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Little pieces of history

Collectors at Pa. stamp show know their stuff

Collectors at Pa. stamp show know their stuff

November 06, 2005|By BONNIE H. BRECHBILL

bonnieb@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -Most stamp collectors collect stamps without envelopes or letters, but some collect letters that predate postage.

Before the first U.S. postage stamp was printed in 1847, the recipient of a letter paid the postage. If he never picked up the letter, someone else could pay the fee and get it.

"People were dying for reading material," stamp dealer Rodney Rodgers said. He displayed an addressed envelope with a cancellation, called a stampless cover, sent from Boston to Taunton, Mass., in 1836.

"People collect these today because of the historical significance" of the contents of the letter, Rodgers said. "I had one from a missionary serving in Hawaii, and it was fascinating."

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Rodgers, who is retired from the U.S. Postal Service, was one of several vendors at the Fall Stamp Expo 2005, sponsored by the Cumberland Valley Philatelic Society at the Four Points Sheraton.

The 45-member group puts on spring and fall one-day shows yearly.

"It gives people a chance to buy stamps oftener locally," member Herb Spomer said. "Fifty to 70 people usually show up for a show like this."

Most vendors were from Maryland and central Pennsylvania.

Rodgers, 62, of New Windsor, Md., attends more than 60 shows a year. When a visitor asked if the $8,000 stamp displayed at his booth was his most valuable, he said, "Oh, heavens no," and quickly pulled out one marked $27,500.

Despite the high prices, Spomer said most people collect for fun.

"To make money, you really have to know what you're doing," Rodgers said. "It takes money to make money. It's labor-intensive to put together a collection. And collections tend to get bulky."

Rodgers, a stamp collector since the age of 5, said that the largest collection he ever saw was at an auction in California.

"There were 5,000 boxes, and it sold for $10 million," Rodgers said. "The owner had put an addition on his house for it."

Spomer, 72, said collecting is "lots of fun. There are 200 different countries you can collect. One-third of them are dead countries - they don't exist the way they once did, such as some African countries and some places in Russia. You can complete a whole country because they don't issue any more stamps."

Some people have topical collections, concentrating on a subject such as birds, flowers, presidents, unicorns or lighthouses. Spomer, a retired Lutheran minister, collects stamps depicting pipe organs.

"There are only about two dozen of those available," he said. "The Philippines has one, and Germany has one with ancient pipe organs."

"There's no wrong way to collect, unless you abuse your stamps," Spomer added. "When I sell these or pass them on to the next generation, they'll be in as good condition as when I got them. They won't be ravaged by moisture or heat."

At Saturday's show, Spomer purchased a Zeppelin stamp for $150 and six mint-condition 1-cent stamps showing Benjamin Franklin for $150.

Stamp dealers and collectors tend to know each other, and at the stamp shows, they "swap stories of what's happening in the stamp market, who died and who bought their stock," Spomer said.

"Prices of really good material are going through the roof," he added.

Rodgers' $27,500 stamp is accompanied by a certificate from an expert in Italy verifying that it is the earliest known use of the stamp, issued in Parma, Italy. It is postmarked Nov. 25, 1859.

The $8,000 stamp is a Great Britain 109A 10-shilling stamp that is cobalt blue. Rodgers said he never had seen this stamp in cobalt blue in 40 years of stamp dealing. A fellow collector and friend who died had 11 of the stamps, the largest holding in the world, Rodgers said.

"Just a few sheets were done with the cobalt ink," Rodgers said. "Ultramarine is the usual color. (Cobalt) is actually a color error."

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