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Monday, September 19, 2011

Finding "Treasures"

For me, a large part of the joy of stamp collecting comes from finding "unexpected treasures" in a lot of stamps.

Sure, we can go out and find a stamp dealer, or go to an online stamp store, and buy precisely the one stamp we need to fill a very specific space in the album. And I won't deny that this may be the most appropriate way to collect, for many people.

For me? Not so much.

Most of my collection has been built through buying fairly large lots, collections or accumulations... and slowly sifting through the "mess" to find the few "gold nuggets" I wanted to include in my collections. Sure, I do end up with quite a bit of duplicate material... but there are ways of trading or selling that to other collectors who may need what I don't need.

Recently, I splurged and bought a fairly large lot of classic used back-of-the-book issues from Sweden. Well, for me it was fairly large outlay-- about US $375.00, from a stamp auction firm in Denmark.

Sweden Scott O10, XF-S with rare FRÖSKOG cancel
Buying these classic issues-- most from the period 1874 to about 1900-- is always a bit risky, especially if you can't be present to check the condition. The Swedish "Long" officials (Scott O1-25, Facit TJ1-24) are especially notorious for poor condition-- thins and tears are common, and most stamps are somewhat to extremely off-center. Often the cancels-- especially on the higher values, which were used on parcel cards-- are heavy and unattractive, and will have bled through to the back of the stamp. Collecting a set in VF+ sound condition can be quite challenging... and many collectors just give up on such a proposition, settling for a "reasonable" in Fine or better condition.

As expected, condition was somewhat "mixed." That's typically "dealer speak" for "all the better values are damaged, the cheap stamps are mostly OK." After sorting through the lot, almost 50% of the stamps ended up in my "junk pile" because they were damaged/faulty to some degree. However, there were also some very nice stamps-- with very attractive cancels, one of my specialties-- in the lot.

The "upside surprise," however was that the very best stamp in the lot was also the one with the highest catalogue value:

The pictured stamp is a near-flawless copy of the Sweden 50 öre "long" official, perfed 14, from 1874, Scott no. O10. Not only does it have almost perfect centering, it is very fresh and bright, it has full perfs and no back faults, and a lovely upright town cancel from the village of Fröskog-- a smaller, hard-to-find place. There is a faint hint of a pencil line in the upper right corner, but otherwise it's as close to perfect as they get. This is a difficult stamp to find in merely "sound" condition... but in "gem" condition like this, it an extreme rarity. If I were to try to purchase this stamp individually at a stamp auction, in this condition, chances are I would have to pay well in excess of the $125.00 stated catalogue value.

Needless to say, I was very pleased with the outcome of this purchase, and I am still left with lots of trading and approval book material. Which just goes to show that it's not always the highest value stamps that are in the most "mixed" condition!

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