Part 3- The Anglo-German Hegemony

Intertwining – Part III

The Anglo-German Hegemony

At a fairly early point in the history of stamp collecting there was a split between the French school of ‘scientific’ collecting and the British school.  Dr. Edward Gray, the zoologist whose stamp collecting began in 1840, first put the British view forth. He initially held that collectors should be concerned only with design and value, not with color, perforation, etc. J. H. Greenstreet, who wrote under the “Pendragon” pseudonym, also championed this view. He stated that the French “scientific” approach was “absurd, futile and pernicious.” By 1867 Dr. Gray had been converted to the French “scientific philately,” which had another strong English supporter in Edward Loines Pemberton, a leading English student and dealer. Nevertheless, an English, or rather Anglo-German, philatelic school did develop and became predomi­nant in the 1870s.

The motivating forces of colorful, exotic souvenirs continued to play a basic role in attracting stamp collectors. Although the French surrender to the Germans at Sedan during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 marked the opening of a new world political order of the Anglo-German hegemony, it didn’t end the imperialistic impulses that motivated missionaries and colonizers. Both continued to write back home, and their stamped letters helped spread the philatelic hobby. The Germans became the leading land power, while England continued dominating the seas, but now was more challenged in its role as the leading colonizer. All the leading powers were under pressure to expand their territory or colonies.

The Russian Czars had taken the Amur basin from China by 1858. By 1864 their forces had reached the oil fields of Batum and were not halted except by the Caucasus Mountains. In the East, Turkomen fell to Russia by 1881, and by 1885 Merv and Kazakhstan were incorporated, with the khanates of Khiva and Bokhara becoming dependencies. Russia now extended to the Chinese border and the Pacific.

In India, Great Britain took over direct control from the old East India Company, following the 1858 Sepoy mutiny. In Africa, British and French financial interests had taken advantage of Egypt’s war with Ethiopia to gain control of Suez. In 1869 England was able to purchase the Khedive’s shares of the Suez Canal. The Burmese kingdom fell to Britain in 1886, while France turned Tunis and Algeria into protectorates by 1881, having already taken over Vietnam in 1863. Germany, racing to catch up, took over Southwest Africa in 1884 and German Kamerun the same year, while grabbing East Africa the following year. It entered Samoa in 1890.

The continued imperial expansions helped keep stamp collecting an exciting hobby as new stamps, missionary letters and reports returned from the new distant out­posts of empire. Also helping was an expansion of the stamp distribution system. While stamp dealers had begun operating in the late 1850s, supplementing the earlier stamp swapping practices, the 1870s saw the introduction of public auctions. The auction of pioneer French stamp dealer J. W. Elb was held in Paris in December 1865, but there was no catalog issued.  This situation changed on May 28, 1870, when J. W. Scott sold off his collection at public auction to raise funds to finance his New York business, (figure 69).  Thereafter, the 1870s saw an explosion of auctions. Another new factor that stimulated stamp collecting at the beginning of the Anglo-German hegemony was the adoption of stamp collecting in an acceptable hobby for the mobility.  The addition of stamps was a logical extension of the kunstkammer focus upon human artifacts.  In this case, it represented the extension of graphic studies into the area of intaglio and lithographic miniatures called stamps.  Within a decade, most of the major royal houses of Europe were involved.

In England the first royal collector of whom we have record was Victoria’s second son, Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, who took up collecting in the 1860s at age of 20.  In 1874 he married the only daughter of Czar Alexander II, the reformer, Czar.  Her father apparently began the Czarist stamp collection; and her younger brother, Prince Alexis Michailovich (1875-1895), (figure 70) attempted in 1893 to purchase the Breitfuss holdings to add to it, but died before completing the transaction.

Alfred was joined in his pursuit of stamps by his older brother, the Prince of Wales, who acquired Alfred’s collection shortly before 1900.  It seems the future Edward VII was an avid collector in the late 1870s, for his second son, the Duke of York (later George V), noted with some despondency in 1879 his problems in competing with his father for better stamps.

By 1890 the future George V had a substantial holding.  With the death of his older brother the Duke of Clarence in 1892, he was the one to inherit the Royal collection when his father gave up collecting around 1900.  Prior to their marriage, George V’s wife, Mary of Teck, was also a stamp collector.   As a wedding present she took a number of philatelic gems from her personal collection to add to the Royal collection, focusing her personal interests thenceforth on collecting porcelain.

Royal interest in stamps was not confined to England.  As noted, both the Czars and the Hapsburgs incorporated stamps into their holdings.  In Germany Kaiser William I made arrangements for a Reichsmuseum following the takeover of the Thurn and Taxis postal operations by his new North German Confederation.

This state museum was opened in 1872 (figure71). In Saxony a Dresden Postal Museum was founded in 1891 under the sponsorship of Prince Frederick Augustus, who became Saxony’s king in 1904.

In subsequent generations the interests of the nobility in stamps spread around the world. A few more modern cases of royal collecting that come readily to mind include the stamp holdings of Spain’s Alphonse XIII, Romania’s King Carol II (grandson of Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh), Egypt’s “Palace collection” of King Farouk, and the Prince of Monaco. It is probable that Italy’s Victor Emmanuel III had a stamp collection for he was a respected numismatic authority.

Other members of the nobility who were drawn into stamp collecting during the Anglo-German hegemony included the Earl of Kingston, who specialized in Great Britain, and the Scottish Earl of Kintore, whose ancestor Lord Keith-Hall had preserved the Scottish royal regalia from Cromwell and one of whose ancestors took charge of Napoleon after his surrender. The Earl’s copy of the 1-penny Mauritius “Post Office” cover passed into the Royal collection. The Irish Duke of Leinster, descendant of the Irish royal family, was a collector in the 1860s; his collection went to the Dublin Museum to form the basis of the Irish state collection upon his death in 1897.

Another noble British collector (born 1845) was the Duke of Argyle (taking the title in 1900), who as the Marquis of Lorne married Queen Victoria’s daughter, Princess Louise, in 1871.  He served as Postmaster General in 1855 and later was Governor General of Canada (1878-1883); which may be why he was the source of so many of the Canadian 12-pence rarities that reached the philatelic market.  The Scottish Earl of Crawford is probably the best known of these nobles. He was already a well known curiosity collector, scientist and bibliophile before he became interested in stamps in the late 1890s.  Baron Percy de Worms (1869-1938), an early member of the Royal, specialized in Ceylon where he held extensive estates, which enabled him to contact the locals and obtain a control over early Ceylonese material for years. Baron Nathaniel Rothschild (born 1840) was the first to induce governments to supply special imperforate printings for his collection. By 1870 France, Belgium and Holland had complied.

An early French pioneer collector was Baron Arthur Rothschild, who began his serious collecting during the Franco-Prussian War, although he was buying stamps as early as 1868. Rothschild authored what is probably the world’s first postal history in 1879. Baron Alphonse Rothschild, who followed in his footsteps, sold his collection in 1939. The most famous of the “nobility” collections was that of Philippe Ferrari, godson of France’s King Louis Philippe. Ferrari began collecting in 1858 at age 10; eventually he would form the world’s greatest stamp holding using monies he got from his extremely wealthy mother, the Duchess of Galliera. She was related both to the royal Italian house of Savoy and the royal Spanish Bourbon-Orleans family to which Ferrari’s title of Duke reverted once he rejected it.

Other famous members of the nobility who collected include Baron von Turkeheim of Germany, who found the Baden 9-kreutzer color error in 1894 among family papers; Baron Renault of France; and Baron Eric Leijonhufund of Sweden, who purchased the Swedish 3-skilling banco color error at the Ferrari sale to add to his major Swedish holding of stamps. Prince Doria Pamphilj-Landi, a descendant of Genoese condottiere Andrea Doria, was the proud owner of Sicily’s ½-grano cobalt stamp. His family’s villa in Rome was Garibaldi’s headquarters in 1849. The Belgian Comte de Ramaix purchased one of the Mauritius I-penny “Post Office” stamps around 1910.

The nobility was a land-holding class that sought neither commercial nor entrepreneu­rial careers. When the industrial revolution generated a newly wealthy entrepreneurial class, in a still very class-conscious society, it was logical that it would try to emulate the nobility. This was done in full “gilded age” lifestyle with opulent palace-like homes, yachts, 50-room Newport summer “cottages,” gargantuan feasts, numerous servants, and innumerable knick-knacks and collectables. Its activities gave the era its sobriquet.

It is true that some of the new industrial and financial barons like Frick and Carnegie in America would concentrate on collecting art, or like financier J. P. Morgan concentrate on building impressive libraries. But many took up stamp collecting, then recognized as the “hobby of kings,” which they could share with their recognized social leaders. In similar fashion our present era has seen the rise in celebrity magazines, celebrity autographs, sports cards, clothing collecting, and speech and dress modeled on the current cultural icons.

                                    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.

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