"Is not the cult of 'Entires' -- Envelopes -- an unnecessary accumulation of waste paper? What is the enhanced value in retaining a lot of attached blank paper which only encumbers his book (Album). If the face of the envelope containing the stamp, is cut off with the postage stamp... the location and dating device altogether...are not these concommitants sufficient to serve all ordinary purposes, rather than to retain a mass of blank paper which really adds nothing to our enlightenment of the use of the stamp..."
Those words, written by General C.A. Coolidge, Assoc. Editor in the May 1911 issue of "Everybody's Philatelist" should make the blood of every cover collector run cold. It is an example of changing times and tastes in the world of collecting. The reason that some of the classic covers are so expensive is because so many of them were destroyed, in the fashion of the time, as General Coolidge describes. Today's cover collectors might hate him and his peers for their methods, but it's just the way things were done.
New Stamp Types Brings Collecting Shift
Now that self-adhesives are the type of stamps that many postal services are using exclusively we collectors have to once again face the question of the way we're going to collect - or not collect - stamps on intact envelopes. Do we collect the whole envelope or just a portion of it; that portion holding the stamp?
This problem came to the fore many years ago when slogan cancellations became a popular collecting area. Opinion was divided although many went in for the cutting of covers. The portion kept was called a 2 by 4 due to the relative size of the piece that was needed to keep the slogan. From the Monday morning quarterback position of about 50 years down the road it seems that if the only meaningful postal marking on a cover is the slogan cancel there is nothing wrong with doing away with useless envelope paper. And although accepted wisdom has for years dictated that cutting a cover is wrong, surely the collection of used examples of self- adhesives would say that it would be foolish to save the whole cover.
Stamp Collectors' Loss, Cover Collectors' Gain?
Clearly one would not cut off the first day of issue cancel and the stamp from a first day cover. One is, after all collecting something called a cover. I would even question cutting a pictorial cancel off a cover as I would a slogan cancel as the pictorial takes up that much more space and seems to become more an integral part of the cover.
Of course cover collectors are probably delighting in the basic unsoakability of the self-adhesive, as it will mean more covers coming on the market at some later time. Not that they will be very exciting, holding only a basic postmark and a stamp, but who really knows what the future holds for collecting.
Fred E, Foldvary in Topical Time, the publication of the American Topical Association once described cover collectors as "those who shudder at the sight of a naked stamp. They don't want their stamps stripped from their covers. Cover collectors are nosy! They want to know the whole story of the mailing: who sent it, when it was sent, where it was cancelled, what stamps were used, how it got there and who received it...They want to enjoy the gamut of philately: stamps, postmarks, postal history, everything!"
Although Mr. Foldvary had his tongue firmly planted in cheek when he wrote that, he was right - a stamp collector who becomes a cover collector does have more to enjoy. Ironically the self-adhesives that continue to bedevil stamp collectors may prove to be a windfall for cover collectors.