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Collecting Stamps: Covers
COVERS, PHILATELICALLY, ARE finely described as stamped envelopes or envelopes with stamps. They play an important part in philately-more so probably than most people imagine. They are usually the first means of introducing the wonders of stamp collecting to the uninitiate; they denote true postal use of stamps, and they give data on postal rates and routes.
The carefully worded description opening this chapter has a reason. Stamped envelopes and envelopes with stamps are quite different. In pre-stamp days the postage was denoted by a rubber or cork handstamp, along with the means of transportation, and the regular postal markings. Then came the envelopes bearing stamps.
Much of the demand for covers is based upon the scarcity of these early items and the postal history they possessed. Then, as now, those who received letters discarded the envelopes and filed the letter.
The Mulready envelopes (actually the brother of the postage stamp), with the illustrations on the front, were adapted for use during our Civil War (Civil War Patriotics) and in the Spanish-American War, and then became the cacheted envelopes and cacheted first day covers of this era.
Airmail and special flights were marked by cachets, since it was not possible to have a stamp for each of these events. This field alone attracts thousands of followers-requiring two thick volumes to list all of the known material.
The cacheted cover craze reached its peak in the 1930's, and, in the face of much criticism from the more advanced collector, attracted thousands of newcomers to the hobby. Unfortunately it was overdone, and lost a good part of its following, and rightfully so. There was no objection to use of cachets for important occasions, but publicity hounds found means to abuse the interest by bringing out cachets for all sorts of silly things.
Cacheted first day covers, on the other hand, are increasing in popularity. The real start of this activity came with the Washington Bicentennial set of 1932, and at present the great percentage of first day covers bears cachets of varying attractiveness.
First day cover collecting, as such, can be attributed to the true scarcity of early U.S. stamps used on the date of issue. These demand tremendous prices, and it is only natural that present day collectors should want to get such material while they can. Unfortunately, over roo,ooo such first day covers are handled every time a new stamp appears, with the result that subsequently they are dumped on the market and prices drop almost to the face value of the stamp itself. After a time the value shows a slight increase, naturally. If first day cover collectors would buy older issues such a condition would not exist, but it seems that thousands of newcomers see an announcement of a forthcoming stamp and send their prepared envelopes for that and later issues. But all too few go back and pick up previous first day covers.