The Queen has been on postage stamps since 50 years and going strong. Her reign on England and Postage Stamps is quite remarkable. This linkage further entwines into her own personal wealth, so as to speak of.
As of 2015, she is worth £300million but is “asset rich and cash poor”, claims the most comprehensive analysis of her wealth in decades.
Some of her most valuable possessions are kept under wraps, or rather protective sheets.
She inherited the Royal Philatelic Collection, the world’s most comprehensive collection of postage stamps of Britain and the Commonwealth, from her father, George VI.
Many of the most prized pieces were assembled by his father, George V.
With just one set of penny blacks valued at £4million, the Queen’s total collection must be worth £10million although some estimates put the figure at £100million.
The Queen also owns a valuable art collection worth many millions.
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.
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. 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.
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 ForDomestic / ForeignLetters, 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.
Thestampsshown above in denominations from 500,000 Marks through 50,000,000,000 Marks, were issued inOctober 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.
Thenewseries ofstamps, againdenominated in Pfennig, shown above was issuedDecember 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 theGerman peoplewouldNEVER FORGETthe 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.
Christianity is the most widely practiced religion in the world, with more than 2 billion followers. It has been 121 years since the issue of the first Chirstmas Stamp
The stamp is the 1898 Canada two-cent with the Mercator map. (Gerhardus Mercator was the most notable geographer of his time, and his world map of 1569 won lasting fame.) Most often called the ‘Map’ stamp or the Imperial Penny Postage issue, the stamp also gets credit for being the first ever Christmas stamp.
At the Universal Postal Union conference in Washington, in 1897, British Empire delegates, especially Canada’s Postmaster General Honorable (later Sir) William Mulock, lobbied to get an overseas penny postage rate among Empire nations. He lost that battle, but in July 1898, he was in Britain with a new proposal and much determination.
The decision was not exactly what Mulock wanted, but a resolution at the July 1898 conference allowed Empire countries to opt into an Imperial Penny Postage rate if they chose to do so. Canada made the move to be effective on Christmas day 1898. That, however, did not cause the two-cent to be the first Christmas stamp.
At the time, stamp designs for the colonial countries had to be approved by Queen Victoria. The story goes that a post office official in discussing the new Canadian stamp for the Imperial Penny Postage rate (two cents) with Her Majesty said the new stamp could serve as a tribute to the prince. The official was referring to the then-Prince of Wales whose birthday occurred on November 9, the original date selected to release the stamp.
Queen Victoria, who had her gruff moments, is said to have replied “Which prince?” in a tone that suggested she would not be pleased with a royal connection other than herself. The official quickly said “Why, madam, the Prince of Peace,” referring, of course, to the Christ child. As a result, the stamp when it was officially released on December 7, 1898, bore, not only Mercator’s map, but also the words “XMAS 1898”. It now ranks as the first Christmas stamp in the world, and it was not until 1964 that Canada commenced a regular run of Christmas stamps.
The map stamp was reissued as a stamp-on-a-stamp by Canada Post for its centennary last year. The same stamp commemorated the memory of Sir William Mulock.
Countries were slow to issue specifically-designed Christmas stamps. The next nation with Christmas stamps was Austria in 1937 with two stamps often referred as Christmas Greeting Stamps. The stamps feature a rose and zodiac signs. Brazil issued four semi-charity stamps in 1939 depicting the three Kings and the star, an angel and child, a southern cross and child, and mother and child.
On 1 December 1941 Hungary released a semi-postal stamp picturing a soldier and a Christmas leaf. The surtax on the 20+30 Filler value was intended to pay for “soldiers’ Christmas”. The first stamps to depict the Nativity were a set of three released by Hungary issue of 1943. The country didn’t follow up with another holiday issue until 1988.
In 1944 Germany released a non-valued stamp which was to be used to send Christmas packages to soldiers on the front lines and from there back again. Also that year, the German garrison at Rhodes overprinted local stamps with the inscription “Weichnachten” (Christmas).
It would be 10 years before Cuba issued its two-stamp set of Poinsettia and Bells. On Dec. 1, 1951, Cuba printed two stamps that actually promoted Christmas. The stamps, 1 and 2 centavos, depicted a poinsettia and the word ”Navidades,” Spanish for ”Christmas season.” Three-fourths of the proceeds from the stamps went to the Communications Ministry employees`pension fund.
That year also saw the first appearance of Saint Nicholas on a stamp issued by France on which he is shown in an eighteenth-century print by Jean-Charles Didier bringing the three murdered children back to life. Haiti followed in 1954 with two stamps – Fort Nativity and Star of Bethlehem. As the 1950s progressed, Luxembourg and Spain produced Christmas stamps in 1955 while Liechtenstein, Korea and Australia started what has become a fashion with Christmas issues in 1957. Australia was the first nation to begin issuing Christmas stamps on an annual basis.
The U.S. issued its first Christmas stamp in 1962. The first stamps showed Christmas wreaths and trees, but then the designs became more religious symbols, largely as a result of lobbying by a Waterbury, Conn., railroad worker. After protests about the separation of Church and State in the late 1960s, the Post Office Department began issuing both “traditional” [religious] and “contemporary” [non-religious] Christmas stamps. The religious stamp, in almost every year since the Post Office Department was reorganized as the government-owned corporation U.S. Postal Service, has portrayed a painting of the Madonna and Child.
The cross connection of Christmas; Royal Mail and India
Early in November 2005 the UK Royal Mail produced its annual set of commemorative Christmas stamps, themed on a classic Christmas subject, but with a modern, multicultural twist.
The various stamps were designed around images of the Madonna and Child drawn from European, Haitian, Italian, Indian, Native American and Aboriginal artworks. Royal Mail stated the images were ‘culturally diverse yet all equally significant’, and the designer of the set, Irene von Treskow, stated that ‘the challenge was to go beyond the predictable’.
The unpredictability of this set of stamps extended to its reception. The Indian reference in the set was to a Mughal-style painting, dating from about 1620 and by an unknown artist, on the 68-pence stamp depicted the holy family with St Anne and an Angel.
The family is made up of a darkhaired man and woman with tilaka markings on their foreheads—identifiable in a contemporary context as signifiers of Hindu-ness—cradling a blond-haired baby Jesus.
Several Hindu organisations complained vigorously to the Royal Mail that the stamp was insensitive to the feelings of the Hindu community in Britain; additionally, as 68 pence was the price of a standard letter to India, it was argued that the stamp might inflame a politically sensitive situation by being read there as an attempt to convert Indians to Christianity.
The Royal Mail initially refused to act, perhaps confident in its multicultural credentials as displayed on the stamps. Rather rapidly, however, it changed its strategy, withdrawing the stamp from open sale within a week of its issue (although it was still available on request), apologising for any unintentional offence and pledging that it would not reproduce the stamp after its first print run was exhausted. This followed a short but concerted campaign by the Hindu community.
Gaffs around Christmas Stamps
Over time there have been a number of errors, freaks and oddities relating to Christmas stamps.
Here are a few interesting design :
The subject matter of this 1974 Australian Christmas aerogramme is rather inopportune. The image is based on the Doomsday Angel from Durer’s woodcut The Whore of Babylon.
David Gentleman’s 1973 UK Christmas design has King Wenceslas gathering wood in a totally treeless area.
This 1982 UK Christmas stamp proclaims “While shepherds watched…..” however, a closer inspection shows the shepherds totally ignoring their flocks.
Did you know ?
In 1843, three years after the appearance of the first postage stamp-the 1-penny black of Britain-the director of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London sent Christmas greeting cards to friends.
The cards were designed by an artist friend of the director and featured three panels: The right and left panels depicted scenes of feeding the hungry and clothing the needy, and the center panel showed a family participating in a holiday toast.
A four-line message printed across the center panel read ”A Merry Christmas/and/A Happy New Year/To You.”
This is considered the first Christmas greeting card.
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 tothis 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 gumstamps 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.
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 thepositioningof 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.
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!
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!
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.
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 Vandalismis 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.
Firecan 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.
Waterdamage 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.
Lightdamage 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 Humiditycan 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 Temperaturesthat 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.
Pollutantscan 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 Forcecan 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.
Neglectis 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.
This article is from The Vault – dated August 23, 1971. BYRobert Boyle.
It’s the exact replica of Robert’s article. It’s so beautifully written – I wish to always go back to reading it so I copied it on my blog ( lest they remove the link). I have added my touch with the pictures 🙂
Not long ago Herman Herst Jr., who may be the world’s leading enthusiast of the hobby of stamp collecting, discovered that Dr. Irving Keiser, an entomologist who specializes in stamps with insects on them, had the 1939 U.S. baseball issue in his collection.
“What does this stamp have to do with insects?” asked Herst.
“Look at it,” said Dr. Keiser.
Herst peered at the stamp through a magnifying glass and said, “All I see is a guy ready to catch a fly.”
“You’ve got it!” exclaimed the doctor.
At this point a less understanding and dedicated man might have turned to collecting entomologists, but Herst, the author of Stories to Collect Stamps By and other works, was enthralled. Plunging ahead in search of further funnies, he found in the doctor’s collection a copy of the 1945 Turkish stamp showing the battleship Missouri. When Herst asked (hopefully) what relation that stamp had to insects, the doctor replied, “She’s in the mothball fleet.”
It takes no more than this to put Herst in heaven. Seven days a week, every day of the year, Herst looks at stamps, writes about stamps, talks about stamps and even dreams about stamps. “In color,” he says. To Herst, no hobby, sport or pastime can compare with philately. There is, he says, the thrill of the chase after an elusive stamp, to say nothing of the absolute joy of unexpected discovery. Just looking at stamps can give Herst a sense of pure esthetic bliss. Furthermore, there are the friendships to be found in philately, “friendships that transcend race, religion and nationality,” says Herst, a gregarious sort who has been to Europe 40 times in search of stamps.
Then there is the knowledge to be acquired from stamps. Heist’s mind is stuffed full of information, 99% of it gleaned from studying stamps. He can talk at length about the membership of the Confederate cabinet (the Confederate post office made such a profit that after the Civil War the North tried to get the postmaster general to take the job in Washington), dwell on the history of whaling or the settlement of South Africa. Mention sports, and Herst is off on a gallop about Ira Seebacher’s collection of sports on stamps, pausing to throw out the fact that the former British Colony of St. Kitts-Nevis in the West Indies once issued a set of stamps to raise money for a cricket field or that the Bahama Islands not only issued stamps with game fish on them but used a postmark of a hooked sailfish. He will tell how Fred Mandell sold the Detroit Lions so he could go into the stamp business in Honolulu or recount how a bunch of kids once made hockey pucks out of bundled sheets of the very rare Providence postmaster’s provisional of 1846.
Continuing in the sporting vein, Herst is fond of relating a racetrack incident that took place in Havana in 1940 when the American Air Mail Society held its convention there. The collectors just wanted to stand around the hotel lobby talking about stamps, and they were dismayed to learn that their Cuban hosts had scheduled an afternoon at the track. When a couple of collectors suggested no one would be interested in going to the races, the Cubans said, “They’ll be interested in this.” Out of politeness the collectors went to the track and picked up a list of the entries. To their astonishment, there was a horse named Stanley Gibbons running in the first race and Stanley Gibbons was the name of a well-known British stamp dealer. The horse was an improbable long shot, but the collectors bet him on the hunch. Stanley Gibbons won. The collectors looked at the second race entries. There was another long shot named Perforation. They bet; Perforation won. So it went through the rest of the card. In every race there was a long shot with a philatelic name that paid off handsomely.
“No one in the stands except the philatelists realized what was happening,” Herst says. “The American Air Mail Society convention was one of the few stamp meetings from which attendants were privileged to go home with more money than they had come with.” The Cuban government, which apparently had arranged the whole deal to make the Americans happy, was so pleased that it surcharged a stamp commemorating the convention.
Now 62 years old, Herst has been a stamp dealer and auctioneer since 1936. His slogan is, “If it’s U.S.A., see Herst first.” His home and office are in Shrub Oak, N.Y., and outside the driveway is an enormous painting of a postage stamp. The stamp is Barbados, Scott’s Catalog No. 109, the so-called “olive blossom” because it was issued in three colors. The stamp intrigued Herst as a boy, and he has adopted it as his trademark, painting out Barbados and substituting Herst.
Herst ordinarily arises at 8 and puts in a full day exuberantly examining stamps, cataloging lots for sale at auction (he has sold more than $10 million in stamps at auction since 1936) and trotting to a bank vault in Peekskill to examine his philatelic treasures. The workday ends at midnight, but around 4 in the afternoon Herst takes a break. He pours himself a small nip and relaxes by talking about stamps or writing letters about stamps to friends and acquaintances at home or abroad. Every day Herst dispatches 50 to 100 letters to philatelic pen pals, and it does not bother him that many of his correspondents haven’t bought a stamp from him in years. “I just love it,” Herst says. Indeed, one need not write a letter to Herst to get a letter. A recent visitor was astounded to get four letters in one week. “Thought you’d be interested,” Herst explained.
Herst has such a compulsion to write that when he goes off on a trip with his wife Ida, he pecks away at a typewriter on his lap in the front seat of the car while she drives. Besides Stories to Collect Stamps By, he has written a couple of other books, Nassau Street and Fun and Profit in Stamp Collecting, and co-authored the scholarly Nineteenth Century U.S. Fancy Cancellations and The A.M.G. Stamps of Germany. Several times a year he writes and publishes his own periodical, Herst’s Outbursts, copies of which are sent gratis to anyone sending in six stamped self-addressed envelopes. So far, more than 6,000 people have written in to subscribe, and recent issues include a photograph of Herst kissing the Blarney Stone on a trip to Ireland and a long piece on the infamous Jean Sperati of Paris, “one of the most dangerous stamp counterfeiters ever to wield stamp tongs.” Sperati, Herst told his readers, was a genius who even made his own paper, duplicating that of original stamps. Fortunately, Sperati’s American counterfeits were few, limited mostly to Confederate stamps, and, although the counterfeits were superbly done, Sperati tripped himself up by using the faked postmark of Middlebury, Vt.
Above and beyond writing his own magazine and books, Herst serves as an untiring correspondent for any number of philatelic publications. Last February he and Ida took a two-week vacation in the Bahamas and, as Herst reported to readers of the 1971 spring issue of Herst’s Outbursts, “Aside from the fishing, swimming and just relaxing, we spent the time producing this issue of Outbursts; 14 of our weekly columns for Mekeel’s Weekly Stamp News; 16 of our monthly columns on ‘Stamps’ for Hobbies; feature articles for Western Stamp Collector; a series of articles for First Days; two articles for Philatelic Magazine of London and one for Stamp News of Australia, for each of which we are American correspondent.”
Philatelically, Herst has received honor after honor. He is one of only five persons to receive the gold medal of the New Haven Philatelic Society, and in 1961 he won the John A. Luff Award of the American Philatelic Society, the most coveted in the country, for his exceptional contributions to stamp collecting. Herst himself is not only a member of the APS but one of its five accredited experts qualified to pass on U.S. stamps submitted for authenticity. He was the stamp consultant for the radio program The Answer Man. He is a member of the American Stamp Dealers Association, the Oklahoma Philatelic Society, the Royal Philatelic Society of Canada, the British Philatelic Association, the Texas Philatelic Association and five dozen other stamp organizations. He is a founder-member of the Cardinal Spell-man Philatelic Museum, and he was once pleased to hear the late prelate remark that it was easy to be a cardinal but difficult to be a philatelist.
Stamps aside, Herst is a rabid joiner and do-gooder. “I’m everything!” he exults. “I’m a Kiwanian, a 32nd degree Mason, a Shriner! I’m in the Baker Street Irregulars where I’ve been invested as Colonel Emsworth, V.C.” Herst is also a member of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Manuscript Society, the American Feline Society (he feeds stray cats), the Bancroft Library of the University of California and various other organizations, including the Boy Scouts, for whom he is a merit badge examiner in stamp collecting. “I just can’t say no,” Herst says of his multitudinous memberships.
When it comes to memberships or honors, he is rivaled only by his dog Alfie, a gigantic German shepherd. Alfie is mascot of the destroyer Alfred, an honorary citizen of West Germany, an honorary postman of the Italian post office and recipient of a commendation promulgated by the German Shepherd Squad of Scotland Yard. Alfie’s honors have come about through the efforts of his energetic master. Back in the 1950s Herst discovered that federal law permits private carriers to issue “local” stamps in delivering mail to and from post offices that do not offer home delivery or pickup. Herst issued his own Shrub Oak local stamp, and in 1967 he put Alfie on a second issue. The stamp shows Alfie carrying a letter in his mouth.
Herst’s discovery of the local loophole in federal law has prompted several persons elsewhere to print their own stamps. A narrow-gauge railroad buff on Long Island issued a triangular stamp for local mail on his midget line, but the Federal Government confiscated his stamps and suppressed the mini-service because he had put the prohibited words “United States” on the stamp. Similarly, federal authorities seized the local stamps used for delivery to Rattlesnake Island in Lake Erie because they were “in similitude” to government issue. In Walpole, Mass. the members of the “906 Stamp Club,” all inmates of the Massachusetts Correctional Institution, operate a local post carrying letters from cells to the prison post office. Requests to have the route extended have been denied, says Herst, who is a patron of the prisoners and goes there once a year to speak and judge the inmate stamp show.
In the course of a year Herst gives 30 to 40 speeches before all sorts of groups. “I am the most in-demand speaker in philately,” Herst says. “That’s because I don’t charge.”
Before a staid audience of stamp collectors, Herst is fond of posing as a collector of tea tags. With a straight face, he solemnly talks about the pleasures of collecting tea tags, especially from unusual varieties of tea bags. Using philatelic jargon, Herst will hold up a tea bag and say, “This is the double string variety. Note the misprint, ‘TOOO-LONG.’ ” If the audience is receptive he will go on about tea bags all night. Several years ago Herst was paying a hotel bill in Portland, Ore. when a woman in front of him dropped her purse and the contents spilled all over the floor. “I’m terribly embarrassed,” she said to Herst. “You must think I’m crazy, but I collect tea bags.” Herst shouted, “So do I!”
A self-confessed screwball, Herst comes by his quirks naturally. His father was a somber lawyer who died when Herst was 4, but his mother was an individualist. A concert violinist, she played in an all-girl band that John Philip Sousa once organized and served as Lillian Russell’s accompanist. During World War II she was founder, president and sole member of IRCED, otherwise known as the Issue Ration Cards for Dogs society, and as such was the author of innumerable letters to the editor of The New York Times. Whenever Mrs. Herst was accosted by a panhandler, she would not give him a dime but would invite him home for chicken noodle soup.
Herst, who has been known from childhood as Pat because he was born on March 17, began collecting stamps when he was 8 and early on developed affinities for certain stamps and countries. He started collecting the Barbados “olive blossom”; the very name Straits Settlements smacked of romance to him; and he developed a deep love for Nepal. “Nepal is one of my countries,” he will confide to a fellow collector.
When not engrossed in stamps, Herst was an unruly youngster. Once a cop collared him for stealing apples from a grocery store and Mrs. Herst exclaimed, “Really! And I can’t even get him to eat fruit.” At the age of 12 Herst was shipped off to Portland, Ore. to live with an aunt. He attended high school in Portland and then went to Reed College, where he was graduated in 1931. He got a job as a reporter on the Morning Oregonian but, as he wrote in Nassau Street, his autobiography, “the increasing shadows of Depression fell across the lumber capital of the nation, and unfortunately I found my services dispensed with. I was given a letter to The New York Times calling attention to my abilities.” Bumming east on freights, Herst duly presented himself to the editors of the Times. He worked there briefly selling classified advertising and then moved to the Newark Star Ledger. But two days in Newark introduced Herst to two facts of life he had not previously encountered: first, commuting from New York to Newark was “a somewhat reverse form of existence,” and second, “people in Newark in 1932 did not believe in classified advertising.
Taking another job, Herst labored for two weeks like a busy elf, cutting imitation leather into fancy letters for theater marquees. Unfortunately, his rate of production slowed noticeably after using a razor-sharp knife to cut the letters “G” and “S,” and he left joyfully with bandaged fingers for a position in a Wall Street firm, Lebenthal and Company, dealers in municipal bonds.
Paid only $12 a week, Herst was not long in supplementing his income (and that of his fellow workers at Lebenthal’s) by forming a syndicate to buy up stamps and sell them at a profit to dealers on nearby Nassau Street. Talk around the office dealt less with bonds and more with stamps, and the head of the firm decreed that there was to be no more mention of stamps. Herst, falling back on what sociologists call collective representation, said, “Let’s call them worms,” and the Worm Syndicate at Lebenthal’s continued to do business. Given an hour for lunch, Herst spent four minutes wolfing down orange juice, coffee and a doughnut and the remaining 56 minutes discussing the finer points of philately with dealers and collectors. At Lebenthal’s Herst worked furiously because he believed in giving value for money received (“When Pat works,” says Ida, “things fly in all directions”), and he was promoted to cashier. Despite an assured future on the Street, Herst quit in 1935 to become a stamp dealer.
From the start, he loved being in stamps full time, and the saddest part of each day came when he had to lock the door to his office at 116 Nassau Street, an ancient, narrow thoroughfare as rich in characters as a Moroccan souk. To begin with, there were the “satcheleers,” little men, mostly East European Jews, who, with no overhead and no capital except their wits, made the rounds of dealers and collectors, toting stamps in voluminous satchels on speculation and consignment. Adhering to their cultural milieu, they spoke a rich patois that has surcharged stamp collecting with soul-felt Yiddish expressions. For Herst, deskbound, serving collectors during the day, the satcheleers were as necessary as bees to a flower, since they pollinated philatelically all over town.
Satcheleers still exist in stamps, and although Herst now lives 45 miles out of New York City he lets them know in advance when he is about to visit the metropolis so they may open their satchels and spread their wares before his eyes. For several years, Herst has been making notes on the satcheleer subculture, and he is particularly taken by the exploits of one known as Morris (“I wouldn’t kill a fly”) Coca-Cola, a diminutive Russian who wore oversized secondhand coats that cascaded off his birdlike shoulders and gathered in rich drapery around his ankles.
In Herst’s first heady days on Nassau Street satcheleers were not the only characters. At 90 Nassau Street lurked the Burger brothers, Gus and Arthur, elderly Germans who moved into the building in 1886 and hadn’t dusted a thing since. Their premises were awash with all sorts of papers and stamps, many of them rarities, including discoveries made by the brothers themselves when they bicycled through the South in the 1890s looking up Confederate veterans with “old letters.” The building that housed the Burgers was equally ancient. Five stories high, it had no elevator, and the rest rooms were marked “For Males” and “For Females.”
Despite the Victorian clutter around them, the Burgers knew the exact location of every stamp, and when they had finally fetched forth, amid clouds of dust and cobwebs, a superb sheet-corner margin copy of, say, the U.S. 3$ 1851 (Scott No. 11), their price was outrageous. Arthur would say to Gus, “What should we ask for this?” Gus would answer, “Twenty dollars.” Arthur would then tell the collector, in earshot all the while, “Just what I was thinking. Forty dollars.”
In Heist’s time, outfoxing the brothers, dubbed the Burglars, became a sport for experts. Anyone who outwitted them was elected to the Fox Club, which made its headquarters in the office of Percy Doane, an auctioneer. “The rules were simple,” Herst says. “One had to visit the offices of the Burger brothers, buy a stamp from them at retail and then put it in one of Doane’s auctions. If the buyer netted a profit on the deal after paying Doane the commission, he was in. But simple as the rules were, the attainment of membership was fraught with certain difficulties. In the first place, the stamp would have to be bought sufficiently below its value to permit a profit when sold at auction. Since the Burgers were usually anticipatory in their prices, asking a figure at which an item might be expected to sell 10 years hence, this made a profitable sale more than unlikely. The only way would be by finding the Burgers uninformed on the true value of something—and these Joves hardly ever nodded.”
One character Herst knew well, Y. Souren, was out of a Peter Lorre-Sydney Greenstreet movie. Souren, whose real name was Souren Yohannasiants, was a Georgian who had fled Russia during the revolution with a $100,000 collection of clocks hidden under the hay in a donkey cart. In the late 1930s Souren occupied a fancy office on Park Avenue, and visitors were admitted only after scrutiny, as though suspected members of a spy ring. He kept a private dossier on stamp dealers, collectors and those stamps that had passed through his hands. He had X-ray machines, ultraviolet apparatus and cameras at hand, and he was fond of bringing forth, with appreciative Near Eastern chuckles, photographs of what Herst describes as “unquestionably the same item, perhaps with a straight edge [of a stamp] reperforated [to make it more valuable], a fancy cancel added or other stamps added to the cover.” Souren also had photographs of ads by stamp dealers offering items that were misleading. “Comes in handy whenever I want something from someone who doesn’t want to cooperate,” Souren told Herst.
Years ahead of the FBI, Souren had a camera hidden in the ceiling of his front door, “He was always afraid of being robbed,” Herst recalls in Nassau Street, “and with good reason, for in his heyday it is doubtful whether any premises short of the Bureau of Printing and Engraving and the stamp vaults in Washington held a more valuable accumulation of stamps. He showed me photographs of every person who had passed through that door in recent days. I saw my photograph several times.”
With Herst, Souren unveiled his treasures, including his gem of gems, a block of the U.S. 24¢ 1869 inverted center, which went with him everywhere. Souren had the block mounted between glass panels in a small holder that he secreted in a special coat pocket. “Several times over a sandwich or a meal he would take it out and admire it,” Herst says.
Always a keen student of stamps as well as a collector, Herst was not long in putting his knowledge to profit. While examining some minor purchases one day, he happened to notice that a copy of the U.S. 30¢ 1869 looked a bit odd. The flags were on top of the stamp instead of the bottom. It was a rare error, Scott No. 121b, which then cataloged at $4,500. Herst had paid $3 for it, and he sold it for $3,300. He bought a car and steamship tickets for himself and his mother for a trip to Europe, where he made several coups. In London, Herst learned the Coronation issue of Southern Rhodesia had suddenly become scarce because it was withdrawn from sale. The set had a face value of about 30¢, but a British dealer offered Herst $4.03 for a set. Herst called New York, where the set was selling for only 40¢, and asked a dealer to ship as many sets as possible. Herst wound up selling some for $5 each. In Paris, Herst made a find at one of the bookstalls along the Seine, an old album containing at least 500 copies of the U.S. 50¢ Omaha, Scott No. 291. He bought the collection for $20 and within six weeks had disposed of all the stamps for almost $1,000.
Back home on Nassau Street, Herst also prospered. On Pearl Harbor Day he reacted with philatelic foresight. The minute he heard news of the attack, he addressed five envelopes to fictitious addresses in Tokyo. When Germany declared war on the U.S., Herst sent five envelopes to fictitious addresses in Berlin. Eighteen months later all the envelopes came back to Herst with a series of unusual postmarks and censor stamps, and they have been in his World War II collection ever since.
Over age for service, Herst talked about stamps to wounded veterans at hospitals. He believes stamps are excellent therapy. He also asked any servicemen he knew to remember him wherever they went. Most did, and Herst now has the first letter mailed by the Marines from Guadalcanal, a collection of stamps used for espionage purposes, copies of Hitler’s personal mail and the only propaganda leaflets dropped on the Japanese on Kiska and Attu.
“I don’t collect the conventional things,” says Heist. “Philately has no limits. There’s nothing in life that philately doesn’t cross.” To prove his point, Herst once made a bet with a collector that he, Herst, could start a specialist collection that would win a prize at a major stamp show, and that he would assemble the collection at a total cost of less than $5. Herst won the bet with a collection of wanted notices sent out on postcards by sheriffs in the 1870s and 1880s. “In those days, mail service was faster than criminals,” says Herst, who has scant regard for the present U.S. postal system.
In 1946 Herst moved from Nassau Street to Shrub Oak. “I had to get away,” he says. “I couldn’t get any work done. My office had become a lounge. There were all sorts of people there. One guy and his wife wanted to spend their honeymoon there.”
In Shrub Oak the bane of Herst’s existence is getting common stamps from people who send in a “rarity.” Herst will run to his stock, pick out a copy and send both back with the reply, “Now you have two of them!” He is often called in by estates to appraise collections, and from time to time genuine rarities do come his way. A 10-year-old boy in New Brunswick, N.J. discovered a copy of the 5¢ Kenya stamp showing Owen Falls Dam with Queen Elizabeth upside down. Herst acted as agent for the youngster and sold the stamp, the only copy known, to the Maharajah of Bahawalpur for $10,000. The money was set aside for the boy’s education.
When Herst pays a bill he often mails out a mimeographed sheet headed, “My hobby is philately” in which he notes that stamp collecting can not only be fun but a profitable hobby if one collects intelligently. In Herst’s opinion, too many neophytes and collectors buy foolishly. “Age does not make value” is one of Herst’s favorite sayings. Other Herst commandments are, “Cheap stamps never become rare,” “Condition is a factor only in relation to value,” “Demand is a more important factor than supply,” “Beware of pitfalls that trap the unwary” and “There is no substitute for knowledge.”
Herst is the first to admit he doesn’t know absolutely everything about everything philatelic. Several years ago in one of his auctions he offered a cover (the collecting term used for an envelope) postmarked Harrisburgh, Alaska. A collector in Chicago called up and told Herst that he wanted to bid $400 for it. Flabbergasted, Herst asked why, and the collector said, “Harrisburgh is the original name for Juneau. When Alaskans chose the name Harrisburgh, post office officials in Washington said they already had enough Harrisburghs and to change the name. This is the only cover I know postmarked Harrisburgh.” Herst says, “The collector got the cover for $40 and he was overjoyed. You treat collectors fairly, and you’ll never lose.”
A couple of months ago Herst was in Albany, N.Y. to judge the show put on by the Fort Orange Stamp Club. As he walked by the exhibit panels his enthusiasm appeared to flag. Was Herman Herst Jr. beginning to falter? Then he came upon a display of the intricate and seemingly boring regular U.S. issues of 1908 and 1921. “Ah,” said an acquaintance, “don’t bother with those.” Herst stopped short. “Don’t say that,” he said. “They’re exciting.” Peering closely at them, he scribbled a high mark on his scorecard and said, “I can talk to these stamps—and they answer.”
It was a cold day in January of 1959 when United States Postmaster General, Arthur E. Summerfield, thought he had stumbled upon a stroke of genius. Not one to dilly dally with such a mental feat, he hastily made a bold and proud statement promising tax-paying citizens that before man reached the moon, “your mail will be delivered within hours from New York to California, to England, to India or to Australia by guided missiles.” He nearly made his prediction a reality. Just six months later, on June 9, he launched a Regulus I guided missile carrying 3,000 pieces of souvenir mail. High-ranking officials such as President Eisenhower and Supreme Court justices were among the lucky recipients.
“This peacetime employment of a guided missile for the important and practical purpose of carrying mail is the first known official use of missiles by any post office department of any nation,” Summerfield claimed.
Summerfield’s missile was fired from the U.S.S. Barbero submarine 100 miles off the Atlantic coast to a naval air station near Jacksonville, FL. Navy planes guided the missile by radio control to its parachute landing in just 22 minutes. The Postmaster said this novel way of sending birthday cards, pen pal letters, and unwanted junk mail was “of historic significance to the peoples of the entire world.”
Cost-efficiency doomed Summerfield’s plan. But expenses weren’t the only criticism of the high-flying Missile Mail. The day after the launch, the Los Angeles Times observed that the real need for speed was in handling mail before and after transport: “We hopefully look forward to the time when the lines in front of post office windows are jet propelled. Or when rocket belts are issued to those who manage to take a week to deliver a letter mailed within the same city.”