Nationalism and Philately
Another new factor that entered philately in the 1870s was nationalism. It spurred country collecting. Both Italy and Germany were united by 1871, while various nationalist forces competed for the Spanish throne between 1868 and 1875, until Alphonse XII won out. Nationalist impulses were already beginning to tear at the heart of the Ottoman and Habsburg Empires and would eventually destroy them. The Russian-Turkish War of 1877-78 resulted in an independent Bulgaria, Serbia, Rumania and Montenegro, while the Habsburgs took over the powder kegs of Bosnia and Herzegovina to add to their already troubled relationships in Hungary and Bohemia-Moravia. Anticipating a nationalistic problem, England had the foresight to permit Canada to become a self-governing dominion in 1867–the first of a number of such dominions.
To some extent the growing nationalism can be seen in early philatelic publications. The first monograph put out in England by what would become the Royal Philatelic Society was Mariano de Figueroa’s Obliteration Marks on Spanish Stamps, which was presented May 6, 1871, by Senor Victoriano deYsai, another Spaniard living in England. Then published in 1873, it may be the first postmark study.
The British organization then proposed a series of monographs on stamps by country that would, hopefully, culminate in a full authoritative catalog of the world. The work progressed alphabetically as far as Cuba, at which point a detailed stamp listing was compiled for France (1875), Canada (1876), Spain and colonies (1878), and then (1879) the Postage and Telegraph Stamps of Great Britain, which was published in 1881. At this point the idea of a universal catalog broke down, and more nationalistic-oriented country monographs became the new ideal.
Fig. 72 Dealers and exhibit in Vienna in 1881
Fig. 73 First U.S. stamp exhibit organized by collectors, at New’ York’s Eden Musée in 1889.
In nationalistic terms, Figueroa and deYsai concentrated on their Spanish homeland, while the expatriate French teacher DeJoannis focused his endeavors upon a complete reference list of French stamps, essays and proofs. He and Major E. B. Evans then set forth the outline of a detailed catalog of the British Empire as a collecting area. The older concept of universal collecting was beginning to disappear, although its greatest exponent, Ferrari, was just beginning to hit his collecting stride. An example of the shift in thinking occurred around 1904-06 when the Royal collection was divested of all the non-Empire stamps and future concentration focused upon Empire issues.
The DeJoannis/Evans concept of national collecting caught on in the early 1880s, with Judge Philbrick taking on the British private and government telegraph stamps, Westoby the newspaper stamps, and Pearson Hill, son of Rowland Hill, presenting a paper on the Treasury Competition essays that led to the first adhesive.
Indications of the shift in emphasis can also be found in the level of international exhibits that began with the Dresden show of 1870, followed by the Paris Congress of 1878, and the Vienna exhibit of 1881 (Figure 4). These shows set the structure of philatelic judgment for years to come, particularly the London Jubilee exhibit of 1890 and the London International of 1897.
Although the U.S. government had exhibited stamps at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial and again at the 1881 Atlanta Cotton Exhibition, the first U.S. exhibit organized by collectors was that held at New York’s Eden Musée in 1889 (figure 73). As in the case of the London Jubilee exhibit, the participation of leading collectors and their emulators in this major exhibition changed the way stamp collecting was viewed.
The 1890 London Jubilee classification of exhibits, eight in all, showed that by this date the old concept of general collecting had been downgraded in favor of the nationalistic idea of country collecting. General collections were designated as Class II and could win no higher than a silver medal. Had Ferrari entered his fabulous holding, he could not have won a medal equal to a British holding with far fewer rarities.
The Class I country exhibits were subdivided into three grades according to the then perceived philatelic difficulty of completion as modified by national and imperial pride. Switzerland with its cantonal rarities was Class Ib, compared with Class Ia countries such as British Guiana, Ceylon, Great Britain, India, Mauritius and New South Wales. Liberia, whose rare first issue covers are scarcer than British Guinea ‘cotton reels,’ was Class Ic, allowed to garner no higher than a silver medal at best. Almost all of the Class La countries had issued stamps prior to 1860 and, since dealers had not learned how to obtain stamps from abroad yet, there were but few examples of the first issues available, except for those soaked off covers. In a number of instances the initial issue quantities were few and record keeping was inexact at best.
Other than the Class Ia and Ib country holdings, the only category that could win a gold was postal entires making up Class III. This class, of course, included the British Mulreadys. However, the importance of entires also seems to reflect the personal views of Tapling, Bacon and Baron Percy de Worms, all of whom were students of postal stationery.
In addition to the lowest ranked (Ic) country class, three other areas deemed worthy of silver awards were Class II (general collections,), Class IV (post and letter cards) and Class VIII (miscellaneous, comprising covers, telegraph stamps, essays and proofs). The bronze medal classes were dealer exhibits (Class V), no matter how good, literature (Class VI), and stamp albums (Class VII).
It should be noted that the classifications basically downgraded back-of-the-book material, postal markings and covers, which were as close to postal history as the philatelists of the Anglo-German era ever got. Too, revenue holdings weren’t accepted.
In addition to the concentration upon country collections, another characteristic of the hegemony era was the emphasis upon face-free of ‘post office fresh’ material. This was typical of British thinking as first outlined by Dr. Gray and followed by Bacon and J. A. Tilleard. The last named was a solicitor who had become the future George V’s philatelic advisor and curator prior to the Jubilee show. While it is true that face-free stamps do show all aspects of their design, this focus upon unused stamps also represents a strong element of what Thorstein Veblen called “conspicuous consumption,” where the stamps involved no postal service and many of which were too valuable to be so used.
In commenting upon the ‘Rare Stamps of Great Britain’ as shown at the exposition, P. Castle noted:
“It will be obvious to many readers that the great rarities of Great lain, with a few exceptions … owe their scarcity to the fact that they are unused! … The rock of philately is the acquisition of what is rare, hence it was but natural that our philatelic predecessors should turn their attention to the feature that presented the greatest difficulties — the acquisition of stamps in unused condition…”
A problem generated by the focus upon face-free adhesives was that cancellation studies and cover collecting were downgraded. Tons of covers were soaked to yield lightly canceled adhesives so that when cover collecting, and later postal history, came into favor, many of the rarities had already been destroyed. Both Mahé, a stamp dealer since 1862, Hugo Griebert (born 1867) have testified to Ferrari’s habit of buying rare covers only to cut out or soak off the stamps in the late 1870s through the l890s. An unanticipated result of the market demand for minimum facial obliteration was the development of the canceled-to-order stamp. Apparently the first to meet this demand were the European printers and the postal authorities of Liberia in the 1860s; they were quickly followed by other postal administrations, such as the Transvaal.
Another example of the ‘conspicuous consumption’ aspect of gilded-age collecting was the ‘bloat’ aspect of exhibiting large multiples as well as multiple examples of rarities. Although multiples do serve a valid philatelic purpose in the study of plate production and printing practices, neither study was a feature of the earlier era nor have such studies been given often as justification for the exhibition of large multiples subsequently. The showing of multiple examples of rarities seems to have had no purpose other than conspicuous consumption.