Saturday, April 24, 2004
Collectors horrified at mass stamp destruction
STAFF AND WIRE REPORT
The National Postal Museum plans to destroy 1.4 million tax stamps no longer used by the government. The idea isn't sitting well with collectors.
The museum, a part of the Smithsonian Institution, says it was given 7.8 million defunct stamps by the Treasury Department so they could be sold to collectors to raise money for the museum. But selling all the stamps, especially those considered rarer varieties, could cause chaos in the stamp-collecting market, museum officials say.
Many collectors, including some in Volusia County, say all the stamps should go on sale. Others argue that flooding the market would erode the value of rare stamps owned by collectors.
Many just cannot seem to accept that a museum would destroy relics.
"Every stamp collector recoils in horror at the suggestion of shredding or incinerating stamps. It gives you an awful feeling," said Rob Haeseler, a senior editor at Linn's Stamp News, a newspaper for collectors.
The stamps, issued from the 1950s through the 1970s, were once used to show taxes had been paid on liquor, cigarettes, playing cards and other products. The taxes are still in place, but stamps are no longer are used as receipts.
Estimated value of the stamps range widely, with some of 1,858 varieties selling for very little and others potentially worth $1,000 or more each.
Ted Wilson, a museum spokesman, said the museum intends to keep a few hundred of each type of stamp in its collection. It will donate or lend some to other museums, and set aside millions of others for a series of sales to the public, starting this fall.
However, the “vast majority” of the rarer stamps in the inventory will be destroyed, Wilson said.
The museum will sell only a few copies of the rarest stamps but larger numbers of the more common ones. For the rarest stamps, only three or six copies will be sold, he said.
Leading the charge against the destruction plan is Eric Jackson of Leesport, Pa., president of the American Revenue Association, a group of collectors of revenue stamps. He says selling all the stamps would stimulate interest in collecting them by making more available.
He agrees it would reduce the value of some rare stamps. But he argues it would be beneficial in the long run because having more people interested in collecting the stamps would cause overall prices to rise.
Jackson accused the museum of trying to prop up market values to benefit just a few collectors.
Two prominent collectors in Volusia County said they lean toward Jackson’s viewpoint.
Richard Finauer, a volunteer who oversees the Orange City Postal Museum, questioned why any museum would want to destroy collectible property. “I don’t think that serves a purpose, really.”
Finauer said he favors selling the stamps, but if that would disrupt stamp values, some of the inventory could be kept in storage and sold gradually.
Barry Savedow, owner of The Browse House stamp shop in Holly Hill, said both sides of the debate have powerful arguments.
“If I were the collector who owned that one rare stamp in existence, then I’d be tickled to death if the government destroyed the others. But obviously, it really isn’t the only stamp in existence – the government has thousands of others just like it,” Savedow said. “Being a dealer, I’d be more inclined to want them out on the market.”
This isn’t the first time the government has angered collectors by trying to influence stamp values, Savedow said.
He cited the case of a 4-cent black and yellow Dag Hammarskjold memorial stamp issued in 1962. When the Postal Service became aware of a printing error that left a white band on the stamp, it deliberately reproduced the error on millions of stamps, Savedow said. As a result, the “error” version of the stamp is valued at only 20 cents, instead of thousands of dollars, he said.
The Postal Service tried to do the same thing in 1979 when a few sheets of a $2 antique candle stamp were found with the candle printed upside down. However, a major stamp dealer, H.E. Harris & Co., which owned the misprinted sheets, successfully sued the Postal Service to prevent mass duplication of the error.
As a result, the 96 known copies of the botched stamp now typically sell for $5,000 to $10,000 each, he said.
“This business is all about supply and demand,” Savedow said.
Business writer Thomas S. Brown contributed to this Associated Press report.
Did You Know?
The Orange City Postal Museum occupies the site of the first Orange City Post Office, now the 1876 Heritage Inn, 300 S. Volusia Ave.
Though the museum does not have revenue stamps in its collection, it displays other old stamps and envelopes, plus vintage equipment once used for processing and delivering mail.
The free exhibit, occupying a room and a 90-foot hallway within the hotel, is open to the public 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays.
SOURCE: Orange City Postal Museum