Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Stamp Booklets: Magic Carpets to Adventure - A Review

While the average stamp collector may have a stamp booklet or two in their collection, not many have a book about them. That’s because few have been written.

Stamp Booklets: Magic Carpets to Adventure by Jeremy A. Lifsey is primarily for the novice or intermediate collector. Lifsey refers to booklets as “magic carpets” because of their rectangular shape and the idea that they can transport the collector to far-away lands that they would not normally be able to visit due to the lack of time, energy or finances.

However, this could be said for individual stamps in general and is not necessarily unique to stamp booklets. Since the start of the hobby in 1840, one of the great joys of stamp collecting is that it can easily turn you into an arm-chair traveler.

In the Introduction and Overview, the author gives two examples of specific stamp booklets that he felt were good examples of how stamp booklets could transport one back in time. One example is about a 1956 East African booklet that features giraffes and lions on the stamps. However, it is not the stamps Lifsey found interesting; it was the interleaves in between the stamps which promoted local hotels and restaurants that a visitor might have gone to at the time. Today those tourist sites no longer exist.

The other is a 1924 booklet from France whose cover features cherubs carrying platters of oyster shells up a ladder and dumping them into a grinder that promotes a small town in France, Mornac-sur-Seudre, known for oysters.

Neither are particularly good examples of the point the author was trying to make – that through stamp booklets one can travel through time.

Probably a better example, which is mentioned briefly in a later chapter, would have been the Lewis and Clark booklet issued by the United States in 2004. It was released to commemorate and celebrate the 200th anniversary of the beginning of the explorers’ trek from St. Louis to the mouth of the Columbia River on the West Coast.

Besides twenty 37-cent stamps picturing Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, the booklet also contains a vivid description of their journey. It was illustrated profusely with historic photos, drawings, and artifacts.

While I was not particularly interested in Lewis and Clark before, I remember when the booklet came out it sparked my imagination and peaked my interest in their journey across America. While being taken back in time, I also found it exciting that many of the places that Lewis and Clark travelled to still exist and can be visited today.

The various chapters in the 231-page, softbound book delve into the different types of stamp booklets, where to find them, how to organize and display them, etc. There is also a bibliography as well as several appendixes.

My favorite chapter discusses the monetary value of stamp booklets. Lifsey advises not to get caught up in the investment aspect of collecting. That is, selling them for more than you paid. He says, “You bought the booklets for enjoyment. The pleasure you receive from them is worth something. Add that to the dollar amount you receive when you sell them and you can be sure you will have a good return on your investment.”

This is good advice for anyone who collects anything - be they stamps, coins, art or whatever.

Lifsey also stresses in this chapter something the inexperienced collector often overlooks - condition and centering. He believes, as do I, both are essential if you are to have a collection that appreciates in value over time.

To illustrate this basic tenet of philately, Lifsey shares a story about how he tried to sell one of his duplicate booklets to a stamp dealer many years ago. The dealer wasn’t interested because of poor centering.

Lifsey writes, “Within the booklet one pane was key. It alone determined the value of the booklet. It was centered ‘fine,’ and the dealer didn’t think much of it. Had it been centered ‘very fine, or better’ a sale might have resulted.”

The point Lifsey is trying to make is when buying stamps for your collection – singles or booklets – make sure you get the best centering possible. One way to do this is to hold the stamp upside down and look at it. By doing so it will greatly assist you in seeing how equal the spacing around the top and bottom, left and right margins of the design and the perforations are. The reason this works is because when you hold the stamp upside down, you are no longer focused on the stamp design - just the margins around it.

Lifsey began collecting stamps while in grade school and has been collecting booklets for the past 35 years. Published in 2008 by XLibris, this self-published book is obviously a labor of love and effectively communicates the author’s passion for stamp booklets, their design and packaging.

Overall, the book is a good read and contains a great deal of useful and interesting information for stamp collectors young and old. It is an excellent introduction to collecting stamp booklets and deserves a place on your bookshelf….and in your virtual travel plans.

- Don Schilling

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posted by Don Schilling at 12:01 AM