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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Found! Top Quality Mint Stamps from Denmark

One of my favorite parts of being a stamp collector comes from what I call "treasure hunting."

7 øre Christian X, XF post office fresh mint NH
Some collectors are very "neat and tidy" in their approach to collecting. They have a specific spot in the album they want to place a stamp in, and they go off and acquire that specific stamp without ever deviating from their "mission." That has never really been my approach... I like to "treasure hunt" through messy lots and accumulations to find "just the right thing."

We each have our own ways-- not implying that one is "better" than any other.

Whereas there is a lot of "fun" in the hunt, it has its downsides: Quite often you'll look through a box of "junky" stamps and come up with almost nothing, or nothing at all. That has happened to me, more than a few times. And then you're left to dispose of a box of junk, hopefully for a price that's somewhat close what you paid, in the first place.

One of the questions I often get asked goes along the lines of "but if it's already in a box as 'junk,' hasn't it already been gone through and the good bits removed?"

On the superficial level, the response would seem to be "yes." But on closer contemplation, if you are a specialist, odds are the collector who went through the box before you was looking for something different from you. True, you're probably not going to "accidentally" find a 4-margin Penny Black, but you might still find a rare variety, inverted watermark, cancel or something else that happens to be your area of expertise.

8 øre Christian X's 60th Birthday issue, mint NH
What keeps me going is that "treasure" does show up, and sometimes you can still find a veritable gold mine of goodies in an unlikely box of seemingly random junk.

Such was the case, with a recent "box lot" of European collections I bought-- basically unseen-- from a major auction in Norway. Although the box was mostly touted for its Germany and Malta (an unlikely combination?), there was also a sentence that caught my eye: "... also some older mint Denmark and Sweden on Hagner sheets, but most appear to be stuck down; a couple of pages of classic used Scandinavia in somewhat mixed condition."

"Box lots," of course, are rarely photographed for auction catalogues... you pretty much "get what you get," unless you're able to attend an auction preview, in person. Not so feasible when you live in the US, and the auction is in Norway!

For reasons unknown... but perhaps because the Germany seemed pretty nice and like I could parcel it out for the cost of the box and "take a chance" on the Scandinavia... I decided to "take a flyer" and placed a minimum opening bid on the lot. Somewhat to my surprise, the bid (about US$400) "stuck" and I became the owner of the lot. Of course, there were also auction fees to be paid, not to mention the cost of shipping a box from Norway to North America. Still, I was hopeful I'd have an enjoyable time sorting through the box and even be able to sell off the remainder and still break even.

5kr Postal Ferry stamp, XF mint never hinged
A few weeks later my box of stamps arrived. The German was much as expected. The Malta? Well, I don't know much about stamps from Malta, so I'll have to learn more about that... For my own purposes, though, it was the "used classic Scandinavia" that was of interest. And it was actually quite good, yielding several nice Danish skilling stamps with plate flaws along with some nice numeral cancels. That-- in and of itself-- made the purchase worthwhile, to me.

I was also reminded that the term "mixed condition" has different meanings in different parts of the world. In the US, it basically seems to mean "ALL stamps over 50 cents are faulty." In Europe-- Scandinavia and Germany, especially" it means "some are faulty and some are not." In this case, only about 1/4 had smaller to larger faults.

But that was not where the true "gold mine" was located.

The best part of the lot was the 75-odd Hagner sheets of mint stamps-- mostly from Denmark. They had been listed as "mostly stuck down" but I would attribute that description to a hurried (or lazy?) auction describer who determined there were "issues" on the first 3-4 pages and then characterized ALL the pages thusly. Of course, I'm not really "pointing fingers" here, because this WAS a messy box lot, and most auction houses don't have the time to thoroughly examine what basically amounts to a "job lot."

Rare early printing of 12 øre Bicolour, mint NH
As it turned out, only a few dozen stamps (out of many hundreds) were stuck down, or partially stuck down, or had minor gum damage from someone trying to "unstick" them.

But here's the amazing thing about the remainder: They were obviously collected by someone who was a stickler for quality: Almost everything was pristine mint, never hinged... and clearly had been stored "properly" as the gum was fresh, and the stamp colors bright. Not only that, most stamps were in choice VF or XF centering. On top of which, many were from that "difficult" period between 1875 and the 1950's where you can certainly find "mint stamps," but almost all stamps were hinged, to put in album... the condition of gum was not considered nearly as important as it is today.

It also soon became clear that the original collector had known quite a lot about Danish stamps, because there were many scarce types and varieties included in the lot. Even after pulling almost 200 stamps for my own collection, I had 100's of exceptionally nice mint NH Denmark left over. The photos on the page are just a few of them, but they are representative of just how nice this otherwise "ordinary sounding" box lot turned out to be.

I suppose the "moral" of this story is that "treasure" is still out there, for stamp collectors, waiting to be found. All the "good stuff" has NOT "already been found." In this example, it turned out that a box I paid about US $650 for (after shipping) contained several hundred VF and XF mint NH stamps with catalogue values between $15 and $100. Did I "get lucky?" Probably so-- but it does happen.

60 øre Christian X, the scarce brown and ULTRA
On a more personal level, this story is a good example of why I collect stamps the way I do. I suppose I would be a more "methodical" collector if I didn't also enjoy the "trading" part of stamp collecting-- helping the stamps I don't need "find new homes." Because-- as I mentioned above-- just because I have looked at these stamps doesn't mean that someone with different interests from me won't find them interesting, and of value.

In the course of the next few weeks, I will be putting some of the stamps I decide not to keep into my eBay and other online shops... there are some really good stamps, and it's always nice to be able to offer "top quality," since so much that's offered online is in pretty dodgy condition.

For those who regularly read these pages-- yes, I do still mostly collect postally used stamps. If-- and only IF-- I come across a super nice mint NH copy of any stamp from Denmark or Sweden, I will add it in-- these are specialized collections for me that I have been working on for over 30 years... and by now they are made up of pretty much "anything that appeals to me," including mint, used, postmarks, covers, varieties and whatever I can find.

Which is my own take on the saying "There is no 'right' or 'wrong' way to collect stamps."

Thanks for reading!