This page includes The First Day Cover Collecting: Spotlighted or in Passing columns from the 2002 issue of Across the Fence Post.
January issue No column this issue
_By Hank Schmidt, Mbr. Oshkosh Philatelic Society
This is a continuation of the discussion on servicing your own first-day covers that appeared in the November 2001 ATFP.
In that installment, I had mainly focused on the servicing of larger numbers of FDCs. If desired, you can send in just a single cover for servicing by the U.S. Postal Service. I do not, however, recommend it. By sending two or more, you increase your chances of getting at least one good first-day cancel.
For small groups of covers, I send them in a No. 7 heavy-duty protective envelope, again marked "Do Not Bend." Remember to have the package hand-canceled at your local post office. The Washington Stamp Exchange* sells an excellent No. 7 heavy-duty envelope in lots of 100 or more at a nominal price. It is the same envelope the company uses when mailing its Aircraft FDCs.
Again, be sure that all of your covers are prepared according to the suggestions found in my November 2001 article. Include a SASE of the same quality used to submit your covers, but be aware that the Postal Service does not have to use your SASE. Nevertheless, you can always hope that they will use it, and there is a good chance that this will happen.
Regardless of the number of covers dispatched for servicing, I emphatically recommend that you enclose a cover letter. The letter should contain a request that the covers be returned in your SASE to protect them from being canceled again when they enter the mail stream.
Now is also the time to request that all of your covers be hand-catcalled with the full first-day cancel that includes the slogan "First Day of Issue," as well as any decorative art that the cancel might contain. If you do not specify the fall cancel, there is always the chance that your covers will be returned with just a bull's-eye cancel. Of course, if the bull's-eye is all that you want, you can make that request, too.
If you've had good service in the past, you might include a thank-you and express your hope that such service will continue. While I have listed several items that should be included in the cover letter, I caution you not to make it too long. Short, typed letters are more apt to be read than long windy ones. Remember the rules of courtesy, and use the usual business format with the inside address being the same as the one used on your protective envelope (see November 2001 article).
Be prepared to affix your own stamps. For several years now, the Postal Service has been discouraging requests to have its staff affix stamps. The USPS claims it is not cost effective and they no longer have the personnel to continue this service. By franking your own covers, you can be assured that the stamps will be applied carefully and without any deviations.
Yes, you may make combo covers, that is, apply additional stamps that may be related to the subject of the first-day stamp. The additional stamps must be mint. They must also have been issued prior to your first-day stamp. Foreign stamps, even if they are mint, are frowned upon, except in the case of joint issues. Seals may be used if they are a part of the cachet. While many collectors have used seals as part of the franking and gotten away with it, there is always the chance that a regulation-oriented postal worker will put all of your covers in the mail stream where they will receive only the current machine cancel. As a result, your creations will be rendered useless as FDCs.
First, last, and always, the total face value of the stamps used on your FDCs must equal the total of the current first-class postage rate for at least one ounce. This also holds true for hand-back service at a first-day ceremony site.
Again, I have not said it all. There will be one more installment on this subject.
*The Washington Press, 2 Vreeland Rd., Florham Park, NJ 07932, 973-966-0001, www.washpress.com.
March issue No column this issue
By Hank Schmidt Mbr. Oshkosh Philatelic Society
This is a continuation of the discussion on servicing your own first-day covers that appeared in the November 2001 and February 2002 issues of ATFP.
The most frustrating occurrence with regard to servicing your own covers is-when they are not returned. While it is true that the U.S. Postal Service will replace lost covers, they won't be the same as your originals. Replacement covers usually come from large-volume cachet maker stock. Thus, you can consider your creations lost forever. On rare occasions, the Postal Service will allow you to submit another group of covers after the 30-day cancellation deadline.
Consider making several photocopies of one of your covers before the entire batch is submitted for cancellation. Should a loss occur, you would have a photocopy to send in as an aid to postal workers in identifying your items.
If you suspect that your covers are lost, it is good practice to wait about four weeks after the cancellation's 30-day grace period. Then submit a complaint to: Stamp Fulfillment Service, Cancellation Services, P.O. Box 499992, Kansas City, MO 64144-9992. Be sure to explain your complaint clearly and enclose the photocopy of your cachet, if you have one.
Some collectors have been led to believe that the Postal Service destroys their hand stamp cancels and dies after the 30 days. Nothing can be further from the truth as it is possible to obtain permission to submit covers for up to 90 days after the first day. Many commercial cachet makers have this privilege. Moreover, anyone can obtain this privilege by sending a letter of request to: Manager of Operations, Philatelic Sales Fulfillment Center, P.O. Box 449992, Kansas City, MO 64144-9992. Within the letter, indicate the approximate number of covers that you intend to submit each time. No fee is required.
If you choose to request the 90-day grace period, the Postal Service will consider you a professional cachet maker. To submit more than 50 covers, you are expected to include an invoice form that the Postal Service provides. It asks for information about the number of covers submitted, your name, address, etc., in addition to the required fees. The form and covers are sent together in one package.
Like collectors, registered cachet makers receive the first 50 cancels without charge. After that, a 50 fee is charged for each additional cancel. Take note that I stated "each cancel" and not each cover. This means that if you want more than one cancel or strike on one cover, the fee could be 10^ or more. Covers submitted with full sheets or booklet panes require numerous strikes so that all of the stamps receive some part of the cancel.
The Postal Service also requests a Priority Mail fee to return your covers. If you have to submit any fees, a postal money order made out to the U.S. Postal Service works the best because it is always as good as cash. Remember that Priority Mail is not insured and insurance fees are extra. To acquire insurance, request it on the invoice or within your cover letter, if no invoice is required.
If you have registered with the Postal Service as a cachet maker, you may submit a maximum of 50 covers without any paperwork, but a Priority Mail fee for the return is still required. Of course, you should always identify yourself as a registered cachet maker.
What may seem illogical to most of us is that the Postal Service does not restrict the number of cancels an individual can obtain on a hand-back at a first-day ceremony site. Nevertheless, local postal officials may impose limits if there are long lines waiting for the cancel.
Please be cautioned again that the quality of cancels attained at first-day ceremonies is usually poorer than those applied at the Philatelic Sales Fulfillment Center. Postal personnel at first-day sites usually have little or no experience on how to position and/or apply first-day cancels -
To learn more about servicing your own FDCs, I suggest that you review Philatelic Policy and Procedure No. 21 in the Postal Service's Domestic Mail Manual. This policy is also reproduced on pages 533-548 in Linn's World Stamp Almanac, Millennium Edition.
Now that I have finally had my full say on this subject, what do you have to say?
May/June issue No column this issue
July/August issue No column this issue
September issue No column this issue
October issue No column this issue
By Hank Schmidt, Mbr., Oshkosh Philatelic Society
Have you tried bidding for first-day covers on the Internet? Although somewhat limited, most of my experiences with this resource have been positive. They've all occurred in the past two years and all with eBay. Through bidding on eBay, I have been able to make numerous additions to my FDC collection without any great cost or frustration. I also have found that FDC costs are often 10 percent to 50 percent lower than those of mail-bid auctions.
While eBay has tried its best to ensure that all of its transactions are free of fraud, there still are risks involved. Sometimes errors in listing FDC lots occur because the sellers are not knowledgeable about the items they are offering. I've seen covers that are quite prevalent on the market listed at exorbitant prices only because they are old. Then again, I've seen some very attractive items listed at extremely low prices. Thus, it pays for a bidder to be somewhat acquainted with FDC market trends. To get a sense of these trends, watch the items on eBay that peak your interest as they are bid up and then note the final bids. Another method of checking the market is to bid with the specialized FDC auction houses and then ask for a list of prices realized. These companies will often send the list, even if you are unsuccessful in winning any lots.
Another caution to consider is that there are many computer-generated add-on cachets out there. These covers are sometimes over-priced and may be offered as timely applied cachets. On FDCs older than 30 years, one can detect computer-generated add-ons by the fact that their colors are multiple and brilliant but images often have rather fuzzy outer edges. Because of the expense, press-printed cachets of yesteryear seldom have more than three colors. The exception, of course, is - hand-colored cachets where multiple colors are not unusual.
The cacheted postal card (Scott UX52) pictured here was easy to detect as an add-on. This is because the patrol boat model in the cachet did not come into service with the Coast Guard until about 1998. The postal card, however, was issued 33 years ago. There are a great number of non-cacheted first-day canceled postal cards available for purchase by individuals who are interested in adding computer-generated graphics.
There is nothing wrong with collecting covers with add-on cachets as long as you remember that they usually command lower prices and have slower appreciation rates.
A clear picture (scan) should be available with each online auction cover listing. Since uploading a scan takes more effort, some sellers do not bother to include them with their offerings. It is, however, possible to contact the seller via eBay to ask for a scan. If you don't receive compliance and are still interested in the cover, ask the seller for a guarantee that you can return the cover for a full refund (including shipping and handling charges) if it does not meet your expectations.
Ebay does offer some protection against fraud. There is a type of insurance available that will insure you up to $200 minus a service fee of $25 for lost items or items that the seller does not send after receiving your payment.
Furthermore, should you receive an item that you feel does not meet the description posted on eBay, you can complain to eBay and they will attempt to help you and the seller reach a mutual agreement. If eBay feels that you have been defrauded and the seller does not offer a satisfactory settlement, eBay might cancel his registration, thereby ending his relationship with the auction site.
Another procedure that tends to keep eBay vendors honest is the site's feedback system. For every transaction, the bidder as well as the seller can post a short statement evaluating how well the seller or bidder performed during the sale. As you post feedback with eBay, you have the opportunity to classify transactions as positive, neutral, or negative. You also have a space of 80 characters to leave a comment. If you receive feedback from another participant and find it disagreeable, you can leave an 80-character response that will be posted immediately under the initial feedback comment.
All eBay participants automatically have a feedback page. A bidder, therefore, has the opportunity to check the feedback of a seller. In doing so, remember that sellers are more likely to pick up negative or neutral feedbacks than buyers. This is because buyers tend to be more dissatisfied with sellers than sellers are with their customers.
If you've had some experience with bidding on the Internet, you undoubtedly have been outbid on a very desirable item. Have you tried sniping as a remedy? While some collectors consider this practice rather ethically gray, it is one way to overcome the frustration of being outbid. Sniping entails entering a bid within the last two or three minutes of the auction that is about $10 or higher than the current high bid. If your bid is considerably higher than the current high bid, the eBay computer will enter it at one step above the previous high bid. With only a short time to go in the auction, chances of having to pay your maximum are slight.
There is always a danger, though, that because of an overloaded server, your last-minute bid may not get entered before the auction ends. Also, is sniping the ethical or fair thing to do? You will have to make up your own mind about that. I will comment no further on the matter.
Buyers on eBay are not charged any fees by the auction site. They pay only the cost of the winning bid and shipping and handling charges. The seller pays all eBay fees and commissions. So give Internet bidding a try. It can be a pleasant experience.
I can say no more because I have said it all. Now let's hear what you have to say.
December issue No column this issue