Welcome to the Genuine Faux Farm blog! Grab your favorite beverage (but keep it away from the paper collectibles!), put on the comfy slippers and pet the purring feline or the puppy with the big eyes. Take a few moments and enjoy - perhaps learning something new or interesting in the process.
Why? Because it's Postal History Sunday!
Today's question is a paraphrase of a question I received from three different people over the past month.
" How does a person select a theme or a topic for their collection?"
Finding a Focus
Postal history is an incredibly broad area that has plenty of room for people with all sorts of interests - there is plenty of room for creativity here! I do recommend that a collector find some way to define what they are looking for because this hobby is like any other collecting hobby, you can easily be overwhelmed in so many ways. It isn't hard for a collector to gather so much that they aren't even able to appreciate or enjoy what they have. Some people just succumb to the weight of indecision with the sheer volume of options - and there is little enjoyment in being overwhelmed!
One of the easiest ways to start is to find a personal connection that has corresponding material that you find attractive in the hobby.
For example, my heritage on my Mother's side of the family is Norwegian. I went to college and lived for a time near Decorah, Iowa, AND I lived for a couple of years in western Minnesota near Morris (and Benson). How can I parlay that information into a collecting topic?
Norse-American Centennial Issue of 1925
Enter the 1925 postage stamp issue that commemorated the 100-year anniversary of "organized Norwegian immigration" to the United States. In 1825, the sloop Restauration sailed form Stavanger on July 4 and landed in New York City on October 9. The ship was determined to be carrying too many passengers for its size (52 passengers) which resulted in a fine, confiscation of the ship and the arrest of the captain. A month later, President John Quincy Adams rescinded the fine and confiscation and ordered the release of the captain.
Two stamps were issued as a part of a centennial celebration that had its focus in the Upper Midwest (Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin). The 2-cent stamp (which depicted an artist rendering of the Restauration) was valid for standard letter mail within the United States and the 5-cent stamp paid for the Universal Postal Union letter rate between nations.
The ensuing celebrations featured music from several small colleges, including Luther (Decorah, IA), St Olaf (Northfield, MN), Augsburg (Minneapolis, MN), and Augustana (Rockford, IL). For those who wish to learn more, you can start with wiki and go from there to verify and find details.
In short, the stamps have a connection to my heritage, to the college I attended and to places I have lived. Suddenly, I have a focus I can use. Let's see what we can find!
First Day of Issue
By the time we reached the 1920s, stamp collecting had become very popular and the issuance of new stamps was becoming an event. You may or may not recall, I have mentioned the concept of event covers in a prior Postal History Sunday post. A First Day of Issue Cover is simply a collectible item that commemorates the event of the stamp being issued on a certain day by including a postmark with that date AND one of the designated towns or cities for the first day. It just so happens that Decorah was one of the towns selected for the first day of issue for the Norse-American stamps.
And, it also happens that Benson, Minnesota was also one of those cities!
Aha! Connections galore!
But, Is It Postal History?
This is where my personal interests depart a bit. I am more interested in studying rates of postage, routes taken to deliver mail and the whole process of how mail systems did what they do. First Day Covers (FDCs) are the commemoration of an event (the issuance of the stamp) that, in turn, commemorated another event or person(s). Most FDCs were created simply as collectibles and many of them, especially in more recent times, did not even go through the mail as a letter.
Even so - I still own a couple of FDCs for these stamps. The first cover in this blog post has both stamps postmarked in Benson, MN on the first day of issue, May 18, 1925. The seven cents in postage is an overpayment of the 2 cent rate. But - the person wanted this as a collectible - they did not care that 5 cents of postage was 'wasted.' The second cover in this blog post was postmarked in Decorah on May 18. This one properly pays the postal rate of the time.
In short, I am interested enough in the event that I happily found these items and enjoy learning about them and viewing them. Good enough. But, I don't really consider them postal history.
Adding the Postal History Bit
You could guess (and you would be correct) that a significant percentage of these stamps were issued to the post offices in the towns and cities that had the highest population of Norse-Americans. So, it makes sense that if you are looking for postal history with these stamps on them, you will see much of it coming from towns like Northfield, MN (where St Olaf College is located).
How much better would it be to find an item from a bank, to someone in Norway that includes the 2 cent Norse-American stamp as part of the 5 cents of postage needed to send that letter to Norway? In my opinion, it is LOTS better.
My collection - my opinion counts the most! Bwahahahahaaaaa!
Or perhaps, we could find an item to Sweden from St Paul, MN? This one also pays the 5 cent rate to a foreign nation and was posted a year and a half after the whole Norse American celebration was completed.
I appreciate these two covers because it is fairly clear that the stamps and the event they commemorated were not necessarily the main focus of creating the piece of mail. This makes it postal history, rather than event commemoration, in my mind.
For the cover above, I also appreciate the irony that the postmark suggests that airmail would save time. The year, 1926, was still quite early for airmail and this was mailed prior to Lindbergh's famous Atlantic crossing (note: the first crossing of the Atlantic was in 1919 by John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown). In other words, air mail was going to do next to NOTHING for an overseas letter. It was going to go via boat, and that's all there was to it!
And A Sidelight
It's a collection. It's YOUR collection. So - it is ok if you want to have some stamps in the collection that aren't on a piece of postal history. One of the fun sidelights you could participate in is finding varieties in the stamps themselves. Sometimes the inks for the stamp printing come in different shades for stamps that were printed over a long period of time.
And, sometimes, the method of printing introduces some variety. For example, the Norse-American stamps were printed in 2 colors. And sometimes the colors did not exactly line up like they were supposed to. It can be interesting to find copies of the stamp with a 'fast ship' (too far left), a 'slow ship' (too far right), a 'sinking ship' (too low) or a 'flying ship' (too high). But, if you ask me, it would be more fun if you found these varieties on a cover that was properly mailed to an interesting location!
Can you imagine a "sinking ship" stamp on an envelope mailed to Bermuda? Or maybe a 'slow boat' to China? Perhaps a "flying ship" to Friedrichschafen Germany, where they often launched the zeppelin airships?
And yes, I'd love to find a piece of mail from 1825 that actually references that sailing from Stavanger to New York City. Or maybe something that discusses the incarceration of the captain and his subsequent release. Now that would be something!
Thank you for joining me for Postal History Sunday. I hope you have a good remainder of the day and a fine week to follow.