Sunapee, NH 03782
1. How did you get into stamp dealing?
Like many kids of the day, I had an unsophisticated US collection in high school. After college I my interest was revived by my then father-in-law who was an advanced collector. He and I liked to play poker while watching football on TV. He wasn't a particularly good player and he lost what turned out to be many better duplicate stamps to me. Several of these were duplicates to me as well, so I offered them for sale in Linns classified ad pages. Because of my engineering background, I got interested in the more technical aspects of early US issues. My first serious reference acquisition was the 3 volume Brookman set that I bought from Leo Scarlett at 116 Nassau street. Back in the mid 60s, this led to a lecture at a local IBM stamp club on fake grills from the 1868 series.
Then I became interested in plate varieties of the 1ct 1851 issue. A significant addition to my early library was Neinken's 1ct 1851-7 volume. This led to a 10 year effort to complete the plating of US #9.
In my early dealing, I realized that like anyone in business, one needed an "edge" in order to succeed. My edge was my rather deep knowledge of the early US issues.
2. What led you to covers as a focus area?
Another dealer wanted to raise some money and offered to sell his US cover stock to me. So, in the early 90s, with no experience except in US stamps, I had about 5,000 covers with a marked retail value of about $100,000. There were dozens of categories (DPOs from all the states, foreign destinations, auxiliary markings, fancy cancels, registry, etc.). If I was going to sell these, I sure needed to know what they were all about if I was going to defend their pricing to prospective customers.
Once again, if I was going to have an "edge", I had to get knowledgeable about my own property. The organization of the stock and the pricing by the former owner was a big help, but was not enough. So, I rapidly acquired a philatelic library (the original cost is certainly over $30,000) so I could have a chance to do this. I now have books on auxiliary markings, maritime mail, fancy cancels, postal rates and histories of many of the states. Another asset was a growing cohort of fellow dealers and customers from whom I have learned a great deal.
Science uses the notion of dimensions to describe things in exact terms. I have developed a point of view about postal history that builds on the notion of "dimensions of complexity". Individual stamps can be characterized as having dimensions such as centering, freshness, gum quality, defectiveness, etc. Covers carry these same dimensions, but many more apply such as: scarcity of destination or origin, postal rates, auxiliary markings, etc. Thus they are more complicated than stamps and to me, more interesting.
I try to convince customers and collectors that I encounter of this fact in the hope that they will be challenged to take up this branch of the hobby. I have developed a lecture on this that I have given at stamp clubs:
3. Your retail outlets are shows and the Internet. Why did you choose these and how do they build on each other?
First of all, email is far more efficient than is snail mail. It can result in instant feedback and one can convey higher quality images than one can send through ordinary mail. When I meet new customers at shows and I always try to have them give me their list of collecting interests and email addresses. When I follow up with them to show them material that I think matches these interests, it is much easier if I have a web page or two to which I can direct them. I have also benefited by having attractive women in my family who have accompanied me to several shows. Everyone knows that attractive people are a positive factor in merchandizing.
In planning my web pages I am influenced by what I perceive to be the interests of a balance of my customers. Of course I try to acquire stock that matches those interests. Often I have purchased some nice philatelic exhibits that have ended up being displayed on dedicated web pages.
4. How did you develop your Internet strategy?
Having spent my professional life developing computer systems, I wanted to apply what I could from that experience to my new business. Learning to use a web design tool was the first step. My son Brad, who is an accomplished user of such tools has been a big help. The next was to simply organize the website around the dimensions of philately that I was aware of and for which I felt I had a market.
5. You are a collector as well as a dealer. That seems to violate one of he informal tenets of dealing I have heard philatelic professionals discuss. How do you make this work for you?
I am no longer a collector, per se. I have only had two collections. Early on I had a small 19th century used singles with red cancels collection. Later as I mentioned earlier I had a collection of US #9s. These both were enlightening in that I realized many things about the rarity of several dimensions of collecting. I have disposed of both collections. However, dealers are still collectors at heart. I see and hold great pieces I would never have been able to touch if I was just a collector.
6. Have you plans for growing your Internet business?
It has grown by virtue of two factors. The first is that I am always adding to it and this means that there is an increasing chance that someone will find something on it to buy. The second is that I keep an extensive, searchable database carrying everyone I have done business with over the past 20 years. I can often find a previous buyer to associate with a "new" item that I acquire. If that person doesn't have a valid email address in my database, and I need to send him a notice through the USPS, I always ask for an email reply and also refer the customer to my website.
7. Have you any advice for new dealers? For new collectors?
My advice to both is: first narrow your focus to areas that interest you the most and then study them in depth. The more you learn, the more fun you will have.