Monday, December 25, 2017

Stamp collecting is a hobby! But is it an investment?

Yes, it can be a profitable hobby. But the cost structure of the stamp business does not lend to the rapid run-up in value of a philatelic investment. Consider that at auction the seller generally pays 15% of the hammer price to the auctioneer and the buyer pays an additional 10% over the closing bid. Thus, purchasing a stamp or cover at auction puts one back 25%, requiring a healthy run-up in the stamp market to get back to even.

This evasive nature of profits from collecting often leads the unwary down a path of folly. Take the example of the ‘bargain’ found on eBay for a small percentage of the Scott Catalog Value (SCV). Close scrutiny of the ‘bargain’ too often reveals ‘fakes’. Unlike forgeries, fakes begin as genuine stamps that are then altered to increase value.

Common methods of producing fakes are regumming or perfing/reperfing. There are also the washed cancels producing seeming mint stamps. Regum the stamp and the faker has a Mint Never Hinged stamp. Poorly centered?  The fakers can reperf to produce a better-centered stamp, or eliminate a straight edge to increase the value.

The buyer must also be aware of the valuable Washington/Franklin coils that began life as imperforates. A simple addition of perforations and the common imperforate pair becomes a valuable coil pair. According to 1847USA (a terrific website for the study of U.S. Classic Stamps), the Scott 388 is considered to be one of the most commonly faked stamps in U.S. philately. With a catalog value for the MNH pair of $7,500 and higher still for the guideline pair, this valuable ‘investment stamp’ may be produced by adding perforations to a pair of the imperforate #384 valued by Scott at $22.00.
Pictured above is a Scott #493 line pair valued by Scott at $230.00, with a Certificate shown at the bottom of this page. Without a certificate you could be looking at an reperf of imperf #483 valued at $47.50 if it is truly MNH and not also regummed

We have all seen an attractive stamp with a thin? A faker can use this stamp as an opportunity to regum, thus hiding the thin, and producing a MNH valuation.

But all is not lost. The collector of classics can use a few common sense rules to insure their collection includes genuine stamps of value.

First, know your source. Those of us who are members of the American Philatelic Society (APS) are pledged to uphold a standard of integrity that precludes knowingly dealing in fakes and altered stamps. But even the best of us could potentially pass along a fake or a forgery out of ignorance.

So the second rule is to have your higher value ‘investment stamps’ expertized. I recommend the Professional Stamp Experts (PSE), American Philatelic Society’s American Philatelic Expertizing Service (APEX), and The Philatelic Foundation. There are also specialty groups for the stamps of particular countries and eras.

What these organizations have that the rest of us do not have, in addition to a committee of experts who have collectively seen it all, are tools we would all love to have for measuring and magnifying. But probably just as important are references of the genuine stamps, discovered fakes and forgeries.

It is also worth noting that a dealer or knowledgeable collector will not buy at a reasonable price an ‘investment grade’ stamp that does not carry a certificate from a reputable expertizer.

So, enjoying stamp collecting as a hobby and with some degree of caution and savvy you may over time realize some maintenance of value from the eventual sale of your collection.

Early Rural Free Delivery Mail Service Covers

R.F.D. - Rural Free Delivery was, in its day, one of the great social equalizers bringing to rural America something that had been enjoyed by urban America for years, delivery of the mail. John Wanamaker, of the Philadelphia Department Store fame, who served as Postmaster General from 1889 to 1893 had the very logical idea that it made more sense for one person to deliver mail than for 50 people to ride into town to collect their mail. He cited business logic and social philosophy as reasons to give rural dwellers free delivery

Of equal significance was the political pressure of the National Grange, National Farmers’ Congress, and State Farmers’ Alliance advocating for the farmers and rural America. The actual implementation of Rural Free Delivery came about under the administration of William L. Wilson, Postmaster from 1895 to 1897. On October 1, 1896, rural free delivery (RFD) service began in Charles Town, Halltown, and Uvilla in West Virginia, Postmaster General Wilson’s home state.

Since the RFD carriers simply delivered mail and picked it up to take to the post office in town, these early letters do not carry postal markings to identify them as RFD mail.

 However, in August 1900 carriers began marking the mail picked up on their routes with pencil cancels. Within a few years carriers were outfitted with rubber stamps bearing R.F.D. the post office town name and the date plus a bar cancel and a number (known as a Doane Cancel). Use of these cancelling devices was discontinued by June of 1903.

Postal bureaucracy was simpler in those days, but just as important, as the charge to be responsible for the mail was to be taken seriously. Here is a page from the Form 1977 of June, 1913 entitled INSTRUCTIONS TO APPLICANTS FOR THE RURAL CARRIER EXAMINATION. Included is a listing of the possible reasons for not being considered to be admitted to the exam, including a person not a citizen or not owing allegiance to the United States, handicapped persons including insanity, epilepsy, and TB, or one addicted to the habitual use of intoxicating beverages to excess.

Those persons chosen to take the examination and passing signed a CERTIFICATE OF THE OATH OF MAIL CONTRACTOR AND CARRIERS required by Act of Congress of March 5, 1874

Tendering ones resignation from the post of rural letter carrier was done with the Post Office Department form 2520-P which was mailed as official Business bearing penalty mail postage exemption.

Finally, here is a photocopy of a letter from the Postmaster General in 1897 to a Wm.B. Gaitree designating Mr. Gaitree a special agent for the experiment of rural free delivery. Payment is to be $5.00 per day plus up to $4.00 per day for expenses. Employment will cease with the expiration of the special appropriation  intended to fund the experiments in rural free delivery.

History is littered with postal and other enterprises that foundered on the rocks of an administration change caused by a different party taking office, RFD survived and expanded beyond humble beginning in West Virginia until in 2012, nearly 41 million homes and businesses were served by the Postal Service’s rural letter carriers.

Collecting Postage Due Stamps

 Postage Due Stamps came about as a response to mail sent with insufficient postage. The extra postage due is indicated by a stamp added to an underpaid piece of mail indicating the amount of extra postage due.

The first Postage Due Stamp was issued by France in 1859. Many other nations followed, including the United States Post Office in 1879.  Postal regulations called for the postal clerk to affix a postage due stamp to an envelope in order to indicate insufficient postage and how much money the addressee had to pay to receive the mail.  Thus came into being the first series of Postage Due Stamps with denominations from 1-cent to 50-cents in 7 denominations.

Since postage due stamps are almost always used only within a single country, they are usually quite simple in design, mostly consisting of a large numeral, and an inscription saying "postage due", "porto", etc.; often there is no country name. As is the case with regular issue stamps, a variety of values may be needed to make up specific amounts.

The Universal Postal Union (UPU) addressed the problem of underpaid foreign mail. The UPU decided that unpaid or insufficiently paid international letters should be marked with a "T" standing for the French word “Taxe,” and from April 1, 1879 the amount missing in centimes should also be indicated in black.

 Some argue that postage due stamps are actually a label, as they have no value of their own. Labels have often been used to collect money for other purposes, such as magazine subscriptions. However, in the case of Postage Due Stamps, they are a Post Office issue and are related to the cost of sending letters and parcels through the mails. This certainly qualifies them as an item of interest to stamp collectors.

Printed by the American Bank Note Company, today the stamps have a catalog value of over $3000 in mint condition. Collected used the stamps value $340.00

Actually there is no reason for mint postage dues to reach private hands as they have no use beyond the postal clerks assessing postage for mail received, and are of no value to postal patrons in paying the appropriate postage, but sold to collectors they were. In the case of a special printing of U.S. Postage Dues on soft porous paper, the combined catalog value for these 7 stamps is $86,000, and there are no catalog notes to indicate that they were ever used.

The number of special printing postage dues actually sold into the philatelic inventory is shrouded in mystery. In an article by William E. Mooz, on the 1c appearing in the Philatelic Chronicle No. 170, May 1996, Mr. Mooz offers evidence to support his theory that the actual number of true Special Printings sold was significantly lower than the reported figures. For example, the 1c (J9), Mr. Mooz estimates 500 sold, but suggest that as many as 400 purchased by G. B. Calman were destroyed to reduce the supply and increase the value of his remaining stock. Confusing the matter, it is widely accepted that nearly 9,000 1c stamps sold by the post office as Special Printings were actually regular issues (J1-J7).

The postage due stamp is not always affixed to individual letters. In instances of business mail, the total due might be summed, and the appropriate stamps added to the top letter in a bundle, or to a bundle's wrapper. But most were affixed to individual letters and yet postal covers bearing valid postal-used postage due stamps tied together by a dated cancellation or other postal markings with a postage stamp on cover are somewhat rare and very few have survived on a wrapper.

 Collecting postage due stamps of the United States is relatively simple and quit affordable (outside of J8-J14 as discussed above). The only tools needed are a perforation gauge and watermark fluid. Postage due issues have 5 basic designs as noted by the Scott catalog, with color, perforation and watermark characteristics to add variety, for a total of 104 issues and maybe 30 minor varieties denoting color shade differences.

Postage due stamps were used for just over 100 years. The last postage due stamps went to press in November 1985. Two changes brought about the demise of postage due stamps. The USPS required prepayment of postage in full. Thus, most mail was returned to sender for proper postage. And when mail was forwarded to the recipient, they moved to using rubber stamps and other auxiliary markings to track the postage due.

A second section of U.S. Postage Due Issues is the Parcel Post Postage Due Stamps of 1912. The parcel-post law authorized the Postmaster General, with the consent of the Interstate Commerce Commission, to issue special stamps for postage on Parcel Post Mail. Accompanying Parcel Post Postage Due Stamps were a logical accompaniment. What seemed like a good idea was not and in 1913 an ICC order allowed for regular postage to be used for parcels and the Parcel Post stamps were discontinued after the existing stock of stamps was exhausted.

For further exploration of the subject, following is an interesting reference:

A PDF article that includes a section of the Parcel Post Postage Dues

The problem of insufficient postage on letters not paying the correct fee had existed since the creation of regular postal systems, it was greatly heightened by the advent of postage stamps, that allowed customers to make their own decisions about the correct amount to pay, without the assistance of a knowledgeable postal clerk.

How postage due stamps can spice up a worldwide collection: Stamp Collecting Basics

Stamp Collecting: From Department Stores to the Internet

What began as a robust philatelic program in a New York City department store continues to have remnants on the modern internet, but only a slice of what was. In what was a major commercial success beginning in 1931 in the Gimbel’s Department Store in New York City, the Minkus Stamp Company opened a small stamp counter that eventually expanded to stamp counters in department stores around the country.

The popularity of the stamp hobby in the first 30 years of the 20th Century was evident in the hundreds of stamp stores open on Nassau Street in lower Manhattan. The United States Post Office actively promoted the hobby, but the hobby was still not a major factor in American culture until all was changed by Jacques Minkus, known as ‘The Merchant Prince of Stamp Collecting’.

After immigrating to the Unites States from Germany in 1929, Jacque and his brother, Morris, were printing miniature dictionaries for sale in chain stores. They were approached by a stamp dealer regarding a stamp album that was being imported from England at a cost of 65-cents a copy. The stamp dealer asked the Minkus brothers if they could produce the album for less.

They did, selling their albums for a dime and talking the chain stores that carried their dictionary into stocking the albums and accompanying bags of stamps. Soon they were producing thousands of albums for an eager public.

Next stop was a small counter in the rear of the famous Gimbels Department Store. Gimbels was one of the big three that dominated American retailing in the 1930; Sears, Macy’s and Gimbels. Although not a stamp collector himself, Minkus and the company that bore his name had a significant impact on the stamp collecting hobby. His success in large part was founded on his understanding that the hobby must be fun and the entry level need be inexpensive.

At its high-point the Gimbels Stamp Counter grew to a dominant position on the store’s main floor, covering 2,300 square feet of floorspace, with 40 professional philatelists to serve the thousands of stamp collector customers.   At their peak, the stamp department was re-designed by the prominent Raymond Lowey Associates, a project which took over two years of planning to accomplish, and at a cost of over a million dollars.

With this success, the retail model was replicated by Minkus in 38 other major department stores nationwide.  Icons of this success were the publication of the Minkus Master Global and Supreme Global Stamp Albums. Many of these albums continue in use today, having been handed down from father to sons and mothers to daughters. Minkus also published the New American Stamp Catalogue, in competition with the dominant Scott Catalog.

The catalog never overtook Scott, even though it featured more description of the stamp subjects than the more spartan Scott Catalog. Finally in 2004 what was by then Krause-Minkus Publishing was acquired by Scott and the catalog was discontinued. But the Minkus legacy continues on.

While today the Minkus Album is out of print, there are a sufficient number of Minkus Albums still in use that we ( maintain a robust business in annual supplement updates for the Minkus  Still popular are the All-American, U.S. Commemorative, U.S. Regular Issue and the U.S. Plate Block Album plus new binders to replace the worn and the expanding collections in albums begun during this heyday of stamp retailing.

The department store is being replaced by Amazon and the internet and local stamp stores are being replaced by part-time dealers at stamp shows and those of us on the internet. Time marches on. But we stand on the shoulders of companies like the Minkus Stamp Company and its founder, Jacque Minkus.

Friday, May 1, 2015

The USPS Souvenir Page Program

Collectors of USPS Souvenir Pages combine into one collection the stamps issued by the U.S. Post Office, together with a First Day of Issue Cancellation, and information about the stamp issue. This third factor, the reasoning for the stamp issue, or the historical or social significance of the stamp, is just as important now that stamps feature more than just dead presidents and founding fathers, as important as they are to any stamp collection.

The Postal Service began the USPS Souvenir Page Program with the Family Planning Stamp in March 1972. This Souvenir Page (#72-0) was only available at the ASDA Stamp Show in Madison Square Garden, New York City and at the Main New York City Post office on 8th Avenue across from The Garden.

The next month, the USPS initiated a subscription service, beginning with the National Park Series.  The Postal Service had observed collecting interest in Stamp Posters with First Day Cancels produced by enterprising collectors and dealers who began affixing stamps to the Post Office produced announcement posters and having them first day cancelled.  The decision was made by the USPS to begin a program of their own and, as they say, the rest is history.

 Production began with about 2,000 of the Family Planning Souvenir Page sold and 10,000 of the first four subscription pages (#72-1, 72-2, 72-3, and 72-4). Today the Family Planning Page is 'rare' and the first Subscription four are 'scarce' Since the initial introduction of USPS Souvenir Pages there are now over 1,000 types, which is enough to provide years of collecting activity.

A challenging element of the segment of the hobby is to include ‘Unofficals’ or ‘Poster Bulletins’, the forerunners of Souvenir Pages 

The USPS produced announcement posters for every US postal issue, including stamped envelopes, postal cards and aerogrammes. Intended for display on Post Office bulletin boards from 1959 (49-Star Flag) through 1981 (Rachel Carson), the bulletins were also made available to collectors. They are 8 x 10-1/2 inches, and were printed on lesser quality paper without watermarks.  At first the posters were printed in gray but soon the USPS began to print them in a single color similar to the color of the stamp. Posters include an image of the stamp(s) along with information about the stamp and it's subject.

Since stamp collectors affixed their own stamps to these early posters, many possibilities exist including plate blocks, zip blocks, tab singles, coil line pairs, and combinations with other stamps.  Unofficial Souvenir Pages were created for most US postal issues, including stamped envelopes, postal cards and aerogrammes.   They were created on both folded and unfolded posters and as with Stamp Posters , unfolded examples command a premium.

There are more than 1,800 souvenir pages listed in the Scott Specialized Catalog of United States Stamps & Covers. In the 2001 Scott U.S. Specialized Catalog, the Hemingway souvenir page is listed as Scott SP857 with a value of $1.60, one of the lowest values of all the pages. The 2015 catalog value has increased to $4.75, so clearly there is increasing interest in the items.  The 1972 8¢ Family Planning page (SP208), had a 2001 value of $500 and in the 2014 catalog the value has risen to $675.00.

Collectors interested in starting a Souvenir pages collection can enroll in the USPS subscription program through USPS Stamp Fulfillment Services, Box 219424, Kansas City, MO 64121-9424. Details also are available by calling toll-free 800-782-6724.


Friday, January 2, 2015

Chicago Century of Progress Exposition’s Stamp Collecting Legacy

No singular even in America during the 20th Century had more philatelic content than the Chicago Century of Progress Exposition. Originally intended to commemorate Chicago's past, the Century of Progress Exposition came to symbolize hope for Chicago's and America's future in the midst of the Great Depression.

This was Chicago’s second world's fair and as Chicago had done with its 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, the Century of Progress Exposition responded to  an atmosphere of economic, political, and social crisis, shaped this time by the economic recession that followed America's victory in World War I, the ensuing Red Scare, Chicago's 1919 Race Riots, and Chicago's notorious gangster violence.

Chicago held the Century of Progress Exposition to celebrate the 100th anniversary of its founding, in 1833.  To mark the occasion, the United States Post Office released two commemorative stamps, a 1-cent stamp (Scott #728) depicting Fort Dearborn an early outpost that was used to protect the area’s first settlers and a 3-cent stamp (Scott #729) depicting the Federal Building, symbolizing Chicago’s place in the future. 

Each stamp was issued in the traditional sheet of 100 perforated stamps. An additional souvenir sheet was issued for each stamp (Scott #730 and #731), consisting of a sheet of 25 stamps imperforate. the second stamp being the purple three cent Chicago Century of Progress: Federal Building stamp.  The exposition highlighted the progress that Chicago and the United States had made in technology and other fields over the preceding 100 years.  The design of the stamp features the Federal Building, one of the iconic structures featured at the Exposition.


A third issue for the Century of Progress Exposition was the airmail issue known today as the ‘baby zeph’ Scott #C18, this new stamp had the same dimensions and printing characteristics as the previous three zeppelin stamps issued in 1930. The new 50 Cent stamp depicted the Graf Zeppelin over the ocean, with the Federal Building, in Chicago, on the left, and its hangar, in Friedrichshaven on the right. The inscription reads A CENTURY OF PROGRESS FLIGHT.

The new issue became part of a most notable event of interest to stamp collectors, the visit of the Graf Zeppelin German airship  on October 26, 1933. After circling Lake Michigan near the exposition for two hours, Commander Hugo Eckener landed the 776-foot airship at the nearby Curtiss-Wright Airport in Glenview. After only 25 minutes on the ground the airship departed for Akron, Ohio ahead of an approaching weather.

For some Chicagoans, however, the appearance of the Graf Zeppelin over their fair city was not a welcome sight, as the airship had become a prominent reminder of the ascendancy of Adolf Hitler to power earlier that same year. This triggered dissension in the days following its visit, particularly within the city's large German-American population.

Another interesting event of note for stamp collectors was a new system for the concept of snagging mailbags on the fly, without having to land. Promoted by inventor Lytle Adams and Braniff Airways the system reduced by four-fifths the time necessary for picking up mail from small towns. An exhibition of this improvement in the speed and efficiency of the air mail system was given at the Exposition Lagoon, October 4, 1934. Apparently the idea worked, given the right combination of equipment and pilot.

Another European Aviation visit to the fair that generated a lasting legacy in the stamp collecting world was the visit of the Italian Aviators, led by Italian Air Marshal Italo Balbo, to the Chicago Century of Progress Exposition.

One of the highlights of the fair occurred when Italian aviator Italo Balbo led a squadron of 24 Savoia-Marchetti SM.55X flying boats in a historic transatlantic flight from Rome to Chicago, landing on Lake Michigan near the fairgrounds.

In honor of his journey to the Century of Progress, Chicago renamed 7th Street Balbo Drive. However, the street name is not the only lingering reminder of Balbo's visit. In an additional gesture of generosity, Mussolini plundered a Roman column, dating from the second century A.D., from a portico near the Porta Marina of Ostica Antica, the ancient port city of Rome. The column was shipped to Chicago and erected in front of the Italian pavilion of the Century of Progress fair in 1934, after Balbo’s flight.

Today the Balbo Monument, as it is known, is one of, perhaps even the only structures remaining from the Century of Progress. It can be found in lonely isolation in Burnham Park, near the lakefront bike trail just east of Soldier Field. The 2,000 year-old column from Ostica Antica stands on a travertine marble base with a fading inscription in both Italian and English that reads, "This column, twenty centuries old, was erected on the beach of Ostia, the port of Imperial Rome, to watch over the fortunes and victories of the Roman triremes. Fascist Italy, with the sponsorship of Benito Mussolini, presents to Chicago a symbol and memorial in honor of the Atlantic Squadron led by Balbo, which with Roman daring, flew across the ocean in the 11th year of the Fascist era."

Balbo’s armada of 24 Savoia Marchetti S. 55X hydroplanes flew from Italy to Montreal, Canada. On July 14, 1933 the armada departed MontrĂ©al for their final destination, the Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago. This Canadian visit is commemorated on an overprint of the Newfoundland Air Post issue, Scott #C18


Overshadowed in history by the visit of the Zeppelin German airship  on October 26, 1933, a previous visit by an airship, the United States Airship Macon occurred in the Spring of 1933. Just one more event showing the link between aviation, progress and stamp collecting.

Another even at the Exposition that is commemorated for philatelists is the high altitude ascent of the Stratosphere balloon ‘Century of Progress’. Introduced to the public on August 5, 1933 in the skies over the Exposition, on November 20,1933 the ‘Century of progress’ reached a height of  61,000 feet (18,592 meters). The balloon carried two instruments to measure how gas conducted cosmic rays, a cosmic ray telescope, a polariscope for study of the polarization of light at high altitudes, fruit flies to study genetic mutations for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and an infrared camera to study the ozone layer.
All totaled, the Chicago Century of Progress was an overwhelming success, with 40 million visitors and a range of philatelic items that touch nearly every stamp collection today from the novice to the specialists, and particularly in the area of flight covers.

Bob MacLachlan
Internet Hobby Supply

(NOTE: Some of the scans in this blog are from our stock and some were copied from sources on the internet)

Monday, August 25, 2014

The History of Fancy Cancels on U.S. Postage Stamps

The era of fancy cancels ranged from the first U.S. Stamps issued in 1847 through the 1890’s, when the Post Office Department standardized cancellations and ended the practice of allowing individual local postmasters to express some personal artistry in meeting the requirement to deface stamps to prevent their reuse.
The modern era has produced some interesting cancels, and now the USPS has introduced some very elaborate First Day of Issue Cancels, artistically pleasing on First Day Covers and Souvenir Pages. But the focus of Fancy Cancel Collectors is on the traditional early covers, primarily the cork cancels and the 19th Century.

lThe earliest cancellations were often ‘pen cancels’ where the postmaster literally defaced the stamp using a fountain pen. While of lesser value to collectors, the upside of these cancels is they generally do not obliterate the stamps the way some heavy cancels do.

Another popular cancellation is the use of a ‘PAID’ handstamp, often left over from the pre-stamp era when the handstamp were applied to the ‘stampless’ covers to indicate the postage has been paid at the post office of origin.
The first cork cancels are mostly tragic obliterations as the cork bottle stoppers dipped in ink were used making the stamp nearly indiscernible. This practice created its own problem, as the obliteration often defaced the stamp to the extent that the denomination paid could not be seen.  In response, postal clerks began to carve a groove across the middle of the cork, creating two semi-circles.

From this point the wheels of creativity began to spin, as four and then eight segment cork cancels appear, and soon designs began to appear ranging from stars and crosses, to geometrical shapes, animals, plants, birds, and even devils with pitchforks.

The developing art of fancy cancels found their high point in Waterbury, Connecticut where new cancels were created for every holiday and special occasions. The "Waterbury Running Chicken" cancel, which was probably actually a turkey since it appeared close to Thanksgiving of 1869, was in use for only a few days and is now the most prized of all 19th century cancels, with covers fetching very high prices.

The Fancy Cancels that we list on our website include some of the artistic high points of stars, cogwheels, crosses, pies, grills, concentric and bull’s-eyes, plus some early, plainer cork cancels and a few pen cancels. These later examples are outside the range of what a purest would call a fancy cancel, but are of the era and we include them, priced accordingly.

Of course, the treasures are the fancy cancels that are intact on the full cover as originally mailed. We are very pleased with the selection of these cancels, but maintaining a fresh stock is difficult as they are in strong demand and not readily available except in the occasion auction. Collect cancels for the sake of cancels, or seek out stamps with interesting cancels when filling spaces in your album and the result is an interesting collection with personality.

Enjoy our complete stock at