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"Time" Frequently Adds Value
By John L. Leszak

Philately essentially has two types of desirable material that will command strong prices realized. The first type of material consists of the traditional items like a set of Zeppelins, classic postal history and items of unique quality and vintage. These items are limited, and demand for quality and scarcity maintains and influences their strong resale prices.

The second type of material that commands a strong resale value are the fad items. One day these items are popular and the demand often outweighs the supply, In the blink of an eye however, popular favor sways to the next new fad item. Once the luster wears off a fad item, it becomes a philatelic albatross.

Philatelic fad items truly came into vogue during the 1960s Here are some examples of 1960s philatelic fad items that have crept into the marketplace over the years. In the 1960s, the philatelic world could not get enough stamps honoring John F. Kennedy, the Space Program, emerging African Nations, the Vatican and the United Nations. A quarter century later, in the late 1980's, these items started to appear in the philatelic market place in droves because all their original owners were passing on to their eternal reward.

I remember a dealer in the Midwest who wanted to sell me a 3,600-pound lot of covers that consisted of United Nations FDCs, space covers, and Vatican covers. His asking price was $3,500, or as he put it, "less than a dime per pound." The 3,600 pounds translated roughly into 36,000 covers, or less than one cent per cover. I passed on the lot because I had a glut of such items. A few months later, I learned that the 3,600-pound lot was actually carved out of a much larger lot of the same material. Depending on who told the story, the enormous "mother lot" of 1960s cover weighed in around 10 tons. For several years thereafter, chunks of this lot were melded into cover auction lots to add bulk. It was difficult to buy a cover lot that didn't have part of this lot mixed in.

Here we are in the year 2010, and some of the stuff that was once part of the 10-ton lot is now in demand by new philatelic aspirants. Dealers who once chided auction firms for blending in these surplus covers are now checking their own junk boxes to see if they can uncover any hidden gems.

One of my dealer friends told me that he combed through his junk boxes for unusual United Nations color cachets from the 1960s and located several hundred items for immediate resale. He related that he pulled the covers out of his 50-cent box one morning before the opening of a major stamp show. He sleeved them, priced them at $5 each, and they were all sold before he closed up on Sunday. He was grateful that the sale of these covers resulted in a little over 80 percent of his sales for the entire show!

Another dealer friend told me how he has been slowly listing 1960s space covers from his dollar box of covers on the Internet. He tells me that some of the covers have fetched in excess of $25 each! He called me last week to exclaim, "The cover world has gone mad! They only buy junk!"

Several of my dealer friends have kidded me that if I only had the foresight to buy that 3,600-pound lot of covers for $3,500 all those years ago, it might've parlayed into a million dollar inventory today. Hindsight always has a touch of romantic speculation. I never regret passing on the lot, and still get a chuckle when I can still find small segments of it at stamp shows in junk boxes. Sometimes I pick out a few, and some times I stand back and shake my head and muse, "If all those Internet buyers truly knew the enormity of the original hoard, their generous bids would soon diminish."

I like to explain to my friends that nearly 50 years have elapsed since some of the covers in that 10-ton hoard were created. It's been a quarter century since the same type of covers were a drug on the market. At least two philatelic generations have passed since the first covers were churned out! The time has come for these covers to be "re-discovered" by a new generation of collectors.

After experiencing a dormant stretch, the fad covers are now in their Renaissance years. It only proves that every philatelic item, no matter how "ordinary" it may seem, will eventually find a buyer. What is shunned by one generation may be the most sought after prize two generations later.

It's ironic how the generational philatelic ebb and flow works. When that 10-ton lot of 1960s covers was slowly slithering into the auction lots, the philatelic world was embracing such things as National Air Mail Week covers, 1937 Coronation covers and sets of Farley's National Parks FDCs. I recall speaking to the late Don Graf, who was the dean of cover enthusiasts during my fledgling days as a dealer. He'd often say, "John, I don't want to load you up with too many of these covers. You're a young man, and there's no market for these items." He thought little of the 1930s items because he had carried them for nearly a half a century. I perceived the covers to be fascinating, since I found them to be fresh and intriguing. Now, a couple of generation later, new collectors have the very same outlook about fad covers from the early 1960s.

Andy Warhol once remarked that everyone is entitled to "15 minutes of fame." I often think about that when it comes to fad covers. The only difference is that the fad covers seem to have a recurring 15 minutes of fame from generation to generation. No, the fad covers will never hold the same esteem as classic covers such as Zeppelins; there are simply too many fad covers in existence. However, the fad covers will, from time to time, ascend to popularity and value until the next retro wave of fad covers washes up on the philatelic beach.

In a larger sense, it really doesn't matter when it comes to value of vintage in this glorious hobby. All that really matters is that people find philatelic items to be a source of joy and happiness. If covers that one sold in bulk for less than a dime a pound a quarter century ago are now desirable, who am I to argue?

A few months ago, I listened to a lady who was totally thrilled that she had purchased some Project Gemini covers on the Internet. She showed them to me with great pride and remarked: "Can you believe that they're in such pristine condition? It looks like they were just made yesterday!" I didn't want to burst her bubble and shared in her joy. In the back of my mind, I thought about the 10-ton hoard, and before reality set in, it really did seem that the covers were "made yesterday."

© John L. Leszak. All rights reserved. Published on The Virtual Stamp Club by permission.

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