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Collecting Stamps: Sources For Stamps
THERE ARE SEVERAL SOURCES of supply for collectors, regardless of means, though the most logical is the regular stamp dealer. Usually, though, the first stamps literally come from the trash basket, being removed from discarded mail by the new collector, a member of the family or a friend. It is surprising how many newcomers get their start by putting aside several envelopes bearing recent U.S. commemoratives, or unusual foreign stamps.
One recent case is typical of many business men. This individual had been removing stamps from incoming mail for several years, and accumulated a good drawer-full and was thinking of giving them to his young daughter. His problem was the usual one, "What do I do?" Having put aside a healthy bunch of envelopes he had an impressive nucleus. His first step was carefully to tear off the corners of the envelopes bearing the stamps, and put them in a pan, bowl or even sink of lukewarm water. After being left there for several hours the stamps will float off the paper easily and can be placed between white blotters or even sections of newspaper until dry and ready for sorting. Some collectors prefer to lift the entire batch of stamps and envelope fragments out of the water and place between newspapers until dry, and then shuck the stamps off into a pile.
Several words of caution are in order here: First, be sure no colored envelope paper is soaked with the stamps, for the colors tend to run and can ruin most or all of the stamps in the batch. Second, there are a few stamps on what is known as chalky paper or printed in fugitive or running ink. It takes time to determine which these stamps are, and they aren't met with enough on the average mail to worry about, but it will do no harm to make a list of such stamps from the catalogue-if available. Finally, stamps should never be peeled off envelopes, or pulled off in soaking until they come off easily. Any drastic handling will ruin the stamp.
The second normal step is to secure an album in which the stamps can be mounted. This is an important point, because much of the enjoyment, and information, can only be developed through preliminary help.
Any kind of blank book can become an album, but there is no guiding material in plain sheets of paper. The printed general albums, ranging from a comparatively few cents to several dollars in price, contain hundreds and thousands of illustrations to help in proper placing of the stamps.
It is best that the novice take the stamps he, or she, has and sort them into piles, according to country. Where the country cannot be easily identified, the stamp should be placed to one side until it can be properly placed. This may take hours, and even days and weeks, but sooner or later each of the unidentified stamps will find their places.
After the piles have been set up each can be taken in turn and compared to the blanks provided in the album. It is best not to mount any stamps until all spaces on the facing pages have been checked, because frequently one stamp will be hinged in place, and then a better copy turns up.
Where no space is provided for a particular stamp only two alternatives are available-to mount in the page margin, or on a plain white sheet of paper slipped between the pages, until a larger album is obtained.
Another, and very obvious, source of stamps for the new (and the old) collection is to secure envelopes from friends and business firms, and old, forgotten collections from friends and neighbors. Still other sources are foreign embassies and consulates, U.N. delegations, foreign commercial attaches, and business firms having foreign branches. Any such requests, through the mails, should be accompanied by return postage. Many governments try to cooperate simply for the goodwill involved, but the demands on them are heavy.
More directly, collectors may write to the foreign post offices and their philatelic agencies, but this should be done with care. This writer is not biased against foreign sources of supply-if anything he would be the contrary since he has represented more than one government in just this capacity -but there are many problems related to securing stamps "direct." In the first place, except for the Philatelic Agency which is a part of the Post Office Department in Washington, D.C., and one or two other foreign agencies established in this country, collectors must consider postage both ways and foreign exchange. Aside from the U.S. Philatelic Agency, the only sources of supply here to collectors are the Stamp Section of the Pan American Union, in Washington; the Andorra Philatelic Agency; the Liberian Philatelic Agency; the Embassy of India; and the Embassy of Pakistan. The Israeli government, Australia and the British Crown Agents have offices here, but they accept orders only from dealers.
Otherwise, the only sources are the post offices and special stamp services of other governments, and this does not permit selection as to centering and condition, as discussed in a later chapter.
For those who do want to order from abroad two lists are recommended. One is the List of Chiefs of the Postal Administrations and the Superior Functionaries (Liste des Chefs des Administrations postales et des Fonctionnaires superieurs) available from the Bureau Internationale of the Universal Postal Union in Berne, Switzerland, at 1.25 francs (Swiss) per copy. The other is the listing of foreign philatelic agencies of the world (with a supplement) compiled in mimeographed form by C. N. Allen, 2 Brewster Drive, Hanover, N.H. In this case Mr. Allen requests a donation of stamps as payment, to go to wounded veterans.
There are certain feelings of satisfaction in securing stamps at face value through philatelic agencies, and there are equal emotions in making good buys through club circuit books and from other collectors, but in time all collectors must go to the logical source, the dealer.
The stamp firm was set up to cater to collectors. Prices don't always reflect that fact, but dealers are really middlemen. Their clients require certain material and the dealers have to get it. To do so they must pay the price set by the wholesaler, broker, government or firm controlling the source of supply. To this they must add a legitimate profit to meet their own expenses. In this respect the dealer in stamps and others in the merchandising field are alike. Each must secure for stock those items they feel they must have to be of service to their customers. Sometimes they hold this stock for months and years. Other times they allow their customer long-term credit. Both require investment.
In either case they must make their profit-otherwise they couldn't stay in business. Many collectors seem to feel the dealers take advantage of them so far as price is concerned. This feeling, generally speaking, is not based on facts. Stamp values, after all, are determined by supply and demand. When there is more demand than supply the dealer has to set his price higher accordingly, and still protect his customer. When some collectors buy some stamps in other ways and then turn to the dealer to fill in the missing spaces they must expect to pay a higher price.
There are all sorts of dealers. Some specialize, others handle a general line. There are the approval dealers, who send stamps to collectors all over the country "on approval."
There are the "want list" dealers, those who try to meet all stamp needs, and others who specialize in one country, or group of countries. Some dealers limit their activities to the sale of stamps at public auction, an increasingly important field of activity.
Stamp dealing is a business, and a big one. Those in it, by and large, are more interested in being of service to their customers than might be expected. Most were stamp collectors before they became professionals-many are still stamp collectors at heart.