Professional Stamp Experts

Out in the Universe -- On Prize Covers and Where to Find Them

Michael O. Nowlan - December 13, 1999

This column was prompted by two factors. One is my excitement in searching dealer dollar boxes at stamp shows, and the other is the recurring "finds" often reported in the philatelic press.

It's becoming obvious that one of the chief features at stamp shows is going to be the dealer discard or dollar boxes. Many serious collectors, overlook such boxes because they mistakenly believe that they never contain anything but junk material. However, more collectors are beginning to realize that those boxes often contain valuable or special material. These boxes advertise everything for $1, sometimes even 50 cents, but they are the place to shop, not only for bargains, but for prizes.

Many times I have enlarged my collection by spending time looking closely at the dealers' special offerings. In most cases, the material has been culled to where there is not a great deal of value. Nonetheless, dealers do make mistakes. They can overlook the prize you needed to complete a set, or to expand a growing collection.

It's also true that the regular dealer boxes often contain underpriced material, chiefly because the dealer is not fully aware of the value of the item he has in his possession. Some of my finds have been discovered in such material. In fact, I count a very special cover among these.

One columnist I read recently, emphasized the importance of "reading up on your favorite area of the stamp hobby." He pointed out how he had added three covers to his collection because he was knowledgeable on the topic in question. He also said that, "two of the three dealers I purchased these covers from" were not informed on the value or rarity of the material.

The main ingredient then for getting the best for less, is to know your philatelic material. In so many instances, collectors, even dealers, have too little knowledge about rarity factors, celebrities from whom a letter was sent, or to whom it was addressed. This stresses what I said in a previous column about a strong philatelic bookshelf for research.

A most recent exciting cover discovery focuses on the Harding Schermack cover, which got wide attention in the philatelic press. That cover looked like many others with a similar stamp, but close scrutiny of the type, revealed it was one of five known covers for that particular stamp. Two bidders at an Ivy & Mader Auction on September 27-28 had done their homework, dueling it out with the winner , who paid $10,000 plus a 15% buyer's fee. That was quite a return for the original owner who bought the cover for $1 in a dealer's box some years ago.

Stories about great dealer box finds, makes going to stamp shows, not only an attraction, but a worthwhile pursuit. Most of us won't find items that will produce a profit of 10,000 percent or more, but we will find those precious, satisfying little items if we're diligent. I rarely return from a stamp show without one of those personal treasures.

Some of my finds include a first flight that took all of two dollars of my hard earned cash, but its catalogue value is easily in the $35 to $50 range. Fredericton, New Brunswick has three known flag cancels, but each of them is elusive; one of them is very scarce, almost rare. I was fortunate to get the 1917 Fredericton flag on a postcard. The cancellation is not an excellent one, but it is clearly the 1917 flag. The 1948 Fredericton flags are more easily obtained, but the 1952, which were just used between June 1 and 5 of that year are a challenge.

My extra special dealer box 'steal' occurred in Grove City, Ohio at COLOLPEX '98. Looking through a number of covers, I suddenly came across one that practically jumped at me and said "Quick, take me home!"

It was not the stamp, nor was it the cancellation. It was the return address. The sender was the Reverend William Morriscy, a pioneer Roman Catholic priest at a small rural parish in northeastern New Brunswick Canada. I had done research on Father Morriscy for a project some years previously, so the cover had a special importance to me. The priest was as well known for his physical cures and for his spiritual ones because he often prescribed herbal medicines with great success. When the New Brunswick Medical Society was formed near the end of the last century, he was permitted to carry on his work even though he was not a medical doctor. The parish where he was pastor is now a National Historic Site, and the parish hall is named in his memory. My cover cost me another $2, but in actual value, it could demand $100 or more.

One more example of my finds was the Post Office Acknowledgment of Receipt for registered mail postal card. My card, which required a 10-cent stamp, is franked with the 10-cent 1935 Canada Royal Canadian Mounted Police stamp (Scott 223). What a find for my RCMP collection! No price was indicated, so the dealer turned it over and over in his hands and finally said "50 cents." I saw a similar item in a dealer's shop for $35 two weeks later.

Do you have a great dealer box find? This column would like to feature some of the exceptional finds that readers have come across. They may not be $1,000 items for the auction block, but they support a feature of the hobby that means so much to you. Let's hear it for special covers whose cost was a mere dollar or two, but whose value, cash or historic, is many, many times greater, and to those who want to share it on "OUT IN THE UNIVERSE". I will be watching, so don't forget! Go for those dealer $1 cover boxes.

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 he was 12 years old.

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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