Hotchner: Collecting to Sell

Collecting to Sell
By John M. Hotchner

I recently received a letter that threw me for a bit of a loop. I’m going to quote it below, edited a bit to eliminate repetition, and then make a few comments. Yours would be welcome also.

The Letter: “I’m not a dealer per se. I am for all practical purposes an accumulator. I buy what I can, U.S. issues only. My holdings gathered over the last 65 years are extensive. I have no need or desire or intention to sell anything. What I’m doing in increasing my holdings is easy-going and enjoyable.

“When I make a purchase, I weed out everything used that is not of collector grade: anything torn, creased, stained, or with short perfs I simply discard. I do so because no one will buy things in those categories. Thus, out it goes.

“For mint singles, blocks, etc., I do likewise, except that I use the pitch-outs for postage. Mostly with stuff like that I run into thins or disturbed gum as a disqualifier. As to centering, if it is only Fine — it goes into my scrap postage box.

“What upsets me most up here in the Midwest is that when one talks with a dealer about having them make an offer — they automatically tell you, ‘I’ve got all of that; not interested in buying any more, etc., etc.’ One cannot help but wonder how dealers stay in business without upgrading or expanding their own inventory.

“I bring this to your attention because of my experience at the American Philatelic Society stamp show in Milwaukee a few years ago. I approached the booth of a major national stamp retailer who does a lot of advertising, and talked to the owner. I asked him if he would be interested in buying my duplicates from the 1922 definitive issue?

“He told me, flat out, ‘No’…. Claimed they have all this stuff and would not be buying any more of it for the foreseeable future. Suggested I go and chat with another dealer present. I did and I purchased over $1000 worth of items for my personal holdings.

“Bottom line is when I returned home I ordered, from the national firm, a Scott #560 (8¢ Perf. 11×11, 1922) plate block, Mint, Never Hinged, in Very Fine to Extra Fine condition. I got an immediate reply saying that they have been unable to keep this in inventory for the past ten years. Just in case the reply was wrong, I tried again this past February. Same result, except that as a courtesy, they noted that had recently acquired some plate blocks of the 1922 issue, but they were only in Fine condition, and would I be interested? I would not.

“The point I make is this: Dealers and stamp company owners are for the most part totally unaware of what is actually happening with their own inventory; thus trying to deal with these people is a real — in your face — put down.

“However, if one works with their own holdings, we have a lot better idea of areas of weakness, and heavy duplication. Ignorance is expensive.

“Over the years I’ve read many offers to buy. One buyer from the Chicago area even sent a representative up for a look-see about 10 years ago. He was definitely interested, but not in paying a fair price. He wanted to steal my holdings at 9% of catalogue value. He had the grace to look insulted when I rejected his offer.

“Thus, I have decided to continue my efforts of accumulating, and at my demise, deed over to my son all of my philatelic holdings. What I’ve set aside for him will be used to augment his business as a dealer when he retires. For now he is a collector of mint singles, but then he will also have a large holding of high-grade plate blocks. By doing this, we will just bypass all the con artists.

“I don’t know for certain if I am doing right by pushing the dealer issue down the road one generation — but it sure feels right to me and to my son. I have found that the hobby is a great way to stay in touch as a family.”

My comments (addressed to readers, not the letter writer as we have had subsequent correspondence): While disclaiming any intention of selling anything, our letter writer has made movements in that direction, and did not like the responses he got, so walked away from the deal. In another effort in that direction, he was rebuffed by a dealership where one hand seems not to know what the other hand is doing, and that experience ticked him off. I can sympathize. My reading is that he came to the no-sell decision after the experiences he describes.

While he indicates that he has 1922 material to sell, that is the earliest he mentions, and two things occur to me. First, while there is some good material in that era, stamps and even plate blocks in premium condition starting in the late 1920s are not difficult to fnd; and not difficult for dealers to purchase in bulk at favorable prices. Secondly, it is possible that the dealer(s) assumed that the bulk of the material offered was from the later era, and truly did not fit in with their needs.

It is also possible that the dealer was put off by the manner of approach or another factor, and chose not to do business with the letter-writer.

Stockpiling material from the era where good quality is available in quantity (say much of the material from the late 1920s to modern times) is not a good investment strategy. Yes, some items, carefully selected from among the most often seen material, can be good for investment: unfolded booklet panes, some popular theme se-tenants like Space and Lighthouses; high face plate blocks, etc. are okay.

But the bottom dropped out of the plate block market many years ago in the 13¢ First Class era when the USPS tried to take advantage of the market by issuing 12-stamp plate blocks. It has never been restored to its former glory. Most from the 1940s on sell wholesale in the best circumstances at face, and even below. Consult catalogue prices to get an idea of what few plate blocks are more desirable.

However, if one is determined to invest, the same amount of money put into classic material will bring better rewards. You will have less material, but it will appreciate. And it will sell more readily, and for better prices. Remember this rule of thumb: “Common material remains common. Proven high quality/limited quantity material appreciates.”

On dealers’ buy offers, two things: One is that they are entitled to try to pay the lowest price they can get away with. Don’t you as a collector try to pay the lowest possible price for your acquisitions? Second, while I am not claiming that 9% is a fair figure (though it is understandable for mostly modern stamps/blocks that will retail for half cat. or less), keep in mind that dealers selling most modern material to knowledgeable collectors will not be able to get more than that, and may well get less; and they have their overhead to pay for. And, oh yes, the object is to make a profit. For example, how much does it cost them to send a representative to visit to review your material in your home and make an offer?

That said, the seller always has the ultimate power: You can always try to negotiate a better price, and failing that, you can refuse to sell.

Finally, on the subject of kicking the can down to the next generation, it seems like a good strategy in this case as the son intends to be a dealer, and will sell the high quality items at retail to collectors, while the father is selling to dealers at wholesale.

So, in summary, let’s call this method of collecting what it is: Investing. There is nothing dishonorable about it. It can even be as enjoyable to the collector as collecting for pleasure. But I feel that investors have to go into that pursuit with eyes wide open; not with hope, prayer and assumptions about what ought to happen when they get ready to sell.

As with any financial transaction where entrepreneurs are hoping to make a profit, it is a tough world out there. Willing buyers at your price can be a good deal more scarce than you hoped. People not willing to pay your price are not necessarily stupid, crooked or hard-hearted.

They are steely-eyed realists. And you need to be too.

Should you wish to comment on this column, or have questions or ideas you would like to have explored in a future column, please write to John Hotchner, VSC Contribu-tor, P.O. Box 1125, Falls Church, VA 22041-0125, or email, putting “VSC” in the subject line.

Or comment right here.

Hotchner: Finding Time

Finding Time to Collect
By John M. Hotchner

Busy! Busy! Busy! That is what we all seem to be; running from commitment to commitment, keeping up with family, keeping up with current events in this election year so we can be responsible voters, paying attention to the grass, the roof, the siding, taking out the garbage, and a thousand other things that seem to rate high on the Must Do list.

I think one of the things getting in the way of stamp collecting these days is the multiplicity of things to do (including 900 TV channels, the iPhone, the time required for exercise, etc.); much of which were not there to tempt us 50-and-more years ago when stamp collecting was in its heyday; before its share of the population began to decline. Oh yes, and don’t let me forget the increased responsibilities we have when both spouses work, with the need to apportion household chores in ways that were not an issue when my father brought in the bucks, and my mother took care of the kids and the house.

It is a different world; and in many ways a better and more satisfying one despite the more hectic pace we keep up. As a retiree, I thought I would spend my days at leisure, but I seem to be busier than ever. I’m told that this is not an unusual situation.

So, given that it is difficult to shoehorn into the day discretionary activities like stamp collecting, how to find (or make) time to work on our collections? Many people I have known have said at one time or another that they ‘don’t have time to do such-and-such.’

It may be true for them, but it is a phrase I never use. I prefer to think of that problem in terms of making time to do the things I really want to do. If I can’t, then I don’t want to do them badly enough! What follows is my sharing of how I fit stamp collecting into my day.

I have to start off this little essay by owning up to the fact that I do not own the revealed truth. I have some ways that I find time, but recognize that they may not work for you. And there may be others I could benefit from, and I am looking forward to hearing from readers with your hints about how you find time. I will share these in a future column.

My primary ‘trick’ is to treat household chores as the first priority. While that might seem counterintuitive, the division of labor in our house is clear, and the things I am supposed to do get done with a minimum of fuss. Getting them done to my wife’s satisfaction leaves me in charge of the time that is left. And I can devote it to collecting activities without recrimination or guilt.

Secondly, I prioritize my collecting activities at a high level so that it is both normal and natural for me to spend some time every day working on my collection; doing the never-ending tasks that are needed to organize; to keep the collection from taking over first closets, then the dining room table, then the whole house.

Contrary to scientific studies that say multitasking is bad practice, even unhealthy, I’ve been doing it for 60 years, and it works for me. I can’t just watch TV, or talk on the phone, or stand in a line. These are opportunities to catch up on philatelic reading, outline articles, sort, catalog, answer mail.

In truth, there are some creative things like actually writing the articles and designing exhibit pages that need full attention, but it is surprising how much can be done with other lighter activities.

Another helpful practice is my penchant for the evening nap. Conking out for 90 minutes after dinner allows me to work uninterrupted and fairly fresh, into the wee hours. At that time there are no interruptions, and it is not unusual that I lose track of time.

Even when I had a day job, this allowed me “stamp collection time” for a couple of hours each evening.

Another element is motivation. When what I did was all up to me, there was not much motivation to get on with it. Then I began joining clubs and societies and getting involved in their projects and specialties. Suddenly, there was more reading to keep up with, more interesting specialty areas to dig into, more things to look for on my stamps, and on the other end of the equation, more people interested in what I was doing; sometimes even waiting for the results of my activities; as in hoping for trading material to be available, or the results of my research.

In my job, I traveled — a lot; up to a third of the time. This gave me all sorts of opportunities. My ‘airplane reading’ file provided enjoyment on long flights. Evenings while others might be out for lavish dining or other night-time activities, I more often sat in my hotel room working on a project; be it washing, bringing an album current, checking with magnifier in hand for plate varieties, doing sales book pages, or whatever needed to be done. Not only did I save a lot of money — money that could be available for philatelic purchases — I kept off extra pounds, arrived for work the next day refreshed, and I had a sense of accomplishment to boot.

These days I travel to see grandchildren and for the occasional stamp show. Stamp projects are always part of my packing. I am hopeful that the grandchildren pick up more than a little of my enthusiasm for collecting; and not just a sense that grandpa is obsessed with little bits of paper. Some have given it a try, but gone on to other things. Others show little interest beyond asking what I am doing. But even there, I like to think I am sowing seeds.

My own four children got into the hobby to the point of exhibiting, but moved on. One is a certified collector — but of sports cards! Perhaps the longer term benefit to them was simply seeing me enjoying my philatelic work, day-in and day-out. (All of them spent some time in my “real” office also.) Each of them has an excellent work ethic, and I would like to think that part of their development was internalizing what they saw as my enjoyment in my work; though it is hard to think of my philatelic endeavors as “work” in the usually-accepted sense.

Which leads me to talk a little bit about the benefits of working on your stamp collection. Getting done what you get done is its own reward, but there are hidden benefits as well. Getting into your project of the day mostly banishes your other cares; some of which can be heavy burdens about which you can do little but try to live through. With stamps, you are able to organize that corner of your world in a pleasing way. So, you gain relaxation, stress reduction, exercise your organizing skills, and some level of control over a largely uncontrollable world.

Some people take pills to achieve those goals. Not my path!

So, it is the wise person who finds in hobbies a more natural method of stress management. Whether philately, sports cards, coins, comic books, or whatever else floats your boat, it is good to put some effort into establishing goals and working toward them.

Should you wish to comment on this column, or have questions or ideas you would like to have explored in a future column, please write to John Hotchner, VSC Contributor, P.O. Box 1125, Falls Church, VA 22041-0125, or email, putting “VSC” in the subject line.

Or comment right here.

Hotchner: Stamps As Art

Stamps As Art
By John M. Hotchner

We as stamp collectors have a narrow focus on stamps. We think of them as stamps that belong in a given space in an album, rather than as miniature art works. The difference may be critical to our ability to repopularize stamp collecting.

As stamp collectors, we certainly notice and have opinions on design and general attractiveness. But we are not professional art critics. Each of us knows what he or she likes. But we come at the subject from a hard-wired view that is heavily influenced by what we grew up with in the hobby, and by what we saw as we used stamps before getting into philately.

What this means is that most of us who are 50 and above long for the good old days of engraved stamps; which we think of as more intricately designed, and with ink raised off the paper that gives both a feel and a visual impression of quality. Indeed, a well-designed stamp produced by intaglio is a thing of beauty.

But this is not what I am talking about when I speak of Stamps as Art. As a percentage of our population of roughly 320 million, people with an interest in stamp collecting who have gone beyond throwing the occasional interesting stamp in a box, probably are less than half of 1%. But the figure is much, much higher for people who have enough interest in art to visit an art museum, buy prints to collect, or even buy art to decorate their homes.

How wonderful would it be for our hobby if even a small percentage of that much larger group could be lured into stamp collecting using as a hook, the beauty of these miniature art works. Virtually every type of art with a following in the general population can be found on many stamps. So, how do we appeal to those who love art?

I think we have to start with the fact that most people have only the sketchiest idea of what it means to be a stamp collector; and a good share of those impressions are wrong. A part of this ignorance is that many think of stamp collecting as an expensive hobby; yet art-oriented folks don’t know that the form of art in which they have an interest is available for relatively pennies on the dollar, as compared to what original art, and even prints, can cost.

Perhaps the closest model we have within the hobby today is the people who collect Christmas subjects on stamps, especially those who collect traditional religious images which are overwhelmingly classic artworks.

A good share of these collectors don’t fit the mold of the classic collector, but they love their stamps; yet without those subjects most would not be stamp collectors. But having started with the theme, many have become collectors who appreciate and are interested in stamp printing, seek varieties, like first day covers and commercial usages, bid in auctions, join clubs and societies, and come to be both stamp collectors and art appreciators. I’d also suggest that we need to think of art on stamps writ large: not just works using brush strokes, but other forms of art including sculpture, ballet, stage and screen, photography, the artists themselves, and many other categories. And yes, even art produced specifically as models for stamp designs and the stamp designs themselves.

So, I will posit that one major way to improve the reach of our hobby is for those of us in it to put a great deal more emphasis on outreach to non-collectors appealing principally to their love of art and the arts — both in terms of themes, and in terms of artistic styles.

How? Here are a few ideas:

1. The USPS/CSAC might consider issuing more stamps showing artworks, and in larger formats (One thinks of the beautiful and immensely popular large French stamps releases.)
We can look for opportunities to hold rstor second-day ceremonies at institutions displaying and promoting art and the arts—especially those with large public support/volunteer groups behind them.

2. Let’s have much more publicity by the USPS about the design process, the rejected designs, and why the design chosen was selected. As part of this effort (which stamp collectors also find fascinating), have the CSAC Design Coordinators make “YouTube” videos on their craft to circulate to art appreciation groups, and have them address conventions of appropriate groups.

3. The Postal Service, which already sells greeting cards, can expand that product line using stamp images.

4. Hobby institutions (USPS/APS/Specialty societies focused on a design theme that includes art) can partner with art museums to present the art of philately in featured exhibits.

5. Specialty societies with a design theme that includes art also can present philately in the institutional publications of non-collecting affinity groups (e.g., American Medical Association for medical related, DAR and others for history related, religious groups for Christmas related, aeronautical groups for airplane illustrations, U.S. Naval Institute for stamps honoring naval history, ornithological groups for bird designs, etc.)

6. We can work with school art appreciation programs/teachers to include the miniature art of stamps in the curriculum, and use stamp design contests to teach elements of composition. There could even be doctoral dissertations looking into the progression of artistic style in U.S. stamps, and other art/stamps subjects.

7. Posters featuring the art of stamps can be provided by the USPS to post offices and libraries.

8. Collectors/stamp clubs can make presentations to art appreciation societies.
Production of coffee table books emphasizing different themes and art styles can be co-sponsored by a philatelic organization and an art museum.

9. We also could have more articles in the philatelic press and society journals that focus on the art of the stamp, art and the arts. This need not be every issue, but often enough to support and encourage those whose collecting motivation is in this sector.

10. Finally, let’s moderate the complaining about artistic style within the hobby. There needs to be more recognition that it is legitimate to portray a wide range of artistic style. Like what you like and ignore what you don’t. Issuing broadsides against what you don’t like simply leaves a poor impression of the hobby — especially among those who might get serious about it.

Blaise Pascal is quoted as saying that “All the great maxims have been written. It only remains to put them into practice.” I am certain that there are more ideas that readers can think of to add to the dozen above, so let’s hear from you! But all the ideas in the world remain sterile unless they are put into practice. So, I am hoping that those who can move these ideas forward will try them out, improve on them, and help us grow the hobby!

Should you wish to comment on this column, or have questions or ideas you would like to have explored in a future column, please write to John Hotchner, VSC Contributor, P.O. Box 1125, Falls Church, VA 22041-0125, or email, putting “VSC” in the subject line.

Or comment right here.

Hotchner: More Stamps???

“Why Do You Need More Stamps?”
by John M. Hotchner

Early on, as my wife watched my stamp collection take over more and more square feet in our house, she asked the $64,000 Question: “Why do you need more stamps? You have so many already.” It is a reasonable question; perhaps akin to “Why do race car drivers keep going around in circles?”

It all makes sense to the participants — and to those who enjoy the ride vicariously; but why a collector collects, and why enough is never enough, are more difficult questions. Over the years I have tried to explain my reasons for pursuing more and better stamps and covers, and it is fair to say that I have never quite hit the mark, and certainly have not been able to overcome her assumption that there is a point at which a collection is complete; somewhat like the point at which the house has enough curtains and needs no more.

It fact, collections are never complete unless the collector wants them to be. And I don’t. Completeness signifies the end of collecting that particular thing, and moving on to something else — or nothing else. It is not where I want to be.

I like stamps and covers, and the discovery of new pathways of the hobby. In fact, what my wife sees as my collection — writ large — is really made up of a lot of small collections. And I like the feeling of having many philatelic balls in the air, and knowing that I can go to a bourse and be certain that I can find something new to enhance one or more of them.

I may add nothing to one collection for years, but another may grow like Topsy because I luck into a good source. Furthermore, it is not unusual to trip over something that is so interesting, it leads to yet another collecting category.

My wife and I have not buried this issue. Instead we have agreed to disagree. I’ve tried to compare the question to the issue of why she needs yet another pair of shoes, but it’s not the same thing she says: She doesn’t collect shoes for their beauty, for their story, to categorize…. She wears shoes; they have a functional value. The only things stamps are good for is mailing a letter.

So, it is time to gather in one place the six reasons (or excuses, if that is how you look at it) I’ve advanced for why I keep buying more stamps, ad to try to look beyond them. I think that the list makes a compelling case. But to accept that it does, requires being able to walk in my shoes, and understand the pleasures I get from the hobby.

Anyway, here goes:

  1. One of the characteristics of Mankind is acquisitiveness. Not many can avoid it, and there are many different degrees. But it is normal. And for those born with what I like to call The Collector Gene, a specific area can start as an interest, progress to a passion, and somewhere along the line turn into an addiction. Different people may assess that hold over an individual’s actions differently. I don’t see my addiction to philately as a bad thing. My spouse is not so sure that my level of self-control is up to the task of keeping me within practical limits. I like to point out that unlike some, we have not had to buy a larger house, or a second home, to house the collection; though I do have to admit that the collection does get in the way of downsizing!
  2. I buy individual stamps to complete album pages. I find it very satisfying to complete an album page. Of such little victories is life made up.
  3. And I buy specific stamps and covers to add to exhibits. Often this is just to fill a perceived gap, but sometimes the item ads to the body of knowledge about what is being exhibited. Previously unreported significant items in an exhibit are worth their weight toward a gold medal, but it is also a wonderful feeling to know that you have advanced the frontiers of knowledge.
  4. I buy collections because I am a passionate searcher for varieties. It is not enough to fill preprinted album pages. I am fascinated by interesting cancellations, revenue stamps, per ns, precancels, sheet markings, color varieties, misperforations, printing flaws. As often as not these are 10¢ items that dealers hardly ever stock, and the best way to find them is in old collections. (What I don’t use from collections gets traded, sold or donated. Unlike some, my house is not burdened by boxes of collection remainders.)
  5. I buy stamps and covers to write about in my various columns. Deadlines are harsh taskmasters, and finding new material is not only a necessity, but helps me to manage deadlines. Especially given the breadth and depth of U.S. philately, something new is always popping up that will with a little research to complement it, will make an interesting story.
  6. In my old age, with all our children on their own, and our physical needs taken care of, I buy the occasional stamp or cover (unrelated to an existing collection) that I have always admired and wanted. Why? Because it pleases me!

As I reread this, there is surely an element of self-indulgence in philatelic acquisitiveness. It prompts the question, Would I be a better person if I were spending the same money on diamond earrings for my wife — or annual vacations in Paris — or simply padding the savings account? Perhaps by some measures.

But these are questions each of us has to answer for him- or herself. As for me, stamp and cover collecting is my one extravagance. I don’t spend money on cigarettes, alcohol, caviar, thousand dollar suits, or the gambling tables in Atlantic City. Philately is not about acquiring mountains of money or social status — in fact to the average non-collector — it may type a collector as a bit of an odd duck.

But it lets us ‘believers’ slow life down, de-stress, and play in ways reminiscent of childhood. A constant stream of new ‘toys’ is the price of admission. No apologies.

Should you wish to comment on this column, or have questions or ideas you would like to have explored in a future column, please write to John Hotchner, VSC Contributor, P.O. Box 1125, Falls Church, VA 22041-0125, or email, putting “VSC” in the subject line.

Or comment right here.

Hotchner: Dealing With Self-Sticks

Dealing With Self-Sticks
By John M. Hotchner

Hardly any stamp collector is happy with the Postal Service’s practice, begun in earnest in 2007, of producing increasing numbers of self-stick issues that when used, can’t be floated free of the envelope paper.

The reason given was that they were saving on the cost of the stamp paper. But this developed later. Initially there was no announcement. Collectors made the discovery through trying to wash new issues so as to have a nice clean example to put in the album.

Actually about a quarter of what is issued these days can be soaked off — even today. But the remainder either have to be specially treated, stamp by stamp, to be removed. Or, they have to be left on neatly clipped (hope- fully thin) paper and put in the album.

The latter will not bother some people, but as most of us are creatures of habit, the change from the old way is annoying. It makes the presentation of a used collection on album pages a bit disorderly with different thicknesses and colors of envelope paper. Even mint self-stick stamps have to be left on their backing paper when displayed in albums. Thus, fewer stamps will t on a page, and albums get thicker faster. Not a few collectors have reacted to this new era by combining this problem with ever higher face values of stamps, and using these excuses to stop collecting U.S. stamps issued after 2000, or to leave the hobby altogether.

But are the changes really fatal, or do they simply force changes in collecting with which we are unhappy? Are we over-reacting to what we see as high handedness on the part of the USPS? Personally, I feel it, and there can be little doubt that there is some of this in the reaction of collectors. As confirmation, we saw it in letters to the editor in the philatelic press as the USPS went to unwashable self-sticks, and then decreed that all issues would be self-sticks.

The latter decision was popular with the public, but it was anything but for collectors. It is still my belief that this could be “fixed” by leaving mail-use stamps self-stick, and issuing commemoratives as lick-and-stick since their purpose is to be sold to collectors. And I would like to see the Postal Service return to the days of washable self-sticks. This would seem to be only rational given that reporting in the philatelic press indicated that the stamps issued without that feature actually cost more than washable stamps.

But I’m dreaming. Back to reality.

The basic question is this: Will you let the changes wrought by the USPS drive you out of the hobby? Or will you find a way to adapt? I can’t picture life without stamp collecting! So adapting is the way I have gone, and the way I recommend.

For those who think that they will teach the Postal Service a thing or two by dropping out with a blast in the Letters to the Editor column, forget it. They have set their course, and are “driving hard to the basket”, to mix a metaphor.

The only power you have is the power of the purse. If you do not spend money on their products, that has an impact. But the USPS is busily about the task of recruiting new collectors who take as a given the new reality. Apparently, they are having success sufficient to offset losses of old-line collectors who are dropping out.

So, the first way to adapt, is not dropping out alto- gether but limiting U.S. stamp collecting to those issues that are pleasing; say ending with the issues of 2000 or 2005. You save on supplements as well as stamps. And this allows you to spend available money on lling in older spaces with those beautifully engraved stamps of yesteryear.

But if, like me, you maintain your interest in the cur- rent issues of the USPS, then there are several avenues you can take:

1. In choosing stamps-on-paper for your album, consider the color and thickness of stamps to be part of condition. Thin white paper is the goal, and just as you would replace a heavily cancelled stamp with one that is lightly cancelled, replace thick red paper when you can.

2. Choose the margin size you will use for consistency, and trim the excess paper so that your album page looks nice.

3. Obtain and learn to use the Scott U.S. Specialized Catalogue, which has a feature identifying those modern stamps that can and cannot be washed. Then wash what you can. I am hopeful that Scott will eventually add this feature to the U.S. listings in Volume I of the Standard Catalogue. (Note: Keep in mind that I have found several stamps that Scott indicates can be washed are at best very difficult, and at worst, actually won’t wash. Best to try one or two before trying to wash quantities.)

[Note: For three years, The Virtual Stamp Club kept track of which U.S. self-adhesives were soakable, through the hard work of volunteer John Cropper. Then he had to move on, and no one else was able to undertake this task. But the “Soaking Stoplight” information is still online here for 2008, 2009 and 2010. — VSC]

4. Consider removing the envelope paper from stamps destined for your album using one of the spray or chemical products that have been discussed in Linn’s [Stamp News] and The American Philatelist (mostly in letters to the editor). Although it takes more time than the old float-free method, and for that reason is not suitable for large quantities, it works well on individual stamps. I use non-aerosol “Pure Citrus” Orange Air Freshener which is available at Home Depot and other locations. It is effective and non-toxic.

I will close with an offer. I will provide a write-up on how I use “Pure Citrus”, and/or a write-up of how to separate some of the more difficult soakable stamps from paper to any reader who requests one or both. If you want these, please write to me, specifying which, and enclose 10¢ in mint postage to cover photocopying, and a stamped addressed envelope. Send to me at PO Box 1125, Falls Church, VA 22041-0125.

Should you wish to comment on this column, or have questions or ideas you would like to have explored in a future column, please write to John Hotchner, VSC Contributor, P.O. Box 1125, Falls Church, VA 22041-0125, or email, putting “VSC” in the subject line.

Or comment right here.

John Hotchner’s Philatelic Bucket List

A United States Bucket List
By John M. Hotchner

Not so long ago bucket lists burst on the scene. If your nose was in your albums and you missed it, the idea was put forward that all of us approaching the September of our lives should make a list of those things we wished to do or see before December 31st of our lives.

Well, here I am at about October 25, and as a charter member of the procrastinators’ club, I’m just getting to this task. I’ve recently done such a list with a worldwide perspective, and found it interesting to put a laser-like focus on what I really want to get done. A friend who saw it suggested that I ought to narrow the scope to U.S. philately only, and provide it here as a means of encouraging our U.S. collector community members to do their own lists.

The size of the list is an issue. Some are satisfied with ten items. It is said that too many disappointments are the result of too many expectations, but I’ll chance it. Thus, my list presented here is 20 items; which actually works out to one a year until I’m 93. That seems do-able, if maybe a tad ambitious.

But the point is not so much to get it all done as to help the mind to have a sense of what is really important versus what is passing fancy. This can be useful for resource allocation–what will we spend both time and money on–and for sense of satisfaction as items are crossed off.

Given that no one wants to reach the end of the list and have nothing to live for, so to speak, my method will be to add something to the list every time I cross something off. It is important to have a challenge to get up for every morning!

This is a highly individual exercise. Which is a way of saying that my list won’t work for you. But perhaps it will serve as a guide on the sorts of things that you want to consider for your own list. So, even those of you who are at March 1st of your lives, I hope you will do this exercise. Dream big!

Here is my effort:

1. Find a U.S. Scott #613, the rotary press-printed 2¢ Black Harding, perf 11. There are about 65 examples known, and I believe there are more waiting to be discovered. Since buying one is out of the question (Cat. Value: $40,000), I measure every 2¢ Harding I come across. Maybe lightening will strike!

2. Get up enough courage to start collecting U.S. revenues. I have a set of Scott album pages, but the project looks daunting. Yet much of it is affordable, and interesting, and I want to get started, but just have not been able to nd the time–or make the time.

3. Solve the mystery of the 3¢ Servicewomen commemorative of 1952, Scott #1013, which features four servicewomen as portrayed by professional models. I know the name of one. Who are the others? Research in the les of the USPS, Bureau of Engraving and Printing, and Defense Department have failed to bring the names to light. Someone must know.?

4. My hoard of Korean War postal history awaits. I bought a first class exhibit several years ago, and have my own material gathered over 30 years to add to it; and continue to find new covers. The task now is to recast and improve the exhibit.

5. My U.S. clipping files have as much unfiled material as what is in the folders. This is a project that needs some serious work.

6. Get used copies of the USIR-watermarked 8¢ Sherman (Scott #272a) and $1 Prexie (#832b) for my collection.

7. Do or update at least one one-frame exhibit a year: Pending are #C22 international uses, C32 international uses, methods of marking repaired and rejected material in the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, and The Naked Maja in U.S. philately. (Readers may notice a theme here: there is an awful lot of exhibiting going on, but it has become over the years one of my favorite creative outlets, and I can’t get enough of it!)

8. Update my 1934 and 1935 Christmas seal multi-frame exhibits.

9. Encourage those who can make it happen to get a U.S. philatelic periodical on U.S. newsstands. I’m convinced that this could make a real difference in bringing 30-somethings and beyond into the hobby.

10. Give a presentation on U.S. Error, Freak and Oddity Collecting at the Royal Philatelic Society, London.

11. Reread the George Brett book on Giori Printing; the best exposition of a complex subject that marked a turning point (in the mid-1950s) in U.S. stamp production; enabling multicolor printing, and bringing life to what had been almost entirely a monocolor stamp program.

12. Convince Scott Catalogue editors to include the Allied Military Government issues from Austria, France, Germany and Italy in the U.S. Specialized Catalogue; not to mention the Korean issues. Scott includes Ryukyus, but that is only a good start.

13. Organize a 40-year accumulation of Washington-Franklin (3rd Bureau Issue) local precancels, and while I’m at it, try to discover a Scott #544, the 1¢ Rotary Press sheet waste stamp; often seen precancelled.

14. Do a booklet or book on the 60+ instances where living people are shown on U.S. stamps. This has been one focus of my Linn’s reporting over the years, and there are many interesting stories to be told.

15. Find for my mourning covers collection, a cover to or from a funeral home that was sent to a dead letter office (preferably in Deadwood, South Dakota).

16. Make sense, and maybe an exhibit, of a 50-year accumulation of U.S. postal cards with printed messages on the back that show the everyday and often mundane activities of Americans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; from birth to death.

17. Judging at the next U.S. international: 2026 in Boston!

18. Write an article on U.S. postal counterfeits each year for the book-length Fakes Forgeries Experts, produced under the auspices of the International Association of Philatelic Experts (AIEP).

19. Spend some time every day, washing, organizing, cataloguing, and putting stamps in my albums. It is surprising how easy it is for that set of activities to take last place.

20. Be around, at age 97, to celebrate and ponder the glorious 200th anniversary of postage stamps in the year 2040, and maybe even the equally glorious 200th anniversary of U.S. postage stamp general issues in 2047. Medical science is making great strides in extending life!

Fulfilling some of the entries in this list will depend upon luck (rather than bucks), medical practitioners, help from friends, will power, and the grace of God. But hopefully in 20 years or so, I can look back and say I’ve crossed at least half off the list. Now, get started on your list!

Should you wish to comment on this column, or have questions or ideas you would like to have explored in a future column, please write to John Hotchner, VSC Contributor, P.O. Box 1125, Falls Church, VA 22041-0125, or email, putting “VSC” in the subject line.

Or comment right here.

Hotchner: Collecting American Flags

Dealing With American Flags
by John M. Hotchner

With the presidential election behind us and the inauguration coming up, we are seeing the American Flag as the backdrop of much TV reporting. It got me wondering what might be found in the pantheon of American stamp issues that might make for an interesting way to give more depth to U.S. collecting. There is certainly nothing wrong with the traditional approach of collecting one of every U.S. stamp issued. And yet for many of us, new challenges beckon, and U.S. Flags is one that comes with a high level of knowledge, enthusiasm, and even offers a way to connect with non-collectors who have a love for America and its symbols.

With the 1963 5¢ Flag Over White House (Scott #1208, right) issue, the U.S. Postal Service began an unbroken run of definitive (regular postage) stamps that extends to today. This movement really got into high gear with the issuance of the first plate number coil (18¢) Flag stamps in 1981. One of the post-1963 definitives (Scott #1891) is shown below.

In the 1990s, the U.S. Postal Service contracted out the printing of more and more definitives to the private sector, and multiple printers were needed to produce the multiple billions of Flag stamps needed by the public. Ultimately, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) got out of printing U.S. stamps altogether in 2005. Multiple printers meant not just different plate numbers, but many different versions of each issue including: lick-and-stick, self-stick, tagging varieties, separation (perforation and die cut) varieties, print dates in the lower left corner, microprinting entries, slight design differences, and counting numbers on the back. Most of this is reflected in increasingly complex Scott U.S. Specialized Catalogue listings.

There is enough variety in the modern issues since the 1990s that there are collectors specializing in a single definitive issue. I might also mention that there is the allied area of counterfeits that can be added. As the USPS transitioned from engraved designs to photogravure-produced designs, the incidence of credible postal counterfeits has gone up exponentially; and enforcement of the anti-counterfeiting statutes became a huge challenge. Today, armed with an ultraviolet detector, those collectors with access to quantities of modern definitives can find postal counterfeits easily because most are not tagged; and those that are, aren’t tagged properly. It seems that replicating the tagging is much more difficult and expensive for the criminal class than replicating the design!

But I digress. There are many older U.S. stamps showing representations of the flag, even though the earliest examples show the flag in monocolor. Let’s look at some of them.

To the extent we think about it, most U.S. collectors would assume that the 30¢ 1869 stamp (Scott #121 at right) is the first issue with a U.S. flag. See the all-blue flags in the lower corners of the stamp? In fact, if one includes representations of the flag in the form of a shield, then the first U.S. stamp is the 30¢ Benjamin Franklin 1860 stamp (Scott #38). Note the stars-and-stripes shields in all four corners (below left).  Had you ever noticed it before?

Would you like to guess how many face-different U.S. stamp designs include the various forms of the American flag? 25? 50? As many as 100? When I sat down with the catalogue to count them, I was surprised to tally over 200! Now, that does include denominated and non-denominated flag stamps that are otherwise the same, and the different color denominations of the 32¢ “G” definitives; but it does not include Stars-and-Stripes shields, or hard-to-identify dots flying from flag poles on federal buildings and ships, on monuments, uniforms, and airplanes.

The first U.S. flag to be shown in color is the handsome 4¢ 1957 48-star flag (Scott #1094) shown on the right. The 1957 stamp also has the distinction of being the first U.S. stamp to be produced on the BEP’s new Giori press, which could do up to three colors from a single plate. Up to that point, multicolor stamps produced by BEP required separate plates for each color; a situation that required more time and effort, but also made the Bureau invert-prone. One of the inverts that resulted is on the 30¢ 1869, and you can see the upside down flags in the proof shown on the left (Scott #121aP4). One of the interesting aspects of U.S. stamp collecting is the search for what are called “design errors”; mistakes in the final design attributed to inadequate research, oversight, artistic license, and pure sloppiness.

They are not valuable as every one of the stamps produced has the same error, but they do show that the public is watching, and they make take what might be an ordinary postage stamp and make it into a conversation piece. We’ll review a few of them, and a few that were questioned, to complete this column.

The 5¢ Norse-American stamp on the right (Scott #621) might be called a non-design error. It caused a bit of a sensation when it was issued in 1925 because the ship, clearly early Norse, not current American, is flying an American flag (arrow). The Post Office Department patiently explained that this was no mistake. The craft is a replica of a Viking “Dragon Ship”, and actually sailed from Norway to the United States between April 30, and June 13, 1893, to participate in the World’s Columbian Exposition. The stamp was designed using actual photographs of the replica.

The 3¢ White Plains issue on the left was released in 1926 (Scott #629) for the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of White Plains, which took place on October 28, 1776. But the Stars and Stripes at the bottom left did not come into being until June 14, 1777.

The 5¢ Flag over White House above raised a few eyebrows when it hit the streets. Note that it does not carry the words “United States” or the short form “U.S.”; one of only a few stamps to take that liberty. Nor does it contain the word “postage.” The latter is curious, but the former was likely deemed appropriate because the Flag design component marked this as an American issue in the same way that Queen Victoria’s presence on Great Britain #1 left no room for doubt as to its origin. The stamp did generate another question as there are only three red stripes next to the blue field of stars, while the correct number is four. Discussion resulted in a finding that the fourth stripe was present, but is hidden by the ripples of the flag.

“Register & Vote” is a laudable message as portrayed on the 1964 5¢ commemorative stamp in Figure 8 (Scott #1249). But it is partially printed across the American Flag. This contravenes the Federal law governing use and presentation of the flag, which provides that nothing must be placed over it or on it when it is illustrated.

Another breach of etiquette is seen on the 25¢ “Bill of Rights” commemorative from 1989 (Scott #2421) seen in Figure 8. It should have been displayed with the stars on the left, and the stripes on the right; not as shown. A result is that we sometimes see the stamp applied upside down on covers as people observe correct flag —if not philatelic — etiquette.

We have a case of an impossible design with regard to the flag on the 32¢ Flag Over Porch stamp in Figure 9 (Scott Design Type A2212). This is complicated, so I will quote from “Flag Faux Pas;” a short article in the July, 1996, Scott Stamp Monthly:

“Those who know the flag well will immediately see something amiss, but identifying the problem is slightly harder. The U.S. flag has 13 stripes, seven of which do not span the entire width of the flag, because of the field.

“The field contains 50 stars in nine rows (five rows of six and four rows of five). Because there are only seven incomplete stripes, all nine rows must feature stars shorter than any stripe. Those on the stamp are larger. It would therefore be an impossibility to fit all 50 stars in this flag’s field.”

There are many other stamps and many other stories that go with them, but we have only so much space here. For the flag connoisseur there are also cancellations with flags in them, cachets with flags part of the design, covers in the form of flags, and a wide variety of Errors, Freaks and Oddities on U.S. Flag stamps.

And if that is not enough to keep you busy, you can branch out into military and State Flags on U.S. stamps, Confederate Flags (dare I say), and even foreign flags on U.S. stamps. The Flag subject is a gift that keeps on giving! (Show at left: The 2017 U.S. Flag stamp.)

Should you wish to comment on this column, or have questions or ideas you would like to have explored in a future column, please write to John Hotchner, VSC Contributor, P.O. Box 1125, Falls Church, VA 22041-0125, or email, putting “VSC” in the subject line.

Or comment right here.

Hotchner: Dealing With Stamp Design

by John M. Hotchner

hotchnerIs there one unalterable truth for stamp collectors? If so, I would propose that it is a universal feeling that U.S. stamp design is less than spectacular, and many of us share a belief that if we were running things, we could do better. Perhaps.

In the past two days, I have heard complaints about the Forget-me-not stamp (It needs a frame to focus the design), the last George Washington stamp (It is too dark and George is lost in the dark framing), the Winter Flowers issue of 2014 (They look too much like Easter seals), and the World Stamp Show publicity stamps (A lost opportunity to picture stamp collecting or classic American stamps.)

monalisa1While any or all of these criticisms may have merit, it is all second-guessing. And my guess is that all artists — even the great ones — had to put up with similar carping (“That’s supposed to be a smile on Mona Lisa? Looks more like she’s
suffering a gas attack after too many baked beans!”)

Well, we as collectors have the right to criticize, but it is all hot air unless we actually do something about it. And there are several strategies.

  1. Don’t buy what you don’t like. Avoid such issues for use as postage, for your albums, and for gifts for children and grandchildren. The USPS tracks closely what sells, and just as important, what doesn’t. Vote with your wallet.
  2. Learn how to draw a neat “X” in the album page box for stamps you will not add to your collection because you don’t like the art style, or you class them as just plain ugly. You are the arbiter of what makes the cut. And no one has to agree with you.
  3. Create a Hall of Shame — a special section of your album in which you place all the stamps that annoy you.
  4. If you have more stamps in that section than on your printed album pages, maybe it is time to curtail your collecting by ending at a given year.

You will need to be careful to differentiate whether it is the design you dislike or the subject. Sometimes, our view can be so colored by dislike of the subject that no design will hit the mark. On the other side of that fence, the flood of multi-colored fruits, flowers, foliage, fauna, flyers, food, and flags may have great popularity with the American public, but only a few stand out as clever and original depictions.

CoastGuardIn my view about 10% of U.S. issues really rank high on both subject and design scales.

One in the 2015 crop is the U.S. Coast Guard commemorative released August 4. Full disclosure: I was involved in development of the subject while a member of the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee (1998-2010) but it had not gone to the artists at the point that I timed out from the Committee. So I was surprised and delighted by the exceptional art that illustrates the s_wse2016subject.

Contrast that with the New York 2016 publicity pair (right) — a good subject that in my opinion is a generic and uninspiring design that will inspire no one to attend the show.

What can we reasonably expect from U.S. stamp design? Certainly, we need to recognize that in stamps as in art generally, there will be a range of style. This is right and proper as stamps are a reflection of the breadth and diversity of American art; much like the stamp program having a commission to reflect the breadth and diversity of America itself and its population.

finearts1259I well remember when modern art first made its appearance on a U.S. stamp with the 5¢ “Fine Arts” issue of 1964 (left). One would have thought listening to the reaction of collectors that the world as we knew it had come to an end.

There were similar protests when children’s art in the form of stick figures on the 20¢ Family Unity issue was included in 1984. And when cartoon-type art made its first appearance with the 1991 “Comedians” set of 29¢ stamps using the pen-and-ink impressions of Al Hirschfeld.

They were later followed by actual cartoons from the comics section of our daily press.

The latter complaints were especially mystifying to me as both political cartoons and the so-called “funny papers” are features of American journalism that have been developed to a high level in the United States. Stamps celebrating these American institutions are right on the mark, and the art is appropriate.

SummerHarvestI personally don’t enjoy much of the poster art that has been and is used. The “Summer Harvest” issue is an example (right). And as to modern art, I think much of it is a fraud on the public when presented as works of inspiration possessed of deep and profound meaning. And yet, a portion of the public buys it and goes to see it in museums.

Can the U.S. stamp program ignore that? Should it? Regretfully, I have to admit that
it has its place.

So, my conclusion is that it is irrational to expect that every issue will please every collector. In fact, the USPS can expect criticism of some sort on the majority of its issuances if for no other reason than that the American public has a wide variety of likes and dislikes, and a wide variance of art appreciation, from those of us who merely know what we like, to those of us educated to know what we should like.

Which means that criticism will be plentiful and conflicting. And the USPS needs to listen to it, but act on it sparingly.

Should you wish to comment on this column, or have questions or ideas you would like to have explored in a future column, please write to John Hotchner, VSC Contributor, P.O. Box 1125, Falls Church, VA 22041-0125, or email, putting “VSC” in the subject line.

Or comment right here.

Hotchner: How to Collect U.S. Commemoratives

How to Collect U.S. Commemoratives
by John M. Hotchner

hotchnerIn the last column, we talked in this space about How to Collect the Presidential Series of 1938-1954. This prompted a couple of readers to remark on a trend that has been growing among stamp show exhibitors: They are picking a specific commemorative or commemorative series, and finding everything about it that can be collected in order to tell the story of how it came to be created, to how it was used to move the mails.

How big a trend is this? I have either seen or been told of exhibits that have already appeared centered on the following commemoratives: 1904 Louisiana Purchase set of five (1¢, 2¢, 3¢, 5¢, 10¢) 1909 2¢ Hudson-Fultons 1909 2¢ Alaska-Yukon-Pacifics 1926 2¢ Sesquicentennial Exposition 1929 2¢ George Rogers Clark 1939 3¢ New York World’s Fair 1945-6 Roosevelt Memorial set of four (1¢, 2¢, 3¢, 5¢), 1945 5¢ Toward the United Nations, 1947 3¢ Centennial Philatelic Exhibition commemorative & 15¢ souvenir sheet, 1956 3¢ King Salmon, 1958 3¢ International Geophysical Year, 1958 4¢ Forest Conservation, 1959 4¢ Oregon Statehood, 1959 4¢ St. Lawrence Seaway, 1959 4¢ Dental Health, 1962 4¢ World United Against Malaria, 1964 5¢ New York World’s Fair, 1965 5¢ Churchill Memorial, 1968 6¢ Walt Disney, 1984 20¢ Smokey Bear, 1984 20¢ Roberto Clemente, 1928 5¢ Beacon Air Mail, and 1948 5¢ New York City Air Mail.

In addition, there are exhibits that are focused on the Black Heritage stamps, a series that began in 1978 and continues; and on the Chinese New Year series that began in 1991 and was capped with a 2005 sheetlet showing all of the 12 designs that had been previously issued. Finally there is also a very well done exhibit that covers the joint issues that the United States has had with other countries; usually with similar designs.

I know of other exhibits being built but not yet ready for prime time, and there are undoubtedly others both on the circuit and in planning that I’m not aware of. Even so, with fewer than 100 commemorative stamps having been given this kind of attention, there are still plenty of commemoratives to choose from if this form of collecting appeals to you.

There are a few exhibits I have not included here because they are totally focused on usages of the stamps and do not include the development of the stamp(s) themselves. Among these are, for example, the 1940 Famous Americans series, and the 3¢ 1946 Smithsonian issue.

Which brings me to the question of what a comprehensive exhibit contains. They start with the photo, painting or other basis for the stamp design, then come such essays as are in public hands. Next in the frames would be photo essays and publicity photos of the stamp(s) released by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and/or the Postal Service; followed by such proofs as may be in public hands. Check the Scott U.S. Specialized Catalogue to see what might exist in the way of essays and proofs for your favorite stamp(s).

Next come the first day ceremony souvenirs, which should include a program (autographed if possible), and perhaps other items such as covers or blocks of the stamps signed by dignitaries not on the formal program. Then come the issued stamps starting with an absolutely superb copy of the featured stamp, plate blocks or other memorabilia signed by the designer/modeler and the engravers involved in the production of the stamp.

Issued stamps showing the type and location of normal or exceptional marginal markings are featured next, followed by such errors and varieties as have been discovered. It can be especially difficult to find these as errors (which exist in very small quantities) are listed, but there is no central listing for varieties such as misperforations, constant plate varieties, and color misregistrations — most of which will be equally scarce — and the collector has to search high and low for whatever may exist.

Now we get to the First Day Cover cachets. It will probably be the longest section of the exhibit. Much of what exists in this category has been recorded in publications of the American First Day Cover Society, but there are often small unrecorded productions of cachets that can be found randomly in dealer stocks, other collections, and in the archives of cachet makers. And there may be, especially with older stamps, uncacheted covers from unusual sources such as U.S. Navy ships.

Finally, the exhibit will end with commercial usages of the stamp showing how it was used to pay various rates and on mail to unusual destinations. This section is often frustratingly small. Why is this?

While definitives were and are often produced in quantities of many hundreds of millions, and sometimes in billions, commemorative production figures have mostly topped out in the 150 million range up until the 29¢ era (early ‘90s, when per-stamp production dropped to under 100 million in most cases, reflecting the larger number of stamps being issued). In addition, definitives are available for years; sometimes a dozen or more. Commemoratives can sell out much earlier, but in almost every case what is still not sold after 18 months is withdrawn and destroyed.

The result is that finding usages of any given stamp beyond routine first class, in the period when the commemorative was current, requires a lot of searching, a lot of knowledge as to where to look, diligent advertising of what is being sought, and much correspondence. The good news is that when you find the covers cost is generally pretty reasonable. It isn’t affording them, it is finding them that is the challenge; made more difficult by the fact that most dealers don’t stock “modern” (which is often anything in the last 75 years!) covers, because it is low profit margin material.

So, to do a commemorative exhibit requires, usually, years of acquisition and learning about what exists to be found. The learning is not trivial as it encompasses knowledge of production, EFOs, the range of First Day cachets, and contemporary rates and possible usages. I have a couple of ongoing projects in the acquisition/learning stage, and it may be that I will never be able to come up with enough material to get to an exhibit. But the journey in that direction is much of the fun of forming a commemorative collection.

If you are working on such a collection, D.A. Lux has continued my original list and publishes it monthly. If you would like your commemorative interest(s) included on The Hotchner Commemorative List, contact D.A. at and include the Scott number and first day of issue of your stamp. Once on the list, other list members will be able to search their collections for the covers you need and will know your interests when they dig through the dollar and quarter boxes at their local stamp shows. This could be a way of helping to unearth new material to improve your collection!

Should you wish to comment on this column, or have questions or ideas you would like to have explored in a future column, please write to John Hotchner, VSC Contributor, P.O. Box 1125, Falls Church, VA 22041-0125, or email, putting “VSC” in the subject line.

Or comment right here.

Hotchner: Collecting Prexies

How to Collect the Presidentials of 1938-1954?
by John M. Hotchner

hotchnerA friend recently told me he had accumulated quite a lot of Presidential Series material, and was thinking about what to do with it. He knew of my interest in the issue, and asked me “How do you collect the area? I want to get my material organized and developed into a collection. But I sure don’t want to start out on too grand a scale, and be overwhelmed — or worse, lose interest.”

He also suggested that I turn my response into an article, and I’m happy to oblige. First, let’s acknowledge that this is not an issue for most U.S. collectors. Most of us are pleased to have one Very Fine-or-better mint example of each value and/or one lightly cancelled used example. But over time, many of us acquire a few covers, maybe some color varieties and precancels, and the idea occurs to us that ratcheting up the challenge level might be fun.

prexies1Keep in mind that the Prexies (as they are often called), despite being 78 years young, are relatively modern by collecting standards. Thus, they combine — for 90% of the material — ease of availability with reasonable prices.

Still, a lot of people have gotten involved in “Prexie” collecting in the last 20 years (and the Liberty series after that, and Prominent American, Great Americans, etc.) So, the best material is going up in price, and the scarcer items are getting harder to locate. If you really want to get in on the ground floor of a collecting area, pick one of the more recent definitive series and start gathering material now.

But, back to the Prexies: There are three formats: the sheet stamps from 1/2¢ to $5, the coil stamps of two types (horizontal coils from 1¢ to 10¢; vertical coils from 1¢ to 3¢), and 1¢, 2¢ and 3¢ booklet panes. One approach to the Prexies is to specialize in the coils or the booklet panes. Of the available covers from the period, I would estimate that less than 5% are usages of coils or booklet pane singles or multiples. But the stamps themselves can be a challenge; especially if you enjoy plate number collecting. Miscuts of coils and booklet panes abound, and they are relatively inexpensive as used plate singles and even as mint miscut panes with a part of a plate number. For the 3¢ booklet pane there are 63 different plate numbers that can be found. The 3¢ horizontal coil has 224 plate numbers; while the four values (1¢, 1-1/2¢, 2¢ and 3¢) have a total of only ten plates for all.

There are also various booklet covers for different size booklets, and leader and end strips for coils.

coolidge_prexyRegarding the sheet stamps, meaningful subdivisions include the following possibilities:

    • One or more specific values, or for higher values that were less utilized, in groups such as the 11¢-14¢, or the dollar values. Of course it is possible to add the coils and booklet pane stamps to a specific value collection, too. (The dollar values have an extra dimension as they are bicolors, and thus have registration problems that result in the portrait being registered high and low, to left and to right with respect to the frames).
    • If you collect a specific value or group of values, you will need to look for varieties such as the following:

a. mad_pre_prexyPrecancels — both Bureau-printed (in the high hundreds of locations), and locally-printed (in the thousands of locations).

b. Perfins — the punched holes inside stamp designs that were meant to discourage employees of companies and non-profits from stealing the stamps intended for business use.

c. Socked-on-the-nose cancellations that can be focused on locations or dates.

d. EFOs, including color varieties, wet/ dry printings, misperfs, imperfs, counterfeits, plate varieties, rejection markings, double papers/paper splices, ghost plate numbers, thin papers, and more.

e. Plate numbers — used singles, or mint plate blocks — trying to get one of each number, or matched sets showing all sheet locations.

f. Canal Zone overprints on the 1/2¢ and 1-1/2¢.

You can add any or all of these to a collection by value, or make a specialty out of any one of these, or combine them in unusual ways. For example, I collect precancelled plate singles, and perfin EFOs (doubled, missing, inverted, etc.).

And if this is not enough to whet your appetite, going into the covers arena can be fun. In this realm are

  • Any of the above on cover, by value or groups of values, or by location.
  • The range of services available, from various classes of mail to Air Mail, Special Delivery, Registered, Insured, Postage Due, Special Handling, and more.
  • Solo uses for each stamp in the set.
  • How rates for services changed over the course of the 16 years from 1938 to 1954. This is especially challenging with International Air Mail
  • The progress of WWII as shown by mail sent to and from servicemen and women.
  • sc803eeFidelity1The dangers of transportation of the mails as shown by wreck and crash mail (air, ship, train, mail trucks, etc.)
  • A wide range of cachets on First Day Covers, including a second set of FDCs for Prexie stamps perforated by the new Electric Eye process (as shown on the right; three varieties on one FDC). The conversion took place from 1938 to 1942, and included three types of new marginal markings and plate number locations.
  • Auxiliary markings on Prexie covers showing difficulties and delays in delivery of the mail.
  • The wide range of commemorative and informative slogan cancellations that were used in the Prexie period.
  • The Prexies on envelopes with thousands of different patriotic cachets used during the Second World War.

lincoln_prexyA consequence of getting involved in specialties like the Presidentials is the need for information to explain the things you have found, and to inform your search for new material. Essential to every Prexie collector is the book by Roland Rustad, titled The Prexies, released by the United States Stamp Society (USSS) in 1994. Happily, it is still available from the USSS Executive Secretary, PO Box 6634, Katy, TX 77491-6634 for $24 to members, and $30 to non-members, postpaid.

The USSS is also an excellent resource, and its $25 annual membership fee is well worth the cost. Among its active committees is one devoted to the Presidential series, chaired by Jeffrey Shapiro, PO Box 3211, Fayville, MA 01745-3211.

There are also several other national specialty societies that can be helpful in learning about Prexie material; among them the Auxiliary Markings Club, the Precancel Stamp Society, the Perfins Club, the EFO Collectors’ Club, and the Wreck and Crash Mail Society.

Collectors are sometimes a bit alarmed by the idea of leaving the safety of the printed album page and digging deeper into some aspect of U.S. philately. Let me assure you that the enjoyment of doing so is worth the effort, and there are lots of collectors accessible through the societies noted above, who will be delighted to help you navigate the challenges.

Should you wish to comment on this column, or have questions or ideas you would like to have explored in a future column, please write to John Hotchner, VSC Contributor, P.O. Box 1125, Falls Church, VA 22041-0125, or email, putting “VSC” in the subject line.

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