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Monday, August 17, 2015

Specialized Scandinavia: A Closer Look at Sweden's 12 öre Vapentyp

After you've been collecting stamps for a while and have come to realize that this hobby is something you are serious about and plan to stick with... the question of whether or not to start a "specialized" collection eventually comes up.

For me, specialization was really an offshoot of the fact that I could no longer afford (in my 20's) to buy the next stamp I needed to fill an empty space, going purely "by the main numbers." The "Specialized Scandinavia" series takes a look at some popular-- and possible-- options for specialization within the field of Scandinavian philately-- often focusing on ways to build a specialized stamp collection withOUT breaking the bank.

Today, we'll take a closer look at Sweden's 12 öre Vapentyp ("Arms type"), first issued in 1858. This is a fairly popular Swedish issue for specialists-- especially in Sweden, but also around the world.

The 12 öre blue Vapentyp was the primary stamp used for regular domestic postage within Sweden, from its issue day on July 1st, 1858 until it was replaced by the first of the Ringtyp (or "Circle Type") series on July 1st, 1872.

Although the stamp is definitely from the "Classic Period," the fact that it substantially carried the bulk of Swedish mail for 14 years means that 107 million 12 öre blue stamps were printed!

Such a large number translates into a wealth of opportunity for specialists, for a number of reasons.

First, because so many stamps were printed, the 12 öre Vapentyp remains quite affordable... notwithstanding that we're talking about a 150-year old stamp. To this day, the catalogue value for just a "basic" copy of this stamp remains around just US $2.00 or less than 20:- Swedish Kr. That makes it relatively easy to get your hands on a number of examples without spending a fortune.

In addition, the stamps weren't printed all at once-- they were supplied in multiple printings and deliveries in the course of 14 years. Sweden's Facit catalogue lists 24 distinct shades of this stamp, and that just covers the basics. Some of these shades can be quite difficult to find, and even though the base stamp is inexpensive, a nice copy of a rare shade might set you back US
Some shades, like this "blackish ultramarine," are quite rare
$100.00 or more.

Next, consider that there were also three distinctly different perforation machines used, and that the stamps were printed from eight different plates.

With these variables as a starting point, we can then add that printing "technology" in 1858 was nowhere near as sophisticated as it is today. This means that it was rather easy for varieties to come up... both as a result of small variations in the original-- hand made-- printing plates, and as a result of plate wear and damage that occurred during the printing process.

The result is a rich source of "raw material" to serve as the basis for a specialized collection,

Of course, there are additional variations-- a collection of the 12 öre Vapentyp could also be expanded with covers and town cancels, adding a postal history element to the collection. In doing so, you can make the scope of the collection almost infinite, as there are literally tens of thousands of possibilities.

One of the benefits of taking on such an old stamp issue for specialization is that it has already been studied extensively by philatelists, so there's a significant amount of specialist information already available. Add to that the way the Internet has helped the spread of information, and you have many sources of information at your fingertips. A few quick searches on Google revealed several collector web sites with lots of detailed information about this stamp.

A cancel like "ALANÄSET" is quite rare and can add a lot
of value to a relatively common stamp.
Although I don't personally have a specialized collection of this stamp, I have definitely considered it as a possible expansion of my Sweden collection.

A good starting point might be to buy an accumulation from a reputable dealer or auction house. Sometimes "lots" of these stamps also show up on web sites like eBay. Naturally, it would be easiest to find such an accumulation at a Swedish auction house.

Some might feel more comfortable with the idea of purchasing a collection that has already been started, and then building onto it.

If you want to go the route of buying one stamp at a time, online sales venues like Delcampe, BidStart or Stamps2Go might be a better option-- but you need a place that has a good supply of lower priced items. Circuit books from an organization like the American Philatelic Society is also a worthwhile place to look.

Whatever way you go about starting your specialized collection, be aware that you'll have to make your own album pages... or do what many do with such collections-- start them out in a stock book, where it is easier to move the stamps around as the scope of the collection grows.

Above all, remember to have fun!

Friday, August 07, 2015

Stamps of the US Canal Zone

In the course of being a stamp collector, I often end up with "excess" material from places I'm not actually interested in. But that doesn't mean these places are not interesting, in and of themselves.

I will be the first to admit that I end up with a lot of "odd bits" simply because of "how" I collect stamps: Unlike many who simply strive to get exactly the stamps they need for precisely the blank spaces they have in their albums, I take more of the "treasure hunt" approach to stamp collecting. That is, I tend to buy "box lots," accumulations or entire estates and then proceed to sift through them in search of stamps that fit into my various collections.

Some would call me more of a "hoarder" than a collector... and that's OK. I've always subscribed to the idea that there is no "right" or "wrong" way to collect stamps... as long as you are enjoying yourself.

And I definitely do do that!

Because I do end up with a lot of stamps I have little use for-- or interest in-- I do try to stay mindful of the "hoarding thing." I've watched those shows on TV where the poor people can barely move through their houses because every surface is covered with a three-foot thick later of "stuff." And-- to be perfectly honest-- I have been to a few of my fellow collectors' houses that left me with a bit of that same impression... indiscriminate hoarding.

But I digress...

It is because I do not want to end up as a "hoarder" that I ended up being a somewhat active "stamp trader," albeit without any serious thoughts that I was a "Professional Stamp Dealer," even though I sometimes might "look like one."

Anyway, recently I came across a folder with some pretty nice stamps from the US Canal Zone.

Of course, that has nothing to do with Scandinavia (which remains my primary philatelic interest), but I remember thinking that the stamps were really interesting, when I was a little kid. In fact, when I was a young collector, the Canal Zone was not yet a "dead country," as we philatelists like to call places that no longer issue stamps.

We'd sometimes get Canal Zone stamps in the mail because my mother had friends who liked to go on cruises and we'd get postcards while the cruise ships were at-- or passing through-- the Panama Canal. I remember thinking how fascinating it was that "they" could move giant ships "up and down" in the water to get them transported across a piece of land, cutting thousands of miles off the journey from the East Coast to the West Coast. My dad explained to me how "locks" work, and I thought it would be amazing to experience a trip through the Panama Canal on a big ship.

For now, that remains on the uncharted territory of my "bucket list."

The Canal Zone was a stamp issuing entity from 1904 to 1979. Originally, postal service was started in order to serve during the construction of the canal, but the area continued as a sort of "US Protectorate" until the Panama postal service took over in 1979. The last Canal Zone stamp was issued in 1978.

Although I am not going to start, it still strikes me as an interesting country to collect, both from a historical standpoint, as well as from a philatelic standpoint.

The early issues were stamps of both Panama and the US, overprinted in various ways to be valid as postage in the Canal Zone area. There seems be a huge number of varieties in the surcharges (which were used for many years), allowing for lots of specialization. Although some varieties can be pretty pricey, it's not a horribly expensive area to collect, while not being all "cheap wallpaper," either. Meanwhile, because of the Canal Zone's geographical and political importance, it also seems to me that it would be a potential gold mine for Postal Historians. It has a lot going for it. And, of course, it's now a "Dead Country" so you don't have to worry about acquiring the flood of new issues most places seem to produce, these days.

But, as I said before, this is outside my collecting area and I really don't need to start a new collection at this point in the game-- no matter how interesting the stamps may seem! So, therefore... this modest accumulation of Canal Zone stamps was recently put up for sale on eBay... and now has found its way into the hands of nine different collectors around the globe.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Do Stamp Collectors EVER "Get Organized?"

Sometimes I find myself wondering if I am ever going to get my stamps "organized."

I haven't been keeping up with this blog recently, in part a reflection of the fact that I have been making a serious attempt to actually organize my stamps, rather than just write about them.

Well... that's not entirely true.

On the whole, my stamp collections are actually fairly well organized. The main source of chaos in my stamp "holdings" is all the stuff that is "not in a collection." I expect that's an issue that faces many collectors-- at least those who build specialized collections the way I always have: By buying accumulations, remaindered collections and box lots and "cherry picking" the stuff I want to keep.

Of course, that leaves "leftovers." For me, the pile of leftovers has grown quite large. I am not the most ambitious person to ever set foot on this planet, so I have had a tendency to set aside the "overs" with the thought of dealing with them later, rather than right away.

These "leftovers" became the reason I ended up selling stamps online, as well as buying them.

The other day, I was considering the way the Internet has changed stamp collecting-- making stamps and other collectors far more "accessible" than they used to be. I suppose that is both good and bad. It's easier to build a collection, but it's also easier to become a "hoarder" or "accumulator."

I sometimes wonder if my pile of "leftovers" would be much smaller, if there were no Internet? Then again, because there is the Internet, I have been able to already pass along many of my leftovers to other collectors through online sales. It's the whole "One man's trash is another man's treasure" principle.

Part of my effort to "get organized" has revolved around making not-needed stamps available for sale to others. The thing is, these stamps are just sitting in boxes, in my closet-- nobody gets to enjoy them there. And that's a shame.

Anyway, it's a HUGE amount of work to sort, identify, scan and list stamps for sale on web marketplaces. I have come to deeply admire those who eek out an actual living by doing so... I can't even imagine the amount of time and effort needed to build an online "inventory" of 50,000 items. For me, even 500 or 1000 items feels like a mountain of work.

For the last couple of months, I have mostly been working with stamps from Denmark. As a 40-year collector, those are the easiest for me to deal with-- especially as far as identification goes.

Sometimes I am amazed by what sellers consider to be a "description." I have seen listings on eBay that read simply "Denmark, very old. Rare!"

OK. So it's up to ME to identify the stamp from a scan? One question, though-- if you don't know the catalogue number of the stamp, how do you know it's "rare?"

A lot of times, the word "rare" is just used as what Internet "gurus" refer to as "click bait." I find it rather annoying-- don't call something "rare" unless it actually has some measure of rarity. And "being 100 years old" does not-- by itself-- make any stamp "rare."

Then again, I tend to be a stickler for describing stamps "properly" and that slows me down considerably, compared to someone who just uploads scans and lets potential buyers pretty much "guess" as to the ID and condition of the stamp. Maybe that works for people-- as a buyer, it has never worked for me. I know a lot of sellers say things like "If you need a better scan, let me know." Personally, I'm too lazy to deal with that... besides, why not just upload the "better scan," in the first place?

Maybe I'm silly, but I tend to favor sellers who actually identify a stamp correctly, and mention things like "has a thin" or "hinge remnant" on their listings.

So anyway, the upshoot of the "organization project" is that I have been listing 100's of my old duplicates for sale since November. Part of the process was not only organizing the stamps, but choosing where to list... something that seems to be on many casual traders' minds.

Which sites "work?" Which sites do not? What is the relationship between fees and sales success?

Since I am not really in it "to make a profit," my criteria are probably a little different from a regular stamp dealer's. For one, since I sell much material at 20-50% of catalogue value (sometimes less), what's most important to me is that the stamps are seen... because I know that as long as there are people looking at the stamps, the prices will drive sales. But if nobody is looking, it doesn't matter if you are giving away free hot bread, so to speak. And that's an issue with many online marketplaces that bill themselves as "alternatives to eBay." It may be cheap-- or even free-- to sell things there, but if there are no buyers, "free" doesn't amount to a hill of beans.

I currently use SIX different venues... and have "rejected" about 15 others as "not worthwhile." Later in the spring, I hope to write about each one I DO use-- and these are only sites where I have actually sold stuff-- and what it's like, and how it works for me. "Site reviews," if you will. I figured it might be useful to other collectors.

In the meantime, I'd like to invite you to visit my eBay Stamp Shop! I have lots of better material from Denmark, as well as some useful Iceland and Sweden. Although I normally deal just with Scandinavian material, I am also offering some better stamps from Switzerland.

I think you'll like what you see there.

Thanks for reading, and "till the next!"

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Occasional Finds on eBay: A Superb Swedish cancel

As most stamp collectors know, eBay is a giant mish-mash of stuff... from absolute rubbish to incredibly overpriced classics.

That said, you do occasionally come across a "gold nugget" or two. Earlier today, I came across a little "gem" that is perfectly representative of what Swedish town cancel collectors strive to find for their collections.

I know it's certainly the kind of stamp I like to add to my own cancel collection, but you rarely find one like this: It is not only a well-centered stamp without faults (Sweden no. 36, 30 öre ringtyp perf 13), it has a perfectly struck upright cancel.

Although not enormously rare, RÖK is a smaller place and by no means common.

I have seen these types of cancels-- in this quality-- sell at major auction houses in Europe for 100 € or more, so it is interesting to see one like this show up on eBay.

No, it's not mine... the seller is actually in Sweden, and the stamp is open for bids till Sunday, August 31st. This particular seller actually has several nice Swedish cancels up for sale at the moment. Here's a link, if you'd like to go have a look!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Danish Bicolour Stamps-- a Look at Cancels

Recently, I have been continuing to sort through a very large accumulation of the Danish "Bicolour" stamps, generally issued between 1870 and 1903.

I have long been a keen collector of postmarks and cancels, and these were really first way I started expanding my Denmark collection, back in the early 1980's. I would come across a particularly nice cancel, and add it in the margins of my album, even if I already "had" that stamp.

Most of the "early" versions-- skilling issues and the first printings of the øre issues-- of Bicoloured stamps were found with numeral cancels. Although some were "uncommon," it was not all that difficult to form a collection of many post offices (in general, there was one number assigned per place), if you have a large enough batch of stamps to look through.

Generally, all I could afford in the early collecting days were 4 øre and 8 øre stamps, so those were my initial "targets," to find numeral cancels.

Of course, there is a huge difference between finding merely a "readable" and a "lux" quality example. I soon learned that "luxury" quality cancels-- even on common stamps-- can sometimes sell at huge premiums. Reminds me of one of my father's sayings, from when I was a little kid: "Top quality is never out of style." He was certainly right about that.

In the process of looking for nice numeral cancels, I started noticing some of the other post marks on these issues. My concurrent interest in Swedish town cancels ("ortstämplar") soon enough spread to Denmark.

Early Danish town cancels "fit nicely" on a stamp, just like their Swedish counterparts-- and I soon enough started adding particularly nice examples to my collection.

It only made sense to me, as numeral cancels started to become discontinued, I wanted to add the postal markings from "later printings" to my collection, as part of the ongoing specialization.

A number of different styles were used, which made for almost infinite possibilties! Different diameters, different lettering styles... and now that cancels were no longer limited to "just a number," there were also individual post offices that could be distinguished within one city.

In addition, there were also railway (RPO) cancels.

For a while, "collecting cancels" became my "major obsession" with my Denmark collection-- in part due to the fact that I had reached a point where "filling the next empty space" was getting to be a rather expensive proposition. I think it's a point many collectors reach, as their collections approach "completeness," and it often acts as a catalyst to push someone into specialization of one form or another.

For me, the $200 (or equivalent) I would need to buy the next "main number" could instead allow me to buy thousands of inexpensive stamps in duplicate lots and accumulations, which I could then sift through in search of postmarks (and later plate flaws).

As the "evolution" of the Bicoloured issue moved along to the 1895 and beyond "coarse perforated" issues, the most commonly used cancels changed again to the "brotype" type cancel... which remained in use (in one variation or another) for a century.

These were the most difficult to find in "lux" condition (meaning a full upright, well-centered and clear strike of the cancel)-- seemed like postal employees had become less concerned with applying cancels "fully" to stamps... as long as the stamp received "some" cancel ink, it was evidently considered "good enough."

Hence, my nice cancels on coarse perforated Bicolours remain limited, even after some 30+ years of looking for them.

Last-- but certainly not least-- many variations of Denmark's possibly most "famous" cancel type were used on the Bicoloured issues: These are the "star" cancels, or "stjernestempler," as they are known in Denmark.

These were mostly used at rural "postal collection places," and were essentially a "temporary" postal marking applied before picked up mail was taken to the main post office. Star cancels are highly collectible, and a specialty, in their own right. Which presents one of the dilemmas often facing cancel collectors: Do you collect a particular type of cancel and try to find all stamps on which this type was used? Or do you collect a particular stamp issue, and only care about cancels on that issue?

Fortunately, there is no "right" or wrong way to collect stamps-- and I often find myself doing "some of each."

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Free Stamps and a Digital Age take on Old-Fashioned Stamp Swapping

Back when I was a "junior" stamp collector, one of the most common ways to build a stamp collection was to "swap stamps" with your friends.

Of course, this was in the "brick and mortar" days of philately-- before there was "the Internet." Back then, my connection to other stamp collectors didn't come from blogs, or Facebook, or stamp forums-- it came from going to the local Stamp Club, and participating on "trade day."

The nature of "swapping stamps" has changed considerably over the years. Stamp clubs are still around, but not in the numbers they once were. These days, more people swap stamps through online groups than face-to-face.

For me-- as well as for many other collectors-- the appeal of swapping stamps was, and remains, that it didn't involve money. For many-- young and old alike-- that is still a large part of the appeal of exchanging.

The challenges of swapping stamps also remain the same, in our digital age. How do you swap? Stamp for stamp? 100-for-100? Catalogue value for catalogue value? One of my youthful frustrations was always that often there was one person who wanted the stamps I had to swap, and a different person had the stamps I wanted for my own collection. Arriving at an "even" exchange was often difficult.

Personally, I have always been a fan of "barter" economies... systems in which people can exchange goods and services (such as stamps) without money, but there is a common "trading unit" that (for example) allows a house painter to offer painting services to someone else who "pays" with fresh strawberries, which they in turn exchange for tools which are eventually exchanged for the fresh flowers the painter ends up taking home to his wife. Instead of just two people involved, a long chain of people complete the trade.

The benefit of barter systems-- as opposed to one-on-one exchanging-- is that you're no longer dependent on finding a "swapping partner" where you each have exactly what the other wants. You offer your items-- stamps, for us philatelists-- to the broader community, then you end up with "credits" and then you use the credits to "bid" on the stamps you want... potentially from several different people.

Over the past couple of years, I have been "experimenting" with an online barter marketplace called Listia. It has actually been around for quite a few years now (since 2009) and has become pretty stable and has a good user base. Over 10 million items have been traded. In many ways, it's like eBay USED to be (before it became over-commercialized), but there's no money... only trading credits. Like eBay, you "offer" and "get" items through a system of auctions you can "bid" on, with your credits.

I got involved because I thought about the idea of an online "barter marketplace" for stamps and stamp collectors. Of course, Listia has every kind of item under the sun... but there IS a "stamps" category that's seeing more and more activity.

Because I need another "pet project" about as much as I need another hole in my head... I took on a bit of the challenge of "spreading the word" about this site, as a potential "online swap meet" for stamp collectors. It's still in somewhat limited stages, but there are now several active stamp traders offering hundreds of stamps every month.

Of course, I've had to "put my money where my mouth is" and become someone who offers things for trade... which I have done. So far, so good. I've actually traded some of my unwanted stamps for both other stamps, as well as things that have nothing to do with stamps.

The stamps you see pictured on this page are actual stamps I have offered for trade. And as I write this, 100% of the stamps I've made available have changed hands to dozens of collectors around the world.

You can click on this link to see what I currently have available.

Just to clarify, these ARE basically "Free Stamps" in the sense that there is no money involved. Of course, you have to get some "credits" which you do by making some of your own duplicates available. Some people just buy site credits (with money) but that defeats the purpose of having an "exchange," to me.

You can get some starting credits for free if you use this signup link to get started. You see, I get to give away site credits to encourage people to sign up. There is no catch. You will NOT be asked for your credit card information. You will NOT be asked for money. You can even enroll with your existing Facebook account.

Of course, there's some old wisdom that says "There's a catch." And "there's no such thing as a free lunch." True... and part of the reason I didn't recommend this site a couple of years ago is that I wanted to see where the "catch" was. People were saying to me "Yes, but the site has to make money SOMEhow!"

Very true.

So after a couple of years of observation, here's the "catch" and the fundamentals of how the site "makes money."

Some people offer pretty good stuff for trade. Because it's popular, the bidding (with "credits") gets pretty competitive. Many people don't have the patience to wait until they've traded enough of their own stuff to afford some expensive item like an iPad or a $200 gift card. So they BUY credits from the site, with cash. The site also has a "Rewards Store" where they offer various things for traders to cash in their credits. Like a regular store, the site makes a profit from things they offer in the rewards store. So the "catch"-- in a nutshell-- is that they make some money from simple "human impatience."

Personally? I've never paid a single penny (of "real money") for anything on the site. But I'm patient.

If you're thinking you might be interested and would like to know when I have more free stamps available, you're also welcome to sign up to be notified when I list new items for trade... no telling what will show up! I have hundreds of thousands of stamps. To be notified, just fill out the form below, check your email for a confirmation request and you'll be "in the loop." Again, I'm not trying to SELL you anything, just sharing an opportunity to try a new and fun way to swap stamps.

Free Stamp Notification Service

Email Marketing You Can Trust

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Part 8 of a European Accumulation of Classic US Stamps

As regular readers of this blog may have noticed, I sometimes use these pages to talk about my late stepfather's extensive accumulation of classic and older US stamps. This summer, I am continuing to parcel out these stamps with another group of 100+ eBay auctions.

(If you want to go directly and look at the stamps without reading the story, you can also click on this link, which opens in a new browser tab)

1c 1869 Pictorial with RED cancel
My stepdad was basically a "hoarder" who'd buy loose album pages, cigar box lots, stock sheet lots and so on, all with a focus on US stamps from the beginning to about 1930.

I know it was his intention to "eventually" build a real collection of US... but as he aged (he died at age 92) the project seemed to just become more and more overwhelming for him. And yet? He'd keep buying these "odd lots," look at them for a while and then store them away for the future.

Since I was "the stamp expert in the family," I ended up with this chaotic accumulation, assembled over a period from about 1982 till his passing in late 2010. Two large moving boxes' worth, filled to overflowing.

Although I may be somewhat of an "expert" on Danish and Swedish philately, I actually don't know the first thing about US stamps... at least not beyond what a somewhat experienced collector can figure out with the help of a Scott catalogue. As I have written previously, I was very tempted to just sell the whole thing as a "bulk lot," but got some rather lowball offers for what seemed like a good number of stamps with some decent value. So I decided to sell the stamps, myself.

Of course, much of what I am finding IS basically "common junk" not worth talking about. But it seems like pretty much every folder or wad of album pages I examine has something "of value" to be found.

I just finished my 8th stack of album pages (and bulging stockbook), which has only taken me about 1/2 of the way into the first box... if even that.

A nice mint 75c Parcel Post stamp
This time, I came up with about 120 individual stamps worth listing. The vast majority are in the $10.00 to $50.00 catalogue value range, although there are some as high as $200.00+. In other words, a lot of decent "mid-range" stamps. Some are in perfect condition, some are "presentable."

This go around I found more mint stamps than usual-- my stepdad was mainly interested in used stamps (they were "cheaper," he said!) so the mint has been pretty limited.

When I first started the massive task of sorting through all this material-- and discovered there were a good number of better stamps-- I decided that I was going to put the proceeds from sales into the grandkids' college funds. Of course, it may not be much more than a drop in the bucket towards a college education by the time they get to be young adults (they are four and one, respectively), but I figured it would be better than nothing, and I'd like to think that my stepdad would have been pleased, too. He never actually got to meet our grandkids, but I think the thought that his stamps would help with "something useful" would have appealed to him, as he was rather a pragmatist.

Anyway, this week's selection is one of the larger and best quality (120 lots) I've assembled so far, which means multiple lot winners can reasonably save with combined shipping. I've done my best to identify everything correctly, but where there was any doubt between two stamps, I've identified each as "the cheapest version."

US Scott 418, 15c Franklin, mint NH-- catalogue value $190.00
In any case, these stamps are now up for auction on eBay with my "usual terms:" ALL stamps have the bidding start at ONE CENT, regardless of value... I'm just going to trust collectors and "the market" to come up with what's a fair price... aware that some stamps may sell for $0.01.

As previously, I am using my "personal" eBay account, rather than the one I used to trade Scandinavian stamps.

Someone recently asked me-- or rather, commented: "I could go into your auctions and just bid five cents on every single item, and end up with some perfectly good stamps I could trade or resell for 100x more than that?"

Yes. Yes, you could. At several of my previous sales from this accumulation, collectors walked away with $25.00 stamps they only paid one cent for! Of course, that's the exception, not the norm-- but it does happen. The point is that I want to sell the stamps, not "collect" them or save them for later. So there will be some extraordinary bargains to be had.

Anyway, the stamps are now available for bidding. Bidding remains open till 10:00pm Eastern/7:00pm Pacific time, on Sunday, July 13th, 2014. As always, there is reduced shipping when you win multiple lots. Here's a link to the auction listing; go have a look, and I hope you find something useful!

Are there more like this? Well, maybe not like this, but I'm barely 25% into sorting the whole thing, so there are many more to come, and it will probably take me several years to finish sorting through everything.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Found! Top Quality Mint Stamps from Denmark

One of my favorite parts of being a stamp collector comes from what I call "treasure hunting."

7 øre Christian X, XF post office fresh mint NH
Some collectors are very "neat and tidy" in their approach to collecting. They have a specific spot in the album they want to place a stamp in, and they go off and acquire that specific stamp without ever deviating from their "mission." That has never really been my approach... I like to "treasure hunt" through messy lots and accumulations to find "just the right thing."

We each have our own ways-- not implying that one is "better" than any other.

Whereas there is a lot of "fun" in the hunt, it has its downsides: Quite often you'll look through a box of "junky" stamps and come up with almost nothing, or nothing at all. That has happened to me, more than a few times. And then you're left to dispose of a box of junk, hopefully for a price that's somewhat close what you paid, in the first place.

One of the questions I often get asked goes along the lines of "but if it's already in a box as 'junk,' hasn't it already been gone through and the good bits removed?"

On the superficial level, the response would seem to be "yes." But on closer contemplation, if you are a specialist, odds are the collector who went through the box before you was looking for something different from you. True, you're probably not going to "accidentally" find a 4-margin Penny Black, but you might still find a rare variety, inverted watermark, cancel or something else that happens to be your area of expertise.

8 øre Christian X's 60th Birthday issue, mint NH
What keeps me going is that "treasure" does show up, and sometimes you can still find a veritable gold mine of goodies in an unlikely box of seemingly random junk.

Such was the case, with a recent "box lot" of European collections I bought-- basically unseen-- from a major auction in Norway. Although the box was mostly touted for its Germany and Malta (an unlikely combination?), there was also a sentence that caught my eye: "... also some older mint Denmark and Sweden on Hagner sheets, but most appear to be stuck down; a couple of pages of classic used Scandinavia in somewhat mixed condition."

"Box lots," of course, are rarely photographed for auction catalogues... you pretty much "get what you get," unless you're able to attend an auction preview, in person. Not so feasible when you live in the US, and the auction is in Norway!

For reasons unknown... but perhaps because the Germany seemed pretty nice and like I could parcel it out for the cost of the box and "take a chance" on the Scandinavia... I decided to "take a flyer" and placed a minimum opening bid on the lot. Somewhat to my surprise, the bid (about US$400) "stuck" and I became the owner of the lot. Of course, there were also auction fees to be paid, not to mention the cost of shipping a box from Norway to North America. Still, I was hopeful I'd have an enjoyable time sorting through the box and even be able to sell off the remainder and still break even.

5kr Postal Ferry stamp, XF mint never hinged
A few weeks later my box of stamps arrived. The German was much as expected. The Malta? Well, I don't know much about stamps from Malta, so I'll have to learn more about that... For my own purposes, though, it was the "used classic Scandinavia" that was of interest. And it was actually quite good, yielding several nice Danish skilling stamps with plate flaws along with some nice numeral cancels. That-- in and of itself-- made the purchase worthwhile, to me.

I was also reminded that the term "mixed condition" has different meanings in different parts of the world. In the US, it basically seems to mean "ALL stamps over 50 cents are faulty." In Europe-- Scandinavia and Germany, especially" it means "some are faulty and some are not." In this case, only about 1/4 had smaller to larger faults.

But that was not where the true "gold mine" was located.

The best part of the lot was the 75-odd Hagner sheets of mint stamps-- mostly from Denmark. They had been listed as "mostly stuck down" but I would attribute that description to a hurried (or lazy?) auction describer who determined there were "issues" on the first 3-4 pages and then characterized ALL the pages thusly. Of course, I'm not really "pointing fingers" here, because this WAS a messy box lot, and most auction houses don't have the time to thoroughly examine what basically amounts to a "job lot."

Rare early printing of 12 øre Bicolour, mint NH
As it turned out, only a few dozen stamps (out of many hundreds) were stuck down, or partially stuck down, or had minor gum damage from someone trying to "unstick" them.

But here's the amazing thing about the remainder: They were obviously collected by someone who was a stickler for quality: Almost everything was pristine mint, never hinged... and clearly had been stored "properly" as the gum was fresh, and the stamp colors bright. Not only that, most stamps were in choice VF or XF centering. On top of which, many were from that "difficult" period between 1875 and the 1950's where you can certainly find "mint stamps," but almost all stamps were hinged, to put in album... the condition of gum was not considered nearly as important as it is today.

It also soon became clear that the original collector had known quite a lot about Danish stamps, because there were many scarce types and varieties included in the lot. Even after pulling almost 200 stamps for my own collection, I had 100's of exceptionally nice mint NH Denmark left over. The photos on the page are just a few of them, but they are representative of just how nice this otherwise "ordinary sounding" box lot turned out to be.

I suppose the "moral" of this story is that "treasure" is still out there, for stamp collectors, waiting to be found. All the "good stuff" has NOT "already been found." In this example, it turned out that a box I paid about US $650 for (after shipping) contained several hundred VF and XF mint NH stamps with catalogue values between $15 and $100. Did I "get lucky?" Probably so-- but it does happen.

60 øre Christian X, the scarce brown and ULTRA
On a more personal level, this story is a good example of why I collect stamps the way I do. I suppose I would be a more "methodical" collector if I didn't also enjoy the "trading" part of stamp collecting-- helping the stamps I don't need "find new homes." Because-- as I mentioned above-- just because I have looked at these stamps doesn't mean that someone with different interests from me won't find them interesting, and of value.

In the course of the next few weeks, I will be putting some of the stamps I decide not to keep into my eBay and other online shops... there are some really good stamps, and it's always nice to be able to offer "top quality," since so much that's offered online is in pretty dodgy condition.

For those who regularly read these pages-- yes, I do still mostly collect postally used stamps. If-- and only IF-- I come across a super nice mint NH copy of any stamp from Denmark or Sweden, I will add it in-- these are specialized collections for me that I have been working on for over 30 years... and by now they are made up of pretty much "anything that appeals to me," including mint, used, postmarks, covers, varieties and whatever I can find.

Which is my own take on the saying "There is no 'right' or 'wrong' way to collect stamps."

Thanks for reading!