People You Meet at a Stamp Show

by Scott English
Executive Director

In 2016, I asked a question at a stamp show I never thought I’d ask, “Excuse me, are you Hillbilly Jim?” For those of you who don’t know, Hillbilly Jim, born James Morris, was a wrestler popular in the World Wrestling Federation, now the WWE, in the 1980’s.  I’m reminded of the meeting as we head into the biggest weekend of the year for professional wrestling− Wrestlemania Weekend and the induction of Hillbilly Jim into the Hall of Fame.

Hulk HoganI have been a professional wrestling fan since I was 10 years old. In my childhood, wrestling became something of a national phenomenon as the World Wrestling Federation, now known as the WWE, rose to prominence. It all started on January 24, 1983 when Hulk Hogan won the World Heavyweight title from the Iron Sheik and the MTV crossover of “Rock-n-Wrestling” made wrestling cool for teenagers like me.

Being a wrestling fan and a stamp collector share one similarity, no one understands you if they aren’t a part of it. So, it is a bit surprising when the two worlds collided for me at World Stamp Show – NY 2016.  Every ten years in the U.S., the philatelic community comes together to invite collectors and exhibitors from around the world. In May 2016, this show took place at the Javits Center in New York City for ten days.

During the show setup, the APS booth was not far from a booth operated by Champion Stamp Company, the only stamp store in all of New York City. Since the show was local, Champion purchased a large booth, so they could bring sizeable inventory. There were several large guys helping move material in and make sure no one thought about taking anything, including Morris.

In 1984, Jim Morris started appearing in the audience of WWF matches. At 6’7” and 320 pounds, he was hard to miss, but to make sure you didn’t he wore denim overalls and had a huge beard. Eventually, the popular Hogan took “Big Jim” under his wing and the world met Hillbilly Jim. He was a nice country boy, supposedly from Mud Lick, KY and was wildly popular with fans because he was a giant guy with a big smile and a great personality. Due to his popularity, the WWF added family members, like Uncle Elmer and Cousin Junior to join him in the ring, accompanied by Hillbilly Jim’s theme song, Don’t Go Messin’ with a Country Boy.  Morris retired from the WWE in 1992 with occasional appearances, but he never enjoyed the same visibility he did in the 1980s.

To his credit, Hillbilly Jim did not run into some of the out-of-ring issues, like drugs, alcohol, or jail. Instead, he made appearances and greeted fans with the same warmth that he was known for in the ring. This was true even when a grown man comes up to him at a stamp booth in the Javits Center in New York. When I walked over to say hello, Jim cracked a smile and we talked wrestling, stamps, politics, and life for 30 minutes or so. When we got finished, he stood up and said, “Let’s get a picture my man” and rounded up a volunteer. Morris doesn’t frequent stamp shows, but usually provides muscle and security at coin shows around the country. He will do stamp shows if it’s a big deal. You can hear Morris every Saturday on Outlaw Country on Sirius XM Channel 60 doing Hillbilly Jim’s Moonshine Matinee.

This Friday, Morris will add Hall of Famer to his biography and I can’t think of a nicer guy. He probably won’t mention he’s been to a stamp show during his speech, but hopefully we’ll see him again soon!

Soakable Stamps Return As Postage Rates Fall!!!

The U.S. Postal Service announced today it will return to producing only soakable stamps by next year and it expects postage rates to drop 10 percent!!! Haha! April Fools!

I don’t suppose we caught too many of you with that one. How about the return of the penny postcard? Maybe stamps that are mini-drones and will fly special delivery letters to their destinations? Hey, we tried.

How about this: With the multitude of castles, knights and heraldry on stamps, we wondered if perhaps the best known symbol of April Fool’s – the jester – is found on our commemoratives.

Like fools, we rushed into our hunt and started scanning page after page of our favorite catalog. You can call us foolish, but we found a few. (If you like the idea of jesters or fools on stamps, don’t forget this year’s American Philatelic Society StampShow in Columbus, Ohio will be co-hosted by the American Topical Association, the go-to society for ALL collecting themes.)

So let’s get to our jesters. The jester – the king of fools – was the one character in a royal court that could get away with clowning around about the monarchy and its ways. But he’s not a real clown, so we disregarded clown stamps. Medieval court jesters wore bright, gaudy clothing – the color of the leggings are often different – and often wears a signature three-point Fool’s Hat with a bell on each point. He also carries a mock scepter called a bauble, which was adorned by a carved head or the inflated bladder of an animal (yuck, no foolin’).

Spani - Jester
Spain, Scott 3009

We start with a couple of real-life jesters, the first from Spain. A masterpiece painting by Diego Velázquez (1599-1660) – Portrait of Sebastián de Morra (1645) – appears on a 1999 stamp (Scott 3009) from Spain. De Morra was a court dwarf and jester in the court of Philip IV of Spain. The painting is in the Prado in Madrid.

Poland Jester Stamp
Poland, Scott 1607

Let’s stick to masterpieces, where we turn to a Polish stamp issued in 1968. The stamp features the 1862 painting known in short as Stańczyk, or The Jester, by Jan Matejko (1838-1893). Stańczyk (c. 1480-1560) was a popular figure who was jester to three kings. The painting shows the jester at a ball where he has just learned that the Russian army has captured Smolensk. Matejko created at least one other painting of him and there is a monument of the jester sitting on a bench in Niepołomice‎. The stamp (Scott 1607) is part of a set of eight stamps featuring Polish artworks.

Belgium Jester Stamp
Belgium, Scott B658

In 1959, Belgium issued a semipostal (a charity stamp) featuring a jester and cats (B658). The stamp raised money to fight tuberculosis. (Yes, we noticed the single-pointed hat; he’s a true fool to be misdressed.)

We may be foolhardy but we think Germany is king of jester stamps.

Germany, Scott B463

In 1970, Germany released a set of four marionettes semipostal stamps with one of them (B463) depicting a jester puppet.

Next comes the 1977 issue (Scott 1230) showing Scenes from the Till Eulenspiegel Folk Tales (c. 1350). Four scenes are shown with the jester-like Till in all four. In 2011, Germany commemorated the 500th anniversary of the first printing of the Till tales with another stamp, this one showing a jester in the center of the diamond-shaped stamp (Scott 2633) surrounded by other iconic items from the stories.

Germany, Scott 2633
Germany, Scott 1230
Germany, Scott 1544

Germany in 1988 issued a stamp (Scott 1544) honoring the 150th anniversary of the Mainz Carnival. The character does look a bit more like a clown than a jester, but we’ll accept him because of his Fool’s Hat.

 

Germany, Scott 2070

In 2000, the 175th anniversary of the Dusseldorf Carnival, is honored with a jester doing a cartwheel (Scott 2070).

Great Britain may have been home to several foolish monarchs over the centuries, but we really couldn’t find any pure jester stamps from the Brits.

Britain has, however, honored the jester-like figure of a puppet – Punch, from Punch and Judy fame – on a few occasions.

Great Britain, Scott 1306

The famous puppet and his cast of characters date back to 16th-century Italian commedia dell’arte, where it eventually moved and morphed. The figure who later became Mr. Punch made his first recorded appearance in England on May 9, 1662, traditionally reckoned as his birthday in the U.K. His outfitted like a jester, though his hat has but a single point with a tassel that flops over the front.

Great Britain booklet cover, 1991
Great Britain booklet cover, 1991

In 1990, Mr. Punch is one of eight stamps (Scott 1306) in the Smiles set, which also includes the Queen of Hearts and Stan Laurel. In 1991-92, an image of Punch showed up on the covers of a couple of booklets marking the 150th anniversary of Punch magazine. Mr. Punch is featured along with five other puppet characters on Punch & Judy set of 2001. Punch is listed as Scott 1987. The stamps came in various formats, including a presentation pack.

Great Britain, Scott 1985-1990

Thanks for playing along with our fool’s game. Next time we’ll tell you all about…

Auctioneer to Sell Scarce Civil War-era Encased Postage at Coin Show

From the Inverted Jenny to the British Guiana 1-Cent Magenta, we love a good story behind our stamps. So you are bound to like this one, which crosses stamps, coins and a specific time in U.S. history. And, this interesting chapter of philately and numismatics are getting a big boost this month, thanks to a major auction.

  When the American Civil War began in April 1861, many thought it would end quickly; both sides expected victory and the general population within the Union and Confederate states were confident. But moods changed when the North lost at the first Battle of Bull Run (July 1861), the Union blockaded southern ports, the 7 Days Battle near Richmond ended in a stalemate and floods of money and resources were suddenly swept away by the need to support military forces. Shortages started to crop up and there was panic based on perceived future shortages.

One of the items people hoarded was currency, particularly hard silver and gold coins. In the North, even the U.S. Mint’s cheaply made copper-nickel cents quickly vanished from the market.

To help, on July 17, 1862, the U.S. government passed legislation allowing people to pay small government debts of $5 or less with postage stamps.

Stamps were fragile, though, and quickly degrade during exchanges. Enter New Englander John Gault, who quickly designed and obtained a patent on August 12, 1862 for “encasing government stamps,” which he called “new metallic currency.”

To create the coins, the corners of a postage stamp were wrapped around a cardboard circle. A thin, transparent piece of thin mica covered the stamp (this would prove to be the weak spot as the mica often cracked and fell off), and an outer metal frame held these items secure. A heavier brass backing, suitable for advertising, completed the piece, which was manufactured by a button-making machine. The product was about the size of a quarter but lighter in weight. Many of the cases of early examples were carried silver plate to make them look closer to real coins.

Gault encased eight denominations of 1861 stamps, from 1 cent to 90 cents (These carry an “EP” number in the Scott catalog). He sold the coins at a slight premium to about 30 companies that needed coins and then also sold advertising space on the back for 2 cents per coin. Merchants and their products included J.C. Ayer & Company selling sarsaparilla to “purify the blood,” White the Hatter, and retailer Lord & Taylor, which survives today. Experts estimate there are about 238 different pieces of encased postage.

The sales of encased coins lasted about a year until the federal government in 1863 passed another law allowing a type of “postage currency,” fractional currency on paper money using stamp designs (these carry a “PC” number in the Scott catalog).

Experts estimate Gault sold about $50,000 in encased postage, about 750,000 pieces. Somewhere between 3,500 and 7,000 are thought to have survived, experts say. The Scott catalog values these pieces at $400 to $16,000, with most in the four-digit range.

On March 9, Kagin’s Auctions, of California, known as a major coin auctioneer, will sell the Michigan Collection of encased postage stamps at the American Numismatic Association National Money Show in Irving, Texas.

“It is believed to be one of the most comprehensive sets ever and perhaps currently the finest and most complete including 147 different varieties,” Kagin’s wrote in a news release “It is the result of some 25 years of working with Kagin’s Inc. attempting to fulfill a dream of acquiring all known varieties.”

Kagin’s noted that only a handful of times over the past century have dozens of these items appeared in the same auction.

Resources
Kagin’s Auctions, Inc., www.kagins.com.
“Encased Postage Stamps,” National Postal Museum Arago website, https://arago.si.edu/category_2036357.html.
2018 Scott Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps & Covers, Amos Media, Sidney, Ohio.
Numismaster website, www.numismaster.com/ta/numis/Article.jsp?ad=article&ArticleId=15559.

StampStore or eBay?

Original column by Wendy Masorti, APS Director of Sales, republished from The American Philatelist, February 2018

New sellers will often contact the American Philatelic Society with the question, “Should I sell on eBay or StampStore?” Both services provide a way to sell online and charge minimal fees and commissions. Therefore, in order to answer the question, it is important to understand how StampStore differs from eBay.

With emerging technology in the late 1990s, the APS realized the importance of branching out our mail sales program to offer members a way to sell their philatelic material online. Specifically, we wanted to tailor a program to provide members with a hassle-free selling experience. After researching other online services and knowing our clientele, in September of 2000, we launched StampStore with a specific goal in mind – to offer an easy, affordable way for members to sell online without needing internet experience or special equipment.

On eBay, a seller is responsible to upload each listing with a description and has an option to add images (practically a must for philatelic material), which the seller must provide. The seller can choose methods of payment, which can include everything from checks to the electronic PayPal system. The seller must handle all shipping and returns. Sellers on eBay can set their own fees for shipping, which range from free to several dollars per item.

StampStore Sellers FormStampStore, on the other hand, does much of the work for you. You complete a submission sheet for each item (mounting the item along with description, prices, etc.) and mail them to the APS. We take care of scanning images and uploading item descriptions to the online store, as well as advertising, answering buyer questions, payment processing, shipping, and handling returns/refunds. All communication with the buyer is handled by the APS; the seller remains anonymous and is identified only through a seller ID number. Sellers can view reports, change prices, and receive monthly payments for items that sell.

Also, unlike eBay where the seller or a representative must have online access, many StampStore sellers do not even own a computer; they rely on our sales staff to help them change prices or check on statuses of items.
StampStore can provide one-package shipping from several sellers to a single buyer. Since all items are housed at our facility, a buyer can purchase from multiple sellers when placing an order and receive all items in one package. Standard shipping for an order less than $100 is $2.95 plus 2 percent of the sales cost for handling and insurance. If an order is more than $100, the shipping is free of charge. We also offer a 30-day money back guarantee on all items.

We are not saying that you should not sell on eBay, but rather that you ask yourself these questions:

“How involved do you want to be with the actual sale? Do you have the equipment and knowledge necessary to upload and maintain the listings? Do you have the time to package and ship sold items promptly? Are you prepared to handle unhappy customers and process returns?”
Considering that many of our sellers mail in hundreds of submissions to StampStore at a time, you can only imagine the potential volume of questions and shipments they could be dealing with. Also, buyers who purchase multiple items from several different sellers would receive multiple shipments and shipping charges.

It is also important to point out that all members selling on StampStore are APS members and abide by our Code of Ethics. While the APS provides this selling/buying service, the APS does not own the material being sold and does not guarantee the accuracy of members’ content in the listings. While members price and describe their material, they may unknowingly misdescribe the quality or authenticity of the items being sold. Therefore, we offer a 30-day money-back guarantee and sellers may be charged fines for their misdescriptions. Seller privileges may be revoked for repeat offenders.

So, only you can answer the question, “eBay or StampStore?” If you are interested in selling with us, request a free seller packet or visit www.stamps.org/How-to-Sell-Online.

YPL Fellow Dani Leviss Interviewed by Lloyd de Vries

Young Philatelic Leaders Fellow Dani Leviss was recently interviewed by Lloyd de Vries for The Virtual Stamp Club. The interview can be heard with the audio player below or on The Virtual Stamp Club interviews page.

The Young Philatelic Leaders Fellowship program was founded by the American Philatelic Society in 2009 to identify and support the best and brightest aspiring philatelists. The program coordinates and funds transportation to, lodging during, and activities at: APS national shows, Smithsonian National Postal Museum, and the American Philatelic Center for enthusiastic young collectors between the ages of 16 and 24. Additionally, YPLF connects participating Fellows with seasoned collectors, exhibitors, writers, and dealers to expand their perspectives and exposure in the philatelic world.