Category Archives: Stamps

I Know How to Piss Off Collectors

Inverted Jenny
Why not take credit for an error?

There was a thread on a stamp collecting forum lately where collectors were gushing over the place the Post Office had in American history and how we all ought to be thankful for the job that they’re still doing.  It all started with a graphic put up by the Post Office, bragging about all the things they’ve done.  Of course, it doesn’t tell the whole story.  It says they made $65 billion in 2012, what they conveniently forget to mention is that they lost $1.3 billion in just the first quarter of 2013 alone.  The Post Office operates at a loss, it fails to cover it’s own operating costs to the tune of $14 million dollars per day.  They claim not to take any tax money and a lot of those losses are on paper only, but shortfalls have to come from somewhere and when they have legitimate losses, that money has to be made up, it doesn’t come from thin air.

Then they point out how many U.S. stamps are valuable, but they don’t bother to realize that all of the stamps they list are over 95 years old and the most valuable U.S. stamp on their list is an *ERROR*!  Yes, they’re trying to take credit for a mistake that they made.  Of course, we realize that value, in general, is a product of rarity and because the 1918 inverted Jenny was a single sheet of 100, it’s going to be very valuable.  The fact remains that there are very few modern expensive issues because they’re just released in far too massive quantities.

Next:  charity!  Except the figures taken in by semi-postals are misleading at best.  There are only two semi-postals that have been issued since 1998 and, on average, they bring in 10 cents per stamp for the charitable cause.  $76 million raised for breast cancer research might sound like a lot, but that’s spread over the course of 25 years so far, it’s a mere $3.04 million raised per year, a squirt of piss in the $6 billion breast cancer research industry raised each and every year.  Somehow I see this as a complete failure of the program, certainly if anyone was impressed with it, they would have released more charitable semi-postals over the years.  If they want to help charities, the Post Office could donate half-a-cent from every one of the 27 billion stamps sold every year in the United States and donate $135 million dollars to the charity of their choice each and every year.  Come on guys, what you’re doing is less than impressive.

Then, they talk about commemorative stamps and how many they sell.  You’ll notice that almost all of them are recent issues, dating from the time that the Post Office has been whoring stamp designs to collectors.  They produce tons and tons of individual stamps and most of them never sell.  There was a recent story that the Post Office got stuck with 682 million Simpsons stamps that they had to destroy because they couldn’t get rid of them.  Of their list, only a single large volume stamp (actually a collection of 50 stamps), made in 1992, was produced before I stopped collecting new U.S. issues.

One thing I skipped over, on purpose, was their little whine that 66% of Americans have access to e-mail and that’s only going to rise in the future.  Yes, much of the purpose of the Post Office is going to go away entirely in the very near future, in fact, their mainstay business, sending letters, has largely evaporated already.  I don’t see this as a bad thing.  Oh sure, for postal employees it certainly is, but every industry has to deal with reality and technology marches relentlessly onward.  Trying to cling to how it used to be is generally pointless.  I wouldn’t mind if daily mail service went away entirely, the overwhelming majority of crap I get in the mail is junk anyhow, it all gets dumped in the recycling bin before it reaches the house.  Virtually all bills are electronic these days, there are only a few companies that still send paper bills and there isn’t a single bill now that isn’t paid online.  We very rarely buy stamps anymore, we might buy a book or two a year and that’s really limited to sending out birthday cards and the like.  I can’t tell you the last time I stepped foot inside a post office except to pick up a package and even that’s rare.  As I said on the stamp forum, if every post office vanished tomorrow, I probably wouldn’t notice.

But wait, what about the stamps?  Surely as a stamp collector, that matters, right?  Not at all because I gave up on the United States Postal Service decades ago when it became clear that they were whoring themselves to the collector market, putting out hundreds of designs per year, not because the American people demanded it, but because they thought they could make a buck selling bits of colored paper to collectors.  They aren’t even attractive bits of colored paper, it’s something that a 4-year old could create in Microsoft Paint in a few seconds.  What’s the point when you have ugly stamps, created only to make a buck and appeal to a tiny demographic who want some event or person immortalized on a sticky-backed square?  No thanks, I’ll pass.

stamps-5Besides, there’s a whole world of stamps out there to collect, it’s not like anyone will ever run out.  In just the first century of stamp production, between 1840-1940, over 90,000 stamps were issued worldwide.  That number more than quadruples if  you add in the next 60 years alone, to a total of 527,628 stamps.  It really gets absurd when you think about it, virtually all countries produce more and more and more stamps every single year, some of them just flood the market to make money.  Take Liberia, for instance, which issued 771 stamps in just the year 2000 alone.  That year, 17,836 were released worldwide, with a face value of $8,876.   In 2009, there were 15 countries that issued more than $200 in face value stamps, to buy a complete worldwide set at catalog value would cost $35,050.  Does anyone have over $35k to spend on stamps each and every year, not to mention getting older stamps?  Not many people, I’m sure.

Maybe it’s time to accept the eventual extinction of the postal service.  It’s fighting a losing battle anyhow, it’s hemorrhaging money and the signs clearly show that it’s only going to get worse.  Why are we wasting so much money on a service largely dedicated to delivering a daily dose of spam to our mailboxes?  Get everyone on e-mail and stop pretending that paper-mail makes much sense in the modern era.  There are plenty of companies out there to deliver our packages and if the USPS wants to become competitive and do that, more power to them.  I just don’t see why we should continue to do something that’s useless and financially wasteful, just because it’s in the Constitution.

And I don’t even mind if my stamp-collecting brethren hate me for saying so.

Jamestown Stamp Company: Geez, These People are Dumb!

facepalm
You can’t be this dumb!

You know, I’ve written before about how stupid the Jamestown Stamp Company is.  I collect stamps and I used to take their approvals, it was interesting to see what they’d send and I bought a lot from them, even though they were clearly overpriced.  I had sent them want lists of things that I was interested in receiving, I was very specific about what quality I wanted (mint only) and even specific lists of what I’d be happy to buy from them.  However, it became painfully clear that they were just sending whatever crap they had laying around the office, they weren’t even making an attempt to fill my requests and, as I said, I could just buy all of it cheaper online, so I told them to stop sending, it’s been nice doing business but I’m through.

The problem is, they just keep sending things!  I’m not talking once or twice, I’m talking about 5-6 times now!  I got yet another one today!

This is not some screw-up in their computer system, this is not some technical error, this is on purpose.  They keep sending me these letters that way “please reconsider and come back to us!”  The one I got today says:

We have enclosed a Special Gift just for you as a valued past customer.  There are NO STRINGS attached to this gift.

Yup, you’re right, since I not only didn’t ask you to send it in the first place, and in fact have asked you several times to stop sending things, there are no strings.  I am not going to be returning your free gift, with an attached bill for $27.  I have no legal, moral or ethical requirement to pander to your abject stupidity.  It’s not only an unsolicited product, but a product I have specifically, on several occasions, told you to stop sending me!  Thanks for the free gifts, keep it up.

Or don’t.  See, the problem is, they’re still sending the same old crap that I didn’t want in the first place, that made me cancel their service to begin with.  It’s piles of crappy old overpriced used stamps that I wouldn’t put in my collection if  you paid me.  Maybe if they’d send me something I had actually asked for, it would be different.  I might even pay them for it, but no, it’s cheap garbage that I have no use for and this has been going on for over a year now.  Every time I get one, I say to myself “they can’t be stupid enough to send another one when they don’t get this back” but invariably, they do!  I’m sure this won’t be the last time either.

Seriously, if you’re going to be giving away your inventory, at least have the decency to send something I want, or something valuable enough that makes it worth my while to sell.  I just added this to the large pile of other crap you’ve sent and thrown away the bill.  Keep it up.  I don’t mind fleecing idiots whatsoever.

No Means No: Stamp Edition

Yes, I collect stamps and yes, this is a rant.  I used to have a couple of companies send me stamps on approval.  Yes, I know I’m paying a healthy premium for that but I can afford it.  It was always fun to see what came in the mail, sorting out what I already had from what I needed and deciding what to purchase.  I did my best to advise them on what areas I needed the most help in, to maximize the purchases I might make.

However, there came a time with my U.S. collection where virtually every approval packet that came was sent back intact, there were so few things I needed and the things I had to get were so expensive, they weren’t going to send those through the mail.  So I told all of them, thank you for all the approvals, but please stop sending them.  Most listened.

One didn’t.  After a couple of months, they sent me a packet out of the blue that said “please reconsider!”  I don’t need to reconsider, I already made a decision, I told them to stop sending and they ignored me.  My immediate reaction was to just throw it all back in their post-paid envelope and send it back, probably with a nasty note.  Then, I swung the other direction.  I didn’t ask for this and as such, I have no obligation to send it back.  I could send a note back thanking them for the gift and tell them to respect people’s wishes in the future.

Then I looked at the stamps they sent.  Oh brother, what a load of crap!  The majority of them are pointless, useless and virtually worthless stamps.  Most catalog far below their asking price and I can go anywhere and buy stamps for maybe 25-30% of catalog all day long.  The prices on the picture above represent the 30% catalog norm.  They expect .75 for each one I keep, but the majority of them are worth a few pennies at best.  The worst part, a huge portion of the stamps are horribly damaged, with bad staining, tears, etc.  Not one single stamp is actually in mint-never-hinged condition, at best, they’re hinged, the majority are lacking gum entirely, like they soaked them off of mail that didn’t get properly cancelled.  I’m sorry, but you not only do you ignore my specific wishes, then you send me a bag of shit and hope that’s going to change my mind?  “Why don’t you look at this absurdly over-priced, ridiculously low-quality, damaged merchandise and tell us you want to keep doing business with us!”

So congratulations, Jamestown Stamp Company, you’ve gone from having a satisfied former customer who would have given you good reviews to any other collectors who may have asked for recommendations, to a pissed off, never-to-buy-from-you-again ex-customer who will now tell everyone how crappy your company really is.

We Don’t Owe You Jack

This happens all the time and frankly I’m sick of it.  Today, on a stamp forum, someone popped up and demanded to know how much he could sell a stamp collection that his grandfather left him.  All he wanted was a value.  He didn’t want to go research it, he wanted everyone on the forum to do all the work.  When we told him that the stamps he put up just weren’t worth much, he got pissed and stomped off.

I wish I could say this was a rare occurrence but it’s not.  It happens all the time.  People inherit a pile of old stamps and think it’s going to make them rich.  They don’t care about the stamps, they just have dollar signs in their eyes.  I’ve written about this kind of thing before and I stand by what I said before, but these people are just entitlement-happy.  They think everyone owes it to them to do all their research for them and if they get an answer they don’t like, screw you all!

What’s worse, you get some people, I suppose the accommodationists of the stamp world, who figure we ought to go along with them and put up with their abuse just because they’re new.  We should relish getting abused, just so we can get a new member, even if this member has made it clear they just don’t care about the topic, the forum or the people.  That’s like expecting someone walking into a brand new McDonalds and demanding they make him a steak, medium rare.  The restaurant can say sorry, that’s not what we do here and he’ll declare “fuck you all then!”  Should McDonalds have told him sure, we’ll go out and buy all the fixings just for you!  Of course not.  That’s a stupid idea.

The fact is, these people walk into an established community based around collecting stamps, say “hi, I don’t give a shit about anything you care about, I just want to pick your brains so I can sell this crap and make money!  Indulge me!”  Somehow, they expect this singular act of social incompetence to be embraced with open arms.  are people that stupid?  Seriously?  Unfortunately, people are that stupid, we see it every day.  It would be one thing if they’d come in, act interested, then slowly start asking questions about value.  Become part of the community, then get more information.  But that’s not how it goes, it’s a demand for immediate satisfaction and a pissed off reaction when you don’t get what you want.

The planet really needs to grow the hell up.  I, for one, am not playing along.  If you have nothing, I’m going to tell you that you have nothing.  I’m going to be honest.  If honesty hurts your feelings or destroys your illusions, too bad.  Cry me a river.  Reality is what it is.  Deal with it.

Where to go next?

I guess I’m an anachronism in a lot of ways, especially in my collecting habits.  Everywhere I go, I’m the odd man out.

In action figure collecting, I don’t open my figures, I don’t pose them all over the house, I don’t display them or hang them on the wall like trophies, I collect, I catalog and I store.  I’m not fanatical in my collecting either, I buy what I want to buy, at a price I want to pay.  I won’t chase any figure for hundreds or thousands of dollars, I recognize it as a piece of plastic and as such, it only has limited financial worth.  I either get a particular piece at a price I feel good for paying or I just don’t get it at all.  Not having any particular piece doesn’t gnaw at me, I don’t get cold sweats thinking about having an incomplete collection, I just have fun.  I’m not like the majority of collectors I run into.

By the same token, with stamp collecting, I’m not the common collector.  Recently there was a poll on a stamp forum about stamp collectors being hoarders.  Every single person who responded, with the exception of two of us, said they had boxes and boxes stacked high of stamps and covers and other stamp-collecting materials that they either had never looked at, or would probably never look at again.  Most had no idea what they even had.  Most buy kiloware or collections, sight unseen, just to have thousands of stamps to go through.  I never got the sense of that.  I’m collecting a country.  I want one example of every stamp that country has released, with very few exceptions.  Oh sure, I might have a single copy and a block.  I might have variations in perfs or color.  I just see no point in having 50 copies of the same stamp, in the same format, sitting in a box or a stock book somewhere.  There’s a difference between collecting and hoarding in my opinion and I am absolutely a collector.

Now with me, I’ve been collecting U.S. stamps off and on my entire life.  That’s more than 40 years doing the same thing.  Granted, there’s been a lot of time not doing it, but quite a significant amount of time pouring over little pictures on sticky paper.  For most of my life, I really haven’t been in a financial position to buy a lot at a time, so additions were relatively few and far between, but now that I have the wherewithal to buy what I want, I’ve very rapidly filled in most of the holes in my collection, with the exception of the very expensive classic stamps.  I’ve taken a general inventory and stamps I’m missing between 1920 and 1993 when I summarily decided I’d had enough of the Post Office, I can count on fingers and toes.  I plan on completing that in the very short term, but what then?  Sure, I can start getting those stamps that are in the hundreds or thousands of dollars, and certainly I intend to when the right stamps come along, but as I’ve learned in action figure collecting, if I don’t keep making purchases, if I don’t see my collection grow reasonably constantly, I get bored.  Boredom is no fun.

So I’ve been thinking what else I can do.  I do have a couple of small topical collections, but to be honest, my topical interests are so limited and narrow, I very rarely ever come across anything to add.  For more than half of my topical collections, there simply exist no lists of stamps that are available.  I know, I’ve looked.  For one, so far as I know, I am the only person on the planet that collects that particular specialty, at least I’ve never run into anyone else in all my years that follows it.  That also means that the stamps that I might be looking for, especially foreign stamps, are only sold in long sets, of which I might need a single stamp.  It has always seemed like a horrible waste of money to me to buy 10 stamps and throw 9 away.

I figured I’d start looking for another country to collect, one that I could feel good about buying a lot of stamps and mounting in my album.  The problem is, as I really started to think about it, I really didn’t give a damn about any of them.  For that matter, I really don’t care about U.S. stamps and never did, at least not in the way I hear a lot of collectors talk.  I’m not that interested in U.S. postal history.  I’m not interested in “seeing the world”.  I’m not interested in the culture or society of any country, expressed through their postage.  I’m just not.  To me, stamps are interesting, they are windows into a nation’s history and culture, but they’re just things.  Collecting to me, as boring as it might seem, is getting things.  It’s not obsessing over them, it’s having them.

I came up with some general criteria for new collecting interests.  I wanted it to be something where the stamps were relatively easy to come by, where there were a decent number of dealers who carried the stamps and who sold singles, not just long runs.  It had to be generally affordable, at least to start, although I know that sooner or later I’m going to run into the same problem as I have with my U.S. collection, where everything I need is high value.  It has to be large enough so that I’m not going to complete the country in a few short months, but not so massive that I could never hope to collect it.  The topics on the stamps have to be varied and interesting, I don’t need years and years of monarchs on stamps, I want them to be something I can enjoy looking at.  Finally, I didn’t want a country that is out to screw collectors, which is a serious problem with a lot of countries which realized that putting out tons of “collector” stamps could increase their national coffers.  So nobody who puts out tons of Disney stamps or Elvis stamps or the like.  Some here and there are fine.  Anything that is obviously aimed at topical collectors, especially countries that cancel-to-order for the collector market, are right out.

One of my first thoughts was collecting worldwide airmail stamps.  That interested me for several reasons, first, I do enjoy the look of a lot of airmail stamps and it would be interesting to see the diversity worldwide.  Secondly, most countries don’t have tons of airmail stamps available.  While it wouldn’t be difficult to finish just about any given country’s airmails, there are a wealth of countries to move on to so it would be a long, long time before I ran out of things to collect.  Fantastic idea, right?  Well, not so much because most album manufacturers don’t put out separate pages for airmail or other back-of-book stamps, especially worldwide.  I could find pages for the U.S. and maybe a couple of other popular stamp-issuing countries, but for anyone else, I’d have to buy entire albums and throw away 99% of the pages, or I’d have to print my own.

I don’t want to print my own.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not lazy, I do design and print my own pages for my topical collections because, as I said before, they’re mostly so limited that it’s the only way to get pages at all.  But you know what I do hate?  I hate doing pointless research.  That’s one reason those stamps are so hard to find in the first place, nobody puts together lists of them and the thought of going through thousands of pages of the 6 Scott Standardized Stamp Catalogs bores me to tears.  I want to collect, not document.

So I went back to the drawing board, as it were.  I started thinking about countries in which I had any interest.  Obviously, Japan came up because I have spent a lifetime enjoying and collecting anime, but my wife already collects Japan so that’s out.  Why buy 2 of the same stamp all the time?  I half-heartedly thought about China but ultimately rejected it.  Granted, it is a popular collecting topic these days, which makes more stamps available, but that’s also it’s downfall.  The popularity of Chinese stamps also pushes the prices up and the selection down.  I then thought maybe something like Kenya or Tanzania, one of the African nations which routinely offer cheetahs on stamps, my one topical interest that drives me craziest, but again, availability is going to be extremely problematic for nations like that, there just aren’t many, if any, dealers out there who sell singles and I know I’ll end up with spotty coverage and an inability to fill holes without buying a ton of extras I don’t want.  Count that one out.

While I haven’t made up my mind for certain yet, I’ve been thinking a bit more about collecting Australia.  There seems to be a better selection of Australia than I’ve seen for other countries, with the possible exception of Canada and Great Britain which I have no interest in, plus more recent issues seem to have a heavy animal/space/science theme to them which I quite enjoy.  I’m trying to decide if I want to continue my trend, as I did with U.S. stamps, of only collecting MNH stamps from 1900 on and used stamps pre-1900, or just to give up and collect all used.  Certainly, that will make the costs minimal and probably easier to find, but something deep inside of me really wants mint stamps.  It’s something I’ll have to battle out internally.

But oh look at what they have!

If anyone has any suggestions, I’d love to hear them.  You know my criteria, maybe there’s something I’m not considering?

I’d love to know.

P.S.:  It’s now a month or so later and I changed my mind a couple of times on what I posted here.  First, although I did initially decide on Australia, after searching for dealers who carried mint stamps, I was disappointed to find that my usual haunts had many, many more used stamps than mint.  I really didn’t want to collect used and therefore, I scrapped that idea.  Also, the majority of Australian dealers, no surprise, were in Australia and that meant higher shipping costs.  Then I turned my attention  back to China, just on a lark, and found that exactly the opposite was true, there were many, many more mint stamps than used and there were a lot of dealers in the western hemisphere.  Therefore, I made my decision and started collecting China.  Sort of.  See, while I was looking, I came across an approval dealer who I told I was going to collect Australia and they sent me a huge selection of Australian stamps.  Great, now what do I do?  I felt bad not buying from them, so I did the only logical thing and… started collecting Australia as well.  Now I have two countries running and have been greatly enjoying both.  As both collections grow, I’m sure I’m going to be even happier, seeing pages get completed.  It didn’t have to be an either/or decision, sometimes the right choice is both!

Freaking Out the Stamp World

I just love watching people freak out over nothing.  In a recent story, Sweden announced that it’s going to stop producing stamps.  Immediately, the stamp collecting world donned sack cloth and is lamenting the end of the world.  Oh no!  The whole world is going to stop making stamps and we’ll all have nothing to collect!  The horror!  The horror!

I’ll be honest.  Who cares.  First off, from a personal standpoint, I couldn’t care less about Sweden or their stamps, so whether or not they keep putting them out is entirely irrelevant to me.  From a larger perspective though, modern stamps worldwide have been largely pointless for many years anyhow.  Many countries are doing little more than photoshopping photographs and sticking them on stamps, there’s little artistic merit to what’s come out and, as I’ve said before, lots of countries, the United States included, have been milking the collector market by producing hundreds of new stamps every year.  In 2006, for instance, the U.S. released 161 commemorative stamps for the year.  Buying that set would cost you about $200.  That’s a lot of money for a bunch of colored pieces of paper.  Jumping back 40 years to 1966, they released a grand total of 17 commemorative stamps and it costs less than $10 to buy today.

Add to that the fact that many modern stamps are just stupid and simplistic compared to the intricate engraving work on classic stamps and you shouldn’t be surprised that I’m not really all that interested in them.  Stamps used to require artistry, now they just require Photoshop.  The stamp to the left, part of the 1898 Trans-Mississippi series, painted by noted artist James McWhirter, is widely considered to be one of the most beautiful and detailed stamps in all of U.S. history.

Compare that to the stamp on the right, which could easily have been done by a 5-year old with a set of crayons and a pad of paper.  This kind of thing is commonplace, I suppose because they crank out so many stamps per year, they just don’t have much time to spend on making them look decent.

 

So beyond the fact that stamps are released in far too great quantities and they’re ugly, there’s another reason I don’t really care if stamps are going away.  The reality is, the world is changing.  Mail service just isn’t needed as much as it once was.  We’ve moved almost entirely to electronic communication and bill paying.  Sure, you’ll still need someone to move packages from one place to another, but it’s much cheaper and easier to print mailing labels and affix them to your packages than it is to try to get the right combination of denominations of stamps.  Like it or not, the world marches on and we all have to accept that.  While stamps may be fun and interesting, the reality is that they may very soon serve no useful purpose in the modern world.  So be it.  That doesn’t stop 175 years of existing postal history and millions of worldwide stamp issues already in existence, most of them more attractive and interesting than anything the USPS or most other modern post offices have put out in years.

Let them die.  I’ll be working on my collection of classics, which are wholly unaffected by the modern world.  They look better and really, that’s one of the things that keeps me interested in the hobby, not modern self-stick labels with the artistic quality of a 4-year old’s scribbles.

Ah, Those Wonderful Kitties

Thought I’d be 100% positive for a bit.  Don’t faint.  As you know, I collect stamps and one of the things I collect are cheetahs on stamp.  It’s called a topical, which makes sense, it’s collecting a particular topic on a stamp instead of a particular country.  Lots of people collect cats or dogs (I do that too), trains or trombones, etc.  I happen to collect cheetahs.  Why?  Heck if I know, I just like cheetahs.

So I guess I ought to show some of them off.  These are stamps I collected years ago, they probably represent a tiny percentage of the total number of cheetah stamps available worldwide.  I’ve started to put together a list of all the stamps I can find, a checklist so I know what I need, but until I can find some more, here’s a small selection of what I currently have.

Warning, below the fold is graphic intensive.  Enjoy. Continue reading Ah, Those Wonderful Kitties