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Wednesday, December 09, 2015

The End of a Stamp Collection

I am selling my life-long collection of stamps from Denmark.

It's an odd-- and totally unexpected-- thing for me to be writing. After all, I had expected I would continue the collection into my 70's and eventually "cash out" to have a measure of comfort-- and perhaps travel-- during my "golden years."

Instead, I find myself starting to sell my collection because of a series of (costly) personal circumstances most recently culminating with my wife's 82-year old mother-- who has severe mobility issues as well as dementia-- moving in with us. As a result of a lifetime of poor decision making and personal self-neglect she is incomeless, penniless and assetless, so the cost of her care and living has come out of our pockets... already empty from a decade of medical bills, kids in college and several other unforeseen disasters that drained our savings to zero.

So the decision was made to sell my Denmark collection, in order for us to not head for complete financial ruin. Oddly enough, it was my idea-- my wife thought I should keep the collection.

I suppose I should feel grateful that stamps, indeed, are a "store of value" of enough significance that they can help us pay our way through the current situation.

The whole situation made me sit and ponder the whole idea of "why we collect things." Whereas "worth" was never of major importance to me as a stamp collector, I did always follow my late father's advice to "always buy the very best quality you can afford." That advice seems to be standing me in good stead, today. I am grateful I paid attention to his words...

My dad's line of reasoning was that a "mediocre" quality stamp had no way to become a "top quality" stamp... but a "top quality" stamp could always have an accident and get damaged, and become a "mediocre" stamp. Thus, top quality stamps-- especially the classic and older ones-- can ONLY become scarcer with age.

Whereas I always knew-- and even planned-- that "someday" my stamp collection would be sold, I never spent much time thinking about how I would feel about 40+ years of effort going away. Specifically, I never considered how I would feel about all those years of work getting "dissolved" in a matter of months. I feel somewhat sad to see these "old friends"-- many of them with stories and memories attached-- leaving my albums.

On reflection, it seems like a very poignant reminder of the impermanence of most things in life.

On the upside, I am grateful that I get to personally handle and oversee the sale-- through eBay, mostly-- thereby being able to make sure that every item is "presented" properly and offered the best possible chance to find its way into the hands of another collector/specialist who will enjoy it in their collection. I'm also glad I have the luxury of a little time, and am not forced to drop the collection for "whatever quick offer I can get."

Someone asked me if I was "giving up stamp collecting."

The answer to that is no, but it is going to be "collecting on a shoestring" from this point forward. It would seem that my days of making any significant investments in new higher value stamps are behind me. For the foreseeable future, 110% of our income will go towards healthcare, living expenses and whatever follows thereof. Yes, I just wrote "110%" because this endeavor is somewhat beyond our means... the indirect "cost" of living in a country/society that has no social safety net for people who have little of their own.

But that's besides the point.

Most likely, I will continue to collect Danish town cancels on inexpensive stamps. And I will continue collecting plate flaws and varieties on the GB Machin issue-- again, something that can be done for a few cents per stamp. But I will no longer be a "serious" stamp collector, in the traditional sense of the word. I haven't lost interest in stamps, however...

It will be interesting to see how things go, with the sales... which I plan to have unfold over the next few months. Hopefully there are still some Denmark collectors and specialists with a taste for top quality material and varieties you rarely see.

Anyway, if you are reading this and happen to be a collector of Danish stamps-- especially nice (and unusual) ones, I hope you'll check my eBay page from time to time. You can find the first set of items here. Maybe there is something you could use?

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Danish West Indies Stamps at Auction!

Last week I wrote about my introduction to the stamps of the Danish West Indies-- an area that is part of both many Denmark and Scandinavia collections-- but also an area that's considered part of quite a few US collections.

I spent part of the week sorting through my files and stock books, and decided that it was time for me to get organized and allow a number of stamps from my personal holdings to find happy new homes.

The thing is that-- in spite of my good intentions-- I am never going to have time to take on another specialty collection... so rather than sit on these fine old stamps any longer, I thought I should let go of them.

In the end, I came up with 53 of what I consider "better" stamps; good enough to have individual interest and these I have now put up for auction on eBay... and I'd like to invite my fellow collectors and readers of these pages to go have a look.

This is not "cheap junk" I am trying to unload, but some really GOOD stamps... with values to over US $300.00 in the Scott catalogue.

As I always do when I run auctions, I started all sales at just $0.99 with no reserves-- I think it's just fair that the market should set the price... and who knows, you might pick up a real bargain or two!

There's a strong selection for those who specialize in the "Bicolour" issues (many of them plated), as well as quite a few others. The link below takes you directly to the auctions:

Don't wait too long! The auctions end on Sunday, November 15th at 6:45pm US Pacific Time or 9:45pm US Eastern time. 

Thanks for your consideration! This is probably one of the best offerings on eBay in quite a while.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

When Denmark had Palm Trees: Stamps of the Danish West Indies

These days, St. Thomas and the US Virgin Islands are a popular holiday destination. Every year, millions of people visit these tropical islands in the Caribbean, seeking sun and fun.

Cruz Bay
What many people are not aware of is that this tropical paradise used to be a Danish colony, originally annexed in 1672 and eventually issuing its own postage stamps with images of the (at the time) current Danish monarchs. It has been almost 100 years since Denmark sold the islands to the US in 1917, for the sum of US $25 million, but quite a few "very Danish" things can still be found there, as reminders of the islands' history.

As a kid growing up in Denmark, we briefly touched on the "Danish West Indies" in history classes, but I don't remember much of what we learned.

However, my interest was somewhat increased as a result of collecting stamps because there were pages for this strange tropical place in my first Danish stamp album. Those pages remained largely empty for many years since I-- as a child-- really had no significant access to stamps from places that no longer had postal service.

That said, I developed my fascination in an unexpected place. From time time, I would go with my parents to visit my Aunt Ulla in the city of Copenhagen (we lived in a suburb outside of town)-- she lived in a house that had been my grandparents' and had been in the family since 1903.

As a young stamp collector, what fascinated me was all the boxes and bags of old letters and family correspondence stuffed into cabinets and drawers in less used rooms of the house. My aunt was always quite happy for me to help her "sort things" and always willing to let me keep a few stamps as a reward for my efforts.

1912 Danish West Indies Christmas Seal
To my youthful eyes, what made these explorations feel like a "treasure hunt" was the sheer age of all these envelopes and post cards-- most of them dating to about 1905 to 1940. And they came from many interesting places around the world-- in "the old days," my family was evidently very well traveled.

Along the way, I came across a great aunt and uncle's letters home from a trip around the world. Among other things, they had seen the (then) under construction Panama Canal, and they had spent Christmas in 1912 in the Danish West Indies. The stamp on the letter was actually less interesting to me than the colorful Christmas seal with the map... which sent me off to look up the islands in my Aunt's big atlas.

Looking out at our frozen Danish winters, the idea of spending Christmas on the beach with palm trees was something far outside the realm of reality!

However, that particular visit to my Aunt's house did secure me my first stamp from the Danish West Indies.

The Danish West Indies had its own (Danish) postal service and stamps from 1856 till the islands were formally conveyed to the United States on March 31st, 1917.

Going purely "by the main numbers" a total of about 60 stamps were issued during that time. However, because of the era and relatively "primitive" printing methods of the time, a wealth of varieties exist, and DWI (as many stamp collectors call the nation) has become a very popular area with specialist stamp collectors.

The islands even had their own version of the popular Danish "Bicolours" stamp issue, which offers a sub-specialty of its own. Many of the early stamps issued were basically variations of commonly used stamps in Denmark, except denominated in "cents" rather than "øre."

A DWI "Bicolour" stamp used at St. Thomas
Part of what makes the Danish West Indies a very popular collecting area even in 2015-- in spite of being what philately calls a "dead country"-- is the fact that not a lot of stamps were issued, and yet the appeal is fairly extensive. How so?

Aside from being a collecting area in its own right, stamps of the Danish West Indies are often included if a collector is trying to build a comprehensive collection of Danish stamps. If you are working with the Danish AFA stamp catalogues, DWI is considered a subsection of Denmark. As such, there are spaces for DWI stamps in many Danish stamp albums.

At the same time, since the Danish West Indies became the US Virgin Islands-- a dependency of the US-- DWI stamps are also included for those building a comprehensive collection of USA stamps. If you pick up a copy of the US-published Scott Specialized catalogue, you'll find pages listing and valuing DWI stamps. And there are a LOT of stamp collectors in the US, which means a lot of people are looking their albums.

Last-- but certainly not least-- we must also consider the specialists, previously mentioned. Specifically, those who collect the Bicoloured stamps of Denmark often add the DWI versions to their collections because... technically speaking... it's all part of the same stamp series. In fact, the frames of the Danish West Indies Bicolour stamps were printed with the same plates used for the Danish stamps-- only the central ovals are different.

One of the first stamps issued by the Islands
Although I was always interested in the place itself, I never became much of a collector of Danish West Indies stamps. Earlier in my stamp collecting "career" they were generally too expensive for my pocketbook... Later on, I had already specialized in other areas of Scandinavian philately and didn't really feel like picking up yet another area to collect.

This article was inspired by the recent discovery of a group of old Christmas Seals-- "Julemærker"-- from the Danish West Indies, tucked in a glassine envelope in a box of random stamps. Included was the colorful 1912 issue with the map that sent me off to research this strange part of "Denmark with Palm Trees," when I was just a boy. Seeing it again brought back some old memories of a time when life seemed a lot simpler, and more innocent.

I still don't have much of a collection of Danish West Indies stamps, but at least not all the album pages are empty, anymore. However, I do find myself wishing that I still had some of those old family members I would sit in the living room and look through, while "the adults" were having their drinks and conversations in other parts of the house. Unfortunately most of those have been lost to time and numerous moves by other family members.

Thanks for reading and sharing in my little trip down "memory lane!"

If you are interested in the stamps of the Danish West Indies, a limited number are usually available:

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Debut of new "Stamps for Sale" page

As this blog and web site approaches its 10th Anniversary, I have been doing a bit of "house cleaning" around here, checking to make sure that everything posted (links and so on) is actually working.

I do this periodically, because (to me!) there are few things sadder than finding what seems like a really nice web site... only to discover that it feels like "nobody has been home" for several years.

I have never made a secret of the fact that I occasionally sell stamps. I don't do so "for profit," and I don't consider myself a "stamp dealer." Rather, I am a very active collector who trades duplicates online-- and I think that in the "Age of the Internet" I am not alone.

Anyway, as part of yesterday's site update, I decided to add a new feature here... which is a "Stamps for Sale" page. You can get to it either by clicking the link, or by clicking on the "Stamps for Sale!" tab immediately below the site name and description.

I don't actually sell stamps here on this blog site, but the new page has links to-- and descriptions of-- what you might find at each of the sites where I do offer my duplicate stamps to fellow collectors. As of this writing, the links connect you directly to almost 3000 items for sale-- almost all of them "extras" from my own Scandinavian collections.

I hope you'll go take a look!

As part of my "housecleaning" efforts, I also updated and added a number of links to forums and web sites for stamp collectors, trying to remain true to the idea that this is a site primarily about Scandinavian philately.

As always, I appreciate your visits here!

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Stamp Collecting Season is about to start!

Here in the USA, it was just Labor Day Weekend.

Out through my window I have been seeing more heavy grey skies with low clouds; there have been stiff cold breezes and it has been raining... more rain on the way although it is sunny, for the moment. The leaves on the trees are starting to get that "tired" look, and soon I will mow the lawn for the last time until spring.

As a stamp collector, Labor Day weekend has always marked the beginning of the stamp collecting "season" for me. Although this first weekend in September seems fairly random, it often marks a significant change in the weather... the first reminder that we will soon be focusing more on indoor activities.

Much as I would like to think of myself as a "serious" stamp collector, I must confess that I am largely a "seasonal" collector. By the time May rolls around, I spend far more time in the garden than I spend with stamp albums... and it's really not until the days start to get shorter that the stamp albums start to sound interesting again.

As I started looking at the new "season" ahead of me, I made the decision to get a bit more focused with my collection interests... and also determined that it is time for me to start getting rid of the many "bits and pieces" I have accumulated over the year with the intent of "eventually turning them into some kind of collection."

Fact is, I have more than enough on my "collecting plate" as is, and I don't need to be adding any new things. I also realized that I have a substantial amount of money tied up in "dormant" stamp collections-- and that it would serve me much better (not to mention keep me interested) to sell off those stamps and use the money to buy something I am really and actively interested in.

Good intentions are nice, but they really don't (at least for me) lead to anything much more than a slight annoyance at the things I never seem to have enough time to get around to.

And that doesn't work-- because I want to enjoy stamp collecting, not feel like I am failing to make good on "obligations" I have set for myself.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Specialized Scandinavia: A Closer Look at Sweden's 12 öre Vapentyp

After you've been collecting stamps for a while and have come to realize that this hobby is something you are serious about and plan to stick with... the question of whether or not to start a "specialized" collection eventually comes up.

For me, specialization was really an offshoot of the fact that I could no longer afford (in my 20's) to buy the next stamp I needed to fill an empty space, going purely "by the main numbers." The "Specialized Scandinavia" series takes a look at some popular-- and possible-- options for specialization within the field of Scandinavian philately-- often focusing on ways to build a specialized stamp collection withOUT breaking the bank.

Today, we'll take a closer look at Sweden's 12 öre Vapentyp ("Arms type"), first issued in 1858. This is a fairly popular Swedish issue for specialists-- especially in Sweden, but also around the world.

The 12 öre blue Vapentyp was the primary stamp used for regular domestic postage within Sweden, from its issue day on July 1st, 1858 until it was replaced by the first of the Ringtyp (or "Circle Type") series on July 1st, 1872.

Although the stamp is definitely from the "Classic Period," the fact that it substantially carried the bulk of Swedish mail for 14 years means that 107 million 12 öre blue stamps were printed!

Such a large number translates into a wealth of opportunity for specialists, for a number of reasons.

First, because so many stamps were printed, the 12 öre Vapentyp remains quite affordable... notwithstanding that we're talking about a 150-year old stamp. To this day, the catalogue value for just a "basic" copy of this stamp remains around just US $2.00 or less than 20:- Swedish Kr. That makes it relatively easy to get your hands on a number of examples without spending a fortune.

In addition, the stamps weren't printed all at once-- they were supplied in multiple printings and deliveries in the course of 14 years. Sweden's Facit catalogue lists 24 distinct shades of this stamp, and that just covers the basics. Some of these shades can be quite difficult to find, and even though the base stamp is inexpensive, a nice copy of a rare shade might set you back US
Some shades, like this "blackish ultramarine," are quite rare
$100.00 or more.

Next, consider that there were also three distinctly different perforation machines used, and that the stamps were printed from eight different plates.

With these variables as a starting point, we can then add that printing "technology" in 1858 was nowhere near as sophisticated as it is today. This means that it was rather easy for varieties to come up... both as a result of small variations in the original-- hand made-- printing plates, and as a result of plate wear and damage that occurred during the printing process.

The result is a rich source of "raw material" to serve as the basis for a specialized collection,

Of course, there are additional variations-- a collection of the 12 öre Vapentyp could also be expanded with covers and town cancels, adding a postal history element to the collection. In doing so, you can make the scope of the collection almost infinite, as there are literally tens of thousands of possibilities.

One of the benefits of taking on such an old stamp issue for specialization is that it has already been studied extensively by philatelists, so there's a significant amount of specialist information already available. Add to that the way the Internet has helped the spread of information, and you have many sources of information at your fingertips. A few quick searches on Google revealed several collector web sites with lots of detailed information about this stamp.

A cancel like "ALANÄSET" is quite rare and can add a lot
of value to a relatively common stamp.
Although I don't personally have a specialized collection of this stamp, I have definitely considered it as a possible expansion of my Sweden collection.

A good starting point might be to buy an accumulation from a reputable dealer or auction house. Sometimes "lots" of these stamps also show up on web sites like eBay. Naturally, it would be easiest to find such an accumulation at a Swedish auction house.

Some might feel more comfortable with the idea of purchasing a collection that has already been started, and then building onto it.

If you want to go the route of buying one stamp at a time, online sales venues like Delcampe, BidStart or Stamps2Go might be a better option-- but you need a place that has a good supply of lower priced items. Circuit books from an organization like the American Philatelic Society is also a worthwhile place to look.

Whatever way you go about starting your specialized collection, be aware that you'll have to make your own album pages... or do what many do with such collections-- start them out in a stock book, where it is easier to move the stamps around as the scope of the collection grows.

Above all, remember to have fun!

Friday, August 07, 2015

Stamps of the US Canal Zone

In the course of being a stamp collector, I often end up with "excess" material from places I'm not actually interested in. But that doesn't mean these places are not interesting, in and of themselves.

I will be the first to admit that I end up with a lot of "odd bits" simply because of "how" I collect stamps: Unlike many who simply strive to get exactly the stamps they need for precisely the blank spaces they have in their albums, I take more of the "treasure hunt" approach to stamp collecting. That is, I tend to buy "box lots," accumulations or entire estates and then proceed to sift through them in search of stamps that fit into my various collections.

Some would call me more of a "hoarder" than a collector... and that's OK. I've always subscribed to the idea that there is no "right" or "wrong" way to collect stamps... as long as you are enjoying yourself.

And I definitely do do that!

Because I do end up with a lot of stamps I have little use for-- or interest in-- I do try to stay mindful of the "hoarding thing." I've watched those shows on TV where the poor people can barely move through their houses because every surface is covered with a three-foot thick later of "stuff." And-- to be perfectly honest-- I have been to a few of my fellow collectors' houses that left me with a bit of that same impression... indiscriminate hoarding.

But I digress...

It is because I do not want to end up as a "hoarder" that I ended up being a somewhat active "stamp trader," albeit without any serious thoughts that I was a "Professional Stamp Dealer," even though I sometimes might "look like one."

Anyway, recently I came across a folder with some pretty nice stamps from the US Canal Zone.

Of course, that has nothing to do with Scandinavia (which remains my primary philatelic interest), but I remember thinking that the stamps were really interesting, when I was a little kid. In fact, when I was a young collector, the Canal Zone was not yet a "dead country," as we philatelists like to call places that no longer issue stamps.

We'd sometimes get Canal Zone stamps in the mail because my mother had friends who liked to go on cruises and we'd get postcards while the cruise ships were at-- or passing through-- the Panama Canal. I remember thinking how fascinating it was that "they" could move giant ships "up and down" in the water to get them transported across a piece of land, cutting thousands of miles off the journey from the East Coast to the West Coast. My dad explained to me how "locks" work, and I thought it would be amazing to experience a trip through the Panama Canal on a big ship.

For now, that remains on the uncharted territory of my "bucket list."

The Canal Zone was a stamp issuing entity from 1904 to 1979. Originally, postal service was started in order to serve during the construction of the canal, but the area continued as a sort of "US Protectorate" until the Panama postal service took over in 1979. The last Canal Zone stamp was issued in 1978.

Although I am not going to start, it still strikes me as an interesting country to collect, both from a historical standpoint, as well as from a philatelic standpoint.

The early issues were stamps of both Panama and the US, overprinted in various ways to be valid as postage in the Canal Zone area. There seems be a huge number of varieties in the surcharges (which were used for many years), allowing for lots of specialization. Although some varieties can be pretty pricey, it's not a horribly expensive area to collect, while not being all "cheap wallpaper," either. Meanwhile, because of the Canal Zone's geographical and political importance, it also seems to me that it would be a potential gold mine for Postal Historians. It has a lot going for it. And, of course, it's now a "Dead Country" so you don't have to worry about acquiring the flood of new issues most places seem to produce, these days.

But, as I said before, this is outside my collecting area and I really don't need to start a new collection at this point in the game-- no matter how interesting the stamps may seem! So, therefore... this modest accumulation of Canal Zone stamps was recently put up for sale on eBay... and now has found its way into the hands of nine different collectors around the globe.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Do Stamp Collectors EVER "Get Organized?"

Sometimes I find myself wondering if I am ever going to get my stamps "organized."

I haven't been keeping up with this blog recently, in part a reflection of the fact that I have been making a serious attempt to actually organize my stamps, rather than just write about them.

Well... that's not entirely true.

On the whole, my stamp collections are actually fairly well organized. The main source of chaos in my stamp "holdings" is all the stuff that is "not in a collection." I expect that's an issue that faces many collectors-- at least those who build specialized collections the way I always have: By buying accumulations, remaindered collections and box lots and "cherry picking" the stuff I want to keep.

Of course, that leaves "leftovers." For me, the pile of leftovers has grown quite large. I am not the most ambitious person to ever set foot on this planet, so I have had a tendency to set aside the "overs" with the thought of dealing with them later, rather than right away.

These "leftovers" became the reason I ended up selling stamps online, as well as buying them.

The other day, I was considering the way the Internet has changed stamp collecting-- making stamps and other collectors far more "accessible" than they used to be. I suppose that is both good and bad. It's easier to build a collection, but it's also easier to become a "hoarder" or "accumulator."

I sometimes wonder if my pile of "leftovers" would be much smaller, if there were no Internet? Then again, because there is the Internet, I have been able to already pass along many of my leftovers to other collectors through online sales. It's the whole "One man's trash is another man's treasure" principle.

Part of my effort to "get organized" has revolved around making not-needed stamps available for sale to others. The thing is, these stamps are just sitting in boxes, in my closet-- nobody gets to enjoy them there. And that's a shame.

Anyway, it's a HUGE amount of work to sort, identify, scan and list stamps for sale on web marketplaces. I have come to deeply admire those who eek out an actual living by doing so... I can't even imagine the amount of time and effort needed to build an online "inventory" of 50,000 items. For me, even 500 or 1000 items feels like a mountain of work.

For the last couple of months, I have mostly been working with stamps from Denmark. As a 40-year collector, those are the easiest for me to deal with-- especially as far as identification goes.

Sometimes I am amazed by what sellers consider to be a "description." I have seen listings on eBay that read simply "Denmark, very old. Rare!"

OK. So it's up to ME to identify the stamp from a scan? One question, though-- if you don't know the catalogue number of the stamp, how do you know it's "rare?"

A lot of times, the word "rare" is just used as what Internet "gurus" refer to as "click bait." I find it rather annoying-- don't call something "rare" unless it actually has some measure of rarity. And "being 100 years old" does not-- by itself-- make any stamp "rare."

Then again, I tend to be a stickler for describing stamps "properly" and that slows me down considerably, compared to someone who just uploads scans and lets potential buyers pretty much "guess" as to the ID and condition of the stamp. Maybe that works for people-- as a buyer, it has never worked for me. I know a lot of sellers say things like "If you need a better scan, let me know." Personally, I'm too lazy to deal with that... besides, why not just upload the "better scan," in the first place?

Maybe I'm silly, but I tend to favor sellers who actually identify a stamp correctly, and mention things like "has a thin" or "hinge remnant" on their listings.

So anyway, the upshoot of the "organization project" is that I have been listing 100's of my old duplicates for sale since November. Part of the process was not only organizing the stamps, but choosing where to list... something that seems to be on many casual traders' minds.

Which sites "work?" Which sites do not? What is the relationship between fees and sales success?

Since I am not really in it "to make a profit," my criteria are probably a little different from a regular stamp dealer's. For one, since I sell much material at 20-50% of catalogue value (sometimes less), what's most important to me is that the stamps are seen... because I know that as long as there are people looking at the stamps, the prices will drive sales. But if nobody is looking, it doesn't matter if you are giving away free hot bread, so to speak. And that's an issue with many online marketplaces that bill themselves as "alternatives to eBay." It may be cheap-- or even free-- to sell things there, but if there are no buyers, "free" doesn't amount to a hill of beans.

I currently use SIX different venues... and have "rejected" about 15 others as "not worthwhile." Later in the spring, I hope to write about each one I DO use-- and these are only sites where I have actually sold stuff-- and what it's like, and how it works for me. "Site reviews," if you will. I figured it might be useful to other collectors.

In the meantime, I'd like to invite you to visit my eBay Stamp Shop! I have lots of better material from Denmark, as well as some useful Iceland and Sweden. Although I normally deal just with Scandinavian material, I am also offering some better stamps from Switzerland.

I think you'll like what you see there.

Thanks for reading, and "till the next!"