Reminiscences - Part XVII
by Michael Rogers
Winter Park Stamp Shop
I’d opened Winter Park Stamp Shop in mid
1978 on tony Park Avenue in Winter Park, using much of my start-up
capitalization on fixtures. I could not afford to pay even a part time
employee for the first six months. Three months into running the store, I
came down with an eye infection in both of my eyes. I remember trying to
turn off the store’s alarm, squinting through the bandages! There was a
clause in the lease where if the store was not open "during regular work
days" I would in effect lose the lease. I knew I could trust my customers to
pay the correct amount, even if I couldn’t verify what they were choosing.
1978-81 were the best years to start
a stamp shop because U.S. stamp prices were climbing and we sold more U.S.
than anything else. Back then stamps could be included in self directed
Individual Retirement Accounts; President Reagan would discontinue the
practice in the early 1980s.
I had the right attitude for a start-up: Any inventory
other than the 1932 to date that had to be carried every day was given a
shelf life of two to three months. Over time the stock grew but we didn’t
have the luxury of allowing unusual stamps and postal history to sit. A
philatelic trade magazine opined that the traditional stamp dealer turned
over his stock 12% of the value yearly; I must have been setting records
meeting my goals of 300%-400% per annum. Much better a smaller profit and
selling it then letting material gather dust.
Occasionally we would do appraisals. One sunny day, a
lady set an older album in front of me requesting a written appraisal of a
family stamp collection that she had inherited. Much attention had been paid
to the US portion while there was scarcely any worldwide stamps at all.
I was stunned at the sight of complete unused sets of the
1893 Columbian and 1898 Trans-Mississippi sets. If that wasn’t enough, on
the same page as the Trans-Miss’s was a complete 1895 1 cent to $5 set.
Going through the US, I saw an unused 1847 5 cent, classics, set of
Zeppelins and lots of other goodies! All blazing unused stamps with as fresh
colors as just issued.
Though she’d requested an appraisal for insurance, I
asked her if she’d consider selling the album. She thought about it and said
she had a family friend who was a collector; he’d decide. So I was to come
up with an offer. Then it got interesting.
I realized every stamp was stuck to the page like a rock.
So I carefully cut the 1 cent Columbian, still on paper, away from the rest
of the page. Then I filled a small bowl of water and placed the papered
Columbian in it.
Now I’m not a chemist but apparently whoever adhered
these precious stamps into the album wasn’t satisfied with the gum doing the
job so he used some kind of glue.
Now what to do?
So I reached out to Bob Womack, a very knowledgeable
stamp dealer who resided close by. I’d seen Bob work his magic before. He
wanted the lordly sum of $50 an hour to liberate the stamps from the paper,
making no guarantees of success. A bargain, as it turned out.
I had a real good buddy in town, a part time stamp
dealer, with whom I chatted pretty frequently. We pooled our thoughts on the
stamps in the album, knowing the risk would be safely removing them from the
pages. We decided to offer the lady $10,000, half coming from each of us.
Her advisor considered the offer daft, as the stamps were still on paper. I
could have simply done the appraisal but "I’d rather have an oar in the
water than be sitting by the lakeside, wondering what had happened", so I
decided to take the gamble.
Over one tense weekend, Bob managed to separate almost
all the stamps undamaged, though without gum. The lone casualty turned out
to be the $4 Columbian which, in his pride, he believed the small thin it
now exhibited was present before it rested in the album.
I retained for sale in my shop the sets of Columbians, Trans-Mississippi’s and the 1895 series. If I remember correctly, the high values were snapped up pretty quickly. I’d not had several before, and they were so beautiful.
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