Did you know I am a stamp collector? I started when I lived in Groves, TX in the late ’80s. I routinely biked to the post office for the latest stamps. Sometimes the postmaster would spot me change if I came up short. (I abused this privilege, so he stopped after a couple of times.)
Some of the more exotic stamps, such as postage due, official mail stamps, or just stuff that went beyond the local post office’s inventory, had to be ordered through the USPS‘s Philatelic Catalog. This catalog was neat: all stamps would be ordered at face value. The purchaser filled out a computer-read form. Shipping was reasonable. They would even cut you special portions of sheets, like plate blocks, if you ordered enough stamps.
A rare treat was a philatelic window. These were special USPS stores in certain metro areas. Catering to collectors, their stamp offerings were much more comprehensive than found at standard counters.
The only philatelic window I experienced was when my grandmother brought me to Dallas’s goofy Olla Podrida Mall. It had a large post office in the rear which had the Dallas-area’s philatelic stamp window. This post office stayed open for years after the mall closed; I recall the philatelic window being near the hallway leading to the main part of the mall.
In the 1990s, the USPS began churning out stamps much more rapidly. Additionally, the USPS phased in self-adhesive stamps that could not be separated, necessitating purchases of an entire sheet at a time. The post office would not sell just one self-adhesive stamp as it would damage the adjacent stamps. Fortunately, these days, self-adhesive stamps are separable from adjacent stamps.
Here’s one of the first self-adhesive types:
Instead of being able to get one 25 cent stamp, I had to buy an entire $3 sheet. (Those tabs at the top are my homemade stamp album tabs. They are still useful this day.)
All these factors combined forced me to stop collecting new stamps in the early 1990s. But I have a nice 3 cent stamp section. More on this later.
Another turnoff was when I discovered my evil, arch-conservative leanings. Besides wanting to starve kids, tax the poor, subsidize millionaires, and deny health care to the working class, I became skeptical of the USPS.
Purchasing stamps without intent of using them voices unbridled affection of an inefficient, union-controlled, money-losing, make-work bureaucracy whose stamp subjects are carefully chosen to maximize political correctness. Don’t believe me? Look at the qualifications of the members of the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee; almost all are democrats, academics, or former bureaucrats.
These days, if I buy a new stamp, it is because I like it, not because I am a pinhead mindlessly collecting all possible samples of this bureaucracy’s effluence.
Back to my stamp collecting days: I had a Linn’s Stamp News subscription. A couple of times, I managed to get a letter to the editor published.
Linn’s Stamp News was a fascinating cover-to-cover read the first year, but it felt progressively more silly the longer I was subscribed. I think I finally dropped my subscription in the early ’90s.
I still have all my supplies: stamp tongs, watermarking solvent, hinges, Prinz stamp mounts, perforation gauge, etc.
For a time, I could get supplies for cheap from Dwight March Enterprises. Dwight ran a stamp supply business alternately out of a small warehouse near Lombardy Ln. in Dallas or his north Dallas home.
He got in trouble with manufacturers because he sold their stuff too cheaply. Apparently they forced vendors to sell at no less than a specific price.
The manufacturers pressured Linn’s Stamp News and possibly other stamp publications to keep his ads out of their publication.
I used the H. E. Harris Liberty stamp album. For some reason it felt better than the Scott album that my brother had. (In retrospect, there wasn’t much real difference.)
Here’s the cover of my album:
And here’s my brother’s album, which I happen to have on hand:
The insides of our albums are pretty similar; mine is somewhat better filled out than his.
My oldest stamp is Scott #11:
It’s from 1853 and is probably worth a dollar, if I’m lucky.
Yeah, that’s it! A measly dollar.
See these stamps?
I might get 10 cents for each of these unused 3 cent stamps on a good day.
I have pages and pages of unused 3 cent stamps like this.
Not long before he died, my grandfather gave me a nice quantity of unused plate blocks and plate strips, mostly from the 70s.
They don’t seem to be worth much more than face value! Actually, face value may be lucky: eBay completed auctions consistently show large lots of unused plate blocks selling for below face value!
My favorite stamps are the definitives. Brief tutor: definitives are the utilitarian stamps that provide all the goofy face values. They are typically printed for years straight. The other type, commemoratives, are the everyday stamps honoring people, events, or things that regularly rotate out.
Here’s a page of Liberty Issue definitives:
More definitives, the Great Americans series from the 1980s:
In assembling my collection, I got my father to bring me to stamp shows from time to time. They were often at hotels 5-10 miles from my house. One time my father brought us to an Adam’s Mark hotel in west Houston; that was a huge treat for my brothers and me.
I usually purchased specific stamps or small lots of unused stamps at these shows.
Over time, I assembled a lot of extras, which are now in a couple of stock books.
A stock book full of canceled (used) 3 cent stamps (utterly worthless):
Plate block definitives:
I think some of these may have a little value, especially that 20 cent plate block in the foreground on the bottom.
Transportation coil definitives:
Lots and lots of plate blocks:
I even have a small book with full sheets:
My grandfather was kind enough to give me a collection that probably came from his father. They are all used stamps, about half international, half domestic, and all virtually worthless. I’m trying to find a Scout or someone else who could use these stamps to earn a badge.
Where do I go from here?
To cut down on bulk, and to make sure I have a broad collection, I may sell off all my surplus stamps and plowing the money back into the core H. E. Harris album.
What’s my biggest lesson learned? Stamps are a terrible investment. eBay completed auctions make it all too clear that everyday stamps hardly appreciate, and when they do, it’s almost always below even insanely safe investments such as 30 year federal bonds.