Reminiscences - Part XV
by Michael Rogers
What collector doesn't dream of finding a super rare stamp? It is the winning lottery ticket of philately, bragging rights when stamp collectors get together, though rare doesn't always equate to valuable. Finding a rare stamp means taking nothing for granted, looking through every envelope, watermarking and working with a perf gauge and having fun with our collections. Discoveries can be made on any day. Dealers are overwhelmed with details and often sell bulk lots in which tantalizing surprises can be found.
My first extraordinary find happened not long after leaving John McDaniel's employ in 1976 with only a few hundred dollars nest egg. I'd been working for dealers since junior high school plus trading for my own during college so I knew the ropes. I enjoyed great contacts within the dealer community.
I tagged along with a friend to visit another dealer. He would buy dealer stocks and large collections, disassembling them into more manageable units for sale. He'd just purchased the Betty Roberts' Tampa stamp store stock. As Betty was a crude and abrasive lady, I had always steered clear of her. Then, as now, I shy away from confrontation.
Working with limited means, I had to carefully select what I wanted which was difficult since nothing was priced ahead of time. Most of the material was predictable and easily evaluated, but then!
In a brown envelope, I found an almost complete roll of an Irish stamp, the 1p Map design, perforated on three sides instead of two. I knew right away that it was the recently delisted Scott #105c, a very valuable coil stamp. I knew that I didn't have the funds to buy it so I placed it at the bottom of my stack of selections and wondered if I could work a deal to have it on consignment.
I sat down with the dealer and he tallied my purchases. He called off agreeable prices for each group and finally he opened the Irish coil envelope. He pulled out the Scott catalogue. Seeing the valuable 1940-6 coil listings (#105 and variations) vs the sheet stamp (#107, 10 cents each), he said he could never be that lucky, so it had to be the #107. Then he estimated the number of stamps on the coil as 500. Actually Irish coils conform to the British system of 480 and 960 subjects. They were made from sheets in multiples of 240. This was a nearly complete roll of 930.
His price for the Irish coil was $10!
The seller would have benefited from my knowledge by asking my opinion, for then I would have been honor-bound to tell all. Instead, he reasoned it out, without my input.
Paying for my purchases, trying to look as calm as possible, I went to the car. My friend exclaimed "Michael, you're not breathing!". I exhaled all in one gust "I'm on my way!"
I'd met George Holschauer, the Los Angeles based dean of British Commonwealth philatelists years before and decided to place the coil with him. In a few months, he contacted me with the welcome news that he was sending me $2250.
Years later when I had my stamp shop, I had garnered a reputation of buying pretty much anything that would come in the door. My philosophy was that if someone collected it, someone else would like it. Dealers passing through town would stop by with a collection they had just acquired for a quick flip.
On one of those lazy days when we didn't have any customers in the shop, I started cleaning out the back cabinets. I found a 6" x 9" stockbook of no gum US Washington Franklin definitives blocks with plate numbers. Reaching for the Durland Catalogue of Plate Numbers, I checked out the imperforate offset blocks, finding a very rare #534B block of 4 with top plate number. This doesn't qualify as a plate block which needs six stamps. Even so, it catalogued for several thousand dollars. I have only a dim memory of the dealer from which the stock book came months before.
Best thing was, I found the block during the first week of December, and having a virtually zero cost in it, I was in a position to reward my really good Winter Park Stamp Shop customers with something ultra rare for not much money in the holiday season. My way of saying "thanks". The plate number pair went to an orthopedic surgeon, the two singles elsewhere.
Modern errors abound today but this was not always the case. In the Orlando area, just about every first class coil that is found imperforate is found here.
Three weeks into working for John McDaniel in 1973, I found an imperforate roll of the 6 cent Flag over the White House (Sc 1338A)in a mixed lot. Now while the 8 cent Flag coil is real common, the 6 center is a scarcer fellow. At the time of our discovery, it was only the second or third roll on the market. John sold it to Andy Levitt for $3,000, turned around and gave me $50. (Smile)
Fast forward to 1989, my China/Asia company was then confined to a few rooms over retail shops in Winter Park. Coleen Nagy had just started with us. Besides her accounting duties, she helped out in the mailroom. One day she brought me an imperforate commemorative sheet which had shown up in a postage lot, only that someone had folded and refolded and refolded it. Still, I was able to sell it for a thousand dollars! Remembering how John's $50 bonus rankled, I escorted Coleen to the jewelry shop down the street where she picked out a fine pair of gold earrings.
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