Coney's Stamps

Cabinet#1The U.S. Generalist Collector in modern times

U.S. Generalist? That may sound like a contradiction as collecting U.S. only -can- be considered a specialty. But there is enough history and diversity just in U.S. issues to keep a person occupied for the rest of his life. Anyone who gets bored with U.S. issues and Philatelic collectibles has not looked around very hard.

I’m not trying to take anything away from world wide collectors, they collect what they like and that is what is important. As a matter of fact they have some challenges that the U.S. collector does not have to deal with, languages being the least of them.

I also don’t want to scare anyone away from collecting stamps but you need consider all of this as you think about what and how you want to collect stamps. This is also why most new collectors specialize. Some have taken it to collecting a single year or decade. Others have gone the topical route and only collect stamps with a particular theme like trains, space, flowers, artist or whatever strikes their fancy. Specialists can do something that Generalists usually can’t: They can take the time and effort to research and collect every detail at a much greater depth due to the narrower point of focus.

I am a U.S. Generalist, which basically means that I collect just about anything U.S. I not only collect from the full range of the Scott’s US Specialized catalog but I collect them in different formats. For many regular, commemorative and a small portion of the back of the book issues I hold a Mint Pane, Plate Block, Block, Single, Used single, First Day Cover (FDC) and a copy of the USPS Announcement for the issue’s release. For some I also have the Copy and Zip blocks as well as the USPS Souvenir panel.

I do limit a good portion of the back of the book and the very expensive issues to one select example. I'd like to have the budget for unlimited collecting activities but our kids like to do things like eat and wear clothes too.

I also collect Masonic covers and issues from the U.S. and have recently decided to add stamps of this type from abroad. After collecting since 1971, I am still adding, adjusting and changing directions of my collections. Most life long collectors change or adjust their collections focus as their collecting career progresses.

For recent years it has become very difficult for the US Generalist just to keep up with production. Many claim that the US Postal Service is harming the hobby by pumping out more new issues than ever. For the collector like me who would like to have at least one of each issue and in each format that is produced it has not only become expensive but a logistical nightmare.

Even so, there is enough US material to keep any collector generalist, topical or specialist happy for a life time.

Here are a few tips and comments for your consideration:

The good time to buy recent issue U.S. stamps is when they are released and again within a few years of being taken off the shelves of the U.S.P.S. That’s the only time you’ll be sure to get them at or slightly blow face value. Dealer tables are full of bins with recent stamps marked at 10-20% below face bulk sales may go lower. It is seldom that a stamp immediately increases in value unless it’s due to an error or the public gets whipped into a mad frenzy by the media and demand goes through the roof. Even that is usually localized and temporary.

Because of the frequency and high production figures many recent issues remain well below face value and probably will for a while.

The U.S.P.S. does offer a subscription service and the Post Office employees are helpful. As a matter of fact the U.S.P.S. has made a point of telling its employees to cater to stamp collectors when one walks in. I know as I am related to a few of them. Why not! You can think of a stamp as a check or voucher. Each stamp represents the cost of sending a piece of mail from point A to point B. If the USPS sells a stamp but does not have to do any work on the back end (deliver mail), well that’s almost pure profit!

This also presents a problem (at least in my feeble mind); the U.S. Government is barred by law from making a profit. The U.S.P.S., a quasi government entity, has been running a surplus for several years now but they continue to raise prices every couple years. I guess I have to admit that it makes me wonder what is going on. They seem to work very hard at making their books ‘look’ unprofitable.

I few years ago I calculated that it would cost me $2700.00 to get one of everything in every format including mini sheets but not including full printer sheets. Obviously the average collector’s budget cannot withstand that every year.

That year there were 27 regular (definitive) issues and 134 commemorative stamps!

In 1970 new stamps released were 3 regular issues and 25 commemoratives.
In 1961 new stamps released were 13 commemorative and 2 Air Mail.
In 1931 new stamps released were 10 regular issues, 3 commemoratives, 1 air mail, 1 special delivery and 5 postage due stamps.

Do you see a trend? I do. Someone in D.C. woke up and realized that there are a lot of people out there that are willing to put a few away here and there because it’s a subject near and dear to their hearts and because there are a lot of people who don’t know anything about stamp collecting but think “hey I’ll save these and maybe they will be worth something some day”.

I guess on one hand it makes it very hard for the U.S. Generalist like me. On the other hand, it provides all that much more of a variety for collectors, particularly for topical collectors. I guess it is all how you look at it. Either way you won’t get bored with U.S. collecting.