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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Variety Focus: Denmark 1947 Railway Ferry with Double Railing

AFA Nr. 304, issued in 1947
In 1947, Denmark issued a set of three stamps to commemorate 100 years of railroads in Denmark. Whereas a number of varieties and plate flaws have been discovered on these stamps, it is only the 40 øre blue high value that has become known enough to be listed as a "major" variety in several larger stamp catalogues, including Danish AFA, and Swedish Facit.

The stamp features one of Denmark's (at the time) express trains at the ferry terminal, getting ready to roll onboard one of the railway ferries across Storebælt, the sound between the islands of Sjælland and Fyn. Today, Storebælt is served by a bridge, but in 1947 the only way to cross the water was on one of several ferry routes. Some of these ferries were large enough to take a number of railway carriage onboard for each passage.

Normal (top) and variety
This variety is called "double strikes of the railing of the ferry," and is a plate flaw that occurs in position 48 in only a part of the printing. A lot of collectors have actually never seen this variety, and the drawings in catalogues are not always very clear or obvious. The photo at left shows the difference as seen on actual stamps; the top photo is the normal version of the stamp, the bottom photo shows a lighter second line in part of the ferry railing.

This variety is listed in both the Swedish Facit catalogue, as well as Danish AFA. The current catalogue value is 220,- Danish Kr, or about US $42.50.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Fine and Rare, Number 4

The "Fine and Rare" pages of this blog is a space where I sometimes share some of the "gems" (in my opinion) and favorites from my personal collections. Some will be rare, some will just be of exceptional quality, some will merely be unusual-- a few will be "all of the above."

Sweden 1872: 20 öre red Ringtyp, perf 14, a very fine used example with full upright strike of extremely rare "FJÄRÅS KLOCKAREGÅRD 3.2.1877" town cancel. Facit number 22g. With certificate by Helena Obermüller-Wilén.

One of my primary specialized collections is of town cancels on classic Swedish stamps, namely the "Arms" and "Circle" types, issued between 1855 and about 1891. In Sweden, these stamp series are known as "Vapentyp" and "Ringtyp," respectively. I originally got interested in this area of collecting after purchasing an old accumulation from a dealer in Copenhagen, Denmark-- and noticing how attractive many early Swedish cancels were.

Cancel collecting is a "big deal" in Swedish philately. Collecting Ortstämplar (town/place cancels) is part of a popular trend known as "hembygdsfilateli" (literally "home municipality philately"), where collectors specialize in the postal history of a specific town, county or region of Sweden... typically the area where they grew up, or where their ancestors came from.

This stamp came to me some 15 years ago as part of a very disappointing mail auction lot, described as a "very fine specialized group of classic Sweden," which in fact was a group of primarily "awful spacefillers." This stamp was one of the better ones, VF and with just one nibbed perf-- still, no great rarity... until I looked up the postmark.

Fjärås Klockaregård was no more than a tiny "place," not far from the town of Kungsbacka in Halland, Sweden. Mail was only handled there from the beginning of 1874 till around March of 1877. As you can probably imagine, if you take a place with perhaps 100 people, in the 1870s, and a postal depot only open for a little over three years... you end up with very few surviving postmarks.

This became the first truly rare postmark in my Swedish cancel collection. I sent it off to Sweden for certification, and it came back with a clean "genuine" certificate.

The "base" value of Facit no. 22g is 70:- Swedish kr. (or about US$10.50). The cancel, however, carries a premium of 3500:- Swedish kr. (or about US$525.00) according to the Swedish Facit Postal catalogue. I have never seen another example of this rare cancel, either in auction catalogs, or in other collections.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Fine and Rare, Number 3

The "Fine and Rare" pages of this blog is a space where I sometimes share some of the "gems" (in my opinion) and favorites from my personal collections. Some will be rare, some will just be of exceptional quality, some will merely be unusual-- a few will be "all of the above."

Sweden 1877: 50 öre rose Ringtyp perf 13, very fine used example with manuscript marking "Aneby 2/3 82" in black ink, Facit number 36e.

For a lot of people, an "ink cancelled" stamp is either considered to be defective or worthless. After all, when we get a letter or package in the mail and the stamps have been "cancelled" by the mail carrier's ballpoint pen or marker, we tend to get annoyed because we think the stamps have been "ruined."

Indeed, this is true for most stamps, from most countries-- even old stamps. 

Ink "cancels" come about when postal workers at the original source post office somehow overlooked canceling the stamp on an envelope or package. Typically, it falls to the mail carrier making the final delivery to notice-- and then act on-- an uncancelled stamp in the mail stream. 

In Sweden, it was quite rare that stamps in the "classic" period (pre-1900) did not receive a proper postmark-- as such, ink cancellations are quite collectible, and become part of Swedish postmark collections. Unlike many other countries, an early ink cancellation from Sweden does not indicate a "revenue" usage... all such markings were applied to stamps in the actual mail stream.

What makes this particular stamp interesting is that it has the actual town and date fully written on it. Many stamps were canceled with a simple "X", OR the town and date were large enough to spill over onto the envelope. Although not really a "cancel" in the strict sense, stamps like these are prized by postal historians and cancel collectors alike.

This stamp came to me in an approval selection where it was marked "defective" and offered at 10% of the stamp's catalogue value. Needless to say, I was very happy to be able to add it to my cancel collection!

The base value of the 50 öre stamp in pale rose (Facit 36e) is 70:- Swedish kronor (or about US $11.50). The additional value of a "town and date" marking like this on a loose stamp from the classic period is a minimum of 400:- Swedish kr. (or about US $65.00), making this quite the "bargain" compared to its original price of about 70 cents. 

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Cluttered Web Sites: Are stamp collectors cluttered in the head?

I spent some time today, looking around the Internet at various web sites related to stamp collecting.

To be honest, I wasn't very impressed with what I found.

Please! No cluttered web sites!
Maybe that sounds a bit blunt and rude, so let me clarify. I was actually very impressed with the volume and variety of philatelic web sites and blogs out there. Seems a LOT of stamp collectors have found their way to the world wide web and are sharing lots of interesting content about stamp collecting and philately.

What left me feeling very UN-impressed-- and even a little frustrated-- was the sheer number of poorly designed, willy-nilly, cluttered web sites out there; web sites that looked more like a going-out-of-business sales flyer than a way to present one's treasured stamps.

Now, you might be asking yourself why I even care. Good question. So here's the point:

If your web site is made up of dozens of seemingly unrelated little text boxes with text in different colors and fonts, arranged in a way that suggests NO planning whatsoever... your web site design, itself, is actually taking AWAY from your attempts to share with other people. Think, for a moment, about what an album page looks like. It is pretty plain, with borders around each stamp, and maybe a little bit of descriptive text. Odds are your stamps are NOT mounted up on paper from the most recent Wal-Mart flyer, right? So WHY would you build a web site made up to look like a patchwork quilt with blinking lights?

Think simple. Let the STAMPS tell the story... not the "wrapping" (aka web site). Keep it simple...

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Variety Focus: Sweden's 20/20 öre "Double Print" Stamp

A closer look at Sweden 1876: 20 öre red on 20 öre faint orange Ringtyp perf 14; Facit no. 23/Scott no. 23b

One of my specialized collections is of the Swedish "Ringtyp" (sometimes called "Circle Type") issues of 1872-99. Within these old sets of stamps, my favourite issue is the so-called 20 öre "Double Print" stamp, which is unique in the world of philately.

The first ringtyp stamps were issued on July 1, 1872, to replace the previous "Vapentyp" ("arms" type) stamps. Nine values between 3 öre and 1 riksdaler were issued, all perforated 14, all with the same basic design: a large central numeral of value inside a circle or "ring." One of the primary reasons for this stamp issue was that the numbers on the previous vapentyp stamps were small and sometimes difficult to read-- the ringtyp design featured a much more prominent numeral inside a circle in the center of the stamp.

Facit Nr. 22f, 20 öre printed in extremely pale orange
The 20 öre value was printed in red. A number of printings between 1872 and 1877 produced an assortment of shades of red-- red was a difficult color to reproduce exactly. However, one of the printings of the 20 öre stamp was done in a colour of "dull orange" SO pale that the design could almost not be seen (Facit no. 22f). This printing was sent to post offices in 1875, but it quickly became a problem. Either the colour was too difficult to see, OR the stamp was confused with the yellow-orange 24 öre value.

As a result, the stamps were recalled by the Swedish Port Office (towards the later part of 1876), and it was decided that the stamps would be printed a SECOND time, this time in a brighter red colour-- rather than be destroyed.

Of course, with the fairly simple printing technology of the 1870s it was almost impossible for the printers to get perfect registration between the two colors, so most often the examples of the "double print" stamps we find have a faint "ghost image" of the paler colour-- on the stamp below, it can be seen in the right margin, and inside the large number 20. For a better look, click on the stamp and you'll get a much larger image to look at.

A genuine example of the "Double Print" stamp
The listed catalogue value is relatively low, especially for a classic stamp of which only 180,000 were printed, and most were used and discarded on ordinary mail. I expect this is largely because only the Swedish Facit catalogue recognizes the stamp as a "main" number, while for all other catalogues the stamp is listed as a "variety." For Scott it is no. 23b, the other primary Scandinavian catalogue-- AFA-- lists it as no. 22x. As a result, most pre-printed album pages for Swedish stamps do not have a separate space for this stamp, even though it was an "official issue," and not an "error." If the album designers did include a space for the Double Print, the stamp would probably be worth 4-5 times more, because of the much higher demand to fill those empty spaces.

Another thing that makes this stamp interesting for collectors of Sweden is the "treasure hunt" factor. Although the variety is listed in most major catalogues, very few descriptions exist to tell people what to look for. Most copies I have found have come from duplicate stocks of the "normal" 20 öre stamp. Odds are good that next time you find yourself at a stamp show, you might just find one of these in a dealer's box, not marked as a vareity!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Fine and Rare, Number 2

The "Fine and Rare" pages of this blog is a space where I sometimes share some of the "gems" (in my opinion) and favorites from my personal collections. Some will be rare, some will just be of exceptional quality, some will merely be unusual-- a few will be "all of the above."

Denmark 1915: 5 kroner brownish red, watermarked multiple crosses, perfed 14 x 14 1/2, depicting the Central Post Office in Copenhagen. Very fine used copy with the major variety "Plate flaw: KJØBFNHAVN instead of KJØBENHAVN in caption," AFA Catalogue No. 81x. 

The 5 Kroner "Central Post Office" stamp of Denmark has never been a common stamp. First issued in 1912 with the "large crown" watermark, then reissued in with the "multiple crosses" watermark, only about 86,000 copies of each stamp were printed. One stamp in each sheet of 50 has one of Denmark's most significant and widely recognized plate flaws: Instead of "KJØBENHAVNS" in the caption below the building, the word is "KJØBFNHAVNS."

This particularly nice example came to be in my collection by way of the APS's online "Stamp Store." It was actually a surprise-- I was looking for a nice copy of this stamp to replace the existing copy I had. You see, this stamp was mostly used on parcel cards, and most used examples have partial strikes of 2-3 postmarks, and I was ready for a nicer copy. Pleased to have found an attractive copy for a fair price, I was very excited to discover that I had actually acquired a major variety.

Just to make sure that everything was OK, I sent the stamp to Denmark to be examined and certified by Lasse Nielsen, Denmark's foremost philatelic authority. It came back with a "squaky-clean" certificate and remains one of the "best" stamps in my Denmark collection.

Although not listed by Scott, this variety is listed in the Danish AFA stamp catalogue as no. 81x. It is also included in other major European stamp catalogues. Because the "base" stamp already carries a fairly high value, the variety is even more expensive-- and quite difficult to find. It currently lists for 4200,- Danish Kr. (about US $820.00).

Friday, January 04, 2008

The Future of Stamp Collecting

It's a new year, and I find myself wondering about the year ahead. It got me to thinking about collecting stamps, and the future.

I wonder if people will continue to collect stamps. I wonder if-- when I die and my collections will be offered for sale-- anyone will buy them.

On one hand, we hardly ever use stamps, any more. Let's face it, email has replaced a vast volume of snail mail. And to the degree we send things through the postal system, we often don't even use stamps. There's less and less to collect-- at least if "postally used" is your bag.

From a different angle, stamp collecting seems less "cool" than it was, in the past. The children and youth of today seem less into "collecting" things, and more into "playing things." That is, video games and electronic interactions have replaced "finding and collecting." Where stamp collecting once was a "viable" thing to do, it is now "deeply nerdy," if you're under the age of 30.

And the nature of stamps has changed, too. How we collect. Many countries-- no doubt in response to sagging revenues-- issue more and more new stamps, every year. And because fewer of them are actually used on letters, we feel increasingly pressured to "collect mint." Not so good, if you're eight years old and only have a few dollars. Not so good, even, if you're adult and have limited income.

Perhaps I am representative: I only collect used stamps, and I don't collect modern issues anymore, because (a) I can't keep up and (b) I don't seem able to find postally used stamps the way I used to.

Which leaves me collecting issues from the late 1800s. 50 years down the road, will there be a new generation, who ALSO collect issues from the late 1800s? Or will the "challenge" for them be to find stamps from the 1990s, that actually carried a letter? Or will "collecting stamps" pass from the realm of being something you (theoretically) can do on a shoestring, to being something you "buy," like a collection of "labels" or Barbie dolls?

Just pondering out loud, here...

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

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