Reminiscences - Part II

by Michael Rogers
The following appeared in Michael Rogers' regular column in
The American Stamp Dealer & Collector Magazine - September 2010 Issue





Grandpa and Grandma Berner lived the American dream. Emigrating to New York in 1920, they found work as a stock clerk and seamstress. Grandpa’s diligence impressed his boss enough to introduce him to others in the trade. Pooling their savings, my grandparents soon had a dry goods store of their own, backed by good credit. Berner’s, never a large affair, made its way through the Depression and fed a family.

  Continuing a family tradition, I worked one summer with my grandparents in the store. Cousins Martin, now an attorney, and Milton, a corporate accountant, had summered in the store, learning that retail was monotonous and hard work, exactly as planned. The immigrant generation had to work, bypassing an education. Now they wanted their children and grandchildren to be educated and successful.

  So here I was, a 12 year old, helping out in the store. Ladies housedresses were a big seller as were men’s pants. I remember “dressing the window,” pins in my mouth, Grandpa outside the plate glass motioning where I should position each article of clothing.

  Grandpa queried me at summer’s end. I thought it a great adventure! Expecting he’d hear the same as my cousins, he said I learned the wrong lesson. Get an education first, then you’ll have a choice.

  Well, I have the education. To the consternation of my parents, I elected to become a stamp dealer after college.

  I opened Winter Park Stamp Shop on tony Park Avenue in June of 1978. Park Avenue is the premier shopping destination of all of Central Florida. Instant name recognition. The Avenue gave a stamp shop credibility. An audacious move because my total net worth was $6,000 including inventory.

  I had some things going for me. As I was desperately short of funds, I had to be very careful setting up the shop. As it was Park Avenue, it had to be first rate. The interior designer was into stamps so we traded; her father build the cabinetry (yup, he collected), the electrician collected, and on down the line. Little came out of my pocket. What I didn’t have in stock we put on memo. 

  Betting on the Avenue was that I’d last six months. (I closed the store in December, 2007, after 29 years!) John McDaniel had his own place down the street but he was on the second floor without the visibility that a street level shop provides. Still, he’d been in town for years with a formidable inventory.

  Winter Park Stamp Shop never could have succeeded without others working in the shop. I knew what I knew and was the first to acknowledge what I didn’t know. I remember what a dealer told me in my youth about being a stamp dealer. Remember that not one person knows it all so hire the best people you can. I’ve followed those words best I could.

  I lucked into Bob Womack who was so adept on United States that we used to joke he could put his finger on a stamp and tell you the watermark. Enormously talented in U.S. and worldwide, both stamps and postal history, Bob wanted nothing more than to stay in the background, playing with stamps.

  My friend Alvin Hintz hurt his back working in the warehouse company he’d been in for over a decade. I hired him for the shop as he had a soft-spoken demeanor and got along with everyone. A lifelong British Commonwealth collector, Alvin stayed for 19 years.

  Having a shop means of life of anecdotes. You never know what’s going to happen.

  Inevitably there’d be the good natured competition between us. John had brought me into town as his employee; now I was his equal, albeit his junior. He’d made it easier for me as I’d worked for him in 1973-76 over the counter, making friends with local collectors. I know John found it perplexing that any business came my way. Location, location, location.

  A guy in advertising named Charlie Patterson came up with the idea of a monthly newsletter; I called it the Central Florida Stamp News. Expanding to eight legal-sized pages, it carried a “Point of View” column with price lists, employee bios and stamp shows. 

  One day a man came in huffing and puffing, gray in his face, so I gave him a cup of water. He said that if I wanted to buy his stamp collections, I needed to accompany him to his truck to view. What he had were over 1,000 pounds of Postal Commemorative Society 22 carat gold plated first day covers and such. Big heavy sets that cost someone a bundle but aren’t worth diddly in the secondary market. He’d been to McDaniel’s but John made him carry everything (!) upstairs just to be told he didn’t buy that kind of stuff.

  Would I buy it? You betcha! I was on the Avenue, so I just knew they would sell, just not near the original price. So we struck a deal and I bought the batch. Hardest part was lugging them in. 

  As my shop had but 516 square feet, the trick was to use what little space we had to the best advantage. The back of the shop was reserved for the library which grew over the years to over a thousand volumes. In the day when most dealers were content with the Scott and Harris catalogues, I could maximize my dollars because I had the ability to research what came in the door. My rule was never sell anything unless I understood it.

  A gentleman offered the U.S. 1922 high values affixed to parcel tags. These aren’t addressed in the Scott Specialized Catalogue, but you’ll find them in auction catalogues. Then it was a matter of placing my purchases with appreciative buyers.

  Some dealers will tell you the best thing about owning a stamp shop is the buying opportunities. I had a different take.

  I loved having a stamp shop because I made so many friendships. Sure, I’d have obnoxious or rude people occasionally, but I’d play a game with myself to see if I could turn them around. Folks would come in the shop and I’d be helpful filling their needs so it was only natural sitting across the counter chatting away. We’d intersperse stamps with family and more. My sense was that I’d spend eight hours working so what better way than with friends?

  Every day’s a blessing! )


Click to go to the next page of Michael Rogers' Reminiscences



Index to site

Album Pages Appraisals Articles Auctions Bidding Hints Books Buylists Consignments
Contact Information Downloading Pricelists Email Us Estate Planning
History Home | Jobs Links Literature Logo | Mail Sales Organizations What's New