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Friday, December 10, 2010

Variety Focus: Denmark's 5 Kr. Central Post Office

On September 16th, 1912, Denmark issued it's fist true "high value" stamp: The 5 Kroner Central Post Office stamp. Printed from a copper engraved plate, this was also Denmark's first "large format" stamp, being exactly twice the size of normal definitive stamps. The primary use of the stamp was to pay postage for large heavy parcels, and for high value insured letters.

This stamp was actually printed twice, on different types of paper, albeit from the same printing plate. The original printing from 1912 was made on paper with watermark III, large crown, and perforated 12 3/4. A subsequent printing was made on May 3rd, 1915, this time on the new paper with watermark multiple crosses, and with perforation 14 x 14 1/2.

Since only about 86,000 stamps were produced in each printing (yes, stamps, not sheets of stamps), this has never been a "common" stamp in Danish stamp collecting... and being able to afford a "Post Office" for my Denmark collection was a "big deal" until quite a long way into my collecting-- and work-- career. For many years, the market price for this stamp-- even for an inferior copy-- stubbornly stayed ahead of my collecting budget... and this remains true for a significant number of Denmark collectors.

Normal inscription (top) and KJØBFNHAVNS at bottom
This stamp also has one of Denmark's best known and most significant stamp varieties: Under the motif of the Central Post Office building in Copenhagen is the inscription "KJØBENHAVNS CENTRALPOSTBYGNING 1912." However, on the stamp in position 44, the word "KJØBENHAVNS" is mis-engraved as "KJØBFNHAVNS." Since the same printing place was used for both the 1912 and 1915 printings, the error occurs on both versions of the stamp.

The example from my own collection-- pictured at top-- is from the 1915 printing. It is listed in the Danish AFA stamp catalogue as no. 81x. This variety is also included in other 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 $805.00).

Friday, September 24, 2010

Stamp Collecting: Wanting vs. Having

I was emailing with a stamp collecting friend, and mentioned that I had received the fall catalogue from a major European philatelic auction, and had been drooling over all the marvelous and beautiful rarities up for sale.

I can't afford this stamp!
Marvelous and beautiful rarities, I might add, which there is no chance in hell I can afford.

Rather bluntly, my friend offered: "I don't know why you bother. What's the point of wasting time looking at stuff you're not going to buy, anyway?"

His words made me pause and think, for a bit.

It strikes me that collectors-- and not just of stamps-- come in two basic varieties: Those primarily focused on acquiring and having (like my friend), and those for whom a large part of the hobby is about seeing and learning... but without an attachment to "owning" what we see.

Many years ago, I used to keep shop and we sold a number of "collectible" items, including vintage fountain pens and hand crafted glass paperweights. The store had quite a reputation among these specialized collector communities, and people would travel hundreds of miles out of their way to visit our shop. And yet, there were those collectors whose only objective was "to buy," while others would spend hours looking at every single item... but eventually would leave either with nothing, or with an inexpensive item.

Personally, my enjoyment of stamps-- and stamp collecting-- is not tied to "owning" what I look at. Odds are I will never have enough money to acquire a mint copy of Sweden's 3 Skill Bco with the "double 3" error, like the one offered for sale in the auction catalogue I was looking through. But that's OK! I enjoy stamps, regardless of whether they can be "mine" or not.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Random Stamp Musings: "Postally Used"

I collect used stamps.

To be specific, I collect postally used stamps. No CTO's for this boy... and I don't care, even, if said CTO's are from a "good" country.

When I was little, my father tried to get me interested in collecting mint stamps. The points he made was that (A) when you have a mint stamp, you can see the whole design, and (B) there are going to be far more used stamps than mint stamps-- in the long run-- so mint will be more valuable.

I did try-- briefly-- to collect mint stamps from France, but it "annoyed" me because I had to be so careful when putting them into my album. Besides, I just like used stamps-- to me, they are stamps that have done what "they are supposed to do:" they have carried a piece of mail from one point to another.

Whereas I don't spend too much time waxing philosophical about the "romantic" nature of a stamp's journey from one place to another, I do like used stamps for one simple reason: collecting postmarks allows collectors to form inexpensive collections... AND if you decide to collect town cancels, you can form a pretty extensive collection without ever having to spend more than a few cents a stamp. Well... for the most part.

It does sadden me a little that collecting used stamps is getting harder and harder to do. In days gone by, I could go to the local post office, make my way to the area with banks and banks of P.O.Boxes, and on any given day retrieve 15-50 perfectly good used stamps (and sometimes covers) from the garbage cans. Nowadays? Not so much. In fact, it's a rarity that commercial mail (of the kind that gets thrown away at the post office) is franked with stamps.

Collecting postally used stamps has also gotten more difficult on account of the proliferation of self-adhesive stamps. Never mind what different postal administrations might tell you, self-adhesives are more difficult to soak off paper... and a greater proportion of them get damaged during soaking... Some issues are all but impossible to get off paper in one piece, and some countries (like the UK) now issues stamps with built-in "security features" that adds to the difficulty of removing the stamp from the envelope.

These difficulties aside, I will continue to collect postally used stamps, and especially those with interesting and really nice postmarks. I will continue to buy kiloware from different parts of the world, as long as a supply exists. It may be true that newer postally used stamps are getting more difficult to find, but in a sense that adds to the challenge of building a collection.

If all else fails, I may end up getting back to the boxes of old kiloware "I never quite got around to" soaking!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Variety Focus: Denmark's 4RBS classic with "Kranholds Retouch"

4 RBS brown, Ferslew printing, with "Kranholds retouch"
Although considered to be "number 2" in many parts of the world, Denmark's 4RBS Brown has always been regarded as "Denmark's first stamp" by collectors in Denmark. In the Danish AFA catalogue, it is listed as no. 1, and was issued on April 1, 1852, a month before the 2 RBS blue-- which is regarded as no. 2 in Denmark, but no. 1 in some parts of the world. It's a bit confusing-- but I personally believe the Danish approach is the correct one, as these stamps were not issued as "a set," so numerically treating them as such is incorrect.

The 4 RBS stamp is widely collected by specialists, and offers a wealth of printings, colors and plate flaws. Although a "number one" stamp from the 1850's, it remains reasonably affordable, with a catalogue value in the range of US$40.00 and up depending on the printing and color. Collectible quality copies (maybe with 3 margins, or some tiny flaw) can generally be had for about US$10.00, although premium quality 4-margin copies sell for considerably more.

I obtained my first copy of the 4 RBS stamp in 1973, at the age of 13-- when my maternal grandfather passed away, and I inherited his modest collection of Danish stamps. Subsequently, I have become a far more "serious" collector of Danish stamps... and this has included a growing interest in this, Denmark's first stamp.

Kranholds retouch (top) and normal stamp
As I mentioned, many varieties exist on this stamp, but perhaps the best known-- and most coveted by collectors-- is named "Kranholds Retouch." This variety came about when the printing cliché in position 5 of plate II had the word "POST" re-engraved... but the end result was a "POST" that looked quite different from the original design. Although definitely sharper and more readable, the letters "O" and "S" were shorter and quite different in shape from the originals.

This variety exists on the Ferslew (first) printing, and the first two Thiele printings. As you can see from the side-by-side photo (left), there is a considerable difference in appearance between the variety (top) and the regular design (bottom).

A stamp with the variety, from the Ferslew printing, currently has a catalogue value of 3500,- Danish kroner, or about US$675.00.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

The "Graded Stamps" Craze

In recent years, the idea of "graded" certificates seems to have taken off. From where I am sitting, the whole things feels like it has gone a bit overboard.

Now, don't get me wrong, I totally understand the idea of "grading" a beautiful and valuable 100+ year old stamp in superb condition, when I am getting a certificate for it, anyway. Quite a few European experts already grade stamps as part of their certificate services, although not with a numerical grade like PSE. The closest would be the standardized grading system of the Swedish Philatelic Federation (SFF) which has been in use for over three decades.

For the moment, the "grading madness" seems to be primarily limited to US stamps. And sure, if I had an XF MNH 15c Columbian, I'd be all about getting a standardized certificate of "just HOW XF" it is.

Grading common stamps from the 1940s and expecting people to pay 300x catalogue value for it? I'm really struggling to connect those dots-- makes me want to ask "what's the point?" and then ponder the issue of whether collectors are actually getting fleeced by the issuers of the certificates.

In my opinion (which may or may not be valid, in the greater scheme of things), common "wallpaper" in beautiful condition is still "wallpaper." What is happening here sounds less like collecting than a marketing attempt to "create value" where there is none. As my grandfather told me when I was little and starting my collection: A very common stamp that old is just that... an OLD COMMON STAMP.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Postmarks: Hagelsrum, Sweden

Pictured here is a copy of Sweden Facit nr. 33, 20 öre bright red Ringtyp perf 13, with an attractive "HAGELSRUM 18.12.1883" town cancel. It looks a bit like the cancel is from 1888, but the line at left is stray cancel ink-- when viewed from the back, you can clearly see the "3" of the date stamp. This is a nice example of the "normalcancellation 16," widely in use in Sweden during the latter part of the 1800s.

What is the value of this stamp? This is Facit 33e, the orange-red shade on "soft" paper, which has a catalogue value of 11:- Swedish Kr. The slightly yellowish shade of the stamp is normal on the soft paper printings-- the paper was typically slightly "cream" colored. The Hagelsrum cancel is a difficult one for cancel collectors to find, and this is a very nice example. Readable cancels from this postal place carry a premium value of 100:- Swedish Kr. and up. Given the quality of the cancel on a fault-free (although a bit off-center) stamp and the scarcity of the place, I'd estimate this stamp would sell for about 200:- to 250:- Swedish Kr. (US $31.50-39.50) at auction, perhaps higher if you were to buy it from a specialist dealer.

A bit about the place this stamp was postmarked: Hagelsrum is located just outside the small town of Målilla in Kalmar county in southeastern Sweden. Strictly speaking, it cannot even be characterized as a village; it is more like a "manor" with associated buildings, and a very small iron smeltery. However, it was-- in the 1800s-- significant enough to warrant its own postal collection point, most likely due to the commercial activity from the iron ore mill.

The blast furnace at Hagelsrum
Local accounts suggest that the first settlements here were by Viking chieftains who'd "rest" in the area between long trips overseas. The first written accounts referring to the manor at Hagelsrum date to 1320, when the farming was most likely in care of a monastery based in the city of Vadstena. There were at the time three farms, a grain mill and an eel fishery in the vicinity.

Between 1447 and 1748, the property changed hands a number of times, was periodically claimed by the Swedish crown, and was burned down/ destroyed and rebuilt several times. There may have been a small castle built during one reconstruction, but this is uncertain as there are no remains found, today. For a while, the buildings were used for a munitions works; the iron smelter oven (basically a "blast furnace")-- which remains largely intact today-- was built from the ground up in 1853, and was in operation till 1877. The furnace is the only one of its kind in Kalmar county to remain well-preserved.

The postal station at Hagelsrum was active from December 1877 until January 1963. Today, mail from the area is processed at nearby Målilla. The current population of Hagelsrum is about 30 people.