Reminiscences - Part XIV
by Michael Rogers
The Bateman China Accumulation
In 1982, I became a China stamp dealer overnight when I purchased the
Bateman China accumulation. I had a massive inventory of postal history and
stamps from classics to new issues, including rarities and highly
specialized material alongside mountains of the mundane. Though I'd
collected China, nothing could have prepared my quivering nerves from the
exhilaration of spending so much money on material that I had won in
competitive bidding against other dealer and the challenge to market
Early on I ran across a Scandinavian dealer's pocket-sized pricelist listing
every stamp except the rarities. The pricelist ramped up to handbook status
within the 32 pages by including charts and pictures on difficult issues to
catalogue. Inspirational! My pricelist #9 of October 1984 ran to 28 pages,
covering China 1878-1949, Taiwan, Provinces, Occupations & Offices. A
China 1878 5 candarin used cost $7 and a mint $1 red revenue cost $120. I
had plenty of 10 cent items too.
I resolved to hire the best I could. Borrowing from my Winter Park Stamp Shop staff, I had the charming though sometimes irascible Bob Womack. Folks used to say of Bob that he could place his finger on a stamp and tell you the watermark! Willy Dow would commute from Jacksonville a few days a week in 1983. A life long association was made with Joe Cartafalsa beginning in 1983. All good people who helped immensely.
I knew from my days as an employee, helping bring in the home-run, but feeling like an also-ran. The conundrum came with the first employees: how to compensate, over and beyond. It seemed to me a given that folks worked for fair compensation and benefits but ought to share when the business does well. I thought it over, coming up with a profit-sharing plan at year end. Everyone feels like a part-owner and we have a happy crew.
Working with the Bateman material proved daunting. With 20-20 hindsight, I wish that I had developed a talent for Chinese philately slowly so that I would have been better prepared to merchandise the Bateman material. Wouldn't it be a perfect world if we could look in a catalogue for guidance for everything Chinese? Problem is, so much isn't listed in a catalogue, and then there's postal history. An example of one of China's most elusive stamps, the PRC North China "Large 5" was found in a Chicago stamp dealer's nickel box some years ago. As a local, it is not found in Scott. The finder handed it to us for certification and sale by public auction (Yang NC2 $40,000).
I wanted to publish. My thinking was literature for an intermediate collector. I was serving my market: coming up with time-saving catalog correlations, designing album pages, writing philatelic columns, reprinting classic literature, editing great reads. Surely not making money but learning, making friends along the way and paving the way.
As a Caucasian that didn't read Chinese characters, or at the time, have anyone Chinese working by my side, I was having a tough time recognizing Chinese characters to read postmarks. Musing how the Chinese arranged multiple words, I got together with a Chinese exchange student, Yang Jan-Syau. We organized key Chinese cities by the number of strokes in the first character. Many hundreds of cities were chosen, organized by province, then by first character, with Wade-Giles, Pin-Yin and PRC spellings. Jan provided a guide to identify a Chinese character with the seven elements of written strokes. Chinese year numbering is explained. And there's an English-Chinese philatelic dictionary.
Early 1986 we ran off a couple hundred sets of photo copies, distributing them gratis to collectors. Reaction was pretty swift. Loved it, hated it. I'd added Joe Sousa, the former Society of Philatelic Americans executive, to staff for good advice. Joe felt it needed more. Jan had returned to college. Our notion to render the first effort into a book went dormant for months.
One morning on a whim, I phoned in a press release to Linn's, announcing the publication of our philatelic dictionary & handbook. Bounding up the stairs, I excitedly told Joe: "Now we've got the finish it!" And you know what? The finished product was only a week overdue!
The place names could now be found on upgraded bilingual maps found in the rear of the second edition. There are notes on Treaty Ports and a Historic Note of Chinese Provinces. But! We forgot the title page and index.
This second edition sold five thousand copies over the course until 1988's third edition. John Dunn reviewed it for his stamp column in the New York Times Book Review. You'll find worn examples of this long out of print book in the National Postal Museum and philatelic libraries.
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