

Physical Force can damage artifacts directly by causing rotation, deformation, stress, breakage and pressure. Examples of force: impact; shock; vibration; pressure; and abrasion. Most physical force is caused by general use but also by accident. At home, artifacts can be placed in cabinets or out of reach.


Neglect
 is the loss of the artifact or the information associated with the artifact, such as names, dates or locations. Also, not providing proper preservation is another form of neglect since the collections will continue to deteriorate. Most sophisticated collectors keeps thorough paper and electronic records pertaining to every artifact in its collection relating to its history and provenance. This is equally important for individuals trying to preserve and track family heirlooms.

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