Reminiscences - Part XXIII
by Michael Rogers
During my mid teens, I stood a lanky 5’10", weighing in at a scant 135 lbs or so, resembling a hyper-driven Erector Set, all frame and no meat, just a buck-toothed grin making my way. Spending money for stamps was limited to the funds earned by mowing lawns and helping out at home. I eagerly looked forward to the American Stamp Dealers Association show which was held at the National Guard Armory on Park Avenue in Manhattan.
As a high school student, perhaps 1964 or 1965, I was walking the ASDA floor at the Armory, having already spent my few lawn mowing dollars. It interested me how the dealers presented their material. Rounding the corner, I looked up and saw an amazing thing! There was a younger dealer, several booths away, looking intently at his transaction, working the numbers. I was so far away that I could only guess. He was so intense that I could imagine the wheels of his brains turning over. I stood still, gazing at him, admiringly so, for what had to be 15 minutes or so. It sure wasn’t for me to speak up.
In spite of my desire to be wallpaper, the dealer suddenly realized my presence. He sharply looked in my direction and pointed me over. He asked me what I was doing. I said it was fascinating seeing him doing his computations. We chatted a bit. I had no idea what I’d want to do for a living. Be a stamp dealer? Never thought of it:) That’s how I met Andy Levitt.
Perhaps seven years later, after college, I came to work for John McDaniel, in Winter Park, Florida. John had an established retail office, mail order and mail sales company. John had a very fine inventory which satisfied the local clientele and mail order.
After I’d been working at John’s place for a few months, he took the family back to his home town of Lexington, Kentucky. During his visit there, he met a wealthy collector of U.S. stamps who had been disabled in an automobile accident. The collector was at a stage where he needed only exceptional material. The proposition was put to John that very good U.S. material needed to be brought to Lexington by courier. The collector would inspect it, and finding it acceptable, pay in cash.
At the top of his want list were sheets of the first U.S. airmails and Zeppelin plate blocks. Problem was, John didn’t have either items in stock. Very few dealers inventory these.
So John mulled over how to satisfy this almost certain sale (and profit!) before he and I talked. He twisted the problem this way and that. He sure wasn’t going to ask another dealer if he could have them on consignment for fear of being denied, as hurt pride would have stung mightily. And it pained him greatly the notion of giving up a pinch of the profit.
So he took me through the deal. I rolled it over in my mind, knowing one thing for sure: if John didn’t find someone to furnish the material, another dealer would do it. I also knew that asking someone to consign this material to John meant they would set a price greater than selling outright. Not a problem.
Then I thought of Andy Levitt. By reputation, I knew Andy had one of the truly great inventories of U.S. material. And I had this "connection" with him of years back. It was a place to start. As John and I were working an ASDA show in a couple of weeks where Andy was sure to be, I brashly said "I know Andy Levitt, so let me lay it out to him, see what he’s looking for." John was awestruck that I knew him.
Andy enjoyed a storied philatelic career. He was the auctioneer who knocked down at auction the unique British Guiana one cent, the rarest stamp in the world, at the Robert A. Siegel Rarities of the World public auction in March 1970 (see photo above). He built a reputation for handling the finest material. During his auction career, he sold the world class classic U.S. and Hawaii collections of Ryokei Ishikawa.
At the show, I patiently waited my turn to speak with him, then just stood in front of him with my big grin. He stared at me, realization coming to him, as he said "I know you." Then I reminded him. Yup, I was the kid. So I laid out the deal, my boss has a great customer...Andy was amenable, so after returning to Florida, I flew to Lexington to meet the collector and get a want list, then flew to Andy’s office in Danbury, Conn.
I believe the first transaction was a set of the 1918 airmail sheets, C1-3. I carried them on board, flying to Lexington, showed them off, picked up the cash, returned to Danbury to pay Andy, returning home to John with his profits. Looking back, I’d guess I made six or seven trips. So exciting!
Andy supplied the collector with a C3 sheet missing the "TOP," a famous error. There was a set of the 1930 Graf Zeppelin plate blocks. I’ll never forget the gleam in Andy’s eyes, showing off his treasures in his vault at a local Danbury bank and trust company.
Sadly, both John McDaniel and Andy Levitt have passed away.
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