Professional Stamp Experts

Out In The Universe . . . Stamps

Michael O. Nowlan - October 26, 1999

Stamp collecting is one of the most wonderful and satisfying activities which is enjoyed by countless collectors from around the world. It offers some incredible insights into geography, social studies, economics, and community life. One young collector told me he won a school competition because he remembered the location of an historic building on a Hungarian stamp.

This is the introduction to a new column here on Stamp Universe, that is, if the author is able to keep up the pace of the rigors of a weekly contribution. The purpose of "Out in the Universe . . . Stamps" is to inform, study, and ask questions.

I will attempt to inform from both historical and contemporary points of view. Some classic stamps need to get further exposure. Many have been written about, ad infinitum, but others have been neglected. I will also attempt to study trends or new developments that occur from time to time. YOU, the reader, will ask the questions. Each month, I will use one column space to deal with questions, queries, and observations from the cyberspace audience.

I make no pretension on being mint, never hinged. In fact, I become unhinged quite easily. It is quite possible, therefore, that I will make mistakes. My errors will not be collectors' items, but they will need clarification. They too will be the subject of the monthly forum.

If this sounds too exciting to be true, let's face it, cyberspace is where collecting has gone in the last few years. Some stamp show organizers claim fewer participants go out to shows any more because they get all their satisfaction from the net. They buy, they sell, they swap, they learn right here ate the terminal, just down the hall from the kitchen table. I don't necessarily subscribe to the theory that it has caused a drop in stamp show attendance, but it may have substance. I recently returned from SESCAL (Stamp Exhibition of Southern California) where I had more than one discussion on stamp shows versus the Internet for all stamp hobby needs.

If the Internet is getting so much attention, it is important, therefore, that collectors get a full measure of everything for the hobby. For this reason, Collectors Universe advocates a weekly column on stamps. My editor is very dedicated to spreading the best news, so I hope, with the reader's help, to be able to do that. If there are topics you need information about, please let us know. That way, "Out in the Universe . . . Stamps" will serve its purpose.

A topic that is close to my heart is conditionitis. There are collectors who will accumulate only the best graded, never used, perfect items. How misled they are! I still have a couple of stamps I collected as a child, and I am proud to display them in my album even tough they are not by any stretch of the imagination stamps “near mint.”

A recent new biography, Franklin D. Roosevelt: the Stamp-Collecting President, cites how that very knowledgeable collector made space for all stamps.

One passage is worth repeating: "After FDR's death, many people were surprised to learn that intertwined among the gems of FDR's collections were many stamps that could be referred to as seconds. Poorly centered, badly perforated, thin, creased, and heavily canceled stamps all found a home in FDR's collection."

Conditionitis was not a disease suffered by Roosevelt. Nonetheless, there are many collectors today, who will settle for only perfect condition. One recent advertisement boasts "We sell only the best condition stamps." I love to debate this one! I'll have more.

At the same time, no one should neglect the issues of grading and condition for evaluation purposes. Collectors need to know the basics when they make personal evaluations of their holdings.. Scott, for example, presents three pages of information on the subject in each of its catalogues. Scott also makes a distinction between grade and condition. The former "addresses only centering and cancellation" while the latter "refers to factors other than grade that affect a stamp's desirability." In a future column, I will examine the strengths and weaknesses of conditionitis versus grading and condition

Are there too many new stamps? Are postal authorities taking advantage of their buying public just to make money? These are regular topics wherever collectors meet. How accurate, though, are the claims. The United States Postal Service issues dozens of new stamps every year. That body is now in the home stretch of 150 new issues just for the Millennium. Canada Post Corporation recently released its first ever 20-different-stamp pane along with 64 new stamps for the millennium. Is this excessive? Furthermore, do agencies that produce stamps for many nations create issues and omnibuses for the sake of profit?

This is a side of stamp collecting that needs rational exploration, not one-sided opinion. My views will await your comment.

Are stamp collectors a disgruntled lot? Some readers' opinions pages in the philatelic press would indicate collectors are never satisfied. They appear to be a bunch of complainers. How unfortunate! A hobby that creates so much fun should make people happy 'on top of the world'.

The stamp rarity is an amazing topic. Rarities are not only among the classic stamps of the last century; nor are they only owned by the rich and famous. I have a wonderful story of a modern rarity on a Christmas stamp that could have great significance for collectors of United States stamps. It will fit nicely into the Christmas items over the next few weeks.

What is your most exciting find from a dealer's bourse? Sharing some of these stories with readers of "Out in the Universe . . . Stamps" will serve to illustrate the fun and anticipation that awaits us at a stamp show, auction, or gallery.

This is a fascinating and complex hobby that allows countless opportunities for collector advancement and collection enhancement. In coming weeks, I hope to be able to capitalize on the positives and bring life to those collections that right now need “a spur to prick the sides of their intent.” I won’t ignore the negatives. They too are part of the hobby.

Now, it’s over to you, readers. The net space is yours. Please let us know what you think about and want in this column. See you "out in the universe" next week. Send your questions and comments to

Michael O. Nowlan was born in New Brunswick, Canada where he has lived all his life. He spent over 30 years in the public education system before he retired in 1994. During his years a a teacher, he often freelanced his writing to publications in Canada, the United States, and Great Britain. He has authored 16 books, many of them anthologies for schools and some of his own poetry.

His philatelic writing, which has won several silver medals at both national and international levels, includes a monthly column in Canadian Stamp News, a biweekly column in The Daily Gleaner, and features in American Philatelist, The Canadian Philatelist, and other publications. He has been an avid stamp enthusiast since age 12.

Michael O. Nowlan was born in Chatham, New Brunswick Canada. He grew up on a nearby farm, was educated, and became a teacher. In retirement, he follows his life-long avocation of writing. His credits include 16 books (four books of poems, two children's titles, and anthologies for schools). In recent years, he has written extensively about stamp collecting for CANADIAN STAMP NEWS, GIBBONS INTERNATIONAL STAMP NEWS, and other philatelic publications.

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