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Builders Of The House of Stamps

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In earlier days when travel was tougher and stamp shows fewer, the mail was the best way for collectors to buy stamps. So in the late 1800's through the first half of the twentieth century many dealers published hybrid pricelist/journal/newsletters that kept them in touch with their customers, even creating communities -- the philatelic Facebook of the day -- through the mails.

Marquee names that attracted collectors' attentions in the 1920s, 30s and 40s included Lindbergh, Zeppelin (both man and airship), Amelia Earhart and Admiral Byrd, among others who realized the pr value (and the fundraising capabilities) of selling or attaching their names to stamps and covers.

Although items touched by these greats might be thought to have the ability to sell themselves, there was still a great promotional machine in the form of a robust philatelic press (both professional and amateur), and dealers' newsletters, which often resembled a circus program more than a stamp publication. And no dealer published a more hyper newsletter than A.C. Roessler of East Orange, N.J.

If you were in one of dealer Roessler’s “clubs,” it meant you were on his mailing list. Depending upon which one one you were on you would receive related material -- flown covers, first day covers, selections of stamps, etc. And he seemed to be everywhere, from the Lindbergh kidnapping trial, where he wrote on a postcard sent from Flemington, N.J. that he was sitting "...right behind Hauptmann and right next Walter Winchell and Damon Runyon, an old-time side-kick of ours from back in the Denver days"; to the flights of the great zeppelins like the Hindenberg; to pioneer aviators and their record-setting flights. No matter the event, he or his agents were on the scene to make sure he got the goods for his customers.

Although Roessler is an extreme example, there had always been dealers who seemed to have pronounced journalistic streaks. As far back as the middle to late 1800s there were stamp newsletters wherein the "editor," aka the stamp dealer trying to drum up business, would hold forth about things philatelic and otherwise while attempting to sell his wares.

One of the most notable and high toned of these newsletter/journal/pricelists can be found by going back to the 1860s, when Englishman Stanley Gibbons began publishing. His pricelists were the hobby's initial market makers, "crunching numbers" and coming up with values for the stamps offered in their pages. In the U.S. it was J.W. Scott, whose early price lists eventually grew into today's most authoritative, multi-volume reference, the Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalog.

In the first half of the twentieth century it was Ohio's George Linn and his Linn's Stamp News, today the grandaddy of U.S. stamp newspapers, that set the bar for stamp collecting news publications. Packed with worldwide stamp information then as now, the dealer advertising dollars it has attracted has kept the weekly afloat for many decades.

Another stamp dealer who jumped into philatelic publishing in the 1930s with both feet was Austrian Jacques Minkus, aka "the man who brought stamp collecting to Main St. USA." At its height, the Minkus philatelic empire included albums, a regularly issued stamp journal with no less a contributor than Ayn Rand, catalogs and -- as a "service" to collectors during WWII -- cacheted patriotic envelopes. Not to mention the core of his business: stamp sales from "Gimbels Famous Stamp Department."

Today's collector browsing at a stamp show, or trolling eBay can still find many examples of the work of the dealers of the early days. Roessler's legend has even expanded in passing years: covers not serviced, but merely printed by him for others often means you will pay a premium for one. As for Jacques Minkus, many collections in existence today remain in his popular albums. As that relates to the stamps themselves it is not terribly important. But what is of interest is that they are part of the legacy of one who was instrumental in building the house of philately where we currently reside.

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