Saturday, September 15, 2012

Collecting on a Shoestring 2

Experienced collectors always say that one should always purchase and collect the best available stamp or cover available. But always remember that most normal people have a restricted budget.

Some of these “experts” then proceed to do the exact opposite by collecting rather tatty, torn, water stained or partially burned items. These damaged items are collectable crash or accident mail and are the survivors of plane, train or ship accidents. Items from some of the more famous accidents such as the Hindenburg crash/fire are highly sought after. These are stories in themselves and take in researching the causes of the accident, who were involved in the accident, why were they there, was there a special stamp or cancel for the journey and so on.

What about the mail that drops through our letter box? If it is like anything like the mail that drops through mine, stamps are rare. Most of the items have their carriage paid either by meter or PPI (Post Paid Impression). So, at first glance, these envelopes can be dropped straight in to the great grey receptacle. However, take a closer look at the envelopes as there may be a strange story behind each of these dull items.

Postal operations add marks which assist in getting the item from sender to recipient and by “reading” these markings, one can build up a picture of the route taken. The difficulty arises from developing the skills to do so.

Metered mail, in the UK, receives either a red or blue inked impression giving the rate paid by the sender. In the impression, one gets a date stamp, possibly a slogan and there is a serial number identifying the machine and even the model!

Coding marks applied to automate the sorting of mail can through light on why the envelope may have been delayed, which machine was used to code it and where, date and time information and even an unique identifier for that item of mail. With some older processed items it may actually be possible from records to identify the person on the coding desk.

Postmarks have long been seen as the quickest and easiest way to track a mail item. The sending office puts a postmark cancelling the stamp. Sometimes intermediate offices may also apply a cancel mark and the receiving office may also have added the mark too.

Back to basic stamp collecting. Mint stamps appear to be promoted as the way to collect. These stamps should automatically be in the best condition since they are obtained direct from source and not subsequently used and abused by the postal service. They also make a nice display without those “nasty black smudgy cancels” to spoil the aesthetics.

First Day Covers (FDCs) are more bulky but are a very easy method of getting the stamps used with a clear cancel that also documents the first day of use of the stamps. However, these days, many FDCs are not first day as such. Philatelic bureaux prepare and cancel covers in advance of the issue to meet the prospective orders. In the UK, at least, there are about half a dozen Special Handstamp Centres (SHCs) which accept first day items up to a couple of weeks after the day of issue to allow for the “vagaries of the post”. In addition, these centres offer a range of special cancels which have relevance to the stamp issue and not just the place of posting.

Used stamps are exactly what they appear to be. They have been used to prepay the postage of an item. They have weathered the “hardships” of the postal services and received markings en route. Worst of all are the stamps attacked by the over zealous postie with a biro. This totally devalues the stamps as being collectable but some collectors do actually add such items to their collection as complete envelopes to show what can go wrong.

Collectors soak these stamps off the envelope and dry using blotting paper. However, self adhesive stamps which have become more popular over the last decade tend not to be able to be removed from the envelope by soaking and the best way to deal with them is to cut round the stamp. If there is a clear cancel then cut around the stamp and cancel.

So to finish this entry, it is possible to piece together a story from the envelope and how it passed through the systems. This can add to the story given by the image on the stamp.

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