My first memorable encounter with philately came when I was about six, in 1954, at The Pigeon House, a drafty converted coop-barn that my family stayed in for several summers near the south shore in Marshfield, Mass. It was part of the “farm” on Pudding Hill Lane that belonged to my Cousin Wibbit, a descendant of Gov. Bradford himself. The Pigeon House (which once housed up to 10,000 pigeons, honest) was laid out with a great room at one end, including a galley, and a hallway with enough drafty rooms on either side to accommodate our family of six, plus guests, leading to a screen door out to the chicken coop. I think there was just one bathroom. A prior tenant — probably some eccentric Boston brahmin relative — had taken it into his mind to affix stamps to the bathroom walls. What a thing! I was fascinated by the colorful bits of paper with their intricate designs. Later I would be horrified to think someone should ruin perfectly good stamps by gluing them to a wall. I remember trying to peel off some of them, to no avail. Now I wonder if that memory has something to do with my pleasure in seeing stamps displayed — responsibly! — on the walls of my house.
The image at right is from the line-up of framed stamp sheets from Congo on the wall of my study (see above). The stamps originally were issued for the Belgian Congo, overprinted at independence — then overprinted again in subsequent years. This stamp started out as the 1f50 value from the flowers series of 1953, which was overprinted “CONGO” and became the first definitive set of independent Congo in 1960. In 1964 it was surcharged in black on silver, as Congo lurched toward ruin in the hands of Mobutu Sese Seko.
In this pair of images and the next pair you will find two examples of what was once the 20 centime stamp from the Belgian Congo 1959 animal series, overprinted “Congo” in the second definitive set after independence in 1960. Here the original 1959 stamp carries a silver overlay and tablet in 1964, with “Republique du Congo” and the new value (1f) printed in black.
This example of the 20-centime stamp from independent Congo’s second definitive set of 1960 (right and below) displays the black “Congo” overprint, and also a silver tablet for the black surcharge of the new value (1f). Are you still with me? We’re getting into one of the stamp collector’s favorite pastimes — playing the-same- yet-not-the-same …
OK, let’s really get into it. If you like, run quickly through this pair of images and the next two pairs., then come back…. On first glance, all the stamps look alike, right? Well, they started out being the same — the 6f50 impalas value from the Belgian Congo animal series of 1959. However, each of these three sheets of stamps is a different iteration of the issue; the same, yet not the same.
In this first version, the name “Belgisch Congo Belge” and the old value are covered over by silver bars, with the words “Republique du Congo” and the new value (5f) printed in black.
In this next version, the value is surcharged in black on a silver tablet as before, but the stamp is overprinted “Congo” in black — which means it came from the second definitive series after independence in 1960.
In this third version, everything is the same as the second, but the overprint “Congo” is in red, not black. Go figure.
Are these sheets worth anything? I’m dubious, though surely there is some “curiosity value,” doncha think? They cost very little at the post office in Kinshasa where I bought them on impulse in 1964, shortly before leaving my parents and sister to return to the USA and boarding school. What is most remarkable, perhaps, is that the sheets are intact and undamaged after all these years. I figured out years ago that the best way to preserve them from here on is to frame and display them. So far so good!
Above my desk you will find a Stamp Map (above) — the world laid out before me, with stamps from many nations attached to their country of origin. Seems like it’s always been there on the wall … a bit like that bathroom at The Pigeon House, eh?
Here’s a cute sheet of stamps, one representing each state. The set was issued in 1976, part of the Bicentennial issues, and this is a first-day envelope. It is not particularly valuable, though a set in used condition is offered today at only $4 less than the mint sheet.
This series (above and rifght) confirms the wisdom of my decision to frame and display my stamps. There’s just no other good way to handle these stamps! It’s from just a few years ago, an issue with 60 values, one for each state and a number of “generic” USA stamps. Here is the puzzle for collectors: the series consists of six strips of 10 self-adhesive stamps, fitted together in unbroken rows. To display and store them in an album would require folding or separating each strip, thus “breaking” the set. I didn’t want to do that, and cast about for a way to keep those long strips of colorful stamps intact. Then it hit me: mount and display them in a horizontal frame. I was able to fit two complete series in the frame. Isn’t it a magnificent display? fe
Here is another enchanting exhibit. A few years ago, the USPS issued a series of low-value definitive stamps featuring vintage designs — jewelry and household furnishings. The charming, full-color vignettes had colorful backgrounds and common design features for each value — 1c, 2c, 3c, 4c, 5c and 10c.
Needless to say, it was not a financial burden to acquire 20-stamp sheetlets of each denomination (The 1c sheet cost me 20 cents, for example). I hope you agree they make a pleasant sight with their vibrant colors and beautiful renderings in repeated patterns.
Three questions for the ages: How much longer will we be seeing (or using) low-value stamps like these on our letters? How much longer will we be using any stamps on letters? How much longer will be be using letters?
These beautiful landscape paintings appeared in a series of 12 sheets under the heading, “Nature of America.” The sheets were designed and executed so that you could identify easily the essential information — “USA 33” — to locate the stamps within the sheet. You’d just peel off stamps as you needed them. If you look closely, each stamp has a design that stands on its own. Clever. Sort of like a loopy version of an advent calendar. Or a sticker book in reverse.
At left are enlarged versions of a couple of the sheets, one featuring a Pacific Coral Reef, the other the Sonoran Desert. All the sheets are worth a look, and they are not expensive — about 60 bucks for all 12. Other scenes depict the Pacific Rain Forest, the Great Plains Prairie, Southern Florida Wetland, Northeast Deciduous Forest, Alpine Tundra, Great Lakes Dunes, Kelp Forest, Hawaiian Rain Forest, Longleaf Pine Forest and Arctic Tundra.
These final “stamps” on display aren’t really stamps at all, but rather my own fanciful designs for imaginary sets from exotic lands, concocted during my teenage years when I actually lived in exotic lands like Congo and Germany (but not Ghana or Australia).
I have written elsewhere about these so-called “Cinderellas” (see blog post of August 2017). I just thought I’d offer another look, since the topic is stamps on my walls, and these framed beauties decorate my front foyer.
Finally, here is my display (right and below) of the “state quarters” that started appearing over the past decade. I had no idea, when daughter Tanika and I crafted this display, that the US Mint would keep issuing quarters for all sorts of monuments and moments. I have more than a dozen waiting to be added to my collection — but how will I fit them in? And will the practice of churning out new quarters never end?
Oh well. It still makes a nice display. And please notice how this stamp collector evidently collects more than stamps on occasion. How eclectic of me!
TO BE CONTINUED