Stanley Gibbons posted an interesting question on their Facebook page about essential stamp collecting tools:
What tools do you use the most? A good magnifying glass is useful for examining stamp detail. Tweezers are useful for handling them. Perforation gauges and watermark detectors are needed in the more advanced stages of the hobby.
Stanley Gibbons Facebook page
That started me thinking about what my essential tools are. Yes, I have the usual suspects, a good pair of tweezers, various perforation gauges, watermark fluid, magnifier, and a UV light. I also consider a handy little position finder and the Stanley Gibbons Stamp colour key essentials as well.
The position finder is invaluable when trying to figure out the position of a flaw or detail on a stamp. It took me awhile to master using one, and if you’re interested, I can post a tutorial on it.
Handy position finder for stamp collecting
I rely heavily on Stanley Gibbons catalogues, even if they are getting a little long in the tooth, because the amount of detail they offer so when I look at colours, I tend towards SG’s key. I keep it tucked into a dark cupboard, so the colours haven’t faded over the years.
Catalogues, catalogues and more catalogues
I have a lot of catalogues as well. Scott, Stanley Gibbons, Unitrade, Sanabria are the main ones. I scour book sales looking for editions I don’t own and often get them for a song. Well, except for the two I use the most, which I saved up for and purchased new – Stanley Gibbons Commonwealth & Empire Stamps 1840-1952 (With the exception of Canadian stamps, I don’t tend to collect after 1950) and Scott Classic Specialized Catalogue of Stamps & Covers 1840-1940. I rely on the two old Sanabria airmail catalogues for identification, but the prices are sorely out of date.
For Canadian stamps, I switch between SG, Unitrade and Canadian E.F.O.’s: Errors, Freaks and Oddities (Darnell), which I can’t seem to find, at the moment. I put it down somewhere the other day and for the life of me, can’t remember where. It’ll turn up.
What’s missing is The Pioneer and Semi-Official Air Stamps of Canada 1918-1934 by Longworth-Dames. No idea why I keep putting off buying this essential guide. I’ll have to remedy that one day.
There are 3 more tools I use extensively – an excellent quality scanner, Tineye/Google image search and my largish collection of stamp related bookmarks. I rarely see these make the list of essential stamp collecting tools. I can’t live without them.
Scanners as an essential stamp collecting tool.
I’m not a fan of squinting into a magnifier for any length of time, especially with the vision issues I have. That’s where a good scanner allows me to capture details, I’d otherwise miss with just a magnifying glass. With the scanner set to a high resolution, outstanding results can be produced. The benefits of a scanner over a camera, is the stamps lay flat and I get a quality image every time. I don’t have to worry about flash, lighting, or weird angles. I have most of the scans stored in the cloud for reference. When I have a question, they are all categorised and stored away.
Careful scanning will show flaws, condition clearly (nibbled corners, small tears will be easier to spot), fine details and, if you get lucky, you can also see the watermark on certain stamps.
Weimar Republic airmail stamp with selvage and clear watermark 126 network
Here’s how my stamp folders are organised. 001 signifies airmail, 002 general stamps (pre 1950), 003 covers and used post cards, 004 revenues, 005 all reference materials, including inventory lists and album pages, and finally 006 a catch-all for photos I’ve taken of postal boxes, postcards not used, but interesting (usually air related), and posters I’ve found about stamps. The numbering makes it easy to scan down the list and locate what I need.
A partial view of my stamp collecting folders.
Another use for the scanner is to scan magazine and book articles for later use. I have an extensive archive of pdfs, culled from library sources, stamp magazines and old publications. Instead of letting them accumulate, collecting dust on a shelf, they are scanned, labeled, and stored in one of the 005 folders for easy access. By keeping them on the cloud, I can access them from any device. I think of it as my personal library of essential stamp resources. I’m going to resort the 005 this weekend because it’s becoming a bit large. I need to refine the categories such as 005 Canadian Reference, 005 Flaws.
Scanning also allows me to create visual lists of the stamps I own. I struggled for years with trying to catalogue my collection and finally realised most of the software was too clumsy to use. Instead, I scan the stamps into contact sheets, label them and store them for future reference.
Click on the image to see it in full size
Not as tidy, but still easy to use for reference purposes.
If I’m looking for a stamp to buy, I’ll call up my master lists and see if it’s there. In newer lists, I’ve been including various catalogue numbers and details like flaws, colour variations etc. I also now list the type of cancels I have. This is great when I’m looking for a specific cancel.
Those are the basic tools I use. Next article, I’ll discuss how to use Tineye and Google image search as a reference tool. If you aren’t familiar with using them, come back in a week to find out how. I’ll also finish up the article on my stamp related bookmarks.
What are the essential stamp collecting tools you couldn’t live without? Drop a comment below or on Facebook and let me know. Don’t forget to give the article a like to let me know you want more articles like this.
Well, this was fascinating. I kept an eye on the Maresch & Son auction from earlier this week. I suggested in my post from the 21, the stamps might go for significantly less than the estimate and I was correct. Mind you, it didn’t take a clairvoyant to figure out the prices would be lower. With the current economic crash and pandemic fears, people are being extremely cautious. I was surprised at how low some went for. Makes me wish I had been in a position to bid on them.
The collection of early Canadian airmail proof cachets sold for less than half the estimated $1000 value. Someone snagged them for $425 (cdn). This could be a great centre-piece for pioneer airmail collectors. I have about 20 different cachet covers and love looking at them.
Lot 624a, full sheet of Patricia Airways
Valued at $480 sold for a mere $177 (cdn). Oh what a bargain. This one made my heart skip a bit. I own just one Patricia and coveted this full sheet. Ah the sins of stamp collecting.
Lot 627 – Special Delivery block, sold for $307 (cdn)
The estimate was @ $1500.
And finally lot 708a – early Nova Scotia
It was a big surprise and I’m sure collector of Nova Scotia stamps received a hell of a shock when their $325 (cdn) bid won a lot estimated at $2200.
Not all lots sold for far below the estimates. A few even exceeded the predicted price. But that’s the way auctions go. Some days bargains are to be had and other days, bidders war breaks out. The pandemic certainly had an impact. I’ll be watching a couple of upcoming auctions to see if this was a one off or not.
Check out the prices realised at https://stampauctionnetwork.com/RM/RM557.cfm . Not sure how long it will available so don’t waste time.
The pandemic has many of the 2020 spring stamp auctions on hold. The few slated will be online only and no floor bidding. My favourite Canadian auction houses – Sparks, Vance and Talman’s have postponed everything right through May, although they still have single sales available.
I confess, I can’t wait to see Sparks offerings. Their #33 auction is going to have some delicious Indian airmails from Leon Victor Pont collection. Pont was a friend of Stephen Smith, the man who pioneered Indian rocket mail. Some of the items will include correspondence with Smith along with signed stamps and other items. I call sales like this “dream auctions” because most items tend to be on the high end. I enjoy flitting through the catalogues creating wish lists. Half the fun of collecting is window shopping.
Canadian Stamp Auctions
There is no word on any auction from Talman Stamps here in Toronto. They tend to spring the auctions on us when they have enough stock ready. I imagine we won’t see anything until late summer or possibly fall. Vance is always a good bet for some early Canadian airmail and semi-postals, but they announced a postponement as well, with no date available. It’s hard to set dates when no one is sure when this pandemic will subside.
R. Maresch & Son Auctions Ltd., in Toronto, is going ahead with their auction on the 22 – 23 of April. You can see their catalogue here. There will be no live floor auction (for obvious reasons). The auction will be live via the internet instead. They have used some ingenuity in allowing people to see some of the lots. Because of social distancing, potential bidders can’t drop in and preview lots. Maresch have posted videos here. Scroll down below the videos for the catalogue.
If you’re an airmail collector check out lot 621. It’s a rare offering of cachet proofs. It’s 5 pages of Flight Cachet proofs from between 1928 to 1932. In all the auctions I’ve watched, this is the first time I’ve seen cachet proofs. A bit exciting.
Lot 621a – SEMI-OFFICIAL AIRMAILS: Old time 1928 to 1932 FLIGHT CACHET PROOFS lot on pages, with KINGSTON to QUEBEC, OTTAWA to QUEBEC, OTTAWA to VANCOUVER, GREAT BEAR LAKE to FORT RESOLUTION, FORT FITZGERALD to FORT McMURRAY, etc,
International 2020 Spring Auctions
Looking beyond Canada, Cherrystone has a few interesting auctions coming up. I occasionally lurk around their site because they have wonderful high end items that make my palms itch. They have two auctions – April 22, US stamps & postal history and May 12, rare stamps and postal history. I’m not a big collector of US stamps so it’s the second one that I find interesting. You might want to take a look at their PRC Cultural Revolution stamps.
1967 Thoughts of Mao Tse-tung
1968 Literature & Art
1968 Directives of Chairman Mao
I haven’t seen these come up before. Though I don’t collect PRC (aside from airmails), the 1960s propaganda stamps are amazing pieces of Chinese history. They are also fine examples of philatelic propaganda. It’ll be fun to watch the prices on this trio. Expect them to go in the thousands. Although with the severe economic downturn, we might be surprised.
If you collect Canadian semi-official airmail, then check out the grouping of Patricia Airways in the same auction. These are all pretty affordable (depending on who wants to compete for them). Again, with the economy in turmoil, they might go for far less than expected.
1926 10c on 50c purple overprint inverted, upper left sheet corner margin vertical pair
Scattered throughout the May auction are other airmail lots, so a careful search of both catalogues will be rewarding.
I’m still looking around other auction houses, so I’ll post an update on them soon.
I stumbled across an interesting early mail scam while reading through supplements to the Canada Post Guide. I came across a reference to a scam that seemed to plague the postal system to such an extent, the Postmaster felt obliged to issue a directive:
INFORMATION FOR POSTMASTERS.
(15) Circulars regarding Fortune-telling business –
Circulars posted by Clay Burton Vance, Palais Royal, Paris, France, offering to sell horoscopes for $3, have been observed in the mails, and postmasters are instructed to look out for such circulars, which are posted in Paris in square neutral tinted envelopes, and treat them in the same manner as circulars relating to illegal lotteries. Letters are not to be forwarded to the address of Clay Burton Vance, and money orders are not to be made payable to him.
Monthly supplements to the Canada Postal Guide 1912 to 1916 (pdf format) – Library and Archives Canada
That’s pretty darned specific. I started to wonder who Clay Burton Vance of Paris, France was and what did he do to warrant being singled out by the Canadian Postal authorities. After digging around a bit I got a pretty clear picture of Mr Vance – he was a scammer of international infamy in a pre-mass communication age. He used the post office to bilk the unwary for years.
Vance ran his postal scam in the first part of the 20th century and likely raked in a tidy fortune. I found hundreds of ads that ran year after year, in papers all around the world. For a mere $3, he would create a personalized horoscope for you, among other services. He drew in his marks with the same ad, promising a free reading and from there, it snowballed into serious money.
The Australians are not amused by the mail scam
1912 Australian paper Bombala Times showing same ad that ran worldwide for about 6 years – click on image for a full size image – “Advertising” The Bombala Times (NSW : 1912 – 1938) 6 September 1912: 1. Web. 8 Oct 2019 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article134590305>.
He ran his scams from least from 1911 to 1916, possibly later. How pernicious was Mr. Vance? Prohibitions popped up in other mail services, instructing post masters to return all mail to/from him.
Australian prohibition from 1912
Who was Clay Burton Vance? That’s a good question. Was he English, French, maybe American? No idea. He left a big footprint, but few clear details. He was a scammer who would make Nigerian princes envious. Australian papers began writing articles about his fraud. I loved the big headline screaming out “A Parisian Imposter”.
Parisian Imposter Sunday Times (Perth, WA : 1902 – 1954), Sunday 6 October 1912, page 1 – click to see large version
The scam will be familiar to anyone who’s clicked a link promising something for free only to be hit with a pay wall. Vance did the snail mail version of this. He would offer a free reading or handwriting analysis and, in a classic bait and switch, send off an order form instead of the promised reading.
“…send me a sample of your handwriting. I’ll send you a list of your characteristics”. I sent Clay Burton Vance a sample of my writing, and, I think, six penny or half penny stamps. In due course I received a letter (or printed circular as I would call it) marked ‘A’ and order blank, also copies of testimonials”. Parisian Imposter Sunday Times (Perth, WA : 1902 – 1954), Sunday 6 October 1912, page 1
A year later the Sunday Times ran another article titled Two of a Kind focusing on another scammer who they suspected worked with Vance, (or may have been Vance in my opinion).
Two of a kind Sunday Times (Perth, WA : 1902 – 1954), Sunday 27 April 1913, page 7 Click link for larger version
How bad does a scammer have to be to warrant a specific mention in Postmaster instructions? Pretty damned bad. The $3 per horoscope would be equivalent of asking for 3 weeks pay. In 1911 the average pay, in Canada, for a labourer was between $1 to $1.50 a week. A skilled job, like civil engineer pulled in $2.55 weekly. (University of BC).
US Assistant Attorney General isn’t amused by the mail scam either
This was serious business. The US Assistant Attorney General filed a suit against Vance in Jan 1916 in an attempt to halt his abuse of the postal system. They went further and forbade post offices around the country from drawing up any money orders to Clay Burton Vance.
you are hereby directed to inform the remitter of any such postal money order that payment thereof has been forbidden, and that the amount thereof will be returned upon the presentation of the original order or a duplicate thereof applied for and obtained under the regulations of the Department – Post Office Department, Washington Order No. 9420 Jan 29 1916 Case No. 32436-S
US authorities went further in their wrath. They ordered all mail sent to Vance was to be stamped “FRAUDULENT: mail to this address returned by order of the Postmaster General” and returned to sender. It would be interesting to know if any such covers still exist.
… send your full name, address, the date, month and year of birth (all clearly written ), State whether Mr., Mrs. or Miss, from ad copy in numerous magazines … Correspondence received from Vance
The initial offer was “free”. But as with Australia and Canada, the curious person was soon hit with a fee for the “complete life reading”. What was sent was a vague, nondescript reading:
This limited examination of your horoscope has indeed been interesting to me and I much regret my inability into go more fully into your indications. From US Post Office official complaint 1916
Vance would then go on to demand money for the full reading with promises of significant details about the person’s future.
I can assure you that your Complete Life Reading w ill contain information which you would highly prize and I trust you will post your order immediately. From US Post Office official complaint 1916
The post office goes on to explain how the con works: “… [what]Vance does is to send to the remitter one of the forms already made up and printed, according to the sign of the Zodiac under which he alleges the purchaser was born” ( From US Post Office official complaint 1916). In other words, Vance had pre-packaged horoscopes or handwriting analysis that he sent off.
The first request for payment was $3. If the person did not respond, Vance would continue to send requests, slowly dropping the fee to .50c. It’s unclear how many fell for this, but judging from the international response, I’d say Clay Burton Vance was a pretty successful conman.
C. B. Vance of The Hague, Holland incurs the wrath of the US Postal Office
In May of the same year, the Post Office extended the ban to include C. B. Vance No 5 Groenedelstraat, The Hague, Holland for the same mail fraud offences. Looks like things got to hot for Clay Burton Vance of Paris and he set up shop as C.B. Vance of The Hague. I’m sure if a diligent search was made of various archives, this name and address will pop up on fraud lists as well.
I was a bit amused to find Vance also published a book, in Portuguese, Oraculo – A Leitura da Vossa Vida – Revela o Seu Futuro which translates roughly to Oraculo-The reading of your life-reveals your future. It was printed by Livraria Civilização Porto, Portugal.
Best copy of book cover I could find – courtesy Good Reads
It’s the same photo that shows up in the ads. Makes me wonder if he was Portuguese. It’s highly unlikely he was using his real name. I don’t know if he sold any books, but I’m sure he found willing marks.
A Sampling of Where the Ad Appeared
Philadelphia Inquirer Sunday, October 13, 1912, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States Of America
Salt Lake Tribune Sunday, February 23, 1913, Salt Lake City, Utah, United States Of America
San Antonio Light Sunday, October 5, 1913, San Antonio, Texas, United States Of America
Sydney Sun Sunday, July 21, 1912, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners Advocate Saturday, April 20, 1912, Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia
Newark Advocate Saturday, May 30, 1914, Newark, Ohio, United States Of America
Broken Hill Barrier Miner Saturday, January 27, 1912, Broken Hill, New South Wales, Australia.
Sydney Sun Sunday, July 21, 1912, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
San Antonio Light Sunday, January 5, 1913, San Antonio, Texas, United States Of America
Sydney Sunday Times Sunday, October 6, 1912, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Helena Independent Record Monday, May 11, 1914, Helena, Montana, United States Of America
Fort Wayne Journal Gazette Sunday, December 8, 1912, Fort Wayne, Indiana, United States Of America
Bluefield Daily Telegraph Sunday, May 17, 1914, Bluefield, West Virginia, United States Of America
San Antonio Light Sunday, December 1, 1912, San Antonio, Texas, United States Of America
Lowell Sun Saturday, June 1, 1912, Lowell, Massachusetts, United States Of America
Middletown Daily Argus Saturday, June 20, 1914, Middletown, New York, United States Of America
Cleveland Gazette Saturday, April 26, 1913, Cleveland, Ohio, United States Of America
Ardmore Daily Ardmoreite Sunday, May 31, 1914, Ardmore, Oklahoma, United States Of America
San Antonio Light Sunday, October 19, 1913, San Antonio, Texas, United States Of America
Salt Lake City Herald Sunday, March 16, 1913, Salt Lake City, Utah, United States Of America
Kingston Daily Gleaner Friday, April 3, 1914, Kingston, Kingston, Jamaica
Melbourne Punch Thursday, October 10, 1912, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
London Standard Tuesday, June 18, 1912, London, Middlesex, United Kingdom
Enderby Press and Walkers Weekly Thursday, December 21, 1911, Enderby, British Columbia, Canada
Cumberland Islander Saturday, November 18, 1911, Cumberland, British Columbia, Canada
I gave up after 200 ads and didn’t even get around to non-English speaking papers, but I’m sure he hit them as well. So, who knew – spam predates spam! Mail fraud is as old as the postal system. Modern day email scammers have simply picked up were the snail mail cheats left off.
NOTE: I forgot to bookmark the location of the US Post Office Department’s pdf file on Clay Burton Vance. If you are interested in reading the entire Assist Attorney General file (about 11 pages) leave me a note and I’ll send you a copy. I downloaded the pdf and forgot to save the page location.
Sometimes you can look at a stamp over and over and not spot an error. This happened on the weekend when I posted a set of plate blocks on the Facebook group Stamp Collecting. I’ve owned a full set of Suzor-Cote’s “Return the Harvest” (1969) for at least 10 years now and love looking at them. Imagine my delight when someone pointed out I owned the line from knee error – Suzor-Cote #492i (thanks Michael!). Gobsmacked would be a better description.
Canadian Stamp Suzor-Cote #492i – Return from the Harvest Field
Return from the Harvest Field LL plate block 492i
I dug out both the plate & the scan and peered closely and thought “son of a …” Suzor-Cote #492i – line from knee variety (pos.41). “How could I miss it after all these years?”
Up close look at the line from knee error
Just goes to show, there’s always something new to find in your own collection. I missed it for so many years because I assumed there were no errors. The stamp auction house I purchased them from never spotted the error either and sold the 4 plates as a full set, no errors. Bonus!
Read more about Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté at the Canadian Encyclopedia
I have a classic airmail for you. Canada’s last airmail stamp, issued 73 years ago on Sept 16, 1946.
Sept 16, 1946 Scotts C9, Sanabria (for those lucky enough to have one) 18, SG 407
It was part of the post WW2 issues highlighting various peacetime scenes from around Canada. The set (all released Sept 16) included:
- 8c Farm Scene of Eastern Canada
- 10c Great Bear Lake in NWT
- 14c Quebec Hydro-Electric Station
- 20c Tractor Drawn Thresher
- 50c Loggin in BC
- $1 PEI Train Ferry
- 7c Canada Geese near Sudbury, On (airmail)
Herman Herbert Schwartz (1885-1962)
The set was designed by artist Herman Herbert Schwartz (1885-1962), the same man who designed one of Canada’s great classic stamps, the 1929 Bluenose. He was one of the first Canadian artists hired by Canada to design stamps. Prior to 1920, American artists were generally used. Schwartz was also responsible for the design of all Canada’s airmail stamps. I tried to find information on him but came up embarrassingly short on details. One sparse entry popped up in Archives Canada:
Herman Herbert Schwartz (1885-1962)
Herman Schwartz, who was of Dutch origin, showed little interest in the family spice business founded by his grandfather in Halifax in 1841, W.H. Schwartz & Sons. He was more interested in art and, in August 1909, he was hired as an apprentice by the American Bank Note Company of Ottawa.
He is credited with the design of many Canadian stamps issued between 1927 and 1954. The most famous work of this Nova Scotian artist continues to be the Bluenose issued in 1929. As well, he designed all the cachets used for the first postal flights made between 1929 and 1941. He also designed foreign postage stamps and Canadian bank notes.1
I found one photo of Schwartz in the Canadian archives.
And that’s about all I was able to source. For someone who played such an important part in Canadian postal history, it’s shocking to find so little about him.
Canada airmail C9 goose in flight
The Canada goose airmail was the last airmail stamp issued by Canada. Cancel collectors will be richly rewarded in their search with hundreds of different ones used over the years. I have about 40 so far but am always on the look out for new city or slogan cancels. I find the used stamps far more interesting than the mint.
Two used C9 stamps from my collection
Covers with interesting cachets are also another fun area to collect. I was a bit surprised to realise I have many C1s and 2s but only 1 decent C9 in my collection. No idea how I slipped up so badly. This is a nice cover, but i dislike the boring wavy line cancel across the stamp. Give me a good slogan cancel anytime.
First Official Airmail – Jetliner Toronto to New York 1950
The stamp remained in use for many years, so the chance for finding interesting cancels and markings is huge.
Collectors have 2 plate (1& 2) to acquire, as well as OHMS and G varieties. The first airmail official stamp (Scott #CO1), overprinted “O.H.M.S.” (On His Majesty’s Service), was issued in 1949. And last, but not least – booklet panes.
Full booklet pane of C9 Canada goose airmail stamps
I get a kick out of sellers who label them “rare” and “rarely seen”. I have about 50 I picked up for a song at an auction years ago. Not particularly rare but delightful to own. Alas, not one has an error despite looking over and over for any. Error collectors should be happy with C9. A couple of major re-entries in plate 2 UR blocks can be looked for. If you have a few interesting airmails you want to swap for a pane, drop me a line in the comments below.
I’m going to keep looking for more info on Herman Schwartz. If I dig up anything, it’ll make a great addition to this page. Happy collecting everyone – one small stamp and tons of collectible material.
1 – Postal Archives @ Collections Canada https://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/postal-archives/08060203_e.html and https://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/postal-archives/08060203_e.html
2. Image courtesy Archives Canada, National Postal Museum (Canada) philatelic collections