British Africa: Basutoland

Page One: Issues of 1933-37

Basutoland/Lesotho is a small, somewhat improbable country. Its high, arid plains are entirely surrounded by South Africa. It owes its existence as much as anything to its remoteness, and to its tribal king.  Moshoeshoe was a charismatic leader and skilled diplomat whose reign extended from 1820 some 50 years, three decades-plus into the Victorian era. Basutoland was variously claimed and manhandled by the British, the   Cape Colony, the Boers from Orange Free State and Griqualand, the Zulu and other warring neighbors. Basuto tribes fought among themselves but somehow, emerged intact as a nation under King Moshoeshoe. They resisted incorporation into South Africa in 1910, rejecting the apartheid model, and survived as a protectorate and colony of Great Britain. British rule was relatively light and supple. Central administration was under a  resident commissioner. Tribal leaders ran things legislatively under a paramount chief, with a high court convening when needed. Basutoland got its first elected legislature in 1959, and became the independent state of Lesotho in 1965. (Don’t confuse Basutoland — or Lesotho — with those phony-baloney South African “homelands.” The vassal states of Transkei, Venda, Ciskei and Bophutatswana were bogus from Day One — though they did issue some beautiful stamps that continue to be listed in the Scott catalog.)


This cover, captured from the Internet, displays stamps from southern Africa that were valid for postage throughout the Union of South Africa through 1937: Basutoland, Transvaal, South Africa, Orange River Colony, Natal and Cape of Good Hope.

Why didn’t Basutoland get its own stamps until 1933? (I don’t yet know.) Whose stamps did local folks use to mail their letters before then? Stamps of South Africa, for sure, and from Cape of Good Hope and elsewhere. All the surrounding postal authorities of earlier years— Natal, Transvaal, Orange River Colony, Zululand, Cape Colony — were using stamps of the South African “union” after 1910. Basutoland, a separate and distinct British colony, continued to borrow its stamps for 23 years. How odd. As it happened,  older stamps from Cape of Good Hope, Transvaal, Natal and Orange River Colony remained valid for  postage throughout South Africa until 1937, so Basutos could take their pick. This envelope from Maseru (right, above),  postmarked in 1933, shows stamps from, left to right:  Basutoland, Transvaal, South Africa, Orange River Colony, Natal and Cape of Good Hope.

Basutoland’s firfullsizeoutput_5be.jpegst set is strikingly exotic — engraved, with a profile portrait of George V above a stylized scene of a crocodile basking by a river with mountain peaks behind. I’m missing the higher values, but the seven-stamp partial set still makes an attractive display, don’t you think?

fullsizeoutput_5bf.jpegNotice that I have the “universal” set of stamps rom Basutoland commemorating George V’s jubilee in 1935. As promised, they are handsome engravings of the king and Windsor Castle in regal colors: carmine and blue; gray black and ultramarine; blue and brown; bright violet and indigo. These are very familiar stamps for British Colony collectors, but still pretty.

Page Two:  Issues of 1938-47

fullsizeoutput_5c0You see at once the contrast and similarity of the George VI definitive set and its predecessor. The  design is the same: crocodile, riverbank, mountains. The portrait changes from George V to George VI, and the stamps take on a more modern cast. What makes this limited change in design interesting to a stamp collector? It relates to  stately transitions and continuity. In the case of the monarchy, the lament “The King is dead!” that sounded throughout Britain in January, 1936, as George V expired, was followed in the same breath with, “Long live the King!” (Never mind that the Duke of Wales, a/k/a King Edward VIII, only stuck around for a few months before skedaddling with Wallace Simpson …) By 1938, there was a new set of stamps for sale in Maseru, Basutoland’s capital. It looked the same, but there was a fresh new face on the stamps. George VI looked handsome, resolute; very white, to be sure; very much the image of a king, under a crown, ruler of the colony.

Consistency is a profound value in philately. Art and meaning flow through order. Philately is deeply conservative in its reverence for a certain kind of order. It quietly celebrates vitality, artistry, decoration, contrast — within strict confines of stamp design,  utility, sequence and value. Letter carriers  on their appointed rounds are a sign of an orderly, peaceful nation; so, too, stamps on the envelopes they deliver are emblems of order and normality. (There are exceptions, of course, which make the hobby even more fun!)

The similarity and contrasts within and between stamps, as well as between sets, provide visual pleasure as well as social, cultural and political clues. In this case, the smooth transition from George V to George VI (after the unpleasantness over young Edward) is reflected in these two subtly different definitive sets. Together, they signal an unbroken bond of colonial protection (and dominion) — adroitly managed by the mandarins of the colonial office at Whitehall.

fullsizeoutput_5c5The other two sets on this page deserve notice. The first consists of South African stamps overprinted for use in Basutoland, commemorating the end of World War II in 1945.  Similar overprinted sets appeared in Bechuanaland Protectorate and Swaziland. This looks like an economy move for a depleted empire at the end of a brutal and costly conflict. Imagine the mixed feelings of the Basuto man-on-the-street when he discovered a new set of South African stamps (albeit overprinted) on sale at his local post office. To add insult to philatelic insurgency, the stamps are printed se-tenant (attached) both in English and Afrikaans, the language of the Boers — and apartheid.

fullsizeoutput_5caIn 1947, the British royal family paid a visit to Africa and stopped in Basutoland. A four-stamp commemorative set was issued there and in other colonies the Royals visited. The stamps display a handsome group  — King George, already looking aged but still handsome both in uniform and coat-and-tie; Queen Elizabeth, the future “Queen Mum,” elegant in her pearls; and the girls, Elizabeth and her kid sister Margaret. Not yet 21, the future queen is a pretty young woman, already striking in her composure. (Yes, these are flattering engravings, but they are excellent likenesses all the same.)

 Page Three: Issues of 1948-54  

fullsizeoutput_5f5Note the empty spaces for the Silver Wedding set, another “universal” issue throughout the colonies. I don’t have many of these sets, for a couple of reasons: 1) The set is freakishly priced, with a cheap and virtually valueless low-denomination stamp, and a top-value companion — a deterrent to this young stamp collector. 2) The stamps are pretty boring, even though the high-value one is a handsomely engraved double portrait of George VI and Elizabeth in profile (the lower value is usually lithographed).  3) Notwithstanding their high combined face value, the sets are not hard to find or prohibitively expensive, suggesting they are not widely popular or in demand. 4) Even in his engraved portrait, George can’t hide how poorly he’s doing, which is kind of a downer. In short, this set seemed dull, even a bit creepy. I tended to avoid it, spending my precious savings fullsizeoutput_5f7elsewhere.

The next set celebrates the International Postal Union’s 75h anniversary in 1949. At first glance you may dismiss this as a rather ho-hum; each stamp is mono-color, kind of busy-looking. None of these “universal” UPU sets are worth much. That said, they do merit a closer look. There are four detailed, expert engravings of allegorical scenes: Two show Mercury on his rounds; another depicts a plane and steamship circumnavigating the hemispheres. The most fanciful design has a queenly figure sitting amid a throne of rocks, while a band of seraphim join hands around a globe that is being mysteriously propelled through space, trailing a thick cloud. (This last design is a rendering of the UPU monument at its headquarters in Bern, Switzerland. Check it out online.)

The obligatory Elizabeth II coronation stamp appears at the top of the page. Notice how  queenly she looks, transformed from the vignettes of her pre-royalty days to the same kind of Swanlike beauty of Victoria’s Chalon portrait.

Rounding out the page is the definitive set of 1954 (above). This is a beauty, even though I’m still missing the top values, which would cost me upwards of $30 these fullsizeoutput_620days. You’ll notice that the colonial stamp producers did not choose to continue the set with the alligator for Elizabeth, even though they kept up a common design for definitives in Bechuanaland Protectorate, to the north, and in other colonies. Maybe they considered a sharp-toothed croc an inappropriate companion, lurking beneath the comely young queen. It’s not like the crocodile is the colony’s badge or anything. So they broke with  tradition and gave Basutoland a brand-new set. And look what they came up with! Even this short set is gorgeous. I have had many happy moments mooning over the finely engraved scenes that peek out through the decorative borders. In each stamp there is an engraved cameo profile of the queen under her crown, presiding with benign attentiveness.  The contrasting colors are daring: orange and deep blue; carmine and olive green; deep blue and indigo …

I sent a money order to Maseru from Heidelberg in 1962, and narrowly missed receiving these definitive stamps by return mail. (The short set I display here must have come from a stamp store.) Here’s what happened instead. In 1961, Basutoland abandoned sterling currency for decimals — cents and rands — along with South Africa and other neighbors. What the postal authorities sent back to me from Basutoland, in an official brown envelope marked ”On Her Majesty’s Service,” was a new set, one that heralded a new adventure for me in stamp collecting.

Page Four: Issues of 1956-61

Before I address the main excitement of this page — the definitive series surcharged in decimal currency — I will comment briefly on the other sets on the page. In fullsizeoutput_5cfaddition to the two “postage due” stamps (which I don’t have) and a single 2d stamp surcharged 1/2d (there must have been a shortage of the 1/2d definitive), there is a nicely engraved, three-stamp set commemorating the creation of Basutoland’s new legislature, the National Council, in 1959. The first stamp recognizes the “Laws of Moshesh 1854,” with a likeness of long-reigning King Moshoeshoe. (There seem to be numerous spellings of his name.) The second depicts a modest building and the caption “Basutoland Council 1903,” referring to what passed for a local deliberative assembly more than a century ago. The third stamp shows a pipe-smoking Mosotho tribesman on horseback, with his distinctive robe and peaked hat (Is that a dove with an olive branch flying behind him? A swallow with a twig for its nest? An airplane?) In case you are wondering, none of these stamps is valuable.

Now, on to the decimal overprints. Why did I go wild with (muted) excitement over a set like this? Partly because it seemed so … provisional, so … well, wild. Surcharging stamps was an awkward process that marred the purity of the design and created  confusion as to its correct value. The surcharge defaced  the original stamp, rendering it instantly obsolete. When the surcharge included a change from British sterling to decimal value, things could get particularly confusing. In Canada, the Seychelles and elsewhere, the transition came in the 1800s. A few early (and valuable) Canadian fullsizeoutput_5d1stamps are denominated both in “cents” and the old “st’ling.” Another wave of conversions to decimal came before World War II in Caribbean colonies. The nadir of the surcharge business came with those hapless stamps that received two surcharges, one supposedly cancelling out the other — thus leaving the poor customer (and postal clerk) to contend with three separate values on a single stamp. Surcharges were a confusing bother to postal officials and the general public, and were yanked as soon as a new, “proper” set of definitives could be printed. Once the surcharged stamps were taken out of circulation, they sometimes jumped in value to collectors.

Examine the surcharge on these stamps closely: Some of numbers appear thicker than others. It turns out three distinct types of surcharges were used in this set. Which to my mind, makes these stamps even wilder! Type I was thicker than Type II; Type III, used only for the 1-rand stamp, consisted of tall, narrow figures. Some of these varieties now command a premium, though most are affordable. A few stamps carry  “inverted” (upside down) surcharges. These “errors” occurred on the 2 cent stamp (costing hundreds of dollars today) and the 2 1/2 cent (worth more than $1,000). Alas, there are no rare varieties among  the stamps I received from Maseru in 1962.  Nor have I tried to find surcharge varieties — though I’ve often thought it would be fun. This “surcharge” adventure continued with stamps from Bechuanaland (where I also sent a money order) and Swaziland; both countries adopted decimal currency the same time as Basutoland and South Africa.

Page Five: Issues of 1961-3

fullsizeoutput_61eSure enough, along  came the “new” definitive series with decimal currency. In this case, Basutoland got the same splendid Elizabeth II set first issued in 1954, with decimal values in place of pence and shillings. The brilliantly etched vignettes and borders are restored to their full glory. My set is complete. A pencil note states I bought it in 1991 for $11.50. Today, the set goes for $45 on Not a bad fullsizeoutput_5d3investment, eh?

Also on this page is the “universal” Red Cross centenary set.  Above it is space for the “freedom from hunger” universal stamp. The five-cent surcharge on an old (1930s era) postage due stamp costs several dollars today, if you could find it.

Basutoland would issue a few more stamps through 1965, including a set oddly inscribed with both “Basutoland” and “Lesotho,” marking the attainment of self-government. (How can a country have two names?) In contrast to the stately march from one fullsizeoutput_626colonial monarch to the next, the transition of British colonies to independence was seldom  smooth — politically, economically socially or symbolically — and this was  reflected philatelically,  in unforeseen developments and awkward moments, odd stamp issues, false starts, dramatic turns, printing errors, other calamities and incongruities to match the times.  — as you will see …

fullsizeoutput_621Before departing from Basutoland, enjoy a few last closeups of that artful set, first issued in 1954.

Version 2fullsizeoutput_61f

Bonus! Filling Spaces

Here are some examples of the joy of putting stamps in their spaces, completing a set, or just filling gaps.  Look right and notice the black-and-white picture at the bottom of the page depicting  the missing top-value stamp in the Malta set of George VI definitives (1938), inviting the collector to “paste” the actual stamp on the space (below right). What is the mystical pull to address the space? Is the same impulse involved in children’s stickers, or advent calendars … who knows?  And what a pleasure it is, to complete a set …







Below, left to right, is the inaugural set from the island colony of Seychelles, located in the Indian Ocean far off the coast of east Africa. The set from the 1890s depicts British Queen Victoria, who was marking 60 years on the throne. Noice how simply adding two stamps to the set makes the page more attractive.



Finally, below are two more sets of “before and after” pages, from Transvaal. This was a British-occupied territory in the northeast of South Africa. My, how nicely that first set of typographed, two-color definitives of King Edward VII (1902-3) is coming along! Below that are shots of the next page of the album, with stamps ready to mount, then mounted, for yet another Edward VII set from Transvaal. The two sets, above and below, look identical, don’t they? Actually, the second set has a few more color varieties. But why collect both sets? In a word: watermarks. The first set was issued  shortly after Victoria’s death at the start of Edward’s reign; the second came along in 1907-8, toward the end. The main difference between the sets is the paper’s watermark, a pesky philatelic critter I promise to elaborate on in good time  …





British Africa: Ascension

Page one: Issues of 1922-33

This is quite a spectacular page. The two sets feature George V and vignettes — one of “The Wharf” (actually on St. Helena), the other portraying a three-master at harbor amid rock columns.

Oddly, Ascension’s first set cofullsizeoutput_4dc.jpegnsists of stamps of St. Helena, another British possession 800 miles to the southeast, overprinted “Ascension.” One wonders how local inhabitants reacted to stamps depicting a faraway island, intended to represent them in the wide world. How humiliating … Mercifully, it took only two years — from 1922 to 1924 — for colonial stamp designers to come up with an original set for Ascension, displaying the Badge of the Colony.

My copies of Ascension’s first and second sets are mint/hinged. They are expertly drawn and lithographed stamps, often in two colors with delicious descriptions in the catalog — ultramarine and black, olive and lilac, violet and gray … One partial set is complete to the one shilling, seven stamps. The other set is complete — 12 stamps from a half-penny through three shillings. The catalog value of the page tops $270. This is a splendid way to start off on my British Africa collection, and the Ascension pages just keep sparkling. (Read on!)

By the way, I inherited most of these from my father. The exception is the five-pence stamp from the second issue, which I bought online to complete the set — filling an inside straight, as it were —  thereby increasing the overall value.

Page two: Issues of 1934-37.

This classic pictorial set is from late in the reign of George V, who wore the crown from 1910 through 1935. Tfullsizeoutput_4dd.jpeghe stamps are wide and tall, with artistic engravings of Georgetown, Long Beach, a map of the remote South Atlantic island and other scenes. The vignettes are printed in black, as is the profile of the king. The borders are intense colors — violet, green, ultramarine, orange … The contrast is striking, and the fine designs of the engraver’s art resonate back and forth between the dark centers and portrait on each stamp and the succession of bright colors on the borders. This set is cancelled, missing the higher values —an attractive work-in-progress.

The four-stamp commemoration of George V’s silver jubilee, which came months before the popular old king expired, is one of the first Common Designs throughout the British Colonies. (I don’t happen to have this set yet; just the spaces on my album page, inviting me to fill them.) You could argue that the very first “common design” was the series coinciding with Queen Victoria’s 60th year of rule in the 1890s. Each  stamp of the handsome George V set is engraved in two royal hues, displaying Windsor Castle in the center, surrounded by a cameo of a majestic king in full regalia and an intricate border. The sets were available at colonials post offices in Antigua and Fiji, Gibraltar and Gambia, British Guiana and Hong Kong during 1935. George V died at age 70 in January 1936.  Just wait till you see a set in full colors (coming right up, in Basutoland).

The three-stamp set celebrating the coronation of George V’s son and heir, George VI, in 1937, were also issued universally.  (Historical footnote: Edward VIII was on the throne for such a short time before abdicating that no stamps with his portrait were issued in any of the British Colonies — with the exception of the four-stamp GB  definitive set of Edward VIII portraits that was on sale briefly in Great Britain, and issued with overprints in the British territories of Tangiers and the Morocco Agencies.)

The George V jubilee sets from some colonies command surprisingly high prices ($46.50 at for the Ascension set). The George VI coronation set, however, is hardly worth the paper it’s printed on. Why? The jubilee set must have been pulled after George V’s death, making it rarer. The George VI coronation set had low denominations, three pence and under. Maybe there was a glut of coronation sets. They are pretty boring stamps to begin with: single-color, featuring sober frontal portraits of the young king and his queen, Elizabeth, separated by a crown and other royal regalia (the Crown Jewels?)  At least the stamps are engraved.  One could speculate that George VI’s father was the more popular king, ditto with “his” stamps. But as we know from “The King’s Speech” and other sources, George VI rose to the occasion. After steadfast wartime service, he enjoyed a short postwar span of popularity and public affection. A heavy smoker with a weak heart, he died at just 56, in 1952.

Page three:  Issues of 1938-46.

But oh! This is what a stamp collector lives for: Feast your eyes on this vision saturated with rich color and contrast, engravfullsizeoutput_4de.jpeged artistry and design integrity. The stamps are  laid out in orderly rows, set off by their black protective mounts. They hint at considerable value even as they please the eyes  and stimulate the imagination. This is the George VI definitive set, mint and complete. In this case, “complete” means a full complement of 15 stamps, from a half-penny to 10 shillings. (Never mind the blank space on the page of the Minkus album; the authoritative Scott catalog affirms the set’s completeness, ignoring the suspect “yellow orange & lilac” 1 1/2d value cited by Minkus.)

You will notice that the center landscape designs are drawn from the 1934 George V set. But somehow, replacing the portrait of George V with a new engraved close-up of George VI transforms the stamps into something altogether different, more modern. The new king, just 41 in 1938  is clean-shaven, immaculately groomed in his high, gilded collar. He half faces the viewer from a simple oval frame.

Updating portraits on the same central stamp design was a frequent recourse in British colonial stamp production through the years, particularly for the sets issued late in the reigns of both Georges. More than a few colonies issued attractive definitive series after 1950, apparently expecting that the ailing George VI would carry on for at least enough years to  make the effort worthwhile. After the King’s untimely death, a number of colonial post offices simply reissued the same sets with new portraits of the dewy-eyed  Queen Elizabeth replacing those of the gaunt but stoic king. This seems eminently practical. Recycling serves another purpose as well. From the very beginning, British Colony stamps were “universal,” in the sense that similar designs turned up in post offices all over the world, from Victorian times. In the 1890s, the colonies issued definitive sets with profile portraits to mark Victoria’s 60th year on the throne. (Now Queen Elizabeth II has broken Victoria’s record. Imagine!) After Edward VII was crowned in 1902, the designers replaced Victoria with Edward, but kept the general border design of the sets consistent. The border designs were “recycled” again after 1911, when George V became king.  Indeed, a few colonies continued to produce sets with the same Victorian-era frame for George VI in the 30s thad 40s, and even Elizabeth in the 50s (see Leeward Islands).  Hong Kong’s distinctive definitive stamps maintained similar border designs, from Victoria through Elizabeth. Northern Rhodesia  and Bechuanaland issued similar sets for George V, George VI and Elizabeth. Not only did this practice save the designers effort, but it signaled dependability, predictability, solidity. In this way, British colonial philately served the interests of empire. As one benign monarch succeeded another, there was philatelic continuity; purely symbolic, but a symbol to rely on, something to trust.

Version 2Please indulge a little esoterica here — a comment on the unusual number of color changes in this set. There were

two each for the one penny, two pence and three pence. Why the changes? Who knows. One three-penny stamp has a black center and intense ultramarine border. (This is the rarest stamp of the set, selling online for
upwards of $50 — I got mine for $22.50). Another 3d stamp is all Version 4black. One can imagine a bit of confusion when the black-only 3d stamp replaced the black-and-blue 3d in 194
0; then in 1944, when another ultramarine-and-black stamp was issued, this one for 4d instead of 3d.

Or perhaps it wasn’t that confusing after all. Let’s not get carried away.

Version 5You may notice if you squint that below some stamps on the pages of my albums there are tiny penciled inscriptions: date and amount paid, for the most part. I began doing this a decade or more ago, noting prices paid above $2. (The most I have paid so far for a stamp is $105 for an embossed stamp from Natal, circa 1857.) This notation system should help me or my heirs when it comes time to tote up the cash value of my collection, at least from the standpoint of my own expenditures. I’m sure it’s already in the thousands …

fullsizeoutput_50f.jpegThe page rounds out with another Common Design set, this one to commemorate the end of World War II. The two mono-color stamps contain a new, face-on portrait of the king, looking calm, resolute, well-turned-out and handsome as ever. Next to him is an impressive engraved rendering of the Houses of Parliament reflected in the Thames. While this set, like the coronation set, never became valuable, it’s easy to imagine what an important purpose the stamps served. At the end of this punishing war, it announced that Britain was still a commanding presence — solid, secure, orderly, reassuring, a monumental edifice firmly planted at the center of the empire.

Page four: Issues of 1948-56.

The 25th wedding anniversafullsizeoutput_541.jpegry of George VI and Queen Mary in 1948,  the coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953, and the four-stamp set commemorating the 78th anniversary of the Universal Postal Union (see below), were occasions for more “universal” issues. (I will say more about the Silver Wedding and UPU sets later). The same designs were in circulation in virtually every colony. The engraved portrait of HM Elizabeth II brings out her youthful beauty. Barely out of her teens, she seems serene and confident as she begins her reign over the final incarnation of “a greater empire than has been.”

A personal aside: I began collecting stamps before I was a teenager. My father and older brother also were collectors, so I was around stamps from an early age. I was drawn to stamps by dint of growing up a “foreign service brat.” Between the ages of nine and 17, I lived in Asia, Europe or Africa. I found it thrilling to go into local post offices and find exotic-looking stamps that I could buy for the price on the stamp — “face value,” just like back home. On our travels, I would insist on a visit to a local post office in each new country, so I could stock up with all I could afford of the latest stamp issues. (My father was an easy sell, since he picked up some choice items himself during these visits.) My postal forays entered family legend after the episode when our plane landed in Monrovia, Liberia, circa 1962. During our brief stopover, I set off to find the post office, on what proved to be a fruitless search — I think it was Sunday. By the time I gave up and started back, everyone was back on the plane. It nearly left without me.

While living in Heidelberg, Germany, I came up with the idea (maybe I read about it in a stamp magazine) of sending money orders to foreign post offices, asking the postmaster to use the money, after deducting for return postage, to buy current “definitives” — that is, the set of stamps regularly in use at the moment.  I consulted my catalog and map and settled on faraway places like Ascension Island, Bechuanaland Protectorate, Basutoland, the Cayman Islands, Sierra Leone, Sabah … in short, all around the globe. Never mind that I couldn’t afford to buy the complete set. For me, it was a fun project, connecting me in a new way to the wide world.

Try to imagine the thrill of receiving an official philatelic letter from one of these exotic realms, replete with multicolored stamps and an  envelope marked “On Her fullsizeoutput_55c.jpegMajesty’s Service,” addressed to 13-year-old me! Here is a rare photo recording the arrival of one such packet — perhaps from Ascension. The household gathered at the front door of   Philosophenweg 9 in Heidelberg to bear witness as FMF received and opened his postal letter. It was such a memorable event, the postman  stuck around for the occasion. Mother served cookies and lemonade for the occasion.

FMF diary entry for June 6, 1962: “ M.S.A.U. (morning school as usual). Out 1, after making goal in sport! (some soccer reference) Aft. fun at tennis club. Played pretty well. LETTER FROM ASCENSION! WONDERFUL. 10 stamps on the cover! Bed 9:30.”

This big lead up is to introduce the gorgeous set of Queen Elizabeth Ascension definitives pictured above. Somehow, I managed to scrape up enough money to buy a money order that covered the cost of the complete definitive set, issued in 1956 — from a half penny through 10 shillings. I won’t try to estimate how much time I have spent over the years eyeballed this beautiful set — the delicate colors of the borders, the fetching cameo of the queen setting off the engraved artistry of the scenes and subjects, printed in black in the centers. This is one of my all-time favorite sets, not only because of the splendid design and execution, but for its relative rarity. For a face-value purchase price, via my money order, of scarcely more than one pound ($2.80 in 1962 dollars), I obtained a set currently offered at for $95. (Why so rare? For one thing, it was taken out of circulation after a new set was issued in 1963.) I already was using black protective sleeves to mount all my uncancelled stamps, shunning the hinges that mar the gum, but which are fine to use on cancelled stamps that no longer have their gum. This means that my set of QEII is “mint, never hinged,” commanding a corresponding premium in value. On the upper left of the album page, I took the liberty of adding a pencil notation — “p.o. fresh” — to indicate that this particular set was obtained directly from the post office, not through a dealer or at a stamp store. Makes it seem even fresher, doesn’t it?

In this, one of my firsfullsizeoutput_53e.jpegt adventures in international post-office shopping, I got lucky with the envelope containing my stamps. The kindly postmaster affixed a complete set up to the one-shilling value on the cover, making it a pretty and desirable showpiece in itself. …  They may well be the cover I am opening in the dramatic scene photographed above, which would make the date June 6, 1962.  How can I be so sure of the date? Because as you will note on the envelope’s display page, I recorded how long it took for my letter to get to Ascension and back.  (The dates are presented European-style: day first, then month, then year.) This kind of compulsive data-keeping is typical of stamp-collecting, I think: mildly significant, moderately useful, slightly esoteric … not altogether boring …

Before we move on, please enjoy a closer look at the extraordinary artistry involved in engraving this set of stamps …



Americana Series, 1975-6

Greetings, all. Here is a photo fullsizeoutput_595and accompanying note that I hope helps to explain why we stamp collectors get enthusiastic about our hobby …

These stamps are from the Americana definitive series of 1975-6, celebrating the U.S. Bicentennial. I expect those of a certain age will remember them, at least vaguely. As you see from the arrangement, each sequence of four stamps combines a central iconic image and patriotic sayings around the margins. Four stamps of consecutive value placed together — say, the 1 cent, 2 cent, 3 cent and 4 cent values — form a circle of sayings, as it were. OK, more like a “rectangle” of sayings, but still pretty cool, eh? As you see here, these circles continue in ffullsizeoutput_596our other stamp quartets in the Americana series, up to the top $5 value.  The sayings that circle round the stamps unite each quadrant, and the five quadrants form their own circle, united by their design and content.

Still with me? The reason I am sending you this now, decades after these stamps were issued, is that I have just figured out how to display them in a way that best brings out the special quality of the set’s design. Some
how through the years, I have appreciated the concept, but my stock book didn’t accommodate this kind of arrangement. This is not the standard way albums display stamps in a set, even printed on the page. Besides, my mint (uncancelled) other set is in plate blocks — four stamps from the corner of the sheet complete with the number of the sheet, or “plate” — that don’t fit together as a square.  I kept fiddling in my mind with the stamps  (OK, OK, I wasn’t obsessed; I’m talking about years going by). Even though the set’s inherent unity was realized only in my mind, it always has been one of my favorites. I even like the sayings. (Hey, I’m a patriot, too!)  I  kept an old column written for Knight-Ridder by Dominic Sama, explaining how the lettering on the stamps, designed by the Philadelphia graphic arts company Kramer, Miller, Lomden, Glassman, “was arranged along one side and around to the bottom or top of the stamp. With the block of four stamps, the combined lettering would form a circle.”

So now I have decided on the solution and taken action: I collected cancelled copies of the stamps from my stock book, grabbed an empty album page, and went to work with tongs and hinges, producing the result you see here. Neat, eh? Hello? You still there? (We stamp collectors are never really sure anyone is listening as we drone on …)

This is the kind of thing that has attracted me to philately for lo, these many years. I love seeing how sets of stamps fit together visually. Many sets of stamps are splendidly conceived, designed and executed — particularly engraved stamps. (These Americana stamps are engraved, meaning hand-drawn and etched.)

Stamp collecting includes a mercenary frisson to keep things interesting. While none of these Americana stamps is particularly valuable — you’d be lucky to get much more than face value for nice mint copies — certain stamps put out in the last 30 years now  command high prices. Generally, older stamps seem to be holding their value within their limited market.  Online auctions and shopping sites are booming — as is reflected in my own buying habits, as well as the lively bidding that frequently snatches away an  intended prize!

Stamps have historical heft as well as investment potential. Take this Americana set, which accompanied all the Bicentennial hoopla of that long-gone era. In 1975, the Vietnam War ended but the Cold War continued,, It was the year after Nixon resigned, a year of massacre and mayhem in Latin America, a year of horror in Cambodia … Against that backdrop, and having witnessed all that came after, it is both stirring and troubling to read the brave slogans and high aspirations emblazoned on these stamps — ‘“Freedom of conscience — an American right”   … “One nation indivisible — E pluribus unum” … “The land of the free and home of the brave” … .”America’s light leads her generations onward.”  It is poignant to reflect on the broader sense of unity and purpose embodied in these philatelic artifacts, created as this democratic republic entered its third century …

Best, FMF                                                                      Syracuse, October 2015


Welcome to my stamp collection. Here is the bulk of it, in these two lower shelves of a small bookcase in my study. The top shelf is reserved for catalogs. These books contain detailed listings of all the stamps and varieties I collect, along with their estimated value at the time. I use catalogs dating back to the 1970s  for classification purposes. For the old stamps I collect, they are just as reliable as the latest edition when it comes to illustration, number, description, watermark, notes and so on. To gauge the current value of stamps, it’s easy enough to go online  and find out  h
ow much a particular stamp is selling for at the moment.

The middle shelf holds my major albums. You can tell the British and British Colony stamps by  the distinctive Union Jack displayed at the top of the spines, left to right: British Africa (black dustcover), British America (blue dustcover) and British IMG_0744.JPGEurope (red dust cover, or should I say, magenta?). One reason why I don’t store these albums next to each other is that the thinner albums immediately to the right of each one contain newer stamps (1960s on) from each area of the world, including the last colonial stamps as well as post-independence issues.

At the far left is my Congo album (blue spine), with a nearly complete collection of stamps dating back to the 1880s. Then come two more albums of African stamps — French colonies, Liberia, newer stamps from Congo, Rwanda and Burundi. In the middle of the shelf are my two American albums (brown spine, green spine); further to the right, after British Europe and modern British Europe, are general European stamps.

The lower shelf is a diverse lot: Germany, French West Africa (pre- and post-independence), miscellaneous stock books and files holding stamp sheets, miniature sheets and other multiples, as well as several books featuring stamps on covers from the USA and around the world.

Among this last group are “first day cfullsizeoutput_5fd.jpegovers” like this one, with stamps placed on specially engraved envelopes and cancelled on the first day of issue. These covers were supposed to become collector’s items, but it hasn’t turned out that way, to the chagrin of first-day cover enthusiasts. Today FDCs are a glut on the market …

These albums  contain   efullsizeoutput_5f9nvelopes sent through the mail before the advent of U.S. postage stamps in 1847 — for example, this one bearing a postmark of 1844 (see date in small type at left); another is from 1840. There are some  envelopes with early American stamps, others with Confederate stamps from the 1860s (see below). They may be worth something, but probably not much. …

fullsizeoutput_5fa.jpegAnother type of cover is the specially cancelled “first flight” envelope bearing an early airmail stamp. For example, this envelope was carried on the first stamped-mail flight from Miami (and Virgin Islafullsizeoutput_5fc.jpegnds?) to New York City on Jan. 9, 1929.  Some “first flight” covers are valuable. And romantic!  The rarest cover in my collection is one addressed to my Uncle Reddy, in Needham, Mass. (see below). It bears the 24-cent “Jenny” airmail stamp, cancelled with the message: “Air Mail Service; New York; Jun 3, 1918; First Trip.” A rubber stamp in the lower left corner of the envelope announces: “VIA Aeroplane Mail.” Quaint! While the envelope isn’t in particularly good shape, a similar cover was offered on eBay recently — for $250!

fullsizeoutput_5fb.jpegYou do know the difference between a stamp album and a stock book, don’t you? Do I have to explain everything? Oh, all right. Take my American collection, which starts with a binder full of pages offering spaces for every major variety of U.S. stamp … from the first two in 1847 — the Benjamin Franklin 5-cent and the George Washington 10 cent — until the pages run out in the 1960s.  Beyond that date — now more than a half-century ago! — I have relied on stock book pages to hold my U.S. stamps. A typical stock book page has up to 10 plastic or parchment strips arrayed in parallel rows, Each strip is attached to the page at the sides and across the bottom, thus creating a secure holder for up to a half-dozen stamps inserted (using stamp tongs, of course!) across the width of the strip. Space out the stamps in your own design, or bunch them up for bulk or “stock” storage (hence the name “stock” book). I have numerous  small stock books loaded with duplicate stamps, many of them cancelled. You must take care when the stamps are uncancelled, or “mint.” Allow humidity into a room where mint stamps are stored on top of each other in stock books, and you could have a real sticky problem!

I would be hard-pressed to assign a total value to my current collection, though it is surely in the thousands. For one thing, the value keeps rising (I hope). Some rarities and nicer items in my collection, including U.S. stamps I bought at my local post office, have increased five- to tenfold over what I paid for them. I spend hundreds of dollars on stamps each year (wife Chris has been known to roll her eyes and sigh when she sees the billings).  I keep notes of how much I spend on dearer stamps ($2 apiece and up). The most I have spent yet ffullsizeoutput_603.jpegor a stamp is $105, a princely sum which I paid in 2013 for Natal No. 1, 3 pence, rose, 1857 (pictured here, larger than actual size). The stamp has a catalog value over $500, but that is for a copy with four clear margins, whereas my copy has only three. I have no certificate of authenticity, and there are known to be reprints with bogus cancellations. Nevertheless, I am fairly certain this is the real deal. Now, if you’re just skimming over the album page, you might be tempted to dismiss this rarity. It looks like a smudged square of colored paper with some bumps on it. Look more closely, though, and you will see a clear impression saying “THREE PENCE,” much of it picked up by the blafullsizeoutput_605.jpegck ink of the cancellation. Actually, the margins are unusually large for this variety: just in at the bottom, clear the rest of the way around. Compare the faint embossing on the stamp with the actual design outline, at right, as presented in the Scott stamp catalogue, and you may be able  to discern details on the original:: 1) as stated, the number is clear under the postal strike; 2) also visible are the circular border and the letter “A” from  Natal at top; 3) “V” is visible at left, and a faint “R” at right. Can you see it? Now think of this odd stamp, embossed  more than 150 years ago, placed on an envelope in the new south African colony of Natal for the outgoing mail. Now That stamp is in my collection. As you might suspect, I have examined this stamp in great detail, and confess to be being hypnotized in looking at it — something about the fleshy color, the tattoo-like embossing, the nearly hidden letters and symbols, then imagining this artifact making its way from that African  postal outpost back in 1857 …   philately just boggles the mind!

The other rarity I’ll share wifullsizeoutput_606.jpegth you now  (more will be presented in future chapters) is the Penny Black from Great Britain. This is the First Stamp, issued in 1840, bearing the engraved profile of Queen Victoria. It was  produced by Sir Rowland Hill. This stamp cost me $70 in 1991. The Penny Black is not exceedingly rare, but very old. Mint copies (uncancelled) are expensive. But used examples with nice cancellations and four margins — that is, where you can see white all the way around the design — can bring hundreds. Mine has four margins, or so I claim. You may need a magnifying glass to discern the thin sliver of white that continues around the lower left of the stamp — but I maintain it is there! Thus I believe my stamp should be worth at least — $70!

Because Britain was the world’s first and only stamp-issuing nation in 1840, Sir Rowland was able to omit the name of his country from the Penny Black — an insouciant act of noblesse non-oblige. After all, there weren’t any stamps from any other country, so wasn’t it obvious? Because of this anomaly — or is it right of primacy? — Great Britain con
tinued to issue its stamps without a national designation, and continues the practice to this day, the only nation to do so. British postage stamps always include a likeness of the reigning monarch. But none of them says “Great Britain,” or “United Kingdom.” Indeed, when  the component parts of the UK started issuing their own stamps in 1958 — in Wales and Monmouthshire, Scotland and Northern Ireland — they bore only a portrait of Elizabeth

II and regional symbols; no names. Way back in the 1840s and 1850s, when other nations began issuing their own stamps, they had to include their names to distinguish themselves from each other — and from the Nameless One. One exception was Brazil, whose anonymous “bulls-eye” stamps came out in 1843. By the 1860s, however, that nation, too, had fallen in line and added “Brasil” to its stamps. The first two American postage stamps, issued in 1847 — the 5-cent Ben Franklin and the 10-cent George Washington — are inscribed “U” and “S” in the upper corners, and “Post Office” in between. Today’s “forever” stfullsizeoutput_607.jpegamps still include “USA,” while Great Britain’s regular issues include nothing but a value and an iconic portrait of Elizabeth II.

That portrait, by the way, is based on a
n elegantly sculpted profile of the queen, the work of Sir Arnold Machin. The first set of Machin definitives was released  in 1967. Machin definitives have continued to appear across a half-century, and the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II is the most familiar image in philatelic history.

Some day I or my designated agent will be able to add up all the price tags on the beauties I acquired over the years and arrive at a pretty good estimate of the value of  my investment. My fervent hope and belief is that philately will survive and thrive as a pleasurable hobby for collectors and connoisseurs, and that my stamps will continue to grow in actual value, so that one day they can be a great gift to my heirs …   Meanwhile, please come along on this meandering journey through the pages of my collection — the stamps and the stories  they tell …



Hi Readers.

What follows is my new project, a series of lively (I hope) commentaries on my stamp collection and stamp-collecting in general under the title, “The FMF Stamp Project.”

Hey! Was that a yawn?! If so, feel free to stop reading. Or put it aside for later. I won’t be insulted.  We stamp collectors have few illusions about public interest in our little pieces of paper; indeed, we worry that what interest there is may be waning. However, my bet is that if you start reading my blog posts, you will be beguiled by the stories, anecdotes, vivid  glimpses of history and culture and above all, the sheer beauty of the stamps.

That is my fond conceit, at least. Stamp collectors tend to be besotted with their collections. I have been a philatelist for more than 50 years, learning the hobby from my Pa and older brother Jonathan. Over the decades I have traded, bought stamps at post offices here and abroad. As an adult, I have acquired stamps from dealers, auctions, stamp shows and online. The Internet has provided a big boost to my collection, with reliable online locations to bid, buy, even sell. As I write this, several envelopes sit on my desk from online sellers, containing old stamps from places like Seychelles, Grenada and the Orange Free State/Orange River Colony. Some fun!

… Now there are three more envelopes waiting for me, as you can see in the photo at right. I’m usually in no hurry to open these envelopes. I like to leave them sort of lying around, looking pretty with their bright, unusual stamps
img_0767(often from foreign lands), and because they are a little bit pregnant — there is a pleasing heft and lift to the envelopes, a promise of what lies within. Altogether a fairly low-key pleasure, but a pleasure nonetheless. In the  the second photo, one envelope is open and the stamps have been removed for a first look (using stamp tongs, of course).  It’s always at least a small thrill. Soon enough, the stamps will be safely mounted in their places on the pages of thick stamp albums, and they will take their places in sets from countries around the world — most of which no longer exist. For now, the stamps are out, on the table, colorful img_0763artifacts sometimes well over 100 years old. The stamps have survived all these years. Some are a little faded, others have retained their intense colors, appearing fresh in their third century. This is a time to lift the stamps (in tongs of course), turn them over, examine their backs, look for thins or creases, double-check watermarks. (What are watermarks? Be patient, we’ll get to that.)

The next step is to get the stamps into a stock card (with glassine or parchment strips to hold the stamps), and set them on the desk for several days of img_0766examination and appreciation. (Of course, while you are doing all this, you are also living your life. Please don’t think stamp-collecting is an all-consuming habit. After all, FDR was an active stamp collector all his adult life, and he still had time for other things …)

Notice how the folks selling their philatelic wares manage to be creative in the stamps they stick on the envelope for mailing. This is because they probably have a sizable  backlog of American stamps (or from other countries if they live abroad) that they bought at the post office. The more recent issues have not appreciated in value, for the most part. Indeed, you probably can’t even get face value (the amount paid for the stamp) if you try and sell it  It makes practical sense to use these stamps for postage, since they continue to have their fullsizeoutput_60b.jpegstated value for mailing purposes. So the senders combine stamps that add up to the going rate — 49 cents in the USA in 2015 (later reduced to 47 cents, a change made even more confusing by the “forever” non-numerical value)   — and load up the envelope with the old beauties. Seeing such colorful mail makes the whole thing more fun. I wonder if the letter carrier even gets a tiny kick out of delivering these substantive letter-packets decorated with such philatelic richness.

As a matter of fact, I believe many stamp collectors do the same thing — like me. I usually have a backlog of stamps in unusual or outdated denominations. Most of these stamps date to before the advent of no-lick stamps (ah, stamp gum: there’s a topic unto itself),  “forever” stamps (a long and tangled tale) and other tectonic shifts in the philatelic  world. These stamps are basically worth what I paid for them — as postage. So why not use them. Here, for example, is a letter I am preparing to send to my daughter. Don’t you think the letter carrier will look twice? Will the postal agent have to do a little math problem, making sure that numbers on the stamps add up to 49 cents? (Let’s see … two 5s … seven 4s, that’s 10 plus 28 equals 38; then a 1 cent makes 39, plus a 10-cent at the bottom — yep!) Sometimes I affix stamps that I want to have returned, cancelled, so I can add them to my collection. In which case, I scrawl a small note: “pls save” with an arrow pointing to the particular stamp. I imagine this provokes a certain amount of amusement with a measure of annoyance in loved ones, who may or may not feel obligated to cut or tear the stamp off the envelope (taking care not to rip or crease the stamp itself) and store it someplace until Fred comes to pick it up — or to take the extra step of including it in a letter sent back to Fred; or even writing a letter for that purpose alone! (Too much to ask.)

Another way stamp collectors can get under the skin of their loved ones is by asking them to use stamps instead of meter strips on packages, especially the heavy ones around the holidays.  This may sound like an odd request, but when you read on and learn the reason, you’ll see.  fullsizeoutput_60fWhile the U.S. Postal Service no longer issues stamps with denominations for first-class mail (i.e., now you just use  “forever” stamps), if you ask at your post office, you will find there are still many different tamps for sale, from 1 cent to $10 and beyond. You just have to ask. The highest-value stamps are for heavier mail, priority mail, express mail and the like. The denominations have progressed upward in recent years — $13.65, $14, $16.50, $18.30 … In 2013, the USPS issued a stamp selling for $19.95 that depicted a fullsizeoutput_612.jpegbustling Grand Central Station in New York City; in 2014 came a $19.99 stamp picturing the USS Arizona Memorial. What? You’ve never seen these stamps before? Here is a picture of some of them. They all have been available at one time or another for purchase at most post offices — for face value (i.e., the prince on the stamp). Some of the older stamps that have gone out of circulation, that is, no longer are sold by the post office, have increased in value to collectors. If high-value stamps are a good investment, you’d think some residual value would attach to cancelled examples. And you’d be right. The first Express Mail stamp, issued in 1983 with a price tag of $9.35, sells today for about $40 in mint (uncancelled) condition. But cancelled copies are valuable, too, priced at about $35. The $11.75 Express Mail stamp from the space shuttle series in 1998 sells today for about $30 mint, $19.95 cancelled, or “used.”  These are reasons I make a point of collecting used as well as unused copies of these high-value stamps — and ask friends and family to use them so I can collect them right off the packages. To me, the mint and used copies are both worth collecting.  And who knows? Some day, these rarely used stamps may be more valuable cancelled than mint!

Luckily, I had one loyal co-conspirator in this strategy over the years — my mother. Each Christmas, and probably around some birthdays, packages would arrive from Moscow, Idaho, my parents’ home town, adorned with philatelic gems — high-value definitives, priority and express mail stamps. On at least one occasion, I have accompanied my mother ofullsizeoutput_614.jpegn a trip to the  post office in downtown Moscow. It seemed to me the postal clerks saw her coming and either eyed the exit, rolled their eyes, smiled sympathetically, groaned inwardly, or issued a good-natured sigh. Probably some combination of all of these. It wasn’t always convenient for them to go hunting for high-value stamps. There might be a few other customers waiting in line, also sighing, rolling their eyes, etc. Tolerance for philatelic game-playing is not wide or deep. But Mother generally persevered, alwafullsizeoutput_611.jpegys with a kind word and good will. More often than not she prevailed, and the resulting packages had enduring value — not just for the contents, but  because of the collectible stamps pasted on them. For example, Mother sent me the $13.65 Express Mail stamp from the monuments series in 2002-3 that you see here. The cancelled copy is catalog-priced at around $9. And to think the stamp already did its duty, carrying Mother’s precious package to me …  Now that my old mother is no longer around to run this little philatelic gambit, I have not yet figured out how to get used copies of those $19.95 and $19.99 stamps into my collection through legitimate use of the postal system. I shall keep trying, mercilessly cajoling other loved ones into playing stamps with me …

Back to my latest online purchases.  After cutting out and saving stamps that came on the  envelopes, I take time to examine and admire the stamps sent to me inside those envelopes, now safely displayed on stock pages. Next, I go to my albums, where I locate and lightly mark the proper spaces for each new stamp. I add a note referring to the date purchased and the amount paid for the stamp (if more than $2).

Finally comes the stamp mounting. For cancelled stamps, it’s a simple matter of applying half of a moistened, gummed paper hinge to the back of the stamp. Then, lick the other half of the hinfullsizeoutput_615ge and stick the stamp in its space in the album. The hinges are peelable, and will not harm the stamp. For mint (uncancelled) stamps, whose gum needs to be protected, readying the stamp for safe display requires special mounts. Using stamp tongs, insert the stamp in a 10-inch-long protective sleeve — the black strips come in numerous widths to accommodate all sizes of  stamps. A 22-strip pack costs less than $10 and can accommodate up 100 stamps. Use a razor cutter to lop off the inserted stamp from the rest of the strip. (But be careful not to nick the stamp, including the perforations!). For this cutting operation, I use a little kit I picked up as a lad in Germany …oh, just about 55 years ago. Amazing, how it’s lasted. We stamp collectors do venerate aged things, after all. On the other hand, how can a durable plastic razor holder and a see-through glass ruler wear out? In cutting, I position the stamp on a piece of cardboard, so I don’t mar my desk top or make an uneven cut. I keep a container of recycled pieces of cardboard nearby for this express purpose. I don’t use pieces of cardboard more than once. Cutting through the strip on top of another cut mark in the cardboard could result in an uneven cut. Even if I am only making one cut for one stamp, I still discard the whole piece of cardboard afterwards. Call it wasteful. Call it extravagance. I prefer to think of it as an  infinitesimal act of gay abandon. (The cardboard eventually goes out with the recycling anyway.) Now you are ready to moisten a small part of the back of the black mount — careful not to stick your tongue inside, wet the precious gum and ruin the stamp! — and paste the mounted, protected stamp in its designated spot. Aaah! This is what it’s all about — putting stamps in spaces, seeing sets materialize in all their glorious order and color and design …

To be sure, there are still many, many spaces to fill in my stamp albums. But heck, why not admit it: My collection is already spectacular! It deserves to be shared. Who better to start with than my intimates? I hope you enjoy the first installment. Beware, though: The stamps and stories go on and on. My collection is immense, as is my store of notes, comment and anecdotes. I have a thick British Africa album, also a bulging British America album. My British Europe album starts with the 1840 Penny Black from Great Britain, the world’s first stamp. (Current price for a four-margin copy from $200; I got mine for $70 in 1991.) My Mulready Cover of 1841 (bought online for L26 in 2011) has to be seen to be believed …

Then there’s my Congo collection, including Rwanda and Burundi, with sets dating back to 1889, when Belgian King Leopold schemed over his vast Congo Free State; also a valuable USA collection; French colonies, Germany, covers and specialty items galore … Why, this Concordance could go on for hundreds and hundreds of pages. Is the world ready for this?

Actually, the world should have plenty of time to absorb this modest epic. I have other projects calling to me, so my philatelic Concordance will proceed slowly, episodically, occasionally. After a while, I expect my public will be demanding new postings, much as newspaper readers a century-and-a-half ago clamored for installments in the serial novels of Charles Dickens. Given enough time and continued inspiration, I’ll get there. That’s my meandering mantra.

Why do this at all, when there are so many more important things to worry about? Consider it a personal indulgence. If a few others find it worth dipping into, so much the better. As I post my “chapters” online, perhaps I will gain a wider audience. Hey, I may even help invigorate a superannuated pastime before it fades into the mists of Anachreon. Tant mieux!. Meanwhile, I get to start unburdening myself of a lifetime of stories and memories and pictures and — dare I say it? — adventures in stamp collecting. I’ll do my best to keep things interesting …

Yours in philately, FMF                                                                       Syracuse, November 2015

Why collect stamps


This “world stamp map” is on the wall of my study, in front of my desk. I recovered it the other day from a box where it had been in storage after our recent move. I made it years ago by assembling a group of stamps that were damaged or very cheap, and pasting them over the appropriate country on the map. You can buy these ready-made, perhaps find a “kit” somewhere to build your own. But you also can just use a standard world map, gather some cheap stamps and glue (or stamp hinges, if you can’t bear to mar a stamp), and make one from scratch. A map like this brings into perspective some of the distinctive qualities of the hobby, in that it displays the diversity and variety of stamps, and provides a humanistic overlay on geography, politics, sociology, anthropology, culture … you name it, philately’s got it!

Why collect stamps? Others have answered this question as well as or better than I could, so let’s hear from some of them, speaking from the heart.

“Stamp collecting is a ‘mature’ hobby,” writes Gary Eggleston,”not because its enjoyment is limited to older adults – the shut ins as we like to call them – who derive much pleasure from gazing at the flowers and the trees, the fish in the sea, the airplanes and the towers – not only in their territory but in places as remote as Papua New Guinea and American Samoa.

“Stamp collecting is a mature hobby because of its colorful role in history,” Eggleston continues, “because of how it has evolved into a pastime that has brought joy to millions of people around the world.

“Yet stamp collecting has an innocence all its own. It’s a hobby that stirs something in each collector – a longing to visit foreign lands, a keen investigative sense for print and color …  , a yearning for friendship, and an intellectual curiosity about what other collectors are up to or have discovered.

“Photographs in an album preserve those Kodak moments that cannot be re-lived again. … But stamps in an album? How about history, geography, and culture, for starters? How about friendships that know no barriers or frontiers? How about an all-consuming passion that never ebbs or flickers?

“This is the beauty of stamp collecting. It opens doors, it’s the bottomless well of knowledge, and it’s the pictorial story of a country and its heritage. It’s also about the story of the men and women who work five days a week to deliver our mail. It’s about stamp dealers who wheel and deal and know all about value and price and rarity,” Eggleston concludes unerringly: “It is — or was,  once a upon a time —  about you and me.”

Another eloquent online author wrote this: “The world of stamps is a common denominator that brings together the old and the young, the experienced collector and the novice hobbyist, the boardroom CEO and the long-haul trucker. Stamp collecting cuts across socio-economic, racial and cultural boundaries. The joy of collecting, the sharing of knowledge and technique, the opportunity to learn may make for some strange bedfellows, but it forms the common bond that binds collectors.  …  All that is required of the stamp collector is that he find pleasure in collecting the particular type or category of stamp he chooses. … There are no requirements. Collect what moves you, what you are passionate about. Stamp collecting is an exercise in love.”

I will leave the last word on the subject to our friends from  the Sunnyvale Stamp Society. “Stamp collecting is the most popular hobby in the world,” writes the unabashed and unbowed phil-anthropist  from Sunnyvale. “However, if you are not a collector you may be asking, ‘Why stamps? Aren’t stamps just pictures on little pieces of paper?’  Scientifically speaking, yes that’s correct. However, there is so much more to stamps that people of any age, any income and any interest can find some aspect of stamp collecting appealing and very satisfying.”

Stamp bonus: A small photo gallery to whet your philatelic appetite


This souvenir sheet from Canada is a beautiful  example of engravers revealing their art. Notice how each stamp is in a partial stage of completion, from line engraving to coloring. Notice the tools. (But where’s the paint brush?). In the blowup, below, you can see the exquisitely color-only rendering, poised just to the left of the engraved stamp where it belongs. It’s easy to imagine how it would fit on. But wait! You don’t have to imagine! The partially colored engraving appears in the next stamp over.




Speaking of technique, notice these fine examples of the engraver’s art, from a 1986 strip set to promote stamp collecting. The two blow-ups below display a tromp-l’oeuil effect, with the postal tools appearing to be lying on their sides, while in the next enlargement, the boy’s engraved profile and shirt become a study in abstract patterns, intricate textures and bold coloring.

Version 2

Version 2

Version 3


Above is a still from the movie “Brewster’s Millions,” starring Richard Pryor (at right). For some reason he has to spend $20 million in a hurry, so he buys an inverted Jenny (you know, one of the most valuable stamp errors  in the world — see below), and uses it on a post card. I think that is what this scene is about. Below, Homer Simpson discovers a sheet of inverted Jennys at a flea market, but dismisses it as faulty.



It’s always fun to get a good look at the costliest stamp in the world . It’s the 1856, one-cent, black on magenta from British Guiana, which sold at Sotheby’s in 2014 for the tidy sum of $12 million. Here it is, folks! (My recollection is that one reason this may be the only copy of the stamp is that the rest, or most of the rest, were destroyed in a shipwreck. A little research should confirm or dispel this story, and I may get around to it some day …)


I include this cover as part treat, part tease. It’s an  insanely valuable philatelic item. The envelope incorporates five copies of the first-ever postage stamp (the British Penny Black), each on worth more than $100, with three copies of the even more valuable 2 penny blue, all tied with bright red Maltese Cross cancels to a one-penny Mulready cover, also worth lots! This cover reportedly sold for $10 million. Fabulous! And to think you or I might find something like this in an  attic one of these days …


Some lucky stamp collectors (me included, at least twice!) get a chance to explore their hobby amid the “bouquinistes” who set up stalls along the Seine River in Paris to hawk books, posters, artwork as well as  — les timbres postes. Stamps!. It feels like you might find anything in these outdoor ateliers of gypsies and dealers, their wares arrayed on boards under plastic gripped by clothespins in case of a shower. Is that accordion music I hear, wafting down the boulevard by the flowing river? The thrill of infinite possibility is in the air …


Famous stamp collectors

According to the Sunnyvale Stamp Society (with which I heartily agree), philately is a sure-fire stress reducer for busy people.  While you can enjoy social times by joining a stamp club, attending stamp shows, haggling with dealers and so on, the fun doesn’t stop there. “You can also do stamp collecting alone,” the Sunnyvale club advises. “You can spend as much time or as little time as you want. You can work with your stamps any time, rain or shine! It’s a weatherproof hobby. It’s a passive hobby that can help reduce stress and easily gives a feeling of accomplishment.”


The gent you see above is not FMF but FDR — Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who appears to be sitting in the corner of his sprawling parlor at Hyde Park — or is it the White House? — “playing with his stamps.” There he is again, below, featured on an inauguration poster from the American Philatelic Society in 1933 as the new stamp collector/president  of accomplishment.”

Do you see why FDR, among other philatelists with familiar names, enjoyed stamp-collecting so much? “There are no time constraints with this hobby,” the Sunnyvale club note continues. “You can dedicate as much time as you want. You can take periods of time off from the hobby and when ready, jump right back in. This hobby offers great flexibility.”  In other words, when you’re not busy saving the world from the Depression, Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo, you can relax by playing with your stamps!

FDR began collecting as a boy — and never really stopped. Not only did he learn about the globe from stamps, one source notes, “He found solace in his collection during his adulthood when he suffered from polio.”  As president, it is said, “he used to feel at peace and relax by looking at his collection for hours.”  FDR once declared, “I owe my life to my hobbies — especially stamp collecting.”


A number of countries put out stamps showing FDR working on his collection, using White House propaganda photos. As the world was rocked by economic hard times, then descended into the cauldron of world war, these images affirmed that the Leader of the Free World was coolly in charge, capable of putting global affairs in order, much as he was doing with his stamp albums.


Here’s an odd philatelic detail: In 1947, Monaco issued a stamp with an engraving based on one of the familiar photographs of FDR with his fullsizeoutput_d77stamps (see photo, top right). But there seems to be a design error: The president’s right hand holds a magnifying glass and is just fine; however, he clasps a stamp in a left hand that contains five fingers — and a thumb!  (You’d think this stamp would be valuable, but you can buy it for a quarter.) One further note on this bit of arcana — the photograph the engraver used actually does seem to show “six fingerfullsizeoutput_d78s,” though closer perusal  reveals the extra “pinkie” as distorted image of FDR’s shirt cuff. It must be!

FDR’s postmasterfullsizeoutput_d7c, James A. Farley (seen here in a very flattering formal oil portrait), was an old friend and mentor in
politics — who happened to be a stamp collector as well.  The president and his crony must have had a ball as they conspired together over stamps, proposing and overseeing the production of U.S. postal issues in the 1930s.  Apparently FDR went so far as to sketch some of his ideas. I would not be surprised to learn he had a hand in designing stamps during that era.

Doesn’t it strike you as a bit, well, controversial, though, to allow  these two hard-charging philatelist pols to preside over the post office?  It’s not so much a case of entrusting the wolves with the hen house; more like putting kids behind the candy counter.

It didn’t take long for FDR and Farley to engage in some sweet philatelic phlim-phlam,  which quickly acquired the name, “Farley’s Follies.”  Their self-dealing and exploitation of the U.S. post office unhinged a generation of stamp collectors and dealers, though nobody else paid much attention. Here’s a postage stamp-size retelling of the story:



Above is the original national parks set; below is the set cut from imperforate sheets printed later. Below that is a sheet of “gutter pairs” (that is, stamps separated on the sheet) by a white marginal “gutter.”

As postmaster, Farley blithely mixed business with pleasure, indulging his philatelic impulses beyond appropriate boundaries. He would buy sheets of stamps right off the presses, before they had been perforated or gummed; sign them; and distribute the unusual and rare philatelic souvenirs to his buddies and his family. Occasionally both Farley and FDR signed the sheets. This occurred 20 times, involving stamps from the national parks series of 1934 (Scott Nos. 740-749), among others.

News of this insider dealing roiled the philatelic community nationwide. Up to 160 of the special sheets were given away. Philatelic critics and political opponents made it a hot political issue. After a dealer
in New York City claimed to have acquired one fullsizeoutput_d8a the sheets, and
was insuring it for $20,000, a chaste
ned Farley stepped in. He ordered all 20 stamps reprinted in unperforated, ungummed sheets (Scott 752-771), offered for sale to anyone at face value.  This turned the scandal into a mere embarrassment — “Farley’s Follies” — though to this day it somehow diminishes the dignity, if not the integrity of these particular stamps; which is a shame, since the engravings of Yosemite, Crater Lake, Mesa Verde, Acadia and the rest are lovely.

fullsizeoutput_d8bHow to collect these items? None of the stamps are particularly valuable by themselves. (The original national parks set of 10 sells online for well under $10.)  Should you try and get a full sheet, unperforated and ungummed, as an unusual but somewhat spurious collector’s item? What about all the other souvenir sheets, vertical and horizontal “gutter pairs,”  “arrow” blocks of six and other Farley shenanigans? Cut out from their sheets or other special settings, aren’t the stamps the same? And get a load of this odd note, from the fine print of my Scott catalogue: “In 1940, the P.O. Department offered to and did gum full sheets of Nos. 754 to 771 sent in by owners” — thus creating new philatelic varieties, it would seem.

Eventually Farley would donate his sheets to the Smithsonian. After FDR’s death, the family sold his collection at auction — though some argued many of the stamps rightfully belonged to the nation. You can see a full display of Farley’s Follies at the postal museum in Washington, D.C.  A major takeaway for me from this tawdry tale is that it is unwise to put a stamp collector in charge of the post office. It also is unwise   to elect a stamp-collecting president unless you make sure he or she knows not to mix politics and philately — that is, avoid polit-ely, please. Or is it po-lately?

How many stamp collectors are there today, famous or not-so-famous? I wouldn’t hazard a guess. Neither will I try fullsizeoutput_d40 to erase the stereotype of the geeky stamp collector, dusty, bespectacled, aging, beetling about his business (like me). I have little confidence left in the tradition of fathers passing along their interest in stamps to  sons — as my father somehow did with me.  As far as I can tell, my older brother Jonathan and I are the only ones in my  extended, intergenerational family circle who give a hoot about stamps. Too bad, because stamps are worth paying attention to.

My purpose in this blog is to beguile you with my stories about stamps and the tales that take off from there.  The point is to make the old new again — even as stamps bring history to life as vivid, revealing, sometimes rare and valuable tokens of our shared past.

Apparently there have been collectors for as long as there have been stamps. In 1842, two years after England’s Penny Black became the world’s first postage stamp, the following doggerel by a Colonel Sibthorpe appeared in Punch:

“When was a folly so pestilent hit upon,

As folks running mad to collect every spit upon

Post-office stamp that’s been soil’d and been writ upon?

Oh for Swift! such a subject his spleen to emit upon.”

Ernest Rutherford, the father of nuclear physics, may have been paying philately a compliment — or was he mocking it as an idle pastime? — when he famously wrote,  “All science is either physics or stamp collecting.”

Ernest R. Ackerman’s hobby led to a successful career in business and politics. He started collecting the stamps on envelopes sent to his father, a lawyer, from the U.S. Patent Office. He went on to become a stamp dealer, then a successful industrialist. During his business travels, he and King George V, another avid collector, bonded profitably over philately.


Bela Lugosi, a/k/a/ Dracula, better not be licking any of those stamps!


.Ackerman was elected to Congress in 1919, and served until his death in 1931.

Other stamp collectors of note, in no particular order:


Shaw, collecting

Bela Lugosi, Egypt’s King Farouk, George Bernard Shaw, Nazi leader Heinrich Himmler as well as General Erwin Rommel, Charlie Chaplin, tennis great Maria Sharapova, Ansel Adams, Ayn Rand, Simon Wiesenthal, Amelia Earhart, rockers Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones and the late Freddie Mercury … an eclectic bunch, eh?
Lest you think serious collections are all men, here’s a fullsizeoutput_d51shot of


Stamp collector Warren Buffet won’t get a stamp in his honor any time soon, I hope. The USPS only celebrates dead individuals — like Lugosi (in 1997). 

Louise Boyd Dale, engaged in her passion back in the 1950s.  Warren Buffett’s passion: classic American stamps.  France’s  Sarkozy was another president who mixed philately and politics. Apparently word got around that he was an enthusiastic stamp collector, and on state visits, his hosts would give him special philatelic items. (Hey! No fair.)

fullsizeoutput_d81Britain’s Queen Elizabeth was a real enabler of Sarkozy, handing him one philatelic trophy after another. To be sure, she had plenty to give — the queen was heir to a stunning collection begun by her grandfather, and expanded by her father.

fullsizeoutput_d76George V’s original collection filled 328 60-page red albums; his son George VI’s albums are blue; Elizabeth’s are green.  It seems George V got started long before he became king, aided by Prince Alfred, his uncle and Duke of Edinburgh. The king’s philatelic ambitions soared. He once wrote an adviser, “I wish to have the best & not one of the best collections in England.”  He certainly tried to achieve his goal. In addition to accumulating special items by dint of his royal access, the king made astute purchases, acquiring such rarities as the  Post Office Mauritius and the Great Britain Two Pence Tyrian Plum. (Don’t you just love the name of that color?)

George V was an unassuming, stfullsizeoutput_d83raightforward monarch, quite popular during his reign and well-suited to his times — though it’s hard to see how collecting all those stamps bearing  his  profile could not have swelled his royal  head.  He is credited with helping to revive a hobby that had grown a bit moribund. (Where is the next George when we need him?!)  A popular story has one of his retainers  reporting that “Some damned fool had paid as much as L1,400 (about $3,600) for one stamp,” and the king mildly replying, “Yes, I was that damned fool.”  His investment paid off: The rarity in question later sold at auction for $3.9 million.

George V, like FDR, found solace in philately.  Nearing the end of his life, wracked by pleurisy and chronic respiratory problems aggravated by a lifetime of heavy smoking, the tired old king reportedly spent hours in the comforting company of his collection

Karl Rove, the GOP presidential


Beatle John Lennon’s book of stamps is only worth a few quid in catalog value. But the fact that the album belonged to one of the Fab Four was enough to bring in $74,00 at auction. Seldom if ever has so much been paid for such a humble collection …

macher and adviser, also occupies a place of note among  stamp collectors.  Like many others (myself included), Rove enjoyed embellishing his outgoing letters with arrays of vintage stamps he had accumulated — scrupulously ensuring the face value added up to the current first-class mail postal rate, no  more and no less. Not only that: Rove liked to use stamps with a special message for his correspondents.  Donna Brazile, a liberal Democrat and political rival of Rove’s, received a note on the occasion of his retirement from service to President George W. Bush. She told a reporter later: “When you receive a letter from Karl, you don’t automatically go and read the letter … You look at the stamps.”  Indeed, one of the stamps on the envelope was a 15-center from 1979 bearing the slogan,”I have not yet begun to fight,” attributed to John Paul Jones, the Naval commander and revolutionary war hero. Brazile was disarmed. ”I love that man,” she said of Rove, “because he knows how to fight.”





Stamp bonus: The Kenmore caper


The glossy, full-color circular arrived in my mailbox a couple of days ago, and has been sitting front and center on my desk since then. “44 U.S. Stamps,” reads the 48-point come-on headline. “All mint over half-a-century old!” coaxes the second-deck line. The circular displays an array of cheap commemorative stamps — “from the Win the War 40s, Era of Prosperity 50s and the GoGo 60s.” Send in your two dollars — “only $2.00” — and you also receive “our huge 96-page Collector’s Catalog.” Oh, and one more thing: “… plus selections of stamps on 15-day free examination.”

The circular claims the stamps had “an $11 retail value” — though the face value of the stamps came to less than a buck, and most of these dime-a-dozen commemoratives can be bought at face — or even below, in bulk — from sellers’ bins at decent-sized stamp shows, probably online as well.

What really caught my attention was the seller involved: “Kenmore.” That name, and the mailing address in Milford, New Hampshire, kindled an effect in me not unlike that of Marcel Proust on nibbling his madeleine.  This retiree stamp  hobbyist, a veteran decades surfing philatelic seas, suddenly was once again the shy eight-year-old taking his first plunge. Back in 1957, little Freddy carefully filled out the lines printed on the inside of the matchbook cover, stuck it in an envelope, wrote out the address: “Kenmore Stamp Company, 119 West Street, Milford, N.H.”  (no ZIP code in 1957), plus his return address on Livingston Street, Washington, D.C., applied correct postage (3 cents) and dropped the letter in a corner mailbox. (I don’t remember how closely my parents supervised this operation … )

Memory can be tricky, but I don’t believe I ever received back my free stamps Kenmore offered, or for that matter the “selection of stamps on 15-day free examination.” This system of selling stamps on spec, or “approvals,” was a standard procedure;  apparently it still is. The dealer makes it convenient to the collector by sending out a selection of stamps to consider, on approval; the customer may pick and choose, paying only for what he/she buys when returning the rest of the stamps. Not a bad system — though a bit beyond the scope of an eight-year-old, it occurs to me now …  *

Particularly so when destiny intervened, plucking me and my family from our cozy residential roost in Washington, D.C., and depositing us in Dacca, the sprawling and raucous capital city of what was then East Pakistan. My Pa took over as Cultural Information Officer for the U.S. Information Agency, running the American library, Fulbright scholarships and other public diplomacy programs.  Freddy and his twin Nanny were enrolled in the Calvert correspondence school led by an earnest group of Latter-Day Saints missionaries, and life continued in fine fashion.

…  except for the matter of Freddy and the Kenmore Stamp Company. Whether or not my prepubescent self knew what was happening, or not happening — and you’d think at the very least, had I gotten such a spectacular piece of mail at that tender age, it would have made a lasting impression — the matter slipped from  my mind as I absorbed an onslaught of new experiences in the Asian subcontinent.  In short, I apparently forgot all about having sent Kenmore that matchbook cover, as well as my obligation to return whatever stamps sent on approval that I did not choose to buy. The pitch did make it pretty clear, after all: “without any obligation to buy” only extended to the “15-day FREE examination.”

During the first months after our arrival in East Pakistan (now called Bangladesh), a letter duly arrived at our house in the Dhanmundi residential neighborhood of Dacca, addressed to Mr. Frederick Fiske, after traveled through the highways and byways of the U.S. postal service and eventually, the diplomatic mail. The return address announced: Kenmore Stamp Company.

Was I shocked? Thrilled? Apprehensive? Merely puzzled? Little Freddy must have noticed that the thin envelope surely did not include any postage stamps. I wonder if he was able to make sense of the letter’s contents, not yet nine years old. The letter inquired as to the whereabouts of the approval stamps sent previously, whose period of free examination had expired.

Freddy, not having a clue, must have consulted a parent, with whose guidance he drafted a reply letter to the effect that, well, he didn’t have a clue.  The missive  made its way half-around the world to Milford, N.H., conveying a clear message that the successful pursuit of this philatelic debt internationally might be a long shot. And that, one might think, would be that.

Think again. It can’t have been more than three or four months later that another letter arrived in Dhanmundi from West Street in Milford, N.H. This time the tone must have been at least mildly annoyed by my delinquency. Included was an  invoice requesting prompt payment of the entire value of the aforementioned approvals sent for examination — probably a sum total of $15 or so.  (While that amount may seem inconsequential to you, dear reader, enjoying your affluence ion 21st century America, it was out of reach of  this nine-year-old in 1958 in Dacca.)

My parents must not have been paying much attention to this ongoing drama. I  don’t recall they or I did anything about the latest letter and the bill. Perhaps we all hoped that if we did nothing, the problem might solve itself. After all, logic and proportion, not to mention geography, seemed to be in our favor.

Not so fast. There must have been at least two more dunning letters from Kenmore in ensuing months. Maybe as many as six. (Hey, it’s long ago, give me a break!)  I do remember a vague uneasiness about the whole affair — not as though I was one of les miserables stalked by Javert, but still chafing at being targeted by this anonymous, solid-sounding entity called Kenmore.

Of course, the good people at the Kenmore Stamp Company were perfectly within their rights to expect their customer to do the right thing. After all, he filled out the matchbook cover and sent it in, didn’t he? Everyone has the right to try and collect their debts and make a living, right?

Granted. But by this time, it should have been clear that Freddy was just a little guy, now half-a-world away, and that the ill-dated package of stamps — free and on approval — had gone astray somewhere in the sketchier precincts  of the Universal Postal Union. In short, the enforcers at the Kenmore Stamp Company might have realized the folly of pursuing this matter further.

At this point, the Fiske family executed a sneaky maneuver by pulling out of Dacca, after a two-year posting, and returning for several months of home leave.  Freddy and  Nanny, now heading toward 10 years old, enrolled in elementary school in Iowa and went off-grid, as far as the diplomatic mail service was concerned. This moved Freddy beyond the reach of the Kenmore Stamp Company, at least temporarily.  In the fall, the family relocated to Heidelberg, Germany, once again gaining a concrete mailing address: 9 Philosophenweg.

And what do you know? By and by, as sure as day followed dawn, another letter from Kenmore followed Freddy to Heidelberg, up the Heiligenberg along Philosophenweg to No. 9, then up the 76 steps to the doorstep of a bewildered Freddy.  It said something like the following:  Dear Frederick, It has been some time since we heard from you. We have sent repeated notices and invoices reminding you of your obligation to pay for your approvals. If we do not hear from you in 30 days, we may be forced to assign your account to a collection agency for further action. Sincerely yours, Kenmore Stamp Company.”

Would I never be freed of this burden? I must have wondered in words of that sort. At this point a budding sense of self-righteousness, or cussedness, argued not to give in to this unreasonable demand. (Otherwise, why didn’t I just ask a parent pay the darn bill and be free of it?)

At this point, the story kind of peters out. **   I wish there were a snappy, definitive outcome. Another dunning letter or two may have arrived, even one from the collection agency working on behalf of Kenmore. (This should have mildly terrified a 10-year-old with its hints at prosecution and invitations to consider everything from garnishments to incarceration or worse.)  It is faintly possible that Kenmore continued to track me, even after the family moved abruptly from southern Germany to Leopoldville (now Kinshasa), capital of the Congo. At which point, little Freddy now a strapping 14-year-old, would have brushed off any more letters from Kenmore as just a nuisance, like a moth or a gecko.

However, after resurrecting and rehearsing this long-forgotten episode with you, and now sharing it publicly on this blog; and being newly reminded that the Kenmore Stamp Company remains  a going concern up in Milford, N.H.; I experience renewed unease. Could it be that when my time comes and the executor is dividing my estate, a voice will rise from the back of the room: “I represent the Kenmore Stamp Company, and we would like to present our   indictment, and our invoice.”

* A sudden thought just sent me scurrying to my stamp stock drawer: a memory of cellophane envelopes inscribed with short descriptions of stamps once contained therein, over the name, “Kenmore Stamp Company.” Sure enough — I easily found one! The significance of this discovery is as opaque as the yellowing, nearly 60-year-old envelope. Does this mean I got my free stamps and approvals from Kenmore after all? If so, did I ignore the approvals? Alternatively, did I perhaps buy some of those approvals, even send back the rest with my payment? Was there then another package of approvals dispatched from Kenmore? Multiple packages? How long did this go on before Kenmore sent the one that went awry when our family moved to Pakistan? Alas, this story grows more unreliable by the minute. I just hope it’s still at least mildly interesting  …

fullsizeoutput_dfd** In addition to collecting stamps, little Freddy began a daily diary in Dacca, when he was eight, and kept it up until high school and sporadically, beyond. When I get around to reviewing its generally hum-drum contents in coming years, no doubt I will find specifics about the years-long set-to with the Kenmore Stamp Company. Accordingly, I shall endeavor to keep this record updated with my findings.


About the blogger

Frederick M. Fiske was born in 1948. He spent his early years in Massachusetts and Iowa, then lived abroad with his family as the son of a U.S. diplomat. He began collecting stamps at the family’s first posting in the 1950s, in Dacca, East Pakistan. Fred retired from a 40-yefullsizeoutput_9aar newspaper career in 2013. He has degrees from Harvard and Columbia, and was president of the National Conference of Editorial Writers in 2001. He lives in retirement near Syracuse, NY.