A Shout Out To Modern Philately - A Very Misunderstood And Unappreciated Field
Back then, the practice of dealers using stamps from the 1940's,50's, 60's, 70's and 80's as postage was firmly entrenched, and I'm sure that it started long before then. I remember being puzzled by the practice and I once asked Chris: "I know they are common now, but won't you guys deplete the existing stock of early material if you do this for 20 or 30 years?". His reply was "Do you have any idea of how big a million is? These stamps were issued in the millions. They will never be rare!". Back then, it was commonplace to find large quantities of the 1953 Karsh Issue, the 50's high value definitives, the 1954 Wilding Issue, the 1967-73 Centennial Issue, and the 1972-77 Caricature issue in massive quantities, selling for 70% of face value. It seemed at the time as though this material was so plentiful that they would never run out. Fast forward to today: You almost never see massive quantities of these issues anymore. Occasionally, you will find a few singles or blocks here and there, in "postage lots" but the massive quantities that could be had 25 or even 15 years ago are all but gone now. Even large lots of 8c, 10c, 12c and 17c stamps are getting harder and harder to find. 5c and 6c commemoratives are still plentiful, but not nearly to the extent that they once were. So Chris was very clearly mistaken.
So what though? I can hear some of you thinking. It still isn't rare. Besides, most of the varieties are just random paper varieties and flyspeck varieties, right? Well, no actually. And herein lies the misconception among philatelists that is the heart of the reason why modern philately is not more respected and popular among philatelists than it is: most philatelists fail to recognize that modern philately and classic philately are very different fields and that you cannot use the same standards to judge them.
Classic philately is about the collection of stamps that were printed at a time when printing involved a great deal of technological in-exactitude:
- Papers were often handmade, or came from several sources and were ordered and used in smaller batches than today.
- Perforating was in its infancy, and subject to much more experimentation than today.
- Colours were mixed by hand, using quantities of pigments and chemicals that were not exact, and the chemicals themselves were often unstable, which resulted in a lot of shade variations. Today, inks are mixed by machines, using exact chemical formulas that are designed to match them perfectly as far as the human eye can tell.
- Printing plates were made either of soft steel, copper or were lithographic stones that all wore quickly and frequently, resulting in the requirement to repair them frequently, and this in turn led to the plethora of re-entries, varieties and plate flaws that we are so familiar with today.
- Papers that vary in such a way that they can only be distinguished with an ultra-violet light, or show very slight differences in texture, thickness or colour (off-white versus bright white).
- The occasional shade variety that is minute and would be dismissed as nothing significant on a classic issue.
- Perforation variations that are measured in 1/10th of a hole, or 1/4 hole that are nonetheless consistent across many tens of thousands of stamps.
- Minute differences in the colour, sheen or type of gum (dextrine or PVA).