Leon's Blog

Short Stories
by Leon Lutje

A Dangerous and Startling Thing...
A humorous introduction to stamp discussion boards.

Welcome to the exciting and educational world of philately. I can see you are well prepared. You have a magnifying glass specially made for looking at stamps, tongs specially made for handling stamps, a lamp with enough candlelight power to light up the Las Vegas strip specially made for lighting stamps, a stamp album costing hundreds of dollars specially made for storing stamps, and a Starbucks triple-double mocha send me to the outer galaxy coffee, specially made for drinking while playing with (oops! I mean examining), your stamps. You have been diligent in your preparations. I certainly hope when you sit down at your desk (of course specially designed for sitting at while dealing with your stamps) you did not forget. . .Stamps!

Unfortunately, unlike collectors of past generations, you have another area in which you must essentially become, if not quite expert, at least proficient to navigate the world of the modern philatelist. Do not be alarmed. I am here to help. Although a dangerous and startling area of our beloved hobby, it can be mastered and when mastered, it is a most enjoyable experience. I am speaking of the, (I cringe as I write), Online Stamp Discussion Board!

Take a few moments to resume normal breathing. Relax and count to ten. We will get through this together. When we are done you will be able to ask, answer and comment with the best of them. Trust me.

As a novice, the first thing you must remember about stamp discussion boards is the simpler the question, the more complicated the answer. The question you ask with the expectation of a precise, uncomplicated answer, will trigger a few diatribes from experts the length of which, in the old days, would bring concerns of pushing your data usage limits. Most do not have data limits these days, however you get my point.

Let’s study an example. Mr. Novice stamp collector has a question. He expectantly posts the question on the discussion board. Any stamp discussion board will suffice. The exchange will go something like this:

NEWSTAMPPERSON1066: Hello! I am new to this forum, and I really love this site. Anyway, my therapist's best friend's cousin just gave me a bazillion stamps. I cannot read them because they are in a foreign language. One of them has a picture of a guy that looks like Worf. Are they Klingon stamps? Which Scott catalog would they be in? I looked at volume 4 but could not find Klingon. Also in volume 5 I could not find Narnia. Are my catalogs too old? My main question though is what color is the cross on U. S. Scott #1016 Red Cross Issue? Thanks in advance for the kind welcome and answer.

Mr. Novice seems to be an amiable enough fellow. At this point we will not address the Klingon or Narnia issues ( no pun intended), let us go right to his question. It is simple enough. Remember there is no such thing as a stupid question. Now, if I was browsing the boards at the time he posted, I would be inclined to give him a grand welcome to the board and site then proceed to give him a simple one word answer. I would be wrong. Never give a simple answer when a fifteen-hundred word response will work as well. Let’s see what happened.

OLDSTAMPPERSON1066: Welcome NEWSTAMPPERSON1066. We are glad to have you on the board and the site. You will find many interesting articles and people in our community as well as great opportunities to ask questions and learn. I am so glad you asked this particular question. It will give an opportunity for others who are in the same quandary a chance to learn. Fortunately, I have studied this problem for over 50 years and believe I have finally found the right answer. Your stamp U. S. Scott #1016 was printed by the esteemed American Banknote, Turnip and Cattle Company. This printer was located in Poy Sippi, Wisconsin and was in business for three months. At the time your stamp was printed the manager of the company was Darwin Kleen, who according to records insisted on being addressed as Mr. Kleen. He was a no nonsense businessman with a Pickwickian physique. His hobbies were trout fishing and cow-tipping. The press operator on your stamp was the famed Al “roll’em out” Brown, a legend to all postal historians. The ink mixer was Gus. Unfortunately Gus was melancholy one day due to the Chicago Cubs being throttled by the St. Louis Cardinals the day before. Thus, Gus had an aversion to the color red and mixed in extra magenta. As I can see by the scan, your stamp has a slight discoloration. This oddity is listed by Scott as U. S. #1016lol and is worth $1,000,000. Or it could be your stamp was sneezed on by a previous owner. I am not sure. Maybe SNEEZEONSTAMPSGUY can answer. Again, welcome to the site.

You might think when you read this answer there is too much information. Well, there is much great information. But our friend OLDSTAMPPERSON1066 did not actually answer the question did he? You will find many discussions start with a question that never get an answer. It makes a discussion board fun, like searching for a rare stamp in a mixture, we are looking for an actual answer in a discussion thread. Let’s see what happens next.

SNEEZEONSTAMPSGUY: Hello NEWSPAMPPERSON1066, and welcome to the club. I am sorry to report you do not have the famed “Gus” variation of Scott 1016. However, I cannot confirm your stamp has been sneezed upon. Could you perhaps get a better scan for us? My inclination is the discoloration was caused by something I have seen too often, Gerber’s beets. Please to not let your children eat near your stamps. I see hundreds a day in my business. I won’t even go into what I saw a stick of black licorice do to a U. S. Scott 292. I had to tell a lady “no, it is not a variation with an extra bull. It is a tiny bit of licorice.” a real nightmare. Again welcome.

Realize this is only an example of the thread. There are over 2456 answers and the thread has been active for three years. Keep in mind the original question, “What color is the cross on the U. S. Scott 1016, Red Cross Issue?”

Now for the other end of the spectrum. Asking questions is a very good way to became well versed in a particular subject. Stamp discussion boards can make the job very easy. Instead of reading tens of volumes on a subject you can simply ask a question, sit back and relax and watch the information pour in. This was the attitude of LEARNSTAMPSTHEEASYWAY. She decided she wanted to become expert on the Washington/Franklin subject. Fair enough. Although a daunting subject enough to make one cringe, LEARNSTAMPSTHEEASYWAY attempted to take a short cut. As would anyone, she expected to be inundated with massive amounts of information on the Washington/Franklin front by simply posting on a discussion board. She wanted to take it easy and not go for it all at once. Here is her post.

LEARNSTAMPSTHEEASYWAY: I know I have been a frequent poster for several years and should know the answer to this question but here goes. Can somebody explain to me why there are so many variations, errors, oddballs and types of the red 2 cent Washington stamps? Thanks

She grabbed a cup of coffee, sat back and waited for the rush. After reading the post concerning the question of the red in red cross, she was expecting mounds of juicy information she could use to impress at her monthly stamp club meeting. Ten minutes later she started to worry. No replies yet. “This is odd,” she thought. This question had given all of the stamp geeks bait and she should be reeling them all in by now. After thirty minutes and no reply she started to panic. After an hour with no replies she was helplessly in anxiety mode. After several more cups of coffee finally there was the blissful ding on her computer letting her know someone had replied. With anticipation she went to the screen.

WASHINGTONFRANKLINEXPERTGUY: Hell, I don’t know. Hope this helps.

This fine lady was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. An expert finally had a flagrant act of honesty and came clean. I am sure this guy could have gone on for pages and pages. He must have attended Experts Anonymous the night before and was feeling drained. In any event the story has a happy ending. Our friend decided to just collect ice hockey and was in stamp heaven.

Another important issue for the novice discussion board participant is terminology. It is essential to have a glossary at your side otherwise you will be confused. I can tell you that I was totally baffled for five days following a subject. I was at a loss until on the fifth day I ran to the glossary and found a perfin is not an adolescent puffin. Go figure.

Here is just a small sampling that will help you get started:

FDC is not Federal Drug Commission
OG is not an abbreviation of OMG
MNH is not mint not honey
FBI is not fine brilliant imperforate

This ends our lesson one of discussion boards. Go post and have some fun and learn something.

Michel, Yvert, Gibbons and Scott
The topsy-turvy world of stamp catalogues

The other day my wife Bunny Marti, (I may explain someday and what you are thinking is probably correct, but that was years ago in a galaxy far, far away), laid my breakfast before me in an unusually sour attitude and then proceeded to sob. Unusual in that the sour attitude is always coupled with a snarl as opposed to a sob. Instinctively I asked what was the matter.

“You are planning to divorce me!” was her response. Not wanting to be cut-off from my meager allowance which is taken out of my own pension, and occasionally needing a proper meal, I assure you I had no such intention. “What on earth would cause you to make such a shocking statement?” I asked, or more to the point, answered.

“That note to the law firm.” Note? Law firm? I honestly was totally baffled.
“I saw it on your desk while I was dusting, you brute?”
“Angel, I have not written anything of the kind.”
“But I saw it!” Her voice was nearing a feve
r pitch so I thought reasoning would come in handy.
“Okay, what did the note say?” Knowing there was
no note I was painting her in a corner. It takes years of practice.
“Well, it doesn’t say anything,, but it is addressed.”
Keeping my paint brush

in my hand I asked “To whom then is it addressed?”
“I told you, the law firm.”
“Cup-cake, what law firm?”
“I didn’t memorize it, let me go get the note and show you.”

Now, we were getting somewhere. While she was away, I ate my breakfast as if it were my last. Returning, with the sobs replaced with snarls, she threw a piece of paper at me. I recognized my own hand writing and recalled my doodle of the night before. On the top of the paper, in neat block letters I had written “Michel, Yvert, Gibbons and Scott.”

“Pumpkin, this is not a law firm. I was just day dreaming of some new catalogs. These are companies who publish stamp catalogs.” Knowing she was in a sour mood I was reluctant to mention stamps, but I had no choice.
“I thought you bought stamps from those meetings you go to and on the Internet.” She was softening a bit.
“Oh, Darling, they are not sales-catalogs. They are informational catalogs.”
“Informational? How much information can there be about stamps?” Oddly, at this statement a vision came to my mind of hundreds of thousands of philatelists all over the world hearing her, several of their heads exploding sort of like a scene from the movie Scanners.

Where does one start? I am a relative novice collector, therefore I decided to stick with basics. “In these catalogs every stamp which has ever been issued by a governmental postal authority is given a number for identification purposes, my love.”
“So, what you are telling me is these four gentlemen got together and gave each stamp a number and then put the number in a catalog.”
“Well not quite,. They did not collaborate in any way. They each have their own number and their own catalog.”
“You expect me to believe that? Is this the best story you can come up with? It’s a law firm. Admit it”

Now the conversation was getting out of hand. I decided to calm her down and use the old stand-by keep it simple and teach by illustration. I invited her to sit down at the kitchen table, thus assuring she was out of reach of the rolling pin for I knew this discussion could go terribly wrong and get worse before it got better. Surprisingly she calmly sat down. Yet mild sobbing had returned

I began, “Let us suppose we are at Papa Looch’s and have ordered a pizza. When our pizza arrives Mr. Scott walks by and exclaims, ‘That is a fine looking pizza I will call it Pizza #1. May I take a picture? I will label the picture A1’ We are so proud Mr. Scott has noticed our pizza we wait to eat. Then Mr. Michel walks by. He also notices our pizza and declares it is a fine pizza. ‘I will call your pizza #1-8’ You see sugar baby our pizza is cut into eight slices. Mr. Michel gave each of our slices it’s own number. Mr. Scott walks by again returning from the rest-room for instance and we inform him what Mr. Michel has done. Mr. Scott removes a Sherlockian magnifying glass from his pocket and after careful deliberation declares our slices of pizza indeed differ from each other in very minute ways. One has oddly shaped Canadian bacon, another has two more olives than the rest, for example. He then states he will not change his numbering system, our pizza will remain #1. However, as the slices differ he will designate each slice by a letter. Slice 1a, 1b, 1c…etc. Now Mr. Scott and Mr. Michel have different ways of stating the same thing, therefore they each must have their own catalog.

Mr. Gibbons stops by our table asking for directions to the nearest Chip-shop showing no interest in our pizza. Mr. Yvert must be in another part of town. You see how simple it is?”
“I have never heard of anything so silly in my life,” my wife says while eyeing the rolling pin. “A pizza is a pizza, a slice is a slice, an olive is an olive and Canadian bacon is really ham. It is not rocket science. A stamp is a stamp!”
Now I was eyeing the rolling pin. “A stamp is not a stamp. There are hundreds of thousands of them and they are all for the most part different. And there must be a way of identifying them.”

We were now approaching full blown “heated argument’ stage.

“I can identify them just by looking at them” Bunny Marti shouted. “There is a red one, a blue one and a green one” She was smug thinking she had won the day. “You could not be more wrong smarty pants,” I ventured, “They are not red, blue and green. According to Scott they are carmine, ultramarine and emerald.”

It is amazing how quickly a sixty-two year old woman can move, even if she qualifies for handicap license plates. The fore mentioned rolling pin thankfully missed my head by a fraction of an inch, the kitchen window was not as fortunate. Also unfortunately I responded in the worst way possible. “Now look at what you have done! Do you know how many stamps I could buy with the money we will have to spend on a new window?”
“I am very sorry. That was a rash and childish way to react.” she said. Wow! I am going to play this for all it is worth, I thought. She reached into her purse and said, “ Honey, really I am sorry. We should not argue over this petty stuff. Here, I’ll give you $10 and you can go buy a couple of those new catalogs if you want. My treat.”

This put me in a quandary. I knew ten bucks would not even put a decent down payment on a new catalog and also if she ever found out how much those things actually cost, I would be in for beans and toast the rest of my life, which might not be long even though the rolling pin was no longer in play, the cast iron frying pan was handy. In hindsight I should have taken the ten dollars and completed my Germany 2000 year set. “Keep the money, It is more important to me to make you understand the importance of these catalogs.” I tried to sound noble, however I don’t think I got there. “Please sit down and let’s discuss this rationally.” Again, I was being noble, however I think my voice cracked. I did not want to be accused of yodeling at her.

We sat down at the kitchen table again amiably. “Now, sweets cheeks,” I resumed, “not only do these catalogs have a number for every stamp, they also have a picture of the stamps and inform of certain characteristics of the various stamps. For instance, the date of issue, perforations, precise color, and value of the stamp both mint and used and of course their assigned number.”

“Value? The value of a stamp is printed right on it. Any idiot can see, “ she answered.

“Not that value, that is called the face value and is only a concern of the postal entity and not the collector. The value listed in the catalog is the value to the collector. Let me give you an example. Assume we have a stamp from Knickerstein which depicts a violin. We look in the catalog which lists stamps of Knickerstein and find it is from the year 1987 was issued on the 12 of June, is perfed 12X14, is brown, ultramarine, rose and black. It is lithographed and has a mint never hinged value of five dollars and a used value of one dollar.” I responded. Half way through my answer I was hanging off a precipice but I couldn’t help myself.

“You need to volunteer somewhere to get out more. All of this stamp collecting is concerning me. You are losing your mind.” Now I was painting myself in a corner. She continued, “For the sake of argument,” (like we needed an excuse or a sake for that matter to argue) “let’s say I understand all of this rubbish. Suppose you needed a violin stamp from Knickerstein for a set you are collecting. You go to a store, or Internet or wherever you go, and you see one for five dollars and buy the blasted thing.”

Quickly I interrupted, “Oh goodness no! I would never pay $5 for that stamp. One never pays catalog value for a stamp,” I responded proudly. Thinking I would gain some much needed “argument” points by being so frugal.

“People do not pay what the catalog says a stamp should sell for?” “No darling.”

“People spend money for these catalogs and then proceed to ignore the information in them?”
“Quite right my dear, I could not have said it better myself.”
“You are insane, stamp collectors are insane, and the only sane ones are the people who make all of these catalogs which have the same information simply put in different ways and make hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Knowing I was beat. I simply asked “What’s for lunch?”

If Bunny Marti had my sense of humor she would have answered “A Canadian Bluenose with Original Gum.” But, she just walked away shaking her head. Down the hall which is lined by the way, with a hundred Mason jars filled with buttons and thimbles. .

Bringing Madness to the Order
Leon's Quest for a Specialized Album

Things were getting out of hand. After returning to the hobby I had been acquiring mixtures, packets, lots, kilo ware and grab-bags like a squirrel preparing for winter. There was too much stuff. Wading through the mess, I realized I needed to bring some sort of sanity or at least order to the madness. The core of the problem was I was fickle. Every morning I would choose a different color, theme, denomination, country or type of stamp to specialize in collecting. After a couple of months . . . well, you get the picture. Therefore, one day in frustration I decided to get some advice or direction from my favorite source, my lovely wife Bunny Marti.

“Darling,” I ventured, “I am in a quandary.”

“What?” she asked over the din of the mixer, “You want to do the laundry?”

“No sweetheart, I said I was in a quandary.”

“Oh. Is that all? I thought you wanted to be useful.”

“I truly need your advice.”

“Should have thought of that thirty-five years ago,” she muttered. “What is the problem?”

“I simply have too many stamps.”

I am not certain what she said in answer however, I believe it started with “no” and ended with “Sherlock.”

“I need you to help me decide what field of stamps I should concentrate on collecting,” I stated.

“Oh, just choose something. I am sure you will make the right decision. By the way, how’s the stock in Enron coming along?”

I could see this was going nowhere; therefore I repaired to my den and tried to concentrate. While thumbing through a Scott Vol. 3, the solution hit me right between the eyes. You see, I have always had a fascination for German film and actors. I discovered not only did Germany have a few sets of stamps honoring German film stars; three of my favorites were in the same set from the year 2000. Any country cool enough to have Goldfinger on a stamp would have my devotion. Germany I would collect and by-golly the year 2000 would be my starting point. I few mouse clicks later I had a complete set of MNH Germany 2000 on the way. Of course the next morning I opened a box lot and found a Canadian Flying Squid stamp which caught my eye. No! Control yourself I thought, Germany is it, end of story.

Six days later a package came in the mail. It was very thin but bigger than a standard letter and it was sort of light brownish and a few US commemoratives were attached for postage.

“What’s this?” Bunny Marti asked.

“Those are my new stamps from Germany.”

“I didn’t know James Dean was German?” she asked surprised.

“Not those stamps silly. I mean the ones inside.”

“This isn’t from Germany, it’s from Kansas.”

“The dealer is from Kansas. The stamps inside are brand new and from Germany?

“If you say so, but how did a person in Kansas get brand new stamps from Germany?”

“Well, they probably bought them from another dealer.”

“In Kansas?” she asked apprehensively.

“I don’t know where they got them. And I don’t particularly care as long as they didn’t print them, themselves.”

“I am not an expert at stamps. But it seems to me if you want to buy new stamps from Germany the best place to start would be, oh, I don’t know, what about GERMANY?”

“Germany, does not sell these anymore. They are from 2000 and are fifteen years old. The German post office does not have them in stock. Please just give me the package so I can store it safely.”

“Aren’t you going to open it?”

The look of shock I gave her actually made her step back. She has only stepped back like this one other time. (Perhaps another story in the future.)

“Open it? Are you mad? Of course I am not going to open it.”

“You mean to tell me you have been following the mail carrier around for the last three days and she finally delivers what you want and you are not even going to see what’s in the package? What if there is only a note in there saying, “Ha-ha. I fooled you, all the best from Kansas.”

“I have to wait until I find a place to mount them. I do not want to expose them to any danger or mischief until I decide where they should go.”

“They are postage stamps,” replied Bunny Marti, “They are designed to be stuck on envelopes which are subject to innumerable dangers and mischief, not to mention snow, rain, or gloom of night. Look! The James Dean triplets made it all the way from Kansas in fine shape, except for one poor Dean who has “Tonganoxie” stamped on his forehead.”

I answered, “I read on a discussion board once, exposure can be damaging to stamps. I even read on another discussion thread, some people emit a sort of fume or ray from their eyes which can cause a stamp to disintegrate very quickly. I wish to take no chances.”

“Well, if it was on the internet it must be true, right? She retorted. “Ridiculous.”

After a fine lunch and a cursory lawn mow, I was once again sitting at my desk examining the envelope, snuggly protecting my stamps. I had read Germans were very serious about their stamp collecting. I had no desire to collect German stamps in a half-hearted manner; therefore I decided to be very serious as well about my new founded German collection. I wondered if the Germans were so very serious about their collections, perhaps there was a German company which made stamp album pages on which to affix my stamps. Wouldn’t you know it, there is! I contemplated contacting the company directly; you know, sort of go all out and buy the pages direct from Germany. However, as my German is limited to “Tag der Briefmarke” which I suppose would have been enough in a pinch to get my point across, I thought better. So I called a company based in the United States, who sells such items as I required. I wanted to buy this item by phone as opposed to the internet, just for old times’ sake. The conversation went as follows.

“Thank-you for calling X”, (the company shall remain nameless,) “your place for every stamp collecting need. How may I direct your call?”

“Yes, I am looking to purchase a stamp album please.”

“Very good sir, hold a moment while I direct your call.”

Holding the moment, I waited. Not long, only a matter of seconds.

“Hello, this is (insert name here). How may I help you?”

“I am looking to purchase a stamp album for Germany from the company in Germany who makes stamp albums for German stamps.” Looking back, I suppose this was a bit excessive.

“Very good sir, are there any specifics such as year supplement, type of pages or color?

“No,” I answered, “I want it all. If I have any German stamp, I want a place to stick it.”

“Great! Would you like our specially made for our pages album covers?”


“Fine, would you want our specially made slip covers in which to store our specially made album covers?”


“Hold a moment sir while I calculate our special price.”

Once again holding the moment, the friendly salesperson came back on the line and quoted me a price.

Oddly enough, the first thing going through my mind after hearing their special price was thankfulness I was not on speakerphone and Bunny Marti listening. Otherwise, she certainly would have yanked the phone out of the wall as you see in the movies. Understandably, my thought was there was some sort of mistake.

“I am sorry,” was my reply “Perhaps you misunderstand. I am not looking to rent a castle in Bavaria for the summer. I simply want a few pieces of paper on which to stick my stamps.” Forty-five minutes later, it was decided the only thing my monthly philatelic budget could afford was a standard Germany 2000 year supplement consisting of nine pages. No cover, no slipcase, no frills included. Five days later a package arrived. This time there were no commemorative stamps attached. It was simply a cold, heartless, computer sticker which looked like it came from a future century. I had only ordered nine pages yet the package was roughly the size of second base. No longer concerned my eyes were emitting a ray which would destroy anything, I opened the package. Inside was another package or large envelope with an illustration of a, I suppose German father, bending over the shoulder of a, I suppose German adolescent, and both were examining stamps having smiles on their faces. I mean the father and young boy; I do not know what the stamps had on their faces. Inside of the huge envelope where my nine pages from a German company, who make German album pages in Germany which would hold my 2000 German year set. I did not remove them. I assumed they would be sufficient for my needs as the nine pages together were approximately the thickness of a piece of Texas toast. I was assured they were acid free, whatever that means. I suppose it means there is no acid in the paper. Frankly, I never knew there was acid in any paper. Remembering all of the thousands upon thousands of pieces of paper I must have touched in my sixty-three years, I instinctively looked at my fingertips to see if there was any indication of some sort of burning, however I found none.

My pages sit on the bookshelf. They are waiting for me to get the courage, knowledge and funds I need to acquire mounts. Every once in a while I take them out of the outer package and gaze fondly at the smiling German father and child. On the table where the young boy is sitting and at which the father is leaning, there is an entire album filled with pages which I assume are all from the same company as my pages. I daydream and imagine what the father does for a living as to provide this fortunate lad with such lofty philatelic paraphernalia. Yet another disclaimer. Bunny Marti wishes me to inform you that she would never utter such vulgarities ascribed to her in the “no/Sherlock” reference. I concur. At least not if there was any danger of it being heard by someone of consequence. As I do not inhabit consequential status I stand by my conjecture.

First Show, Bourse, PEX
Great Expectations

The date had finally arrived. I had been anticipating this historic event for a few months. After retiring and taking up stamp collecting after several decades hiatus I was as giddy as could be. I was going to attend my first stamp show, bourse, PEX or whatever. It was early spring and a fine sunshiny day, although a little on the chilly side. But, after all this is Wisconsin and such conditions are to be expected in late March. In the course of my life I have attended many trade shows. Automobile shows, electronic shows, the odd sports card show and of course state and county fairs. (I will neither confirm nor deny that I ever attended Comic-Con.) I was pumped. Though I had never been to a stamp show or bourse or PEX or whatever I imagined it would be similar to other such events that I have attended. Visions of bunting, snazzy table cloths, snack bars, even the occasional dance routine at the booth of some national distributor were strolling through my head. Whistling a tune I dressed in my old-geezer outfit which consisted of a shirt, tie and sweater with slacks and white loafers. Passing the hall mirror there was a split-second when I wondered how I had morphed from Burt Reynolds to Ozzie Nelson, but it soon passed. I gave Bunny Marti a peck on the cheeked and was off. I had asked her if she wanted to go with me, but you can imagine the answer, so alone I went destination BAYPEX2015.

Driving northward on Highway 41 again my mind wandered to what awaited me at BAYPEX2015. I was somewhat concerned with parking and the crowd I might run into; however that was small potatoes compared to the enjoyment and deals I might encounter. Besides, it was bound to be no worse than attending a Packer game certainly. As I exited the highway I did not notice a particularly crowded off ramp or any street with more than the usual amount of Saturday afternoon traffic. I thought this quite odd. The parking lot of the venue was also sparsely used. No matter I was early. The show had only been open for three hours. Perhaps the crowd would come later, when the best deals would be available from dealers who did not relish the thought of one more box to pack up. Turns out I was half right.

As I walked into the church cafeteria I was quite shocked. The first thing I noticed to my left as I walked through the door, was a small folding table with five or six young boys rummaging through a huge pile of on-paper stamps as if the doors had just opened at Walmart on Black Friday. For a moment I wondered if I should join them. After all there were a few common items I needed to fill some album spaces. I rightly surmised that this was not at place for an old geezer. I mean that particular table. Other than that, the whole place was old geezer territory. Glancing around I noticed fifty or so folding tables with people sitting on folding chairs mostly on both sides of the tables rummaging through countless boxes of covers and the correspondence some of them contained. . I imagined they were all looking for the once in a lifetime priceless find. Something along the lines of, “Dear Mrs. Lincoln, Please accept these complimentary tickets. Bring Abe; he is bound to enjoy the evening. Signed The Management of Ford’s Theater.” Or perhaps, “Dear George, You go east, I will go west. Meet you in Moscow. Signed, Douglas.” “Dear Mr. Boleyn, I love your daughter because she has such a good head on her shoulders, Signed Henry.” I mean there were literally thousands and thousands of covers. As I am not a cover collector my first feeling was disappointment. Well, also I was miffed because there was no bunting, no snazzy table cloths or snack bar and forget about a dance routine.

As I started to stroll leisurely down an aisle, I noticed that I was being watched by everyone. Then it dawned on me. All of the people that were sitting at the tables rummaging through the covers, we not attendees, they were exhibitors! There was no one at any of the other tables. These folks were watching to see if I would stop at their table. I was the only attendee. Well, at the time. I am sure there were several people who attended at one time or another, but at this particular time, I and the few kids attacking the pile were the total of PEX-goers. My vision of being pampered and encouraged to examine the wares of some exhibitor with the same demeanor and attire as the servant staff from Downton Abby, quickly went the way of the self-destructing stamp.

I turned the corner near the area where the children on a weekday must have put their lunch trays to be collected and started walking up the other way. Some of the gentleman who were proprietors of the tables eyed me suspiciously. They wondered “Who’s the geezer with the cane? I have never seen him at any of the shows.” Had I been able to read their thoughts I would have corrected their mistake concerning the cane. I do not have a cane I have a walking stick. Geesh!

Having been in attendance for five minutes, I was ready to sneak my way to the door before one of these hawkers tried to sell me the Brooklyn Bridge. I didn’t make it. Standing behind the second to the last set of tables was a man who nearly defies description. He was eyeing me as I walked by. He was also masticating a huge sub sandwich which looked like it consisted only of every kind of meat imaginable. You know, one of those “Heart Stopper” specials. However surely there was mayonnaise as well, as I deduced from the dollop hanging from the corner of his mouth. He was dressed in a T-shirt and jeans. I assumed he was also a classic car aficionado as printed on his T-shirt was a caricature of a buggy-eyed troll driving a 1957 Corvette, similar to a cartoon one would have seen in a 1962 issue of Hot Rod magazine. Printed on the shirt was also the exhortation “Wrap Your Ass in Fiberglass.”

The gentleman addressed me while continuing to masticate. “Mmhhsghphggg?”

Rightly discerning that he meant, “Whadya lookin for?” I froze. What was I going to say? I was not actually looking for anything except to avoid being hit by a flying pickle from his sandwich. I said the first thing that came to mind. It was said hopping to get me away as I was sure that he would roll his eyes and shake his head. So my answer was, “Well sir, I am looking for a Baden #7. Preferably a forgery.”

To my horror, he motioned me to sit down. What was I getting myself into? I sat down and he turned around and walked toward the table behind him which was lined with approximately thirty very large, worn leather albums without benefit of labeling of any kind. He stuck the sub in his mouth holding it there, grabbed one of the albums, and plopped it down on the table in front of me indicating to take a look inside. Before me was an album which looked like a prop from a Norman Rockwell painting. It was worn and beat like a century old catcher‘s mitt. I opened it carefully fearing it would turn to dust in my hands, and was in for quite another shock.

On the first page, neatly mounted and protected were five, count-em five Penny Blacks. The queen properly staring sideways as if in embarrassment. I looked up at the gentleman, I no longer use that term for him lightly, and he smiled down at me. Thankfully he was finished with his sandwich, or who knows what I might have seen when he smiled. I turned to the next page in expectation and was not disappointed. There calling my name like one of Homer’s Sirens, was a completed set of Trans-Mississippi’s, yes 292 included. In honesty they were not gem-mint but they were together, I had never seen that in person. Remember this is the first show I had ever attended. Two and a half hours later I closed the book and sighed.

“Well whadya-think?” He asked.

“I think I need to win the lottery.” I answered.

“Naaaaaa.” He said. “I’ll make you a good deal.”

“I am sure you will. But my problem is a need to eat.”

“Well, I can tell you where you can get a good sub sandwich.”

“Not now! I mean the rest of my life.”

The short version is that I purchased, a Penny Black for $85.00 which I thought was a fairly good deal and even if it is not, at least I can say I have one. The moral of course is that you cannot judge a book by its cover or I suppose in philately you cannot judge a cover by the book it’s in. Even though my first stamp show was not exactly what I had expected, it was entertaining and educational. And I did rush home with my Penny Black and ran into the house excited to tell Bunny Marti what I discovered and purchased. How that exchange went is a story for another time. Suffice to say that as Ricky Ricardo would say, I had some “’splainin’” to do.

Disclaimer. This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. In other words, I did attend BAYPEX2015, and it was my first stamp show, yet there was no person I saw eating a sub sandwich. But there could have been. I seriously had a great time.

Cats on Stamps: Not What You Think

Topical collectors are the sanest people in the philatelic universe. I do not make this statement lightly nor with unmovable conviction but rather because all of the evidence points to its truth. Case in point. A few years ago I started a serious Germany collection with the year 2000. Naturally by my third ten thousand stamp kilo-ware purchase I became if not bored with Germany at least the fragrance had left the rose. Wanting not to upset the German speaking public I hopped over to the eastern kingdom and dove into Austria.

My reasoning was Austria has a manageable amount of stamps to its credit. Most of which are quite handsome in my opinion and there are few errors, odd balls and freaks and very few stamps that are a pain in the proverbial backside with the exception of course of the 1948-52 costume set which according to Netto has more errors, blotches and spots than a Marlins half inning. The varnish bars on the classics do not count because they are relatively easy to spot.

So off I went down the mountain with lederhosen and beer stein in hand. Doing quite well after a year and a half with my limited budget I ran into a brick wall. So far I had never spent more than twenty-five bucks on any one stamp and most of my pages were not showing many blank spots. Then I came face to face with the dreaded Dollfuss mourning issue. Enough said. Look it up. A regular guy, with a regular pension, eating regular food with a wife who thinks stamp collecting is for lunatics, cannot possible sneak a Dollfuss mourning issue into the house. Hence topicals.

At first I thought cattle/bulls/cows would be fun. Well, all of you USA experts know there was a brick wall to hit on that score as well. Then I had an epiphany. While my wife and I are not what you would call crazy cat people, we are certainly on the watch list. We lost our favorite two a few years ago, Jeeves and Mr. Belvedere. We still have Jarvis, Amelia, Mr. Darcy and D'artagnan. Amelia and D'artagnan are long hairs. More on that later. My thought was if I started collecting cats on stamps as a topical specialist Bunny Marti (my wife not another cat) could not possibly object to my passion for stamps any longer. More on this later as well.

It is said that cats are interested in whatever you are interested in. Any of you who share your life with a cat or cats knows this to be true. Mr. Darcy for instance watches television with the concentration of a cheetah choosing which wildebeest to pick out of the herd. He is fascinated with hockey. He instinctively stands during the national anthem whether Canadian or United States. Also if you have a cat you can understand when I say “cats on stamps” I mean literally cats on stamps.

Deny all you want but if you have a cat and you are playing with, whoops I mean examining your stamps, eventually those two worlds will collide. “But Leon, I am very careful when my collection is out.” Sure you are. And tell me what difference does it make to your cat that you are careful? They laugh at careful. Short of sending them to another planet they will ultimately have victory over your careful. Again, deny if you want but you know from personal experience I am right.

As I stated D'artagnan is a long hair. Cousin It category of long hair. He is a rescue we adopted a couple of years ago, special needs as well. He was abandoned outdoors in the middle of winter during a severe cold snap and was frostbitten. When the shelter picked him up there was little chance of his survival. He is a Main Coon and half is tail, ears, and lips are gone. I say this so that you might understand how much of the run of the house he enjoys. I gave up long ago trying to keep him off of the keyboard. I just stop what I am writing and patiently wait until he decides to move on.

One fine day my Austria Franz Josef Birthday Jubilee Issue set arrived. I had saved for months. I even agreed to let Bunny Marti buy a new sewing machine. Needless to say I wanted this set very badly. The Scott Catalog value was around nine hundred for a used set. I was carefully transferring them one at a time from the stock sheet they arrived in to their own permanent home mounts so that I could in turn mount them in my Schaubek album. I had No. 142 laying on a foam pad on my desk for less than a nanosecond. You guessed it. This is precisely the time D'artagnan decided he was interested in Franz Josef as well. He plopped down right on top of the Emperor and started purring. I screamed. Bunny Marti came running into my office. “What happened?” she exclaimed. “D'artagnan is laying on Franz Josef, get him outta here.” “Who is Franz Josef and where do you want me to take him?” was Bunny's response. “The cat, get the cat outta here.”

Bunny Marti carefully picked up D'artagnan saying, “Come on D'artagnan, daddy is in a bad mood.” I then took a couple of seconds to resume normal breathing and get back to safely disposing of my stamps when I noticed Franz Josef was gone. I looked on the floor, under the album, on my jeans, he was nowhere in sight. I ran out of the room screaming “Where is the cat, where did you put him?” “I put him out in the kennel.” Bunny answered. I ran out to the kennel and picked up D'artagnan. Sure enough static electricity had done its job and there was Emperor Franz Josef Scott No. 142 lake and olive green stuck in D'artagnan's long hair right near his butt. In my haste I had forgotten my tongs, therefore I picked up the cat and starting running back into my office holding him away from me like carrying a baby with a dirty diaper. I held him over my desk and starting blowing on the stamp and sure enough it floated down peacefully and safely onto my desk. I am thankful for so many things in my life, but I am most thankful that no-one has a video of this scene. I mean it would have gone viral in a heartbeat.

Long story short I now collect only topicals and my limit is a buck a stamp. Ice Hockey. There is so much less stress. And my cats? Well, if they get a goalie stuck to their butt its not the end of the world.

Cross the Finish Line

It is apparent given most of the comments, articles and observations I have both heard and made over the past several years, stamp collectors are an aging bunch. The standard story line is after years of working, perhaps raising families and other social conventions, retirement hits and the once gung-ho “take the hill boys,” type of personality finds themselves staring out of the window, eating dinner at four and going to bed at five-thirty.

This is where we cue the youthful passion for stamp collecting re-immersion. There is one slight problem though. As a youthful collector completing a year, country, or topical set was well within range. As a geezer, not so much. Unless of course unlimited funds are involved and you want to spend a few hours a day hitting “buy it now.”

Do not believe it is impossible. Using the internet at lightning speeds to communicate, collecting is a whole lot faster than it was even twenty odd years ago. Who remembers playing fantasy sports by snail mail? That's right you youngsters it was the way it was done. It could take weeks not minutes to set your lineup. Crazy man.

Instead of spending years and years to complete, these suggestions I will give you can be completed in days of not hours. You can finally inform your friends and family, “Hey I'm done.” Now, as most savvy readers will have realized by now, I am talking about topicals. Granted they are a small lot, but hey it counts. Have some fun with these. As far as I can figure out each of these suggestions have less then ten stamps. I mean serious postal authorities, not some greedy country that is not even in control of a genuine postal service who prints billions of stamps with mushrooms to satisfy topical collectors all over the world. Cinderella and poster stamps do not count either because Lord knows when one of those will pop up. So here we go, enjoy.

ACCOUNTANTS: Cuba Scott 850. Okay your done. Not only do you get an accountant you also get his second occupation, that of a revolutionary. Two for one. I am not sure whether he was an accountant who was a revolutionary or a revolutionary accountant. In any event Raul Gomez Garcia congratulations on making it on a stamp.

AEROBICS: Aland Islands Scott 143. Unlike accountants you have a choice here. There are approximately five stamps of which Aland Islands has two. My favorite is from 1998 and shows three young ladies in what appears to be a victory fist pump pose. Aerobics is not as popular as it was in the seventies and eighties but I am sure it is still a thing. Now I am wondering what happened to Richard Simmons.

DARTS: In all honesty I would have thought there would be more darts on stamps, but alas there are only three I could find. The standout in this group is from Yemen which shows a man throwing a dart from about two feet away from the board. It commemorates the 1964 Olympic games. I am not a huge summer Olympics fan therefore I was somewhat taken aback that Olympic dart throwing was even a thing.

GAMBLING: Once again I would have thought there would be many, many more stamps in this category given its popularity. There are around ten. This does not include horse racing having a tidy representation of its own. My favorite in the gambling category is Spain. This stamp was issued in 2013 and shows the drum the balls are located in and a hand holding a ping pong ball with the number 250. My first thought was “250? How many numbers do they have in that thing?” I wondered with that many choices if anyone had ever won it. Well, with a little investigation and translation I realized the stamp was celebrating 250 years of the state lottery. This proves the adage the difference between Europeans and Americans is Europeans think a hundred miles is a long way and Americans think a hundred years is a long time.

OPTICIANS: Given the importance of eyesight in philately there should be more of these. There is less than ten. The standout is German Federal Republic simi-postal Scott B643 from 1986. It shows the standard “then and now” illustration of a couple of guys from the eighteenth century looking at a notebook alongside of a modern optometrists office with a patient being examined. The pastel green background makes this stamp stand out handsomely.

PHONECARDS: Remember those? They were very cool as I recall, and by golly Yugoslavia agrees with me and honored the phonecard in 1991 with its very own stamp. Scott 2052a . Again, I am far from a philatelic expert but this stamp is the only one I could find. It depicts an old phones' hand device along with a phone card and what I perceive to be coins you no longer need because of your handy phone card. Perhaps they are not coins but in my mind that is the way I perceive them. Good job Yugoslavia.

TOKENS: Chile has both of these. One 1988 commemorates agriculture and the other 1996 commemorates visits by the kings of Sweden. At first glance most would think these showed simply coins, but no they are tokens and are in a category all by themselves. I suppose there are not many tokens in use for anything nowadays. I am not sure, I don't get out much.

UNDERGARMENTS: Well ahem, is nothing sacred? Apparently not. Antiqua and Bermuda, Belgium, Italy (twice) and the Netherlands (a whopping six times) have felt the need to commemorate undergarments on official postage stamps. Well not necessarily commemorate undergarments but they feature prominently in the design. The winner is Antigua and Bermuda which shows a guy lying on his stomach wearing nothing but bikini underwear having his back tattooed. Just when you thought you had seen it all in philately you run across something like this. Wow.

Any finally, WORLD RECORDS. I almost did not put this in because it exceeds my limit of 10 with 12. But, again because I would have thought there would be many, many more I included it for a finale. The United Kingdom has the most with 8. Far and away though the best World Record stamps is from Palestine. It commemorates and I quote, ”the most people running 100 meters in a 12 hour relay is 2400. . .” I assume that each person ran 100 meters. Not 2400 people ran a total of 100 meters. In any event you learn something new everyday.

This is why philately rocks.

Rare is a Relative Term

Unfortunately words mean different things to different people. An obvious point. Yet how many complications occur daily because people who interact are at cross-purposes because of a simple word? Millions, billions? It is time to take the bull by the horns (more about bulls and cattle later) in our stamp community and put a stop to the confusion.

We will begin with the simple word “rare.” Expunge barbecue and steak out of your mind. We are talking about the other “rare.” A favorite definition of the word comes from the Cambridge Dictionary, I do not wish to alienate Oxonians but Cambridge Blue scores the try here. In any event on with the definition of “rare.” Again the Cambridge Dictionary has a very simple answer. “not common and therefore sometimes valuable.” You can't get much simpler than this.

All of us philatelists have spent thousands and thousands of hours since the advent of the internet, monitoring stamps for sale. There are hundreds of places we can go to accomplish this. In the interest of time and sanity, we will choose just the one. The biggest, most popular and arguably the loosest when it comes to adjectives. No names will be forthcoming. If you are not sure which site I mean perhaps you should look up the world “clueless.”

Perhaps this has never happened to you but I can assure you it happens to relative newcomers like me constantly. You are scrolling through the stamps for sale on this particular website of your favorite country and an offer catches your eye. An example would be, “Austria 1921 Postage Due Scott #J102 Nachmarke Overprint RARE. Starting bid $1500, No Reserve.” Your mind wonders, “hey, I have seen this stamp before.” Calmly you rummage through your Austrian hoard and discover you have approximately 100 of the described stamps. Now, your heart starts to beat a little faster. You grab your ten year old Scott Catalogue all of the time thinking what color your new Bugatti will be. Scott tells you this stamps is about a quarter in value. There must be some mistake! Scott must be wrong. So you grab your twenty-five year old Netto Specialized you bought to make you feel like some sort of expert. In the Netto you find the stamp and because you cannot read German you are not really sure how much the stamp is worth but there are not many numbers and no zeros after it, you assume correctly the stamp is not worth much.

The person who posted this stamp for sale must have made some sort of mistake. Perhaps they have the very first one off the press or one the defunct Hapsburg's were given as a parting gift. You simply can't figure it out. Sellers on the internet would never knowingly try to confuse and misinform potential buyers, would they? As you are trying to learn the ins and outs of philately you are tempted to send the seller a message asking them what their definition of “rare” is. You are very sure though the answer would be something like, “I have this one, you don't therefore it is rare.”

Now for the other end of the spectrum. US Scott 292 is without a doubt one of the most striking stamps ever issued by any country. I know this is simply my opinion but I am not alone. Let me go out on a philatelic limb here. Regardless of how few were printed relative to the other stamps in the Trans-Mississippi series, or how many were destroyed or whatever, US Scott 292 is not by any form of the definition, rare. As I write this there are approximately 188 of them for sale on the website we discussed earlier, let alone the hundreds of other sites which are selling them. Not rare folks. Valuable? Yes of course, but simply not rare. In comparison our buddy Austria J102 from the illustration has only 9 on offer. Still not rare but you see my point.

I am of the opinion every US Scott 292 owned is for sale. How else could so many of them be offered? Don't even get me started on the Penny Black. I mean who doesn't have one of those? Well, we have run out of time for today kids. Next time perhaps we can delve into a true definition of the word “error.” Until then happy stamping trails.