Minuteman, March 2018
Our guest speaker, Frank Scudero, from the Diablo Valley Stamp Club, who gave us an introduction to stamp collecting. Frank is from a military family – he was a Vietnam War veteran, his father was a merchant marine in World War II, his uncle was in World War I, and his son served in the Navy on the USS Mobile Bay and on shore duty at the White House. Frank said prior to the creation of stamps, the recipients of the mail had to pay for the delivery when they received the mail. This system was not optimal – some people refused the delivery or could not be located, and some people wrote secret marks on the envelopes so the recipient would get the message without opening the letter, and they could refuse the delivery. In 1840, Great Britain created postage stamps so the mail would be pre-paid prior to delivery. The first adhesive stamp was called a Penny Black, so named because it had a portrait of Queen Victoria on a black background, and cost one penny. It had the word “Postage” on top to differentiate it from a revenue stamp. It was used to send up to one-half-ounce letters anywhere in the British Isles. The US Congress authorized postage stamps in 1847 – issuing a 5¢ stamp with a portrait of Benjamin Franklin, and a 10¢ stamp with a portrait of George Washington. The original stamps had to be cut with scissors; within ten years, the British printed stamps with perforations to aid clerks in separating the stamps. The Bath Postal Museum in Bath, England, has one of the original perforation machines.
Great Britain needed stamps for its many colonies around the world. Stamps were printed from reverse-engravings on steel plates, which were inked, and pressed on paper. It would be very expensive to create unique stamps for each colony, so they would do one run without the denomination and country, and then do a second pass to add the denomination and country. That way they could use the generic steel plate for all the colonies.
Frank Scudero displayed the Classic Specialized Catalog of Stamps & Covers (which covers both US and World stamps from 1840-1940), and the Specialized Catalog of United States Stamps & Covers (which covers all US stamps from 1847 to current). These catalogs give descriptions and retail prices for individual stamps. He said there are some countries (“wallpaper countries”) that specifically make stamps for collections, and thus create billions of stamps that are virtually worthless due to the glut of stamps. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was a stamp collector, and he actively promoted the hobby.
Frank Scudero said there were many different types of stamps. Line-Engraved Stamps are the oldest type, and they are beautiful works of art. They started as single-color stamps on a white background. Around 1971, they started to use multiple colors on stamps. Commemorative Stamps depict important people and events, and are a favorite of stamp collectors. They are functional, artistic, and historical. Definitive Stamps are the common work-horse stamps, which have a simple design, are mass-produced, and are re-issued every time the denomination changes (such as the US Flag Stamps). Semi-Postal (“Charity”) Stamps are sold with a face value higher than what is required for first class mail, and the surcharge is donated to a charity (such as breast cancer stamps). Postage Due Stamps were added to letters/packages to indicate how much postage was due upon delivery; however, now letters/packages are now returned to the sender undelivered. Revenue Stamps are used to collect taxes on alcohol, licenses, playing cards, tobacco, firearm registration, documents, etc. War Tax Stamps are similar to Revenue Stamps, but the taxes raised are used to pay the costs of wars. Airmail Stamps are used for the payment of airmail service, and often depict planes and aviators. Booklet Stamps are issued in a booklet format. Certified Mail Stamps are used when the sender wants proof of mailing with a receipt. Express Mail Stamps are used for special delivery mail. First Day Covers are stamps that are issued on the first day of release, are affixed to an envelope, and are postmarked on the day of release.
The National Postal Museum in Washington, DC, has rotating displays of original steel dies, many being heavily worn from use. Later, the Post Office moved from steel dies to lithography and photography to reduce production costs. The British Library has a full printing press for stamps. In the hallway, there is a display of the earliest British stamps, starting with the Penny Blacks (valued at $100-$200 per stamp). They also have a sheet of inverted jenny stamps from the US. They are airmail stamps printed in red and blue ink that have the picture of an airplane upside-down. They are very rare, and are worth $100k-$200k. Collectors love errors, especially when they are rare. He said there are more stamp collectors in China than any other country in the world.
Frank Scudero said members of the current generation are less interested in clubs, churches, or social groups than the older generations, so clubs are slowly fading. The Diablo Valley Stamp Club has about 40 members, and they used to get 25 members to a meeting. They are now down to about 6 members at meetings.
In the 1940’s and 1950’s, there were so many stamps issued that there are not enough collectors to command a decent price. Many can be purchased for face value, and used for actual postage. Sheets of stamps have the best value, especially if the gum on the back is pristine. Stamps can be sold on eBay and other online sales sites, but it is lots of work to identify, categorize and grade stamps for sale. There are few stamp stores left – Frank noted that there is the Stamp Gallery on North Main Street in Walnut Creek. They will sell on consignment for a fee of 28% of the sales price. A person can sell a stamp valued at $10 for about $2.50. Frank said that stamp collecting should be for fun, and not for investing – unless you are dealing in high-value, rare stamps.