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Friday, February 23, 2007

Stamp Collecting Basics: The joys of Kiloware

Although I suppose I have risen to the rank of "advanced" collector over the years, I still enjoy getting back to basics, and back to the way I started stamp collecting.

For some "serious" stamp collectors, this is a bit like having "a dirty little secret:"

I really enjoy messing around with kiloware.

Back in my "poor days," it was one of the few ways I could afford to buy a LOT of stamps, without breaking the bank.

I started buying kiloware already when I was about 15, using my money earned from mowing lawns and shoveling snow out of people's driveways in winter. Back then (1975), we were still living in Denmark, and I would take the bus into Copenhagen and visit several dealers who carried a good stock of "unsorted stamps on paper."

A couple of "Machins" from my old kiloware purchases
It was one one of these journeys I discovered "Blue Peter bags." These were ten pound burlap bags from the UK, filled with all manners of "treasures," imported by this Danish dealer for his retail shop. Evidently they were collected for the Blue Peter charity appeal in England, by people who knew nothing of stamp collecting, and then were sealed into 10lb sacks, completely unsorted, and then marketed to stamp collectors around the world.

Now, you might think that a 15-year old boy never would have the patience and perseverance to sort, soak and process 10lbs of stamps on paper... but between ages 15 and about 24, I actually bought and completely processed four 10lb bags of "Blue Peter mix." Much to my mother's frustration (and amusement, at first), there would be towels with stamps drying covering almost every flat surface in my room. And yes, there were many many duplicates, but he untold thousands of "Wildings" and "Machins" in those mixtures went on to form the basis of a couple of my specialized (non-Scandinavian!) collections.

A GB stamp of the "Wilding" design
Part of the charm of the Blue Peter bags was that you could find virtually anything in them. One bag had-- literally-- over a thousand Queen Victoria era stamps, still on the corners of ancient envelopes. I can only imagine that someone found a box of great-grandma's old letters in the attic, cut all the stamps off, and submitted them to the charity appeal. Retrospectively, I can understand how the contents of the letters would hold far more "value" to a non-stamp collector, than the stamps outside the envelopes.

In my third bag, I found a sound-- and quite presentable, with three margins-- Great Britain "Two Pence blue" (no. 2), which has a catalogue value of at least £675.00, in the most recent Stanley Gibbons catalogue. Even at the time I found it, its catalogue value was more than twice the price I'd paid for the entire bag of stamps!

Of course, I bought many other kinds of kiloware, over the years. I used to buy "post office sealed" one-kilo boxes from Denmark, Norway and Sweden. These were boxes of high value stamps on parcel cards, and I really enjoyed these because they differed from "ordinary" kiloware in that most of the stamps were not of the contemporary "letter rate" of the time, but "odd" and "high values" that rarely were used on regular envelopes. Many of these stamps went on become the foundation of my town cancel collections.

Iceland post office kiloware from parcel clippings
When I had a little more money, I went on to buy more expensive and "exotic" mixtures. One of my earliest "big investments" was in a box of post office sealed mixture from Iceland (pictured at left). It was (to my way of thinking, at the time), horrendously expensive... but well worth it, as most of the stamps in the box had catalogue values between $2.00 and $10.00 each, and offered me excellent trading material for years.

Sadly, with the advent of email, and ever-greater standardization of the global mail handling process, kiloware has become more and more difficult to find. Especially if you want-- as I do-- authentic postally used stamps. People just don't use stamps, as much as they used to.

My roots as a "mixture sorter" continue to be reflected in the way I collect stamps, to this day. I may be a "serious" collector, but I have never been someone who goes out and buys "just those exact three stamps" to fit particular spots in an album. Sure, there are exceptions-- occasionally I'll spring for a single stamp, of particular appeal. On the whole, though, I have always preferred to "take my chances" on finding them-- or not-- in a "messy accumulation" bought at a stamp show, or in an auction.

The bottom line is that I get just as much enjoyment from the "treasure hunt" aspects of stamp collecting, as I do from "having a collection."

Thankfully, there is no "right" or "wrong" way to collect stamps!