Stamp collecting doesn’t have to involve costly rarities and exotic accessories. Here is an example of an enjoyable hour spent gathering stamps missing from my album — for a bargain! — and having the satisfaction of sticking them in their places (using hinges, of course) to make colorful sets on the page.
It was “auction night” at the Syracuse Stamp Club, where members put up for bid stamps they no longer want or need, at ridiculously low prices. You sell some lots, you buy others, and if you’re lucky, you end up about even. This particular night, I “sold” eight lots of my stamps for $23, and bought other lots for $31, so I had to shell out about eight bucks. Not bad, I’d say.
Among the lots I bought were two from the “nation” of Bavaria, now a province in southern Germany. I don’t know that much about this “country,” or what business it had being a stamp-issuing state from 1849 to 1920. The Scott catalogue tells us Bavaria, or Bayern, became part of the German confederation in 1870, and declared itself a republic after World War I, only to lose its postal autonomy on March 31, 1920.
My interest in German stamps dates to the years I lived in Heidelberg, not far from Bavaria, between 1960 and 1962, aged 12 to 14. (My Pa, a cultural diplomat, was director of America Haus.) I really got the stamp bug while living in Heidelberg. In addition to acquiring a fancy German postage stamp album (an Xmas gift from Pa), I decided to make my own “album” for Bavarian stamps — and for other stamps issued in neighboring territories of Bohemia and Moravia that weren’t included in my Deutschland album. (German states like Baden, Schleswig-Holstein and Thurn-and-Taxis also issued stamps in the 19th century, but I skipped over them.) I got myself a loose-leaf binder and a supply of graph paper, then created my album pages: Using a manual typewriter, I laid out patterns of square or rectangular spaces, one for every stamp, which I defined by typed dots and headed with dates and other relevant information. All of this, basically, for free.
Over the years, I never seemed to accumulate many stamps from Bavaria, partly due to lack of interest, I’m afraid. The stamps were cheap and easy to find, but my focus, philatelic and otherwise, was elsewhere. However, when the moment arrived that recent evening at the Syracuse Stamp Club, I remembered those nearly empty album pages from long ago and decided it was time to act. I made my play, bid a dollar or two, and ended up vastly increasing by Bavaria collection.
For a collector of stamps from British Colonies, the U.S. and a magpie’s clutch of other countries — but not really Bavaria — this new trove offered a diverting little side-trip. The early sets featured large numerals, then an embossed coat of arms.
Just before World War I came a long set with profile portraits of “Prince Regent Luitpold.” Ever heard of him? How about “King Ludwig III,” whose short-lived reign began in 1914?
Later, Bavarian stamps were overprinted “Volksstaat Bayern,” then “Freistadt Bayern.” Sounds like the Bavarians were having trouble deciding what to call themselves. The matter was resolved in 1920 with overprints stating, “Deutsches Reich.” The Scott catalogue notes that the Bavarian stamps overprinted by the reich were postally valid throughout Germany, “but were used almost exclusively in Bavaria.” Hmm. Is that interesting or not? I maintain stamp collecting is full of interesting historical tidbits — some perhaps more interesting than others.
Before wandering off, let’s have a look at those colorful stamps as they arrange themselves into sets.
And to top it off, how about the oversize portrait of a jaunty Prince Regent Luitpold, sporting a Tyrolean cap? And check out the gorgeously gaudy Art Nouveau tribute to the old prince to celebrate his remarkable 50-year Silver Jubilee in 1911 — which seemed like an auspicious year in Bavaria, until you remember that in three years, World War I would toss everything into a cocked Tyrolean hat.