As I See It...
By James E. Lee
(From Newsletter No. 56)


Lessons that I have learned
from Collecting – The conclusion

The second half of “Lessons” was originally scheduled to appear in my newsletter number 55; however, the medical tsunami of early March changed that.

Lesson 5: Look for interesting and under appreciated areas and collect them. Think about it: Can one build a world class 19th century U.S. classic stamp exhibit and not spend a quarter million dollars or more? I say yes! The large bank note issues (Scott Nos. 134 – 218) are begging to be collected in a serious way. On a modest collecting budget one could build a wonderful in depth collection on the one-cent issue. The seven and twelve cent issues certainly lend themselves to interesting single frame studies. As a collector, if you are interested in exhibiting, what better way to start than with a single frame exhibit? The single frame concept allows you to explore an issue in depth without necessarily straining the pocket book.

There are several advantages to collecting under appreciated areas. There is less competition for material and it may be more abundant. Therefore, the cost of acquisition will be on the low side. However, collect an area because you enjoy it and find it interesting.

As an example, I have a client who has been collecting the Lowenberg decalcomania’s for the 1861 issue for about 10 years. This has always been a neglected area because not much is known about the material and some of it was not listed in the Scott Specialized until this past year. After 10 years he has amassed just about everything that exists. More importantly, he has done research which will expand our knowledge base on the subject.  This fall he will be exhibiting it as a single frame at Chicagopex. 

Lesson 6: Collect beyond the boxes on a page. We all started by trying to fill spaces in albums. There is a sense of accomplished when a page or a section is complete. But if you are reading my column you have moved way past collecting catalog numbers. I found the boxes on the page frustrating because there were boxes that I could not or would not ever fill. Once I moved into the area of postal history I discovered blank pages which provided endless possibilities. Once you move beyond the printed album page you expand the intellectual possibilities of collecting a hundred fold

An excellent example of this was the collection formed by the late Floyd Risvold. Every item in his collection on western expansion told a story. When you establish your own collecting parameters you can allow yourself a journey that will fill your lifetime.   

Lesson 7: Collect an area only because you enjoy it. Collecting is the escape from everyday reality. It is the door to the other side. Collecting fills the needs of conquest, success and educational enlightenment. But above all else collect because you enjoy it.

I have several small postal history collections, each one begun at a different point in my life. These are fun collections, which have provided countless hours of research, learning, and relaxation. My current favorite is McHenry county Illinois. I live in Cary which is located in the southeast corner of the county. In the seven plus years that I have lived here I have been able to acquire stampless covers from about 80% of the towns existed here at one time or another. I enjoy driving around the county to find where the ghost towns once stood. The letters in the stampless covers provide clues to the families, and growth and development of the county. Now the challenge is to find a single stampless cover from each of the towns that existed prior to 1900. There are several for which there are no known covers. However, that changed with the Risvold sale in January. I bought the Illinois balance lot and found two covers, both with manuscript markings for previously unrecorded towns. The letters were fabulous as they gave information about the ferry across the Fox River at what is now Algonquin, IL.

I am quite sure that I will never find a cover for every town. However, this small collection takes me to places I would have never otherwise gone; it has put me in contact with people I would not have otherwise met. It has gotten me out of the office and provided the opportunity for exercise to walk the distant prairies of McHenry County in search of the past. A small investment in a collection of covers has provided returns beyond that of any stock or bond.


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