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Along with post office creativity, which does what it can to catch the eye with sparkly stamps (such as the Austrian Swarovski's Crystal World from 2004), odd in shape (taking the example from Tonga’s gold foil map from 1964 or its fun-to-see banana issue from 1969) and made from interesting materials (such as the paper cork stamp from Portugal from 2007), postal authorities have tried to use technology in their efforts to boost sales.
If you check out a stamp catalogue, you notice a gap between Austria’s December 1937 “Rose and Zodiac Signs” issue (picture to the right) and the overprinted stamp from 1945 marking the country’s liberation from the Nazis. Differently from other occupied territories, one cannot find locally issues stamps from these 8 years.
The occupation of Poland, for instance, had the Generalgouvernement (General Government) issues from 1939. Böhmen und Mähren (Bohemia and Moravia) issues marked the invasion of Chechoslovakia the same way overprinted German “Ostland” were issued in the eastern territories of Belarus, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, “Ukraine” and “Luxembourg” overprints also used on German Reich stamps on those countries. Other areas received similar treatment. Austria, however, was a special case.
WWII issues from Bohemia and Moravia, Poland and the Eastern Front
German troops entered Austria on the 12th of March of 1938 and in Vienna two days later. Rather than an invasion, it was rather considered an annexation (in German called Anschluss), given the cultural similarities and fulfilling Hitler’s dream of ‘a greater Germany’. The nature of junction perhaps explains why that country was treated differently, and the reason Austrians stamps actually ceased to exist.
I have written a while ago on how I welcome innovation initiatives by post offices. At the very least, they render me a smile when I see them in a letter waiting for me in my letter box. Or I actually would, were they used in common mail. Although entertaining, they are unfortunately rarely noticed by common individuals, usually not made available for sale in most post offices, especially in the country side - and when available, their usage is not commonly recommended by post office clerks even when their postal rate makes them absolutely a fine alternative to whatever common issue they have at great numbers. In the end, they are seldom used in mail and are only purchased by collectors who know what the clerk is hiding in the deepest part of his/her stamp drawer. The result is a staggering increase in the price of these stamps a couple of years later, when one searches for them at a dealer's shop.
Although this results in very happy collectors and dealers who used their knowledge to fetch these pieces right at issue day, the promotion of the hobby suffers enormously from it.
I showed a couple of such Swiss issues to non-collectors to see their reaction. The 2004 commemorative “Swiss wood” made of actual wood and the 2000 NABA St. Gallen featuring an embroidery typical from that region received an “oh, that’s pretty cool” from my friends, followed by their fingers passing on the surface trying to understand their material. Their face value was 5chf, meaning only useful for postage of big letters (35,3x25cm), or standard envelopes weighing more than 51 grams sent by priority mail abroad. The result is that the first almost quadrupled in value 9 years later, and the second costed 12 chf in 2013.
Philatelists love errors on stamps. Every one heard about the inverted Jenny. What about varieties, though? What is actually the line between error and variety?
I believe in many cases there is a thin line between both. Known errors may significantly increase the value of a particular stamp, while variations would not. Well known errors are usually listed in specialized catalogues, which provides us with great information on what to look for. Many of the listed errors, however, are not so grotesque like the Inverted Jenny example, but rather come in the form of missing lines and displaced colours.
That is where things actually get complicated. Some stamps series present greater varieties than others. The Swiss Standing Helvetia series, for instance, is very rich on colour tones. It is also not uncommon to find pieces where the perforation touches or even slightly cuts the design. The question then becomes how big does the variation to the norm have to be to be considered an error?
I was recently presented with boxes of my uncle’s stamps – he had given up the hobby decades ago, and decided they should find a new home. Different countries and themes in mixed conditions, at times found in album pages, sometimes as bundles in envelopes and some lucky ones in old stock books. While sorting out the material, I came across a couple of curiosities I found worth sharing.
M.S.A. 7 Swiss soldier poster stamp
Soldier stamps (Soldatenmarken) are not so difficult to come across but are unfortunately not included in common catalogues (like the Zumstein Swiss Catalogue). They were first issued during the First World War and have no denominator. They were successfully sold by the army and the proceedings were quite important to support the soldier’s efforts of keeping the Swiss borders safe.
Once in a philatelic shop I was looking for a couple of items – one of them a penny black– when the lady who was helping me out said unfortunately there was only one left. It happened to be a very ugly one as well, very badly cut in the margins, hinged, and the cancellation covered up the piece very badly. Also interesting was that the listed price for it, a stamp that does not even have a very high catalogue price to begin with, was 30 Dollars. She saw my face and was very apologetic. I ended up buying if for 10 until I could find a better piece.
It is common knowledge that space fillers are sold by 5-10% of their catalogue value. This is a broad concept an it does also depend on the overall condition of the piece and gravity of the damage(s), added to the will of the seller to sell and the will of the buyer to buy.
After the imperforated Sitting Helvetia Series (nicknamed ‘Strubel’, reference to a popular children’s book character, due to Helvetia’s laurels crown looking like messy hair), the Swiss Post office first launched its perforated version in 1862. These are specifically rich collection series, due to the richness of variation to be encountered: apart from numerous colour shades of each piece, some may present silk threads (even two are possible), while others none at all. The two first sets were printed on white paper, while the 1881 issues were printed in paper with small fibers (granite paper).
I could not find the reason for the launch of the perforated version, but the bad printing quality of its predecessor may have been one motivation, as the new versions presented richer details and Helvetia’s crown problem was fixed. Still, engraved printing allowed excess of ink which could alter the background of the stamp or even allow from additional frame lines from the excess ink.
Zr no. 32/ Mi no. 24 in numerous shades
How do we define what a complete stamp collection is? Some may argue that it would mean having every stamp listed in a catalogue for a given country, topic or period. If so, which catalogue to follow, given that catalogues differ? Also, would that include all varieties that specific catalogue lists and both mint and used, or just one of them, or a mix of both is acceptable? Perhaps a complete collection would be filling up every space of a given album.
Most collectors spend time looking at various items, studying them and noting that many stamps possess unique features , colour and shades variations, minor errors or varieties (or even very noticeable ones not listed), different paper thickness, a range of perforations, an even greater range of cancellations, and the list goes on.
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