Reminiscences - Part XXX
by Michael Rogers
Becoming A China/Asia Dealer
I became a China dealer when I was young and energetic. I happily accepted the invitation to hold a booth at any well attended stamp show. Since my inventory was unlike any other dealer, I was assured of robust sales, and perhaps opportunities to purchase.
Jim Kerr was a dependable mate at shows. An employee of my company since 1987, Jim was a steady hand, engaging wit, honest and reliable. Not only that, but as Jim was an accomplished philatelist, he was on a first name basis with many of the well known collectors of his generation.
Our company was issuing well received bimonthly China and Asia pricelists. I’d started writing the Linn’s Asia column in 1989. Fair to say, when the chance came to hold a booth at this Mid-West show, I knew the company would have a receptive audience.
A scheduling conflict arose for this show. Dr. and Mrs. Kerr had a wedding to attend that weekend so he couldn’t accompany me. Looking over our small staff, the only choice I had was the most recent hire, someone I didn’t know well enough. He’d been with us just a few weeks. In retrospect, I should have gone by myself.
Well, guess what? As the newbie dealer to the show, I got the one booth which was bisected by a great big pole right in the middle. That sure wasn’t in the perspectus! This obstruction prevented folks from seeing the signs we posted advertising our wares. So Friday we stood up with smiles trying to get collectors to stop by, but all we got were giggles.
Looking around the show Saturday noontime, groaning at the prospect of another day of dismal sales, I realized attendence sure was light. You could go bowling down the aisles!
Relief came in the form of a jovial older man, perhaps in his seventies, who came to my booth, demanding that I accompany him to his home "immediately" to purchase his collection. I’d never left a show mid-day before. A thought flickered through my mind: "What damage could this new employee do if I leave him alone for three hours?" (Hint: Enormous!)
So I left. This, before cellphones. A thirty minute drive brought us to a spacious home on the outskirts of town. The basement was piled high with bins and boxes of collections. Apparently, the seller, before he retired, had an arrangement with the court system where he would do the estate appraisals and buy what he’d appraised. Objectively, his acquisitions were a conflict of interest, but that was his karma.
I had free rein to dig around and choose. He’d price a collection without peering inside. Occasionally he’d hoist a cover in his hand straight up and shout "Will you give me $20?" to which I’d always say yes, not knowing til later what I bought. That evening I found out I purchased a rare Newfoundland De Pinedo flight cover for $50! (Sold it at the show for $4,000.)
Poking around in a wire bin, I found the long lost D. D. Edwards China collection. Like the others, he had a price in mind, so I agreed to his number of $2,200. I thought my heart was going to burst out of my chest.
With the Edwards collection, the seller had enough money in hand so we wrapped it up. I peered at the rear car seat overflowing with albums as I drove to the hotel. Too excited for dinner, I spread this new purchase on my bed to see more clearly what was in the D.D. Edwards collection.
Oh, the treasures! A 1919 $20 yellow and black Hall of Classics (#242) block of four, mint NH, 1894 Empress Dowager imperforate between errors, spell binding 1942-3 surcharges. Tucked in the back of the album was a desirable Dowager franked red band cover. I wondered what translating would reveal when I returned home.
Then my employee came into the hotel room we shared—riproaring drunk! Leering, dizzy, and about to pass out. Soon as I saw he wanted to handle my Chinese stamps, which in his state meant to ruin them, I quickly put them back in the cartons. He returned to the hotel room only 90 minutes after the show’s closing so I wondered how he could get drunk so quickly.
Snickers directed to us at breakfast Sunday morning were a forewarning. The story came out later that day at the show. Seems my employee wasn’t satisfied with just one cup of alcohol-spiked punch served at the Saturday night hospitality mixer sponsored by the show. One-two-three cups didn’t quench his thirst...so he lifted the great big punch-bowl to his lips, gulping almost all of it down!
I knew better than to apply for a table to next year’s show. Is it any wonder that I have migraines?
This article is edited differently from the magazine version.
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