This page includes The WFSC First Day Cover Collecting: Spotlighted or in Passing columns from the 1996 issue of Across the Fence Post.
January issue No column this issue
I would be willing to bet my last can of beans that there are very few of you who do not have at least a few cacheted first-ca y covers somewhere in your philatelic treasure chests. And, it might be that as you were searching for some long, lost item, one or two of those FDCs crossed your path. You may have asked yourself, "Who fashioned the cachets on these old discolored covers?" Perhaps you noticed a couple of initials or a few squiggles at the bottom of the cachet, which in-creased your wonderment. This is called cachet identification, a problem that continually plagues FDC collectors.
During the classic and neoclassic periods of cachet making (1923 through I939), there were fewer than 50 artists who produced cachets on a regular basis, with about an additional 50 who participated in the field on an occasional basis. As a result, it was not impossible (but still rather complex) to readily identify the makers of cachets produced during the '20s and '30s.
As we get into modern times, we see the proliferation of cachets, and with 500 or more active cachet makers, identification h; ass become D nightmare. It is true that most cachet makers do sign their work, which should make things quite elementary. But, having a bit of an artistic flair, cachet makers tend to extend their artistic endeavors-to their signatures, causing the out-come, all too often to be quite cryptic.
To combat the frustration of cachet identification, several researchers have spent their hobby time studying the peculiarities of cachet makers and have published their findings. One of the pioneers in cachet research was the late Girl Planty In conjunction with Mike Mellone, another research pioneer and early FDC literature publisher, Planty compiled a 1 0-volume catalog titled
The Planty Photo Encyclopedia of First Day Covers. Publication of the first edition began in 1976 and ended in 1984. This entire catalog is being updated. The first six revised volumes are now completed and in current publication.
This catalog is of critical assistance to the collector of early cachets. It documents and displays many pictures of early cacheted FDCs. It includes captions describing the cachets as well as identifying the maker and listing the average market value of each cover. Largely Scott catalog number with a Planty numerical suffix arranges the listings. For example, the number 739-3 would be a cacheted FDC for the 3^ Wisconsin Tercentenary issue of July 7, 1934, having a cachet produced by Fredrick Rogers Rice, a pioneer cachet maker of 1932-40. Thus, the entry is found in the Planty catalog under Scott #739 and is the third cover pictured under that listing.
For cachets mace after the year of 1939, Mike Mellone published a seven-volume catalog with the Planty format slightly modified, but with listings through 1969. This catalog is titled Mellone's Specialized Cachet Catalog of First Day Covers.
Mike Mellone and Barry Newton have also published many companion books, such as The Cachet Identifier of US Cacheted First Day Covers. This publication illustrates the multiple styles that many of the early cachet makers used to sign their cachets.
Another companion book is Mellone's First Cachets, by Hal Ansink and Dr. Richard A. Monty, with assistance by Lois Hamilton, Bill Lloyd, and others. There are well over 7,000 listings in the edition of
Mellone's First Cachets that I have; the latest update likely contains many more. The book lists all of the signatures that were used by a given cachet maker, the date and Scott number for which the first cachet was made, along with notes as to whether a given cachet maker is still active. If not still active, the issue of the maker's last cachet is noted.
Along with the publications already discussed, there are specialized cachet catalogs such as for duck and express mail issues, an A. C. Roessler photo catalog, a George Linn catalog, an Aristocrat catalog, and one for Walter G. Crosby cachets, just to name a few.
As you study cachets, you will become familiar with the style of execution of certain cachet makers and will be able to identify some cachets without looking for a signature. You will also begin to realize that some cachet publishers used several artists. At times, these artists not only made cachets under their publisher's signature, but also under their own. Some cachet makers use multiple signatures - a given signature for a certain type of cachet.
As you can see, cachet identification is indeed a complex task, and books as well as acquaintances with other FDC collectors through such organizations as the American First Day Cover Society are very helpful.
Now, you have my comment. So what's your comment?
March issue No column this issue
"Stamp collecting is my hobby. I don't expect to make any money from it."
How many times have you heard this statement? Perhaps you may have said it yourself; I have, and many times over. Nevertheless, I must confess that I do experience a bit of a thrill, or at least some satisfaction when I learn that an item in my collection has gone up in price above what I paid for it. I must further confess, that when I profess not to want to make any money from my collection, it is usually when I have learned that a recently secured item has dropped in price, usually much below my purchase price.
On the other hand, if one goes into philately strictly as a vehicle of investment, it is very risky. Some say it is about as risky as investing in the precious metals market or in commodities. Perhaps the risks involved in the philatelic market might be considered a blessing in disguise for the true philatelist, the hobbyist. It is these very risks that tend to keep many investors out of the philatelic market, thereby preserving some price stability for the hobbyist.
If you are like many philatelists, your philatelic capital is the surplus not needed for more vital purposes, and some thought must be given to making your purchases as economically as possible. It, therefore, makes a great deal of sense to look for affordable cacheted first-day covers that are appealing to you and at the same time, meet your collecting goals. The law of supply and demand plays an important role in such purchases.
Collecting covers produced by a major high-volume cachet maker can bring some frustration. If the purchase is made directly from the producer or a servicer, one might see the item sell at a greatly reduced price on the secondary market a few months later. If you choose the secondary market as your main source of supply, you may wait a long time to secure those items. This is in addition to expending a great deal of effort performing multiple searches through many dealers' stocks.
Economically, though, it usually is better to wait until those items appear on the secondary market. They often can be found for 25 to 50 percent of their original cost within just six months to a year from the date of issue. This is because most major producers like ArtCraft, Fleetwood, Artmaster, Aristocrat, Colorano, etc., publish in such a large volume.
ArtCraft does not release its production figures, but it has been rumored that they have been known to produce as many as a hundred thou-sand items for one stamp issue. While their art remains very formal and strikingly beautiful, the secondary market holds some great bargains for these items if you are willing to wait.
Fleetwood also does not release its production numbers, but previously reported figures for Artmaster have been 35,000 to 60,000, and 3,500 for Aristocrat. Colorano has reported 9,000 items per issue. These numbers tend to fluctuate widely and should not be considered a static scale.
Of all the major producers listed above, Colorano covers seem to hold their issue price the best, with de-creases of 10 percent or less on the secondary market. They then rebound and appreciate to as much as 50 per-cent above their original issue price in five to seven years after the issue date. It appears that the silk material base and the spectacular coloration of their cachets are very desirable to collectors who have been known to tenaciously hold on to these artistic gems.
A study of the present FDC market finds a brisk sale of recent issues with hand-painted all-over cachets (cachets that fill out the entire face of the cover with the stamp appearing in many different positions on the cover). These hand-painted covers are produced in small numbers (often less than a hundred per issue), but sell for as high as $75 each. Because they are priced so high, very few of them have hit the present secondary market. When they do finally get to this after-market, they may sell for about a third to a half of their original cost. This is because when a collection is liquidated, it often has to be sold at a substantial loss in order to interest - a buyer.
Two cachet makers whose products have proven to have good to spectacular investment value are Collins, and Ham cachets. They are usually offset printed items with hand coloring of high artistic qualities, though produced in relatively small numbers. Collins has reported per issue production numbers of 500, with Ham re-porting 150 to 250 or slightly more.
Two cachet makers of the past who have been known for some spectacular hand-drawn cachets are the late Mae Weigand and the late Dorothy Knapp. Their production numbers are un-known to me at this time, but their art is of very high quality. Knapp's art, however, is a bit more sophisticated than Weigand's and commands a very high premium. The Knapp cachet for Scott #936 (see illustration) was purchased by yours truly in 1976 for $39.95. It has recently been listed at auction for $375.
One can conclude that hand-drawn cachets seem to be the best bet for investment value. The cachet maker, though, has to spend many years acquiring a favorable reputation before this can happen.
I cannot tell any collector which way to go for investment purposes. Thus, if you are a true FDC collector, your best avenue is to consider investment potential as secondary to your basic philatelic interests, and to purchase what you like at prices that your philatelic budget can manage.
Once again you have my comment. So what's your comment?
May/June issue No column this issue
July/August issue No column this issue
September issue No column this issue
_By Hank Schmidt, Mbr., Oshkosh Philatelic Society
Thanks to the numerous local stamp clubs and shows, the opportunity to purchase and trade for popular first-class philatelic material is quite prevalent in the state of Wisconsin. If, however, you happen to be a first-day cover collector, the availability of material is greatly curtailed. Finding more than one or two specialized cover dealers at Wisconsin's shows is rare. This is because the FDC market in the state is soft.
There are means, though, to resolve this adversity, which are not unlike those employed by collectors of other less popular areas of our hobby. Listed below are the methods/sources that I have used with some success.
Specialized cover dealers
The specialized cover dealer at a bourse is always your best source. His merchandise is organized and he knows his stock and market trends. He can share technical knowledge and otter valuable advice. He also is willing to teach the beginning collector. Such a dealer most often uses a fair pricing scale but may not always be the cheapest. Doing business with the specialized dealer is much like doing business with a full-service stockbroker.
Other specialty dealers
Then there is the dealer who specializes in other philatelic merchandise, but has a small stock of covers under the counter. This dealer commonly acquires covers when he buys a philatelic estate or a collection sold intact. The covers were included with the items that he really wanted. Thus, even though a dealer may not have covers displayed at his booth, it is never a mistake to ask if he has some with him.
In this instance, it is you who must have most of the technical knowledge. This type of dealer usually knows little about FDCs and cares even less about them. Since he isn't interested in researching market trends, he may have mistakenly overpriced an item or two. On the other hand, this is where you might be able to pick up some bargains. One might equate such transactions to dealing with a discount stockbroker: bargain prices most of the time, but a bit short on service.
If you are assembling an FDC collection of all issues of one or two cachet makers, you might find a subscription service to be helpful. You send a deposit to the cachet maker or dealer, and your covers are mailed out to you in groups every 30 to 90 days.
Often mere is little or no price advantage as to whether you have your subscription with a servicing dealer or with the actual cachet maker. Most cachet makers try to keep their subscription pricing in line with the dealers they supply. This protects the dealers' profit margins. .4s discussed in my April 1996 column, the original price for high-volume cachets often falls for a few or more years, while the original price of small-volume material seldom de-creases. Thus, if you collect one or two cachet lines, want the convenience of home delivery and don't mind the risk of temporary devaluation, a subscription service is for you.
Mail-bid auctions can be an excellent source for enlarging your collection. If you are on the mailing list of several auction dealers, you will receive their catalogs on a regular basis and will be able to consistently study the market trends of a variety of FDCs. Cachets of little-known artists are sometimes identified in the catalog listings, which can save you consider-able research time and effort. Because auction dealers have a vast source of supply, they might have that rare cover that your years of searching failed to turn up. Then again, you are a competitive buyer, often competing with thousands of other bidders. If you see that elusive prize, you have a chance to obtain it if your bid is high enough. On the downside, that bid usually must be above market price. At times you might luck out and get a bargain. This is quite possible, if the dealer follows the policy of selling to the highest bidder at one increment over the second highest bid (increments are determined by the estimated price listed in the catalog). Auction rules ordinarily are listed in the front of the catalog. By all means, read the rules very carefully. Be mindful that you are usually required to pay extra for handling, shipping and insurance. Also look to see if a buyer's premium is charged. This is an extra fee that the dealer charges to each successful bidder, but does nothing more than put extra bucks in his pocket. It is like a front-end load when you buy shares in some stock mutual funds.
The method I use when calculating a bid is if it is an item of casual interest to me, I bid about 10 percent to 15 percent below the estimated value listed in the catalog, and I am likely to win the item about 50 percent of the time. If it is an item that simply cannot live without, I bid one or two increments over the listed value and I achieve about 90 percent success. As you may have concluded, FDC auctions are not the most economical way to go, but they are a good source of elusive material.
This is only my opinion. So what's your opinion'? •
November issue No column this issue
December issue No column this issue
Latest update: June 12, 2005