A Morning in the Stamp Room

My cheery “Good Morning” is reciprocated with various levels of enthusiasm or distraction.

Mike is staring at his computer, he gets in early to avoid the traffic and as I blunder in carrying a box of stamps his concentration is total. He is clicking his mouse at a furious rate and it takes a while for him to notice I’m there. He’s been sent a file containing 100’s of images of mostly album pages and the occasional close-up of a stamp the owner believes to be of particular interest. We will probably recommend someone closer as he lives in Australia and the collection isn’t worth mailing.

Andrew is working through a specialized collection of the early Papua Lakatoi Canoe stamps, they are very complicated and as well as his SG catalogue he has several specialized books and old auction catalogues on his desk. Small piles of stamps are forming around him and I ask why he’s taking the stamps off the lovely old album pages. It turns out the original collector got some of his identification wrong and as we can’t trust the identification on the album pages the stamps have to be remounted.

Paul is not at his desk. He’s already inspecting a collection which has arrived in 4 boxes. It seems the collector wants to sell them in one transaction and he’s unpacking heavy albums and putting them into order. Then he can call the owner to say they’ve arrived safely and we can start the valuation process. It’s a straightforward collection of never hinged mint stamps from the Commonwealth but will still take many hours to go through, Paul has already seen some Guyana issues with complicated overprints and surcharges which might be worth closer inspection.

Mirek is making some lot groups out of a specialized collection of the so-called 1919 “Chainbreaker” Yugoslavian issues for Slovenia, the collector has made a superb effort at identifying the wide range of different shades, it’s the most comprehensive collection I’ve seen in years and we get into a debate about whether to offer some of the rarest stamps individually. There are also some super- looking perforation errors, should we also take those from the main collection and offer them separately? In the end we decide to make about 10 lots, mostly collections.

I finally get to my desk which is a mixture of stamps and paperwork; there is regular business correspondence as well as philatelic correspondence which I tend to favour. I have an interesting question from a client about the difference between Jones and Cowan papers on 1920’s New Zealand stamps, he also has something interesting to say about world events prompted by a recent piece I wrote about my last trip to America. I enjoy answering both. During the first hour emails drop into my inbox much more quickly than I can answer them. Existing clients get priority, then anyone wishing to sell or consign lots, but the mix is an eclectic one and in the end it must all be answered today anyway.

Simon wanders over to show me something interesting that a client has sent in, it looks like a box of cheap material and as such we would normally keep the paperwork simple and buy it outright, but Simon feels he’s found something exciting – a number of Transvaal 1885 imperforate 1 shilling colour trial proofs in blocks of four. If they are original and not reprinted then they are rare and valuable, but before we get the owners hopes up we should obtain a second opinion and we debate over which specialist we should contact.

I try to pull myself away from the stamps for a while. We use a computer program to describe our lots, it also manages the consignments and is a wonderful piece of kit but it’s written in an old language and each time we get a new, faster computer we don’t know if it will run properly. So like an owner putting a beloved pet to sleep we have faced up to letting it go and have had a replacement written. The testing process is much harder than you may think, very much harder. I have to test the prototype each day and report bugs and other problems in a way that makes sense to the software people. Its tedious work requiring deep concentration as each issue has to be accompanied by a step by step explanation of the journey I took, so they can recreate it before they fix it.

This takes up a couple of hours and I’m interrupting my colleagues all the time to find out how they like to use our current system, as it can be very dependent on how each person likes to work on stamps, then I have to figure if the new system will cope with it.

Mark is on the phone a lot this morning, a constant stream of calls regarding lots in the sales, the other guys are taking calls too, mostly about expanded descriptions but there are plenty of questions from non- collectors about stamps they’ve found, or inherited.

Everything stops. Mirek has finished the “Chainbreaker” consignment and is now about to begin looking at a Canadian collection and he can’t find the Unitrade catalogue, it’s a Canadian catalogue which lists certain types of specialist material not included in the SG listings. We all start looking for it, I start muttering about how people should put books back in the library but I shut up when the missing catalogue is found under my desk, but at least Mirek can get on with his work which involves identifying re-entries on the older issues.

Paul is back at his desk, a little hot and dusty from lifting all those albums onto shelves; he’s complaining about his advanced years and has mentioned retirement a couple of times, so I ignore him. To cheer himself up he’s digging through a stock book filled with 1935 Jubilee stamps looking for varieties. It’s one of his favourite issues and he’s found a couple of good items already, so another happy consignor. I take calls, I answer questions, Mark is off the phone and breaking up a large world collection into over 40 lots which he’d like to offer as a special section, it’s a lovely sunny day and he wants to call it a “Summer Cluster”. They are nice collections and it’s a lovely day, so why not? He’s making steady progress and I think the owner will be pleased.

It really is a hive of activity and I’m deciding which on my rather long list of jobs needs to be tackled next when Pam steps into the Stamp Room. She eyes the mess, the boxes, the catalogues, the tables stacked with albums, the floor covered with discarded post- it notes. I can almost hear her wondering how we get anything done at all, or perhaps she’s wondering if we had tidied the place up especially for when she came for her interview because it’s not been it as nice since…

But no, she has something else in mind “You need to write an article for the newsletter today”

What am I going to write about, exactly?

Casting a disparaging eye around the room she lets slip what she is really thinking “well, you could write about what exactly goes on in here…”

(originally pubished in 2017)

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