Notes from the Past

Remembering the Mail - Part VI

Most stamp collectors visited the post office to get the latest stamps during the 1930s and 1940s.  I was no exception.  I made friends with the clerk who tended the counter.  He was always helpful in finding me a plate block for any of the commemoratives which were in stock as well as the Prexies which were the current definitives.  Of course, my budget didn't allow for either many duplicates (sometimes two) or any high values.  I think I did manage to get a 25¢ plate block at one time.

One of the problems which we had at our post office was that, even with the infrequent (compared to today) issues, some of the stamps just never found their way to our post office.  That is why there were some holes in my collection which had to be filled by purchases from the Philatelic Agency -- located in Washington, D.C. at that time.  Ordering from the Agency wasn't quite as much fun since they requirements like registration and there was always the possibility that you could get the stamps locally sooner or later.

One of the wonderful experiences was finding stamp auction houses who advertised in Weekly Philatelic Gossip.  I got on the mailing list of Michael M. Karen.  The catalogs showed wonderful stamps which would fill those big holes in my collection.  The spaces for most stamps worth more than 50¢ remained empty in my American album.  My first auction bid was placed when I was about 16 and knew very little about what I was doing.  Since I only had retail price lists and the H. E. Harris catalog to guide my assessment of value, I ended up with some very high bids for items.  This led to winning the first 3 lots I bid on.  When the bill arrived for $10 for the 3 lots, I was dumbstruck.  That was more money than I had at the time -- I really hadn't expected to win that many items.  The only solution was for me to wait for my part time job to yield enough for me to pay for the lots.  In a couple of weeks I got a reminder from the auctioneer.  Fortunately, I was able to pay him shortly but my purse was strained for some time as I balanced other purchases to make up for the big stamp purchase.

During WWII a friend and I considered going into the stamp business.  What could be easier, we thought, than placing a classified ad advertising some stamps which we found were available in a wholesale catalog which we had obtained?  We prepared an ad, got some linotype slugs to make a letterhead for W & M Stamps, and sent the ad off along with a money order to Weekly Philatelic Gossip.  It was returned shortly with a request for references and inquiring as to our age.  This ended W & M Stamps before any great damage had been done.

- Jim Watson
Posted November 23, 1999
© 1999, Jim Watson

This is the last of this series.  I hope you have enjoyed it.  It was fun to recall the youthful years of a stamp collector.

Index of 507 Notes from the Past

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