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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Where Collectors Come From

I have long had an interest in "community building," as a central part of ensuring the continuance of the stamp collecting hobby. I strongly believe that if we make an effort to be more connected-- as collectors-- we present an image to potential newcomers as having something they'd "want to become part of."

If we portray an image of being "solitary and antisocial hermits in our dark studies," it will not serve us well, in this modern world where the Internet increasingly connects us all.

As "keeper" of this blog for some five years, I periodically sit down with the site's "visitor logs," which help give me a sense of "what's going on" and who's reading these pages.

Whereas Google (searches) has always been the primary referrer to this site, I noticed something interesting, the last time I looked at the site logs:

"Spanning the Globe"
"" (the "main," USA- and worldwide-based site) is not my top Google referrer. In fact, it's not even in the top three: (United Kingdom) (Canada) (Sweden) (India) (Australia) (US/World)

Of course, it's open to interpretation what this really means.

It could mean that stamp collecting is more "active" in top five countries listed, than in the US-- even though they all have much smaller populations.

It could mean that Scandinavia-- as a collecting area-- is more popular in the top five countries listed, than in the US.

It could mean that stamp collectors in the top five listed countries are more likely to use the Internet, than collectors in the US.

What it does tell me, however, is that we have the ability to connect globally, these days. There can still be "stamp clubs," even if they become increasingly online-based, and they may be stronger and more focused than ever.

It's all about connecting across common ground!

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Classic Swedish Cancels

I started collecting town cancels on classic Swedish stamps in the mid-1980's.

A nice "SKENINGE" cancel on 5ö green
The collection started more or less "by accident:" I was at university in the US at the time, and had gone "home" to Denmark for the summer-- in part to visit family, and in part to work (I didn't have a work permit for the US, at the time) to make money for school.

One day, I found myself strolling through the streets of central Copenhagen, looking at stamp shops. This was back in a time where "street level" retail stamp shops were still fairly numerous; there were at least 12-15 shops I liked to check out, on a regular basis.

One stretch of Gammel Kongevej had several dealers clustered together-- one of them was a favorite: Usually a "cluttered mess" of boxes and albums; this dealer's specialty was to take in people's collections-- and even entire holdings-- on consignment "as is." His opening hours were... well... sporadic, and I expected depended on whether he was out making a "house call" to an estate or someone who wanted to get out of the stamp collecting business. I don't think more than maybe 1/4 of the shop's stock was actually the dealer's own material. Anyway, this shop offered a constantly rotating "treasure hunt" for stamp collectors-- no knowing what might show up.

Of course, being just 24 at the time and a "starving student," my stamp budget was quite limited. Besides, I was in the business of saving money... not spending it; I needed to pay for my classes. However, I was working the 11pm to 7am shift at a factory AND taking on all holidays and weekends I could get (at the time called "antisocial hours"), and making a rather good wage-- so I had allowed myself a little "stamp money."

At the time, my primary stamp collections were Denmark, Sweden and France. I had pretty good collections for someone my age, and had even (hesitantly) started a couple of specialized collections... Danish numeral cancels and the Danish "Bicolours" issue.

As I looked through the shop's endless piles of boxes and albums, I came across a battered shoebox marked "old Sweden." Inside was an unruly mess of old yellowing glassine envelopes with thousands of classic Swedish stamps, from the "Arms" issues to the "Oscar" issues. Some seemed sorted by stamp; some seemed all mixed together. Mostly, I noticed that there was extreme duplication on some stamps-- and I guessed that was why the box was only marked at 1200,- Danish kr. (about US $200, but still a hefty sum in 1984, to a young man with little money). After all, who would want 1000+ copies of a 10ö red Oscar II stamp? I didn't know much about classic Sweden, but I did know that "bundleware" (even old) tended to be cheap.

Originally, I included the Oscar II series
I am not sure what possessed me to take a second look-- but as I scanned through the old glassines, I noticed a few had been marked "better cancels" (in Danish) in pencil. I also noticed that these "better" cancels were lovely strikes, by any measure-- most of them were on 12 öre blue "ringtyp" stamps, as well as the "Oscar II" issue. Having recently started my collection of Danish numeral cancels, I decided that collecting old Swedish cancels might be a fun sideline-- since I had reached a point with my Sweden collection where adding more stamps generally required me to spend $20 or more, per stamp.

I should add that I really "didn't know what I was doing," at the time. In my mind, I had a notion that perhaps I'd get a hold of a map of Sweden and cross off (or highlight) town names as I found them. I should also add that I found this box before cancel collecting in Sweden really became "a big deal."

My Swedish cancel collection started quite humbly. I bought a 32-page stockbook, which gave me a page per letter of the alphabet, with enough left over to make a separate page for major cities like Stockholm and Göteborg. Aside from that, all I did was put stamps in the stockbook, alphabetically, by place name.

It was actually several years before I learned that there was such a thing as a Swedish cancel catalogue-- the "Facit Postal" catalogue, issued every 4-5 years. And then I was amazed to discover that quite a few of my original "shoebox cancels" had considerable value... and they went on to form the basis for my Swedish cancel collection.

That was 27 years ago. A some readers may know, Swedish cancel and postal history collecting has since become a "big deal." Although "ortstämplar" and "hembygdsfilateli" are mostly Swedish philatelic interests collected in Sweden, I have met many fellow specialty collectors around the world-- from Denmark, to the UK, to the US, to Australia.

"Finds," like my original shoebox lot, are rare these days because awareness of this type of material is so much higher than it used to be. Top quality classic cancels sometimes sell for extraordinary prices at large Swedish philatelic auctions. Even those from relatively common (large) towns have been known to sell for many multiples of their catalogue values.

"WESTERÅS" on an early printing of 20ö red
About ten years ago, I decided to narrow down the scope of my Swedish cancel collection, limiting the stamps to only the "Vapentyp" (arms type) and "Ringtyp" (circle type) issues, Facit numbers 1-51. I still have many of my Oscar cancels, but am not actively collecting them any more-- and periodically have sold off some of the better items on eBay. Even so, my collection has grown to several thousand stamps and continues to grow-- albeit slowly-- as I visit stamp shows and pick up an occasional "box lot" or collection from a stamp auction.

Part of the slowness of the collection's growth can be directly attributed to my own rather particular requirements of the quality of cancel I am willing to include. From time to time, I realize that I may have put unreasonable constraints on myself-- but I am in no great hurry, and hopefully have at least another 30 years of collecting ahead of me!

Along the way, I have had the good fortune to pick up a few rarities-- at least within the limited context of Swedish cancels. That said, I am still missing quite a few "fairly common" cancels... just waiting for examples to show up, in the right condition.