Leo August 1914-1997
Washington Press/ArtCraft founder Leo August died December 4 at the age of 83. He had been suffering from respiratory problems, which led to his death.
The firm, founded in 1933 by Leo and his brother Sam in Newark, NJ, as the Washington Stamp Exchange, will continue to operate under the leadership of his son-in-law Tim Devaney and nephew Michael.
Sam August, Michael's father, passed away in 1989.
Washington Stamp Exchange/Washington Press/ArtCraft produced albums and album pages, and sold stamps and first day covers.
ArtCraft began in 1939 with the New York World's Fair issue. While some might argue the advertising slogan "the world's most honored cachet," there is certainly no question ArtCraft was the world's most successful, with thousands of copies printed and serviced for every issue. Many stamp stores well into the 1970s would carry unserviced ArtCraft envelopes for upcoming issues. ArtCraft cachets became the standard against which other FDCs were measured. There are very few collectors of U.S. first day covers who didn't start with ArtCraft.
Devaney tells the Virtual Stamp Club the August brothers cited A.C. Roessler, the stamp dealer and cover pioneer in Newark, NJ, as their inspiration, and Leo would tell his son-in-law about hiding under the covers of his bed as a boy, looking at the Roessler pricelist with a flashlight.
Gerald Strauss, one of the founders of the American First Day Cover Society, remembers Leo August as a major philatelic philanthropist.
His relationship with the Washington Stamp Exchange founder began in 1955 while a student at the University of Pennsylvania. He and fellow student Norman Lee wanted to start a national FDC organization, so he wrote August and was invited to visit in Newark, NJ.
"The first thing he said to me was 'Call me Leo,' and that set the tone for the next 42 years," Strauss told the Virtual Stamp Club. "They were family."
According to Strauss, August offered to financially support the new organization, but quietly so it wouldn't appear to be a commercial front for his firm. He also developed the logo that's still used by the American First Day Cover Society, says Strauss.
Besides start-up money, August printed the first issues of FIRST DAYS, the official journal of the American First Day Cover Society (and then just a newsletter, not the full-fledged magazine it is today), and gave Strauss and Lee part of the WSE booth at the November 1955 New York City Armory show, where they signed up some of the first members of the new AFDCS.
Then he bought the Society a table at the American Stamp Dealers Association show in Chicago and another for the group at FIPEX, the international show in New York in 1956.
The fledgling society also held meetings at the Collectors Club of New York building. "All of this happened because Leo got us started and told people we were okay," Strauss told the Virtual Stamp Club. "He introduced us to all the key people."
And Washington Press/ArtCraft has always had an ad on the back cover of FIRST DAYS for as long as the publication has accepted advertising. There have been offers to pay more, but Leo August's firm has "dibs."
The firm often takes the back page in many publications whose exposure probably doesn't make the cost of the ad worthwhile: Show programs, small society journals, and so on. And August knew the ads wouldn't pull their weight in sales.
August's philatelic largesse wasn't limited to the AFDCS or small groups. Strauss says Leo August helped fund August Hall, the auditorium at American Philatelic Society headquarters, the American Philatelic Research Librarian's office, and the recent exhibition of Jenny inverts at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum.
According to Strauss, August contracted polio at the age of 3 and walked with braces. I remember some stamp dealers telling me August must have been tight with a dollar - in contrast with the stories above - because at major stamps shows where Washington Press/ArtCraft had a booth, he sat with the cash box, but Strauss says in a crowded stamp show booth, someone had to act as cashier. Since August couldn't stand or walk well and wait on the customers, it was natural that he stayed with the cashbox.
August continued to spend time at the office, Strauss says, until shortly before he entered St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, NJ, for the last time, and "he was still a great idea man."
And an uncanny businessman. Strauss, son-in-law Tim Devaney and nephew Michael August wanted to print a large number of the Pacific 97 philatelic passports, but August insisted upon a smaller number - and Strauss says he was almost right on the money. "We had very few left over."
ArtCraft's influence on first day covers is evident in the many imitators and the many cachet tradenames that end with "Craft" - Cover Craft, Kolor Kraft, Smartcraft, and more.
He was touchy about the trend that began in the 1970s - led by business professor Earl Planty - to emphasize colorful, hand-produced first day covers over professionally-printed products like ArtCraft. "Leo thought ArtCraft was a quality product," Strauss told the Virtual Stamp Club. "I don't think it's too strong to say he had contempt" for some amateur-looking hand-produced cachets.
Contributions may be made in Leo August's name to the:
St. Barnabas Development Fund
94 Old Short Hills Road
Livingston, NJ 07039-5668.
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