Approach II: The Beginning of Topicals
A little noticed but significant event at the close of the 19th century was the November 1901 exhibition at London’s Royal Philatelic Society of “stamps of the countries affected by the Boer War.” It was the first serious philatelic recognition of a new collecting trend — topicals. An American who formed an important holding of this subject was Joseph S. Rich (1860-193 1); his Boer War collection passed to his son, Stephen G. Rich (1890-1958), and was dispersed in a Scott auction after the latter’s death (figure 75).
The Boer War was romanticized at the time it occurred. It was foreign and exotic with great stories about the founding of the Boy Scouts as well as the daring exploits of a young war correspondent, Winston Churchill. It was not until World War I that the true horrors of war would penetrate English con- sciousness to any depth. In a similar manner, the American ‘yellow press’ romanticized the Spanish-American War with its mysterious explosion of the Maine in Havana’s harbor, Roosevelt’s ‘rough riders,’ and Admiral Dewey’s quick win in Manila’s harbor. Even today relics of this romanticism linger in our drinking of ‘Cuba libres’ and daiquiris.
War cover collecting was not new with the Boer War, but earlier it was largely in the hands of manuscript collectors. For Americans the Mexican War could have been an early philatelic collection area; it wasn’t. The American Civil War was the first to generate large scale collecting interest, but this basically fell outside the stamp collecting society. In England the Crimean War and the Indian campaigns might have attracted stamp collectors but didn’t. The Germans and the French might have begun serious collecting of the Franco-Prussian War; again, it didn’t happen.
The social history aspects of Civil War patriotic cover collecting was well expressed in the April 1862 U. S. Mail and Post Office Assistant. It was a prescient observation:
“The rage for envelopes decorated with patriotic or other embellishments seems subsiding. Letters travel without the protection of a flag and portraits of distinguished personages cease to occupy the corner opposite to the physiognomy of Washington. Curious collectors have accumulated a great variety of specimens of those illustrated envelopes and the time will come when such collections will be examined with the utmost interest by antiquaries, desirous of getting a glimpse of feeling and humors of our times, as they were displayed during the great Civil War of the Western Continent. What a remarkable jumble of patriotism, sentiment, humor and animosity does such a collection present: Old letters are not only valued for the memories of their virtues but often for the biographical and historical matter they contain… The modern writers of history, with more comprehensive views than many of their predecessors, do not regard the life of a nation as consisting entirely in the intrigues of its rulers and their struggle for power, but consider the doings of the people in their various relations, domestic, commercial and the like, as of equal importance to the completeness of the record.”
More than 8,000 patriotic cover varieties were issued during the Civil War of which more than half seem never to have been found used. One early accumulator was Captain Morgan, secretary of the New York Post Office and the man for who New York’s Morgan Annex at 32nd Street was named. Many young ladies collected these envelopes in albums, which can still be found today. Some of the unused patriotics have even been made up into lampshades or decorative trays. Only a few stamp collectors, such as Major Edward Evans (1846-1922) and Hiram Deats (1870-1963), even gave the Civil War patriotics houseroom as part of their broad sweep of Civil War collecting. Most concentrated only on the stamps.
Until after World War II, war cover collecting in general was almost exclusively part of the manuscript collecting field rather than stamp collecting. Even there the focus was on content, not the envelope. The social history aspect of Civil War patriotics that was recognized in April 1862 was unappreciated. It is still not considered a valid topic in an of itself for international philatelic exhibition today.
The first serious collector of Civil War patriotics was George Walcott (1871-1932), whose collection of used civil war patriotic envelopes became the key catalog for the field for decades when the collection was dispersed by Robert Laurence’s auction in 1934, figure 76. Walcott had begun as an adult general collector around 1894 and soon developed a strong interest in history. In 1913 he undertook to represent the southern textile trade as his vocation, and his philatelic and historic avocational interests then crystallized on Confederate and Civ8il war collecting. This gave him a special rapport with his Southern clients, most of who still felt strongly about their ‘lost cause.’
As a result of his interests, Walcott became part of the New Jersey dynasty of and Civil War collectors that included Dr. Petrie, Hiram Deats, C. B. Corwin, John Klemann and New Jersey Senator Ernest J. Ackerman. Beginning in 1916, Walcott was a close philatelic associate of Edward Knapp, a New Yorker who summered in New Jersey. They shared a major interest in Confederates and the plating of these stamps. A major expansion of Walcott’s holdings occurred in 1927 when Senator Ackerman (1863-1931) had to liquidate his Confederate and patriotic cover holdings. Walcott had first pick of these, which included 250 exhibit-quality patriotic covers among others. In this fashion he obtained gems Ackerman had garnered earlier from the Evans, Deats and Corwin collections.
Some 16 frames of Civil War patriotics were shown at the U.S. 192ô International Exhibition (put up by Ackerman, Harold Brooks, Dana Stafford, Herman Toaspern and William White). The White exhibit was the first to show his new acquisition of more than 90 Angell patriotic covers to foreign destinations. These subsequently passed from White to Judge Emerson and then to the very astute Katharine Matthies before finally being dispersed in May 1969 by Robert A. Siegel. Miss Matthies’ philatelic eye was legendary, as her 1847 collection, her patriotics, her Waterbury’s and her Western holdings testify.
Walcott had intended that his Confederate and patriotic collections should go on permanent display in the New York Public Library to supplement the Benjamin K. Miller holding which had been given in 1925. Almost immediately after acquiring the Ackerman holding in 1927, Walcott initiated talks to finance the display. He had also just liquidated his worldwide collection for $80,000. Unfortunately the cotton textile business in which Walcott earned his money hadn’t been particularly profitable since 1923. Prices dropped drastically in 1926 with heavy U.S. production as well as major new imports of raw cotton from India, Egypt and Kenya. The cotton textile trade was also being buffeted by new competition from rayon. Walcott found he didn’t have the funds to complete the library donation. The best he could do was arrange for a definitive catalog of his more than 3,250 different items after his death. This was the largest used patriotic cover holding then ever assembled. It was not until 1977 that Robert Grant’s Handbook of Civil War Patriotics recorded almost 600 more used examples.
Another of the exhibits at the 1926 international exhibition was Henry Hammelman’s World War I collection. A checklist of World War I APO’s had been published on page 335 of the June 1920 American Philatelist. However, it was not until 1940 that H. Sanford put out a 56-page monograph on ‘Mail of the AEF?’ and 1963 when the late Edith “Dee” Faulstich published her small pamphlet on the American Expeditionary Forces in Siberia. In 1977 T. and V. Holt published a 192-page handbook on the picture postcards of World War I. The most complete work was not published until 1980 when Theo Van Dam’s first 242-page Postal History of the AEF 1917-1 923 was released.
The Spanish-American War is still neglected in philatelic literature. P. E. Baker put together a small monograph in 1963 on “Postal Markings of U.S. Military Stations 1898-1902,” while J. Leonard Diamond had begun a catalog of the patriotic covers of that war, which is still unpublished. On the 100th anniversary the New York Public Library put on a retrospective but completely omitted the patriotics.
For World War II, George Linn put out a catalog of patriotic covers in 1943, which was updated by Paul Hollister as the Linn-Hollister Catalog in 1981. In the December 1981 American Philatelist, Dr. Lawrence Sherman wrote on Pearl Harbor patriotics, while in 1979 Norman Gruenzner published a 138-page monograph on Postal History of American POWs World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. Today war covers, the first of the topicals, have an auction house devoted to them, as well as a War Cover Society. This concentration began with Delf Norona, Mervyn Hertzburg and others authoring almost monthly columns on war covers beginning in the 1932 issues of Postal Markings.