My latest stamp order should be winging its way back to me — a half-dozen envelopes from near and far. This time I’m trying to build up my collection from St. Vincent, a British colony in the Caribbean (independent since 1979). I bought 20 (!) stamps on my wish list through Stamps2Go.com — which is a great online resource for the picky collector, since you can search for stamps via Scott catalogue numbers. I spent $45. I think it was worth it, though my wife would reliably disagree.
Herewith a running commentary on the stamps as they arrive.
TUESDAY, June 5
Today, three envelopes came, with stamps from the earliest days through George VI. I now have a fragile copy of No. 2 (right) — a delicate portrait of Victoria from the 1860s that looks like a gossamer butterfly wing printed on a silk cobweb. (There you have it — a stab at philatelic purple poesy!) The stamp is cut awfully close at the left, and such perforations as there are, are ragged — but it’s still a respectable example for $7.
I also picked up this magnificent, oversize engraving of the Seal of the Colony,
carmine lake and richly colored. It dates from 1888. This is actually the second stamp with this design. The first, issued in 1880, had a different watermark and is very dear. (Mine cost $12.50.) The design is so classic, it was used for the top values of the first Queen Elizabeth definitive set in 1955 (below) — 75 years later!
The Seal also appears in these next stamps, from the Edwardian era. There are three distinct “sets” using this design, which differ in such details as the inscription on tablets below the figures — and whether or not there is a “dot” in the numeral lozenge. Some of these stamps are quite costly. I paid a few bucks for the ones pictured here.
These George V definitives are from two long sets that differ only in watermark: One set has a “multiple crown and CA” (for Crown Agents) watermark; the other carries the “script crown and CA” watermark. Ah, watermarks! The bane of my existence (along with perforations), which I suppose I shall have to write about sometime …
Here is also a pretty 1-cent definitive from the George VI decimal series. It only cost me a dime, and it fills one of the few remaining holes in a long set that, when complete, will be spectacular!
Nothing in the mail today. Rats.
I didn’t get to the mailbox until mid-afternoon, and was looking forward to receiving at least one or two packets from the St. Vincent order. Alas, no.
You know the feeling: You are expecting a letter, and it doesn’t arrive. Maybe it will come the next day, or the next day. But there is still a let-down. You want it now! You turn from the mailbox, bereft in a modest sort of way. I am reminded of the feeling I got more than 50 years ago, back when I was a young stamp collector in Heidelberg, Germany, dreaming of my next packet of stamps arriving from a post office in a faraway land — Ascension, British Guiana, Bechuanaland Protectorate — where I had sent a money order. Inside would be a post-office-fresh set of their exotic definitives. Day after day I would get my hopes up, only to have them dashed when the letter didn’t arrive. Sometimes it would take weeks longer than I expected. Sometimes the letter would never come, and I would have to figure out why. (Who knew philately could be such an emotional rollercoaster? For more on this, check my thrilling blog post of January 2018, “Too Many Georgetowns …”)
It’s different, getting letters from stamp sellers, compared with what the postman in Heidelberg delivered every now and then: those long, light-brown envelopes inscribed “On Her Majesty’s Service,” containing plump accumulations of fresh philatelic gems. Still, it’s fun to be able to feel a resonance with the same delicious sense of mild disappointment over the wait, and to remember, along with that teenaged stamp collector: There’s always tomorrow!
Yahoo! Two more envelopes came in the mail. That leaves just one outstanding. I feel the thin-ness of the envelopes and decide neither one is the order containing eight lots. That still leaves some very interesting stamps to look at. Let’s get right to it.
First, notice the envelope from Arizona. Somehow, a 10-centime stamp from French Guiana in the 1940s is stuck next to a standard “forever” stamp honoring the bicentennial of Illinois. Both stamps received a proper Phoenix, AZ, cancellation. I suppose you could just dismiss the exotic stamp from “Guyane Francaise” as an interesting label. To be the sure, the delicate engraving of an attractive young Guyanese musician resting in a hammock is more interesting than the neighboring stamp with its map of Illinois made of golden rays and blue sky. Still, a U.S. stamp is a U.S. stamp, and a French Guiana stamp means something else. Does the U.S. cancellation mark
represent an endorsement of the colonial regime? Does that make us symbolically complicit in imperialism, even a century later? Have I asked enough questions? Shall I ask any more? OK. Does this cancellation of a foreign stamp simply indicate carelessness on the part of the USPS? Maybe a clerk wasn’t paying attention. More likely, a cancellation machine was not paying attention. Or someone wasn’t paying attention to the cancellation machine. Or no one cared. Could be that someone (or some machine) detected there was a legit stamp on the envelope. There was a perfectly good address — and return address. What else matters?
Now, if a letter carried only French Guiana stamps — and a U.S. postmark! — I would be alarmed. In effect this means you could mail a letter using a Christmas Seal, a child’s sticker, a propaganda label. And that, my friends, would signal the beginning of the end of civilization as we know it.
Now, here’s a coincidence. Take a look at the second envelope that arrived today. It presents a small array of common U.S. postage stamps of the recent past, a return address label on the left, and in-between — a sticker! I almost missed it. Under the heavy cancellation you can make out a cheery snowman and the word “Celebrate.” Cute. If it’s a cancelled label, can I add it to my collection? Does this sticker gain extra cachet among Cinderella collectors because it got cancelled by the USPS?
Whew! Will I ever get those envelopes open? Is anybody still reading?
… By the way, it turns out my prediction was wrong: One of the envelopes did contain the large number of lots. Lots of lots to pore over. Some fun!
As you will notice on the stockcard (right), where I have arranged them temporarily, this new batch of St. Vincent stamps includes definitives from the reigns of Edward VII, George V and George VI. There are three more stamps for my Seal of the Colony sets. Annoyingly, though my order lists No. 95, the seller instead sent me No. 97, a stamp I already have in my collection. Perhaps I will complain … it only cost $1.50 … What’s particularly galling, though, is that No. 95, which I had ordered, was one of the two-stamp set “without the dot.” I want it, so that I can observe, compare and contrast the subtle differences between the stamps “with” and “without” the “dot.” Don’t you understand? I want it, I want it! Time for a philatelic tantrum!
Calm down, calm down. Look, aren’t those George VI, two-color, engraved definitives (bottom row) gorgeous? I just can’t get enough of them … Well, I do have all of them, having just completed the two sets with these four acquisitions.
Now it’s just a matter of waiting for the last letter, which should contain two more George V definitives. Then I can go ahead and paste all the new arrivals in my album. (By “paste,” of course, I mean using hinges and protective mounts, so my stamps always stay safe!)
Many days later …
Rats again. The last letter never came. Now it’s been nearly a month, so I’m about to write it off. The two George V stamps only cost a couple of bucks, and postage and handling was just a buck more, so what’s the difference? Nevertheless, I did file a “complaint” with the Stamps2go web site, which then gave me the seller’s email, so I sent a personal note as well. The note to the web site read:
“Hey, I don’t want to make a fuss, this is no big deal. I just never received the stamps (st. vincent nos. 109, 124) at 107 Fleetwood Lane, Minoa NY 13116); seller says he shipped them June 4. It is now June 30. I don’t know how to let him know this otherwise than through a complaint. They only cost a couple of bucks, no big deal. Just saying … Fred Fiske, Syracuse (Minoa), NY USA”
I revised my note for the direct email message, and added a p.s.: “Because I didn’t have any other way of reaching you, I had to file a ‘complaint’ with Stamps2go. I hope I can withdraw it so it doesn’t go on your record …”
The way the complaint process works is this, I discover: If you file a complaint, you and the seller have several weeks to resolve the problem. If the matter is not settled at that point, a black mark goes on the seller’s record — but only if the buyer marks the matter “unresolved.” Otherwise, Stamps2go assumes the issue has been resolved, and wipes the slate clean.
To follow up a point I made earlier, about wanting one stamp and getting another — I did decide to act on that matter as well. Somehow, I figured out the seller’s email, along with the fact he is a preacher in Arizona, and sent him an e-note. In the process, it seems I mixed up his church business and his stamp business. Oh well.
Here is the original note I sent him:
“Rev. Yeaw — I realize stamps have nothing to do with the Unity Spiritual Center. But I thought it was more ‘spiritual’ of me to go to you directly this way, rather than file a ‘complaint’ with Stamps2go. I appreciate your stamp service and love Stamps2go so I’d rather bring this to you directly — I ordered St. Vincent No. 95 and you sent me No. 97. Please email me at the address above if there’s anything to discuss. Otherwise, never mind. The stamp only cost $1.50, so I can let it go … Best, Fred Fiske, Syracuse NY”
Happy to say, Rev. Yeaw responded promptly:
“Fred, you are more than welcome to return the stamp. I will replace it and refund your postage. Thanks Jim”
He added this postscript: “PS Please email me as above or the stamps get stuck in the middle of many emails re church business.”
Message taken. I sent the unwanted No. 97 back to him, at his return address. Sure enough, a few days later another letter arrived from Arizona — this one containing the desired No. 95 — 1d, “without the dot”! The letter also contained a fresh “forever” stamp — refunding my postage. Good deal!
OK, quiz time: Here are all three examples of the St. Vincent 1d. stamp from the Edwardian era. Can you spot the differences? Hints: The tablet inscriptions in No. 1 are reversed in Nos. 2 and 3; Nos. 1 and 3 have a dot under the “d” in “1d.” No. 2 has not the dot. Are you having fun, comparing and contrasting? I am!
The kicker: along with the regular USA Forever stamp used on the envelope, the mischievous Rev. Yeaw once again added a foreign chestnut — in this case, a 1930 stamp from Wallis and Futuna, French island territories in the south Pacific.
All in all, it has been a satisfactory order — with one loose end still hanging. I can live with that. …
ADDENDUM: Today I heard back from the seller about my complaint (see above). This is quite exciting — a first for me.
“To: fred fiske From: Stamps2Go A refund of $1.80 has been authorized by DENNFERG … . Please allow up to 72 hours for your refund to be processed and issued. (editor: the refund was confirmed several hours later) … The seller included this comment about the refund… ‘I am sorry your order was delayed. I could not locate #109. Refund is for the stamp and shipping. Revised mailing date for the other stamp is July 2.’ ”
Wow. This means not only that I am receiving a refund for No. 109, the stamp the seller could not locate — plus shipping — but I also am likely to receive the other stamp, No. 124, which the seller was able to locate! (Though I still don’t quite understand why the seller noted at first that the order’s shipping date was June 4 … Never mind.) Which would tie up the last loose end!
Last loose-end tie-up: The long-awaited No. 124 (George V, 3d) arrived from the seller in Missouri. Yahoo! I went to the web site and checked the box noting the complaint was “resolved.” I also sent the following note directly to the seller:
“Dennis — Today (July 5) I received from you a nice copy of St. Vincent No. 124. I also have been notified of reimbursement for the other stamp you did not have in stock. We are all set, and I have marked our transaction issue ‘resolved.’ Thanks! I look forward to doing more business with you … Best, Fred Fiske, Syracuse, NY”
It took more than a month, but the results are worth it! Just look at this mini-collection of St. Vincent stamps (below), all ready to start putting in my British American album. Let this story provide you with insight into a useful quality for the stamp collector: patience!
PHOTO GALLERY FOLLOWS
What follows is an illustrated depiction of the deeply satisfying experience available to this (or any) stamp collector — adding key values, filling blank spaces that expand or complete sets. In this case, I am enriching my British America album with the St. Vincent stamps purchased in my latest online shopping expedition. Enjoy!
It’s fun to be able to fill the space for the first stamp from any country, and this example from St. Vincent is a colorful addition, to be sure! (Instructions to reader: See the album page, above left, with the image and empty space for No. 1, marked with an asterisk; then see the space filled, above right.)
The elegant 5 shilling stamp from 1888 (right, below) rounds out a page that includes the Victoria sexagenary set from 1898 (marking her 60-year reign). Hmm. Looks like I need to work at filling some of those empty spaces. I fear the project will be costly, however …
See to the left the sparsely populated “before” page where I am struggling to build sets from the reign of Edward VII.
Now look below — left and right — to view the happy “after” result, supplementing all four sets. Things are filling in nicely. I believe I am on my way!
Notice in the lower right image the three different 1d stamps are on display — including the one “without the dot” that I had to place at the side, since the album page did not design a space for it! Hey!
Now we shall let George V have his due (“before” is below left, “after” is right) . While I was only able to add one new stamp to the first set, the second set (different watermark) is now just a tongs-throw from complete! (An expensive proposition, though — the set includes a L1 stamp that sells online for more than $70 …)
Finally, here is the first George VI set, both the album page with illustrated gaps (right) and with the gaps filled (below). See the next images and caption for my action-packed conclusion.
Here it is, folks — the second George VI set, this one in decimal currency (1948-51) instead of English Sterling (1938-47). (“Before” is right, “after” is below.) This set is otherwise identical to the first one, so my comments really apply to both. I just wanted to remark on the gorgeous hues of these beautiful two-color engravings. The catalogue listings make my mouth water and my eyes sparkle — 5 cents, chocolate and green … 6 cents, dark violet and orange … 7 cents, peacock blue and indigo … 12 cents, claret and black … 60 cents, deep blue and orange brown … $4.80, gray-black and violet. Can you pick them out, below? Are you with me? Is this an inspired example of color and design? Say yes!
You will recall my reference above to two envelopes received from Rev. Yeaw, a stamp seller in Arizona, that carried odd pairings of vintage foreign stamps along with the prescribed U.S. postage stamp. Now suddenly I remember my late mother did the same thing! Look below, and you will see a postcard she sent me in 1993. The card includes a pre-printed stamp from the Belgian Congo, overprinted “Congo.” Mother brought this card back with her from the Congo, where she and my Pa were stationed between 1962 and 1964 with the U.S. foreign service. They settled in Moscow, Idaho in 1970, and after all these years, despite the intervening cascade of cards and letters she sent to family and friends around the globe, she still had a supply of these crude postcards from the newly independent Congo. So she used one for a note to me, applying the current 19-cent U.S. postcard stamp to make it legit. It seems my old ma was a philatelic wit in her own right. Or perhaps just a thrifty Scot.
One more thing: Notice the card at the bottom, also mailed to me by Mother from Idaho in 1993, carries only the pre-printed postcard stamp from Belgian Congo/Congo. Yet it was duly cancelled, traveled through the U.S. postal system, and reached me in good order. What gives?
TO BE CONTINUED