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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!