Approach III: Postmark and Cover Collecting
While covers were often part of the late 19th century holdings of collectors, the first to take them seriously was John Seybold (1858-1909) whose collection was dispersed in three 1910 Morgenthau sales. The distaste for covers earlier is reflected by the fact that almost half the world’s cover rarities have been discovered since 1915.
Seybold was not the first to collect covers or postmarks, but the sale of his holding did represent the first major auction of a cover collection. Earlier collectors such as Hiram Deats, C. B. Corwin, Judge Emerson and A. B. Slater, Jr., included covers as part of their holdings, but what we know of these is usually what they owned of locals and carriers on covers or U.S. and Confederate provisional covers. For example, we know the Earl of Crawford had more than 4,000 Napoleonic era covers as well as a good showing of Confederate provisional covers. In 1888 Judge Emerson got hold of his grandfather’s business correspondence covers. Not all were soaked although Elliott Perry and Emerson did have a famous row about the way Emerson soaked some of his Seybold covers.
Clarence Eagle (1856-1922), a Vanderbilt relative, had begun stamp collecting in the early 1860s and sold his childhood collection soon after. He began collecting covers in 1889 and soon had an impressive hoard, probably rivaling or exceeding Seybold’s. There were some 537 postal history or cover lots in the first two of the Eagle dispersal sales in 1923. Sir Nicholas Waterhouse (1877-1964) was also an early cover collector; he also acquired Frederick Ayer’s covers along with his stamps in 1897. Another early collector, A. B. Slater, Jr. (1860-1936) sold off part of his cover holdings in 1912, around the time of the Seybold sale in 1910. An interesting evaluation of the Seybold holding can be made by comparing it with the William H. Crocker holding. Crocker didn’t begin collecting until 1884, but the U.S. portion of his holding contained 553 covers (largely Western covers together with locals, Confederate and U.S. provisionals). This can be contrasted with the 171 covers offered in the U.S. portion of the Seybold sale. It may put ‘paid’ to the enduring philatelic myth about the historic significance of the Seybold legacy. (More about myth later.)
It was two years after the Seybold sale that the International Postmark Society was first organized in 1912; it lasted some years and then went defunct, only to be revitalized and reorganized in 1930. Among the early members was William L. Stevenson of Chicago, who wrote a series of seminal articles in the Chicago Collectors Journal between 1912 and 1916. Stevenson is best known today for his work on grills, particularly the identification of a mystery grill he labeled the ‘Z-grill.’ He fell afoul of the philatelic establishment of the period and quit the hobby, selling off his collection at an early date. Another early postmark collector was A. H. Pike, who wrote on postmarks in Philatelic Gossip and Mekeel’s (1916-1918). His collection was sold in 1927. A third early student was J. A. Ritchie, who authored an important series on postmarks in Mekeel’s in 1920.
At the same time, H. L. Wiley was writing in 1914 about the cancellations on the 3¢ green Bank Note stamps. His second edition of 1915 is still a basic study. Carroll Chase was also writing on postmarks, particularly on the 1847 issue, in Philatelic Gazette in 1916. W. P. Atherton, the Black Jack collector, was writing postmark articles in the l920s, as was Dr. W. Evans. A Stampless Cover Society had been established but failed by 1925. F. S. Eaton, while at Cornell University, began work on stampless covers and published the first issue of the Stampless magazine in August 1927.
It was October 1930 when Harold P. Piser revitalized the International Postal Marking Society and began editing Postal Markings. By November 1930 there were 111 members including some of the most prominent names in the cover field, and one year later the total was up to 269.
Before looking at how these three approach pillars of American-century collecting were affected by the social history of the post-World War I era, it is useful to examine the social significance of a postal system in historic societies. A key reason is that there was a significant difference whose impact developed only around the ‘roaring 20s’ of the jazz age.