Mike Mellone: An Appreciation

by Lloyd A. de Vries
The Virtual Stamp Club

If you collect first day covers in the U.S., you owe Michael A. Mellone a debt of gratitude. Maybe two debts of gratitude: He helped establish independent shows for first day cover collecting, and wrote and published the catalogues that made it possible to identify and systematically collect cachets.

He passed away February 12, 2018, in West Palm Beach, Florida, at the age of 72.

For nearly two decades, Mike guided the annual shows and conventions of the American First Day Cover Society. He and his promoter partner Steve Ritzer produced two of the society’s first standalone conventions in the “modern” era, in 1986 in Morristown, N.J., and in 1988 at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, Calif.

In 1992, with Ritzer providing behind-the-scenes support, Mellone produced the AFDCS Cover Fest in Columbus, Ohio. Steve Ripley was the wacky chairman and programmer, but Mellone handled logistics: Finding and checking out hotels, selling and setting up the bourse, and all the myriad details necessary for a successful show.

The following year, Mellone and Ripley called the AFDCS show “Americover.”

On the right, Mike looks puzzled after the Stamford Marriott, where Americover 2007 had just begun, is evacuated because of a fire. His assistant, later his wife, Dottie Graf is with him.

The significance is that, until these shows, the AFDCS was a guest at someone else’s party. Space for first day cover exhibits and dealer booths was limited. The hosts even controlled the events the AFDCS could hold.

Along the way, Mellone and friends invented the cachetmakers bourse, where the people who design first day covers could sell their products at a reduced-price for tables. It came about at the 1986 show, after cachetmakers and other small dealers took over the hospitality suites at earlier conventions to sell FDCs, pushing out collectors who simply wanted to sit around, eat, drink and talk.

Earl Planty, a business professor, was the first to catalogue different cachets for early first day covers, identifying them, assigning a catalogue number, and even assigning a value. Mellone, however, as they say in football, “took the ball and ran with it.”

First, he added photographs of the different cachets to make identification easier. Instead of parsing a written description, collectors could compare what they had to the pictures. He also expanded Planty’s listings, adding dozens of cachets for those issues.

Then Mellone went a step further: He added issues, first for the 1930s and eventually for nearly every issue through the 1960s.

The first Mellone Photo-Encyclopedia appeared in 1976. It was no coincidence that within a few years, first day covers were one of the hottest specialties in philately.

A collector of a specific issue now knew not only what he or she had, but what he or she didn’t have. “You have a Crosby for that issue? There are five different Crosbys for it, and here is what you’re missing.” Many collectors then made an effort to buy the missing covers. That increased sales, which in turn increased dealers’ interest in acquiring FDCs for sale. Prices rose. Interest increased.

Also helping increase the interest in FDCs was his pocket catalogue. It was first titled Discovering the Fun in First Day Covers, with a license from Scott Publishing Co. to use its catalogue numbers. After a few years, Discovering became the Scott Catalogue of U.S. First Day Covers, with introductory material on collecting, identifying and valuing FDCs that Mellone had written. (Scott discontinued publication of the catalogue after the 2009 edition.)

Mellone’s F.D.C. Publishing Company also produced books and catalogues on other FDC-related subjects, encouraging research and scholarship in the specialty. It also printed 3″x5″ inventory cards for first day cover collections; I still have mine!

Mellone revised the 1930s catalogue, and extended it earlier, into the 1920s. He never got around to doing more with the other decades than reprinting them. Publishing the catalogues was expensive and time-consuming, and he told me he didn’t make much money on them, if any.

Above, Mike receives an Honorary Life Membership in 2005 from AFDCS president Tom Foust, while Dottie gets her HLM from board chairman Dick Monty.

Mike was shy and preferred to work in the background: Steve Ritzer and Steve Ripley were his “front men,” glad-handing and interacting with the public. At some of the shows he produced alone, after splitting with Ritzer, he even asked me to make the public address announcements for him. Mike did the physical work.

This summer, at Americover 2018, as you walk through the cachetmakers and dealers bourses, checking your photo-encyclopedia, take a moment to think of Mike Mellone.

CBS Radio Stamp Collecting Feature Ends

by Lloyd A. de Vries

The CBS version of my weekly radio stamp collecting feature will end on the final day of 2017. CBS News, Radio, has canceled the feature, saying no station was playing it anymore. (That may be news to friends who say they were hearing it every Sunday morning on KNX Los Angeles.)

It debuted April 4, 1997, and has been a part of the Weekend Feature Package offered to CBS Radio Network stations ever since. In its 20¾ years, there were only five repeats! And all 1,000+ ran between 59 and 61 seconds.

Since 1999, a version of the feature has also been available on my website, The Virtual Stamp Club. Eventually, there were two basic versions every week: The minute-long piece, for CBS and breaks in the web-radio show “APS StampTalk;” and a version that was often longer, which ran on VSC and KNLS, an evangelical shortwave service.

The pieces were always written for a mass audience, not stamp collectors, and rarely used philatelic jargon. In fact, they rarely used “philatelic” — making it hard to talk about the bigest stamp collecting organization in the U.S., the American PHILATELIC Society! It was kept to one minute, so that commercial radio stations would run it.

On the left, as I interviewed the head of Scott Publishing for radio, he snapped a picture of me for Scott Stamp Monthly.

Nearly all the pieces were positive and upbeat. The major exceptions were a few complaining about the U.S. Postal Service, which every collector of modern U.S. stamps does.

On the right, I interviewed supermodel Heidi Klum in 2002.

My plans for “the feature” aren’t firm at this point, but I do intend to continue it on The Virtual Stamp Club site. However, I’m not sure it will remain weekly.

I won’t miss the pressure of having to have a new piece (and a new subject) every Thursday morning, or producing features in advance if I were traveling. On the other hand, I had a great deal of fun with them and they were often more creative than my “day job” radio work.


Servicing Your Own Canadian FDCs

by Lloyd A. de Vries

Although Canada Post produces its own cachets, such as the one shown on the right, it is possible for individuals to submit their own covers.

However, there are some notable differences from how the U.S. Postal Service services customers’ own FDCs.

On the left is shown a Dragon Card produced by me for the same issue and submitted to Canada Post for servicing.

Like the USPS, Canada Post gives collectors (servicers) a 60-day grace period, and sufficient postage must be affixed to meet current mailing rates. If the FDCs are being returned in another envelope, that means the first-class domestic rate. If the FDCs are being mailed individually, then the current rates prevail.

All FDCs for servicing, however, are submitted to the FDC canceling unit at The National Philatelic Center, 1-133 Church Street, Antigonish, NS B2G 2R8, not to the first-day cities.

There is a charge for all cancellations: 15 cents if the stamp or stamps are already affixed, 20 cents if the stamp or stamps need to be affixed (plus the cost of the stamps), and Canada Post will even supply an uncacheted envelope, for 25 cents plus the price of the stamps. Several sizes of envelopes are available, too.

Canada Post will not cancel covers that “bear foreign postage or previous cancellations.” That means no combination FDCs with another country’s stamps, such as the 1999 U.S. Star Trek stamp (Sc. 3188e). Earlier Canadian stamps are acceptable for combos.

However, a dual-canceled U.S./Canada FDC is possible, if the Canadian stamps and cancel are applied first. That was easy with several months between the Star Trek stamps. Some planning is required, however, if the U.S. stamp is issued first or on the same day.

Canada strongly prefers that its stamps be in the traditional upper right corner, but is flexible.

Canada Post produces its own cacheted FDCs, and they are quite attractive. Amateur cachetmakers intending their FDCs for sale will be competing against professionals. Also, the “OFDC,” as they’re called, often have cancellation varieties that are not available to private servicers. The gold postmark for No. 2 Construction Battalion was only available on the official FDC, shown in the illustration. These OFDCs are produced and serviced by another unit of Canada Post.

There is no minimum number that must be submitted, and no difference in procedures between dealers and individuals. All orders must be paid by credit card, which takes care of currency conversion. Currently, the Canadian dollar is around 80 percent of the U.S. dollar.

The Stamp Collecting Guessing Games

by Lloyd A. de Vries

Both the U.S. and Canada have been teasing with the subjects and designs for two multi-stamp issues coming out this year: The U.S. for its National Park Service Centennial set and Canada Post for “Star Trek.”

cantrek_kirkEach country is handling this differently: The USPS told us in advance there would be 16 stamps, and one would be “unveiled” each weekday starting April 4th. Canada Post has not told us how many “Star Trek” stamps there will be, and the “unveilings” are at no set interval. The USPS Parks are announced in a press release; Canada Post seems to be creating “photo ops” for each announcement.

s_parksmtrainierMy first reaction (kept mostly to myself) was, “Aw, c’mon, just give us the *(&^@! information.” But as we’ve gone along with the announcements, and posted them one-by-one on The Virtual Stamp Club website, I’ve found myself enjoying it, particularly trying to guess what subjects are next.

The U.S. Parks were announced in alphabetical order. I was hoping for Great Falls in Paterson, NJ, one of the newest National Parks, and I was sure the Statue of Liberty would be included — after all, Lady Liberty is the symbol of World Stamp s_parkacadiaShow-New York 2016, at which the stamps are being issued. I was wrong on both, although I was fairly sure Yellowstone would be the 16th subject announced, and it was.

cantrek_mccoyWhen I saw that one of the Canadian stamps would show “Star Trek” star William Shatner, a Canadian, I was also fairly sure another Canadian in the cast, James “Scotty” Doohan would be honored, and I was right. The Spock (Leonard Nimoy) stamp made me suspect a DeForrest Kelley stamp was coming; it is.

Kelley was born in Atlanta, Nimoy in Boston, so the hangar deck doors have been opened to other non-Canadians. If a supporting character like Scotty is included, can Sulu, Uhura and maybe Chekov be excluded? How about Majel Barrett, who was associated with “Star Trek” longer than any other actor. She appeared in all five of the TV series (including the pilot, which was nixed by NBC), was married to creator Gene Roddenberry, and supplied the computer voice.

Oops, there I go again, speculating on who will be in the set.

I’m having fun! And isn’t that a good part of what stamp collecting is about?

Whatever Happened to Mom’s Collection?

mom2000My mother, Sally de Vries, passed away on February 9, 2016, after a battle with cancer. She was two weeks short of her 89th birthday.

Both my parents were stamp collectors; my father was the more serious of the two. I never asked whether Mom collected before she met and married Dad. I do know her brother made a point of using the latest commemoratives on his law office mail, so there was at least some interesting in stamps elsewhere in the family.

Several years before she died, Mom gave me her stamp collection. It was nearly all mint U.S. plate blocks. Experienced collectors — whether their specialties include U.S. late 20th century or not — know that owners are lucky to get face value for such collections. A few issues are worth a premium, the rest, much, much less.

Mom told me to take care of her collection, because it was worth a lot of money. I said something noncommittal, and put away the collection. She also said that about a number of other collectibles she had. A few weeks before she died, she said my father’s violin was a valuable instrument and I should have it insured.

I pointed out that I had it on display in my office, but one of the last times Dad tried to play it, in the 1970s, the bridge broke off. That’s the piece that holds the strings away from the instrument’s body. Instead of taking it to a repair shop, he glued it back in place himself. The next time he took it out, it broke off again. As far as I know, he never tried to play it again. Unless it says “Stradivarius” inside, the baggage labels on the case from his trip away from the Holocaust are probably worth more than the violin inside.

Everything Mother had, though, was “valuable” and a collectible. Some may actually be so.

(I don’t think Dad’s collection, mostly used stamps from the Low Countries mounted in albums, is worth much either. I said “more serious,” not “serious.” But I mean to check one of these days.)

However, a year or so after she gave me her collection, I bought a discount postage lot. Those are mint U.S. stamps that are still valid for postage (every U.S. stamp since 1861) that dealers have gleaned from collections, and sold to mailers at a discount off face value. For my Dragon Cards FDC sales, I use a fair amount of discount postage. My “flats” (large envelopes) require extra postage, and certainly anything going outside the U.S. does.

Not only does discount postage save me money, but my customers and other collectors receiving mail from me appreciate the older stamps.

As I went through that discount postage lot, I realized that nearly every issue in it was in my mother’s collection, and vice versa. At some point, that was going to be the fate of Mom’s stamps, whether I sold it or my heirs did: Discount postage.

So I cut out the middleman, and the next time I needed more postage, I used Mom’s stamps. They made me happy, they made some of the people receiving my mail happy and, if the stamps were clipped off the mail for donation to stamp charities, they will make those collectors happy, too.

I never told Mom, though.

If she finds out now and gives me a tongue-lashing, it’ll be worth it.

End of an Era: ArtCraft Cachets Discontinued

by Lloyd A. de Vries
Manager, The Virtual Stamp Club

ac_39fair_vscThe 1939 New York World’s Fair stamps was the first ArtCraft cachet.

The 2015 Geometric Snowflakes was the last.

In January 2016, Washington Stamp Exchange “concluded that the decreasing volume of sales could no longer sustain the high costs of production.”

Each modern ArtCraft cachet required two printing processes, applied in different facilities: The color was lithography, the lettering was engraving.

Engraved printing is expensive, but “We like the engraved look,” Washington Press president Mike August, told The Virtual Stamp Club in a 2014 interview. “It’s a signature of what we’ve produced for 75 years.”

ac_wssnyc16_vsc“We certainly want to maintain that connection with our heritage and our legacy,” added co-owner Tim Devaney. “It began with engraving, we still use engraving as an integral part of our product.”

Founder Leo August (Tim Devaney’s father-in-law) first began producing cachets in the late 1920s for flight covers, when the Newark Chamber of Commerce and city government didn’t want to be bothered with collector requests. By the early 1930s, brother Sam (Michael’s father) had joined the business and WSE had branched out to include first day covers under the trade name “WSE” and others.

ac_sweden_joint_vscIn a 1973 interview for the American First Day Cover Society archives, the brother told interviewer Curtis Patterson they couldn’t afford to license the use of the fair’s symbols, the Trylon and Perisphere.

However, Woodbury Engraving, which specialized in engraved stationery for businesses and had been printing envelopes for WSE, did have the rights to use the symbols, and ArtCraft was able to use the Woodbury design shown here.

ac_tedwms1_vscWoodbury printed every ArtCraft cachet from that first issue through the West Point issue in 2001 (Sc. 3560).

ArtCraft wasn’t the first commercially-produced FDC cachet, and there are arguments whether it lasted longer than any other. However, it was certainly the longest ever produced by the same family or company.

ArtCraft was one of the few cachetmakers producing designs for every U.S. issue and also possibly the only one still selling unserviced cacheted envelopes. Both were available individually or through subscriptions.

VSC has been told that FDC dealer Marilyn Nowak is taking over the subscriptions, using cachets produced by Panda Cachets, owned by Rollin Berger. Berger confirmed online that he is producing cachets for at least two companies formerly served by ArtCraft.

ac_simpsons2The January announcement only affects ArtCraft Cachets for new issues. “Contrary to rumors currently circulating, Washington Press [the publishing arm of Washington Stamp Exchange] is not going out of business,” Devaney told The VSC in e-mail. The press release amplified that, saying that the company would continue to sell back issues, stamps and other collectibles, and produce White Ace stamp albums and StampMount mounts.

But no more new issue FDCs.

“Our conclusion was that producing new ArtCraft first day covers had been a burden on our resources for a several years and that we could not continue to do this,” Michael August posted online.

• • •


ArtCraft was, in some ways, the victim of its own success. WSE did such a good job of selling the serviced and unserviced FDCs, both to collectors and to mass marketers, that they became common. Every first day cover collection had or had had some. Dealers offered pennies on the dollar for them, knowing there would be more available whenever they wanted them. Experienced collectors skipped them, knowing there would be more available whenever they wanted them.

There were probably other factors at work: The U.S. Postal Service is issuing more “face-different” stamps than ever, and more sets: 20 Harry Potter, 10 “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” 10 Songbirds, 8 Vintage Circus Posters, 20 Pets in 2016 and so on. ArtCraft had a commitment to produce a cachet for every U.S. issue.

The Postal Service also hasn’t been as forthcoming with advance information about new issues in recent years. For many cachetmakers, that means rushing cachet design development and production. It can add to the expenses for a commercial concern.

ac_celebrate1More and more U.S. new issues (and those of other countries) depict commercial properties, such as celebrities, cartoon characters, and other pop culture. Their likenesses and sometimes even names should not be used without obtaining (i.e., buying) a license. Most collectors, especially non-philatelists, don’t want a generic design, they want to see Han Solo or Professor Dumbledore or 1948 Ford F-1 pickup or whatever. An individual cachetmaker producing a few dozen FDCs might get away with violating a copyright; a commercial entity producing thousands is more of a target.

ac_hpotter1_vscArtCraft was also slow to adopt color. Collectors began to favor hand-painted and –colored cachets or those produced using color inkjet computer printers.

And finally, ArtCraft may also have been hiding its light under a bushel. Those of us who saw ArtCraft’s current cachets at Americover 2014 were amazed at how good they were. Yet the company’s ads in First Days and elsewhere featured very small pictures of recent FDCs — easy to skip over or miss.

Like many FDC collectors upon hearing this news, I feel a little guilty: I could have, perhaps should have, subscribed to ArtCraft after seeing its work at Americover 2014. But I’m not sure it would have made a difference.

Star Wars Disappointment (non-philatelic)

UK_SW_Boba Fett_lowThis has nothing to do with stamps, unless I throw in that Great Britain earlier this year issued Star Wars stamps to commemorate (hype?) the new film The Force Awakens. (Illustration of one is on the right.)

And Here Be Spoilers, so don’t read any further if you don’t want to know more… although I won’t reveal the big surprise.

At any rate, I saw the new film, and I liked it. It was fun. But I was still disappointed.

I am a voracious reader of science fiction and fantasy. I have read most, but not all, of the authorized Star Wars novels that picked up after Episode VI (Revenge of The Jedi). (A few took place in the same time period or before the original film, but most came after VI.) I saw the original Star Wars film in a movie theater in 1977.

So why was I disappointed?

As most critics said, “it has everything the fans wanted” — that is, there’s very little new in it.

Spaceship dogfights with flying sideways through tight spaces, check. Cantina with weird aliens, check. Battle to the death on a high catwalk? Check. Big fiery explosion of a huge spherical weapon? Check. Thin old man with close-cropped gray beard, being wise? UK_SW_Stormtrooper_lowCheck. One last remaining Jedi, living alone in a remote location? Check. Good-guy fighter pilots, shown in closeup wearing orange jump suits? Check. The top, ultimate leader of the Bad Guys who is deformed and makes Lord Voldemort look like a male model? Check. Faceless soldiers in white plastic armor? Check. I mean, it’s 30 years later: What are the chances this New Order is going to have exactly the same armor and officers’ uniforms as the old evil Empire that is in the earlier films?

What new dictator or repressive regime says, “I’m a dictator and evil, so I have to dress like someone who is evil and have soldiers wearing the uniforms of an evil regime?”

What happened to the New Republican that Leia and others were forming 30 years earlier? Surely there would be some vestige of that government. In “Force,” the Resistance is still hiding out, living on snowy planets.

I know that there are certain forms that must be followed in a Star Wars movie: Han Solo must say, “I have a bad feeling about this.” There has to be a lightsabre fight. The bad guys have to be really, really evil. There has to be a space battle.

It was all done well, it was a good 2½ hours, but it didn’t break any much new ground. (The major exception is a Storm Trooper with a conscience.) The post-Episode VI novels that J.J. Abrams and Disney threw away had much more interesting stories. They were all tightly supervised by LucasFilm, so that they conformed with George Lucas’ vision, and I can’t believe LucasFilm (that is, Disney now) doesn’t have rights to them.

“Force” delivers. But it could have been more. With all the hype, I expected more.

LloydBlog: Changes To The Radio Feature

sabrinapix_lloydThe CBS Radio News Stamp Collecting Report is undergoing its first major change in many years: It now includes a “promo” (promotional announcement) for The Virtual Stamp Club, and CBS is no longer paying me for it.

Some background: The Report began April 4, 1997, as a weekend feature distributed by CBS News, Radio (that is, the radio department of CBS News, as opposed to the news department of CBS Radio, which doesn’t exist) free to affiliated stations. At the time, I was the producer of the weekend features, and had lobbied for more than a year to produce and voice a stamp collecting feature.

The acceptance of the feature by CBS News marked my return to on-air status. I was paid the minimum “talent fee” as stipulated by the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, which I believe was then $25 or so and is now $28.25.

LloydMike2Although the weekend features distributed to stations varied greatly in length, I decided to make the CBS Stamp Collecting Report always be one minute in length, because I realized that philately would be a tough sell on commercial radio, and I wanted to make it as easy to use as possible. Every one of the nearly 1,000 reports has been between 59 and 61 seconds.

[That’s me interviewing Scott Publishing Co. president Stu Morrissey in 2000; he took the photo.]

A few years later, I began (with permission) to put them on The Virtual Stamp Club’s website. Eventually, I sometimes decided there was more to say than could be squeezed into 60 seconds, and I produced a longer, often more slowly read, version for The VSC. A version of the short edition was also provided to APS Stamp Talk, and a version of the long one to KNLS Radio, a Christian evangelical radio operation that has a hobby show.

The feature paved the way for me to provide “spots” (short news reports of 30 seconds or less) for CBS News Radio, for which I was also paid.

mike3Now to the 2015 events: I am still an active broadcast journalist, but practically all my work is as a per diem (freelancer) at ABC News. (CBSNews.com laid me off in December 2007.) At age 62, it seemed like a good time to start collecting my CBS pension. I haven’t worked for CBS in 3½ years.

Except for the radio pieces. CBS considers them “employment,” and I cannot collect the pension as long as I am “employed.” After several months of arguing fruitlessly and frustratingly with the benefits subcontractor, and getting different answers from each person to whom I spoke, I gave in. I was “terminated” on September 21, 2015.

After six months, I can again be employed by CBS.

In the meantime, though, I can’t be paid for radio pieces, and, as a broadcasting professional, I won’t work for a major network for free. The spot reports, heard in newscasts, are done (at least until next spring).

LloydHeidi1But the feature? I really enjoyed doing them. As the producer, I could do whatever I wanted (within the rules of CBS News), and I daresay it was some of the most creative work I have done in radio news: Music, audio mixes, interviews, even humorous writing. I had fun.

[That’s me on the left interviewing supermodel Heidi Klum in 2002, when IGPC-client Grenada issued stamps honoring her.]

I was also proud of them: In something like 960 weeks, there were only six repeats. I believe “The Stamp Collecting Report” is the longest-running network radio feature on philately ever.

So I worked out a deal: I will produce the features on a weekly basis, as before, but with that promo in them. I’m no longer a “CBS News Reporter” (CBS News is big on titles; “correspondent” is a higher rank there) and instead of “Lloyd de Vries, CBS News” it’s now “Lloyd de Vries, for CBS News.” You can hear the first of the new version here.

It’s not the first major change in format, or even the most-major change: When the Report started, I tried to include that weekend’s major stamp shows, but that ate up a lot of time, and I had discovered that at least one station was saving the features and running an entire month’s output on one night.

And it may not be the last. As they say in radio, “Stay tuned.”

Humor In First Day Covers

VSC columnist John Hotchner wrote recently that stamp collectors should “lighten up” and have more fun.

“Stamp collecting is supposed to be fun, a respite from the serious matters that make up our normal day-to-day. Part of that fun is humor”

I’ve always enjoyed humorous first day covers, and I thought I’d share a few in my collection with you. They’re not all knee-slappers; some just bring a smile to my face, and hopefully, yours, too.fromme_wile1Many collectors were less than impressed with the 2015 “From Me To You” stamp design, which obviously came from the Acme Stamp Design Co. Cachetmaker John Colasanti put his disdain into this cachet. fromme_beatles1Cachetmaker Cuv Evanson picked up on the “inspiration” for the issue’s name.

ac_celebrate1Look carefully at some of the over-the-top philatelic activities depicted in this ArtCraft cachet. “From ArtCraft? The 76-year-old Great Gray Lady of cachetmakers?” That alone makes me smile. callehotsauce1One of those men in this cachet is popular philatelic columnist Wayne Youngblood. It’s part of a long-running inside joke among a group of about a dozen philatelists who attend most of the American Philatelic Society-sponsored shows. (Wayne shows this FDC in his article on hot peppers on stamps in the May issue of American Philatelist.) aps_benhb3aI don’t think professional animated cartoonist Dave Bennett has ever created a cachet that wasn’t whimsical. His homage to Jules Verne is one of the few without an anthropomorphic bird or animal (unless you count the bird perched on Jules’ birthday cake). landsendSometimes the humor is provided by the object that becomes the FDC. Like many FDCs, this one came in the mail — just the order was reversed. vinegar1Gen. Joseph Stilwell was nicknamed “Vinegar Joe.” bottlefdc03abottlefdc04aThen-Linn’s associate editor Jay Bigalke went to a tropical island for a first day ceremony, and couldn’t resist sending some of us a note in a bottle — with first-day postmark, of course. stick Cuv Evanson’s good friend and fellow cachetmaker Pete McClure noticed everything at his state fair was served on a stick — ice cream, hot dogs, spaghetti — and figured, “Why not?” (And, yes, this one isn’t a first day cover.) nakanotrek1Hideaki Nakano has a wicked sense of humor (see the next entry) that is often off-the-wall. By the way, I used this FDC as an illustration for a column in Stamp Collector newspaper, back in the day when we had to send the actual covers for illustration. I didn’t get it back right away. My editor told me later that the staff had considered keeping it and, if I asked, telling me it was lost in the mail. GSnakIn 1987, the Girl Scouts USA warned cachetmakers not to use the name of the organization of its logo/emblem or face cutoff of their Girl Scout cookies or something. Hideaki took the dare.

DgnDaffy1My own entry into intellectual property-generated sarcasm came about after Warner Bros. and I had a falling out over my Tweety and Sylvester design. Warners yanked my license. (It helpth… sorry, helps if you read the text out loud.) To this day, if you buy one of these Cards, I will throw in a Daffy Duck sticker that you might want to put in the empty box. But I won’t affix it for you, because that would be infringing on the Looney Tunes copyright.

Cleanup In Aisle 4!

by Lloyd A. de Vries, Manager
The Virtual Stamp Club

s_wse2016We had a meltdown this week in The Virtual Stamp Club’s Facebook Group, the likes of which I hadn’t seen since the days of the DelphiForums message board. Stamp society politics? Shady business practices? Nope. It started over the designs of the U.S. stamps promoting World Stamp Show-New York 2016 (shown here).

I wrote about the controversy, and some of the disappointment in the designs, in this weekend’s radio feature. You can read the script and listen to the VSC version here. However, there’s just so much I can cram into a 60-second audio feature or even the slightly longer version on this website.

Because there are some issues with this stamp design that go beyond art.

One is that you can’t please everyone. They may not know art, but they know what they like. For many collectors, this wasn’t it. For others, it was.

sabrinapix_lloydAnother problem is that the U.S. Postal Service design folks are making assumptions about what stamp collectors want without really knowing what stamp collectors want, or asking. Yes, there are some serious stamp collectors on the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee, but I don’t know how much input they had, or, frankly, whether they would tell Postal Service design professionals they didn’t like a design. The majority of CSAC members are not stamp collectors.

But the biggest problem may be that there are two distinct groups of stamp collectors reacting to this design: Collectors of high-end classic stamps and those who like modern issues, especially the pop culture subjects. These two groups don’t mix well, or often. The former doesn’t spend as much time online, and when they do, it’s often in small, clubby discussion areas, with restricted memberships and subject matter. The latter hang out in mass-market forums like Facebook. Members of the two groups may spend about the same on their collections, but the former spend more per stamp or cover.

The NYC 2016 show is definitely under the control of the former group. In fact, its leadership is almost entirely drawn from the Collectors Club of New York. Some of NYC 2016’s officials have told me privately, in other contexts, they don’t care to “get into it” online, where tempers often get hot and some participants can hide behind their computer monitors. The online world can be rather “bare knuckle.”

My guess is that this stamp design was tailored to the classic collectors, not the much larger group of modern-issue casual collectors. There is nothing wrong with that. It just means that this stamp design won’t appeal to the majority of collectors and non-collectors who just like interesting stamps.

As I said, you can’t please everyone.

The only question I have is, what is the purpose of these stamps? To reassure the show’s organizers about their relationship with the Postal Service, or to promote the show to people who might not know about it?

On the other hand, how many people these days see stamps on their mail? Or even see much mail? The full pane of 20 stamps, at least, gives the dates of the show, and more people are likely to see the full pane than one of these stamps on their mail.