Notes from the Past

Fabric from the Crash of the Dirigible Shenandoah

Herman Herst, a respected New York stamp dealer now deceased, was a wonderful story teller.  During his early years in New York City in the early 1930s he was employed in the back office of a brokerage firm, Lebenthal and Company.  He moonlighted by finding opportunities to make money by buying and selling stamps.  He managed to enlist his fellow employees in providing capital for his deals.  To disguise their activities the participants called the stamp ventures "worm pools."  Here he tells of one of the "worm pools" which he promoted.
At the height of the dirigible cover fad, Lebenthal and Company took on another young man, who took over my duties, as I was elevated to cashier.  The chap, Ernest Rambar by name, was not a stamp collector, but a few days in the Lebenthal office soon took care of that.  He joined the "worm pools" as they were formed, and shared in the occasional profits that my efforts permitted.

One day Ernest, reminiscing about school days, happened to mention Cambridge, Ohio, his home.  It rang a bell and I asked if that wasn't near the town in which the ill-fated dirigible Shenandoah had crashed.  "Sure," he replied, "and I was one of the first on the scene after it came down, and as a souvenir, I tore off it a large part of the fabric."

Eagerly, I asked if he still had it.  The next day he brought it in, a section of brownish oily fabric about five by five feet.  The germ of a plan set in.  Rambar and I typed up twenty-five letters, each stating the circumstances of the crash, the date and testifying to the fact that Rambar had personally torn the fabric from the doomed craft.  Then each sheet was notarized, and we were in business.

An advertisement was placed in Western Stamp Collector, offering the twelve-inch squares of fabric at a dollar each, but happily no size was given.  The orders flocked in, perhaps a dozen or so in the first mail.  When the next mail brought two dozen more, the solution was obvious.  Each twelve-inch square was torn in half.  The flood of orders continued, and the six-inch squares were torn into four-inch squares, then three-inch squares.  Every customer was a buyer, and every order was filled.  At the end some were receiving little bits of fabric hardly larger than a thumbnail, but all seemed to have been pleased.  Our impetuousness in filling the original orders with such large pieces created an interesting situation, for one of our twelve-by-twelve buyers, the very next week, in the same magazine, was himself offering Shenandoah fabrics, also at one dollar each.  Judging by our advertisements, one might think that philatelic ghouls were on the spot tearing the airship to bits even before it landed.  The facts might not have been so far from the supposition.

- Herman Herst, Jr.
Nassau Street
Duell, Sloan, and Pierce, 1960
Posted July 7, 2000

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