I’ll never forget the phone call.
That voice! “Michael?”
She rattled on how her husband
Richard and his first wife had baby-sat my sister and me when my mother and
father had gone to the opera from our apartment in Manhattan, and now that he
was gone she had the house in Manhattan stuffed with stamps, so would I come up
and help her? (OK—Problem: my mother and father didn’t like each other enough
when my sister and I were growing up to go out with each other; they sure
weren’t sophisticated enough to go to the opera, and we didn’t live in
Manhattan. My family lived in the borough of Queens. Manhattan was across the
East River, a 15¢ subway ride away. So, surely this gal had me confused with
The European accented voice was
coming at me with the speed of a revved-up motorcycle, even when I was doubtful
she had the right guy. When I sat in her living room, I saw Richard’s photo on
the fireplace mantle, and it all fell into place. I wept with tears of joy.
I’m so grateful that I’ve met the
exuberant Anne Marie Mayer that now I feel towards her as family. Just when I
need a pick-me-up at a busy NYC stamp show, Anne Marie will turn up with a box
of mouth watering rugelach, the Jewish pastry of raisins, walnuts and fruit.
Kiss, kiss, on both cheeks, of course!
Richard, Anne Marie’s husband,
and his brother Albert Mayer owned the Diplomat Stamp Shop in Manhattan, on the
ground floor of the Diplomat Hotel. Before I went to college in 1967, New York
City’s philatelic world was energetic with a great many businesses being stamp
shops or high above as offices. Gradually, insurance concerns and other
corporations which could afford higher rents pushed the mom and pop single owner
stamp companies away from the city.
Miserable in bed with measles at
age 7, an uncle gave me a stamp collecting kit thinking it a diversion. I took
to collecting with a passion. Going door to door, seeking additions to my
collection, I filled up pages of a worldwide collection. When the 7-cent Hawaii
airmail came out in the summer of 1959, I walked the mile to the Main St.
Flushing Post Office and bought a block, selling the three duplicates to my
friends, earning 2 cents over face per stamp. “Wow! Six cents profit.” I
thought, added to the dime weekly allowance I received from my parents. “What an
easy way to earn money!” My first experience as a stamp dealer.
An older gentleman named Jerry
Lapin owned the nearest stamp shop in Jamaica, a 35-minute bus ride. I remember
Jerry as a friendly, gentle soul. The downside for me was that as an inquisitive
youngster without any real money to spend, I received scant attention. Just a
I’d heard from store chatter
that, in Manhattan, there were a great many stamp shops. To reach Manhattan
meant riding the IRT subway, an adventure in itself. After my 13th birthday, I
could disappear on Saturdays to go into the city with my spending money earned
selling stamps at school. At first I ventured to fabled Nassau Street to see
what that was all about, then at other times, I walked through midtown. It was
The great 42nd St. and Fifth
Avenue library had a collection of U.S. stamps in glass wall panels of amazing
grace and power. I saw 1869 inverts and a complete set of Columbians. Heady
Coming off the IRT subway, I’d
see Carl Dinnerstein who had a shop one level below 42nd St. Always a gracious
fellow, I still have one of his sales pages as a memento.
Mr. and Mrs. Max Sage owned the
Broadway Stamp Shop on West 54th St., formerly of Nassau Street. Max could turn
a phrase and make the trivial sound like a treasure.
I’d go into the Dumont Stamp
Shop, until the owner banished me. Too many questions, too little money; I was
disappointed I wouldn’t be able to look anymore. It turned out well, in the end.
My next stop was the Diplomat
Stamp Shop, operated by twin brothers, Richard and Albert Mayer. Tall, identical
twins, 6’7”, I believe. Inquiring as to why I was dejected, the story came out
about Dumont. I got a job offer! Well, sort of: Help with stamps on Saturdays.
No pay, not in cash, but you know what? How thrilling that I’d found my mentors.
In between sorting, I had the chance to ask anything that came to mind.
I came in most Saturdays until I
was age 17, when my father figured out I was “working” without pay. That
offended him so I had to quit.
Fast forward some years. I’d
become a stamp dealer, manning a booth at a New York ASDA show. Richard Mayer,
now gray hair and stooped shoulders, came by. We embraced. I don’t believe that
he could have been any prouder of me than if I had been a doctor or attorney.
When Anne Marie called in mid
2004, I traveled to NYC. Their Central Park West brownstone had been purchased
in 1967. Upon closing the Diplomat Stamp Shop, the inventory was transferred to
the mansion and safely stored there for decades. Both brothers had passed away.
Stamps and covers were to be
found four stories high, in boxes and cabinets, under floor boards (skinny arms
snaking their way!) and in a discontinued boiler. One basement runs under the
street. We’d endured the winter’s cold and the summer’s heat down there but we’d
found stamps, covers, Tammany Hall political tracts, costume jewelry, and coins.
We’d shipped something like 60 cartons weighing an average of 40 pounds a pop
home. Some went to auction, most into inventory. My rule was if I was unfamiliar
with the value of an item, I’d place it in my auction to give the family top
money, otherwise, I’d purchase it for my stamp shop.
Anne Marie’s phone call brought home
memories of kind folks who made me the better for it. Glad I could be helpful