Saturday, September 22, 2012

Collecting on a Shoestring 4: Luck Finds

The basic rule to remember when buying for your collection is not to spend more than you can afford. There is no point in bankrupting yourself to obtain that special item.

Most beginners start by building a general collection usually with packet stamps and items from incoming mail. However, once one as decided to specialise then packet stamps rarely fill the gaps. Finding local stamp dealers and spotting adverts for stamp fairs give one access to a wide range of stock. Talking to these dealers and cultivating a relationship can pay dividends. They see you as a potential client and, as such, may keep an eye on potential stock which may be in your area of study. They are also a good source of advice on your collection.
Many dealers keep a general stock but often they specialise in one or two areas. If they do not stock your speciality, they maybe able to suggest someone who does. They may also know of stamp clubs/philatelic societies in the local area who may also help you find material and information to help with one’s collecting area.

It is often useful to have some sort of checklist of what you have and what you are looking for. One country collections are easy where one can just use a one country catalogue or a database or excel listing.

Dealers present material for sale I stock books, packets or even loose sheets that have been obtained from breaking up other collections. They may also have a general “junk” box which all sorts of odds end up in. These odds, again, may be from old collections, job lots from offices getting rid of old correspondence, material that is slow to move or even envelopes received by the dealer as correspondence. Many dealers may even have trays full of postcards ordered either by location or subject.

Auction catalogues are also produced by a number of dealers and organisations. These may help you to find elusive items. Visiting a dealer or fair is no guarantee of finding elusive items though sometimes one does have a bit of luck.

On one occasion, I went to the Scottish Philatelic Congress meeting at Stirling. An exhibition/competition was run in association with the Congress and the material was on display. I was particularly interested in a couple of frames which showed the use of Transorma operator idents on Dutch envelopes in the late 1920s to early 1930s.

The Transorma was the first successful sorting machine. Operators keyed in a code which diverted the item to a particular box. An identification character or characters were stamped on the envelope, usually in red, to indicate who the operator of the machine was.

I came away from those frames very impressed and thinking that there was no way I was going to find even one item from this period. So I started going round the dealers’ stalls. On one stall I was fortunate to find one of these envelopes. It is the only one that I have ever found.

As can be seen, there is a line of red type lettering down the centre of the envelope. These were printed on the envelope as it was pushed past an inked roller identifying the operator. More modern versions had single letters, numbers or double letters.

This postcard, from 1960. has a red “D” next to Connan’s Quay in the address. This letter is the ident applied by the operator of one of the Transorma’s that were installed at Brighton between 1935 and 1967ish. These markings are relatively common on postcards from Brighton (Sussex) found at fairs. It should be noted that there are about 110 varieties of these marks from Brighton and some are exceptionally rare with only one copy reported. However, a representative collection may be produced on a restricted budget. I haven’t erased the dealer’s price from the card but it does indicate the typical price of such items in the 1980s. Typically, the dealer’s prices for these cards were based on the better understood price of the postcard rather than the Transorma mark.

Circa 1978, a “new” dealer was setting up close to where I was living. The shop was a bit dark but that was expected given the area. He has since, become more affluent with a shop in the city centre. On one occasion, this dealer purchased a quantity of stock from a bank that was clearing out old storerooms. He was selling the material off at 50p per envelope for Victorian material. It doesn’t seem expensive today but the equivalent of Jobseekers at that time was £6 per week. Students were no better off with the full grant for those living at home being around £13 per week to cover transport, books, clothing, food, etc. I did manage to afford a few items to put away.

One such item was a pre-stamp letter from Edinburgh to Hadington in 1808 (above and below). Of note is that the letter was its own envelope folded and sealed with wax. There was an enclosure at one time which, I assume, was a copy of a letter from a Mr Falconer regarding what appears, from what is present, a problem over a debt. This particular letter is of relatively minor matters historically but it is a survivor and gives a snapshot of a problem in someone’s life. 

Look at the quality of James Dundas' handwriting compared to the 1960s example or even an example from today. One can see how fluid and graceful the lettering is in 1808. There is still some in the 1960s hand but... I will leave you to make your own conclusions over the quality of a handwritten example from today. There are other items out there which document more important events. Maybe looking through a dealer’s stock you might find such a gem. 

Looking back from today's perspective, I wish that I had bought more but that brings us back to the start of this item – never spend more than what you can afford.

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