Harbingers of the Depression Era
“Behold, I will bring evil upon this people, even the fruits of their thoughts, because they have not harkened…” (Jeremiah 6, 19)
Many of the problems of the depression era had been presaged in the early 1920s. Many continued to fester during the 1930s as they were not tended and finally erupted into World War II. The economic boom of World War I deflated in 1920. Although industrial production recovered swiftly during the jazz era, agriculture did not. The agricultural slump continued throughout the 1920s and finally culminated in the Midwest dust-bowl Oakie exodus of the 1930s, about which John Steinbeck (1902-1968) wrote so eloquently in his 1939 Grapes of Wrath. It followed his 1937 Of Mice and Men. Earlier, in 1933, novelist Erskine Caldwell (1903-1987) adapted his Tobacco Road into a hit Broadway play that challenged Abie’s Irish Rose for Broadway’s long-run title. The 1930 agriculture depression was a major theme in 1930s literature.
Overseas, Lenin gained full power in Russia in 1921, having defeated the ‘white’ forces as well as seeing the joint American, British and other allied occupation forces withdraw. Upon winning, Lenin had to reverse his economic policies and institute his less repressive New Economic Policy (NEP). He died, possibly murdered, in 1924 and Stalin began his bloody march to power, succeeding in 1926. In Italy, Mussolini led his jack-booted ‘black-shirts’ in the Fascist march on Rome in 1922 where he took power. Hitler, capitalizing on the German hyperinflation of 12923, launched his unsuccessful beer hall putsch in 1923. It resulted in his imprisonment and time for him to write Mein Kampf, a prophetic, but disbelieve, warning of his future plans.
The year 1923 also saw Japanese politics begin to become unsettled in the aftermath of the economic consequences of the great Tokyo earthquake. In India, the first major Indian-Muslim religious clashes of modern times began in 1921 in the Punjab and Malabar regions, while Gandhi launched his first civil disobedience campaign December 4th of that year. In the Middle East, Atatürk, a genius Turkish nationalist general, defeated the combined allied armies that occupied his country and dictated a new peace treaty on July 24, 1923. He also began the massive revamping of Turkish society from language to religion. On August 24, 1924, Ibn Saud, with his conservative Wahabi tribesmen, captured Mecca and established the present dynasty over that future oil-rich land. The year 1923 also saw Lithuania sponsor an insurrection in Memel over inter-allied control, severing that town from Germany, a situation Hitler reversed in 1938-9. In Spain, a 1923 military coup place General DeRibera in control of the country, following which he drove out liberals such as the writers Ibañez and Unamundo. Dissatisfaction with his rule eventually resulted in the Spanish Civil War in 1936.
Age of Anxiety
On ‘black Friday’ in October 1929, the clock finally struck midnight on the jazz era’s ball. It was the timing signal for the beginning of the great depression and the collapse of the U. S. stock market. It initiated a major reassessment of a number of social verities. For decades, society had viewed itself as a half-filled glass; now it aw itself as half-empty. An ‘age of anxiety’ was now ushered in, as delineated by Leonard Bernstein in his Second Symphony which used that title. Prophetically his first was called the Jeremiah. The surety that had carried America confidently into the twentieth century and which had survived the first World War was shaken. Man’s confident belief that solutions could be found and hat there were ultimately achievable final answers had dissolved into anxiety. While new answers might be offered, they were not necessarily ones that America wanted. The belief in American style democracy together with the Puritan work ethic that had been at the heart of much American progress was having its underpinnings attacked by a series of challenges that came to fruition in the 1930s, although some had been more than a half-century in developing.
Americans, and the world, became anxious about five basic areas where confidence and faith in the future were challenged. Among other lesser areas, these were: a) the received text of the Christian bible, b) the concept that the form of man was immutable and had always been in the present form, c) the solidity of things, e.g. the touchable physical nature of reality, d) the unchanging nature of institutions and, finally, e) the reliability of the economic theories of capitalism.
Challenge to these five ‘verities’ generated great anxiety and uncertainty whenever ‘new’ solutions were proposed. One consequence of such anxiety is the use of social anodynes. Past societies have had serious challenges to their basic principles and met them in a variety of ways. One was to freeze social structures. This was done by Egypt under the threats of desertification, and the Hyksos invasions. They met the threat of monotheism under Ikhnaton by denial and erasure of his existence. Rome met the challenge of barbarian invasions by widening roman citizenship and turning to religion for solace.
In the 1930s, the drive for stability led to the successful rise of dictatorships where leaders promised sureties, such as trains that ran on time or the regaining of national pride. The turn to faith saw many in the West look to Communism as a new faith, blinding them in denial to its flaws when they were revealed. Another response was escapism. America took to this and made the movie industry burgeon. Even small things such as the stability of a hobby was influenced by the need to regain certainty. In this respect, stamp collecting offered both a sense of stability with its catalogs and printed albums as well as socially acceptable escapism. In the age of anxiety of the great depression, stamp collecting approached the zenith of its popularity.
The Attack on Religion
Both the initial challenge to the literal accuracy of biblical texts and a new hobby of stamp collecting arose about the same time; both stemmed from the same intellectual curiosity that permeated mid-19th century society. Not only Christian textual tradition was challenged. At the same time, Frankfurt’s chief rabbi, Abraham Geiger, a student of comparative theology who authored Judaism and Islam, together with Berlin’s chief rabbi, Samuel Holdheim, undertook a critical reexamination of Jewish doctrine and created the Reform movement. This movement took particular root in the United States. Islam did not undergo a similar reexamination of its doctrines, leading to the present day conflict between Muslim theocrats and Western culture.
The reexamination of biblical texts was threefold in nature textual, historical and literary, with the latter two being dubbed the ‘higher criticism’; all three were basically German in nature. Textual criticism involved collating all known documents and checking the differences among them, while sorting out which derived from which. At the same time, the texts were examined for letter and word confusion, lacuna, mistranslation, repetition, transpositions, and interpolations, including those of marginal comments. Few, if any, Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament could be tracked prior to the ninth century A.D., although individual passages such as in Isaiah were known from earlier dates. Too, the ancient Hebrew alphabet consisted of consonants only, like that of their Phoenician and Aramaean neighbors. Between the fifth and ninth centuries A.D., Jewish scholars had inserted vowels and accents; further, the early texts were ‘run-on’ with no word separation. Te result of these students’ work was an approximate text as it might have been in 300 B.C. It was considered probable that errors still lurked that could only be corrected by conjectural emendation. Such emendations have been suggested by upholders of particular metric theories; however, these yield verses that don’t fit very well into the existing texts.
Georg H. A. von Ewald wrote a Hebrew grammar that inaugurated the new era in biblical philology, while his great Gëschichte des Volkes Israel, published in 1859, synthesized the chronological studies to that date, making mincemeat of the long-standing biblical dating of Bishop Ussher. At the same time, non-biblical documents began to pour out of Egyptian, Babylonian and Hittite archives that helped, along with new archeological data, to give historical perspective to the literal texts. This historical analysis is still going on today with new archeological evidence ranging from the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Sinai altar and calf. The 1977 publication of the 1945 discovery of the Nag Hammadi library of Gnostic texts, buried since 400 A.D., fleshed out what was known about this group from other manuscript source. For instance, this group of early Christians attacked some of the same people condemned as ‘Gnostics’ in 180 A.D. by Irenaeus, and by his follower Hippolytus around 210 A.D. in his Refutation of all Heresies (Philosophumena) found at Mt. Athos in 1842. The Gnostics texts supply perspective to early Christian thought.
Literary criticism was used to deconstruct the texts of both Old and New Testaments as well as of some Church Fathers. Apparently the first to attempt this deconstruction was a French Catholic physician, Jean Astruc, who in 1753, a century earlier than the bulk of the ‘higher criticism,’ noted the blending together of several versions of biblical narrative that could be identified, in part, by the use of the word ‘Elohim’ for God (E text) or ‘Yahweh’ (J Text). The latter is also known to have characteristic plays or puns on words. Two other strands are the ‘P’ for its apparent priestly source, and ‘R’ for the redactor or editor or editors who attempted to blend the other strands together. Colenso in his 1862 Pentateuch gave a searching analysis of the ‘P’ narrative.
Similar analyses were made of New Testament documents such as the Pauline epistles and the dates of the four synoptic gospels. One conclusion was that there was an, as yet undiscovered, early document termed theLogia, which was largely made up of the sayings of Christ and that this document was used by several of the synoptic gospel authors. Such a document was first noted at the beginning of this century and confirmed in the Nag Hammadi library as the Gospel of Didymos Judas Thomas, supposedly Christ’s brother according to Syrian church reports. However, it lacks some characteristics expected of the ‘Q’ or Logia documents.
- Lachmann, in his 1850 publication of N.T. Graece et Latine, broke with the traditional New Testament text and the late manuscripts and attempted to reconstruct the texts based upon the earliest authorities, an important textual step forward. However, he ignored the concept of grouping connected manuscripts as earlier proposed by J. J. Griebach who had suggested a Western Alexandrian and Constantinopolitan set of text groupings. All of the work of the ‘higher criticism’ let to a new more accurate Revised Version of the bible published between 1881 and 1895. It certainly lacked the emotional appeal and literary grandeur of the King James. Modernizing the style and incorporating even newer research let to the 1933 Goodspeed ‘Short Bible.’
Conflict with Evolution
Historian Samuel Eliot Morison in his Oxford history of the American People wrote that:
“The Roman Catholic Church, though emphasis on sacraments rather than sacred Scriptures, escaped the controversy over Darwinism that rocked most of the Protestant churches to their foundations. And it successfully rode out the storm of German ‘higher criticism’ of the Bible because most of the German theologians were unintelligible. Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859) however, was read by almost every literate American sooner or later. It inculcated the doctrine of evolution through natural selection and taught that man was the end process of development from lower forms of life. Asa Gray of Harvard begged Darwin to postulate some Grand Design, some Beneficent Deity in all this; but Darwin could not persuade himself ‘that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or…that the eye was expressly designed.’…the more intellectual and prominent Protestant clergy…unable to refute Darwin’s facts or challenge his conclusions, conceded that the Book of Genesis could not be taken literally. This was no embarrassment to the Unitarians, who already regarded the Bible as symbolical. But the evangelical churches in general rejected the Darwinian view of the cosmos as blasphemous and even persuaded several Southern states to pass laws against the teaching of evolution in the schools. In support of the law in Tennessee (Scopes case), William Jennings Bryan won the case but lost his last battle in 1925; and in 1964 that law was still on the books…But there is no doubt that it (the controversy) weakened the hold of religion on the average American. He stopped reading the Bible when it no longer could be considered divine truth; and in so doing his character suffered. For, as Romain Rolland’s Jean Christophe says, ‘The Bible is the marrow of lions. Strong hearts have they who feed on it…The Bible is the backbone for people who have the will to live.’”
The 1925 Scopes trial inaugurated the ensuing cultural wars between the biblical literalists and the rational analysts that flavored the rest of the 120th century. It brought together the consequences of Darwin’s theses on he mutability of living forms and the causes thereof, with the ‘higher criticism’ and textual challenges to the biblical texts that led to the new 1933 Goodspeed Bible.
Today we find arguments that animals have cultures which are transmitted non-genetically and which are not instinctual. The idea of animal cultures had not been conceived of at the beginning of the century. Thus, in 1999, Dr. Bryan Norton, professor of environmental public policy at Georgia Tech could note: “Putting a captive bred animal in the wild is equivalent to dropping a contemporary human being in a remote area in the 18th or 19th century and saying, ‘Let’s see you make it.’” This view is a clear repudiation of the earlier Robinson Crusoe thesis that civilized man in a primitive environment conquers it. This moral thesis was put forth by Daniel Defoe in his 1719 Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe. Those who doubt Defoe was moralizing need only read his earlier Jure Divino and The Family Instructor.
Challenging the Reality of Nature
A third challenge to accepted verities occurred in physics when the nature of reality was put into question by Max Planck’s 1901 article in Annulen der Physik proposing his q8antum theory y which radiation is not continuous by quanticized, neither wave nor particle but partaking of both characteristics. Planck (1858-1947) was preceded by J. J. Thomson’s 1897 identification of the first sub-atomic particle, the ‘corpuscle,’ which we now know as the electron. Thompson was explaining electricity in terms of matter, while his contemporary, Lorentz, used Johnstone Stoney’s term ‘electron’ to explain matter in terms of electricity. At the time it was assumed that electrons moved in Newtonian dynamics and revolved like a planet within the atom. This view had to be given up by 1930.
Between 1925 and 1927, Werner Heisenberg (1901-1976) and Erwin Schrödinger (1897-1961) developed the indeterminacy concept whereby the more accurate the attempt to locate the position of a particle, the less accurate its determinable velocity and vice versa. As Sir William Dampier stated in his 1949 History of Science: “…the electron was resolved into an unknown source of radiation or disembodied wave-system. The last trace of the old, hard, massy particle has disappeared, and the ultimate conceptions of physics seem to be reduced to mathematical equations.”
While the fuzzy nature of matter was being developed, Albert Einstein (1879-1955) began another disconcerting line of understanding of reality. In 1905 he noted the ideas of absolute space and time were imaginary constructs and not absolute, but relative to the observer. Thus light always travels with the same measured velocity relative to any observer. This theory of relativity meant that simultaneity disappears. The light of a star seem now is that of a past dependent upon its distance away. Einstein’s relativity theory was laid out in his 1922 Vier Vorlesungen über Relativitätstheorie. He had applied his theory of relativity to gravity in his 1915 paper showing that gravity deflects light, which was confirmed by Sir Arthur Eddington in 1919 in his observations of the eclipse of that year. In 1919, Einstein announced the first of his Unitary Field Theories, which made electro-magnetism a metric property of space-time. Various atomic particles began to be discovered in addition to the electron. The positron was identified by Carl Anderson and Millikan in 1932 while 1934 saw the mesotron theorized and confirmed in 1938, while the proton had been identified by Rutherford in 1919 as part of experiments bombarding elements such as nitrogen resulting in atomic transformations. Hahn and Meitner split the uranium atom in 1939.
Challenging Classic Economic Verities
Economic verities were also questioned by the time of the depression. In 1923 the first modern hyper-inflation took place in Germany and reduced the old mark value of 25¢ to practically nothing so that to mail a letter took billions of marks and wheelbarrows full to buy staples such as bread. The effect was to intensify the concentration upon material goods. When Arthur Hind died in 1933, his estate of millions of dollars in real estate, stocks and bonds had been badly depreciated by the great depression. His stamp collection of U.S. material for which he spent $250,000 realized $245,000. The Hind British Empire holding brought $675,000 not including his penny magenta British Guiana. Stamps were the one investment known to have held value, a fact that did not go unnoticed by American stamp collectors.
There were challenges to classic economics at earlier periods. Karl Marx (1818-1883) published volume I of Das Kapital during his lifetime in September 1867. The remainder of the four-volume work was not completed and published until 1902 and was primarily edited by Fredrich Engels (1820-1895) and completed by Karl Kautsky and Franz Mehring, with the first scholarly edition of the Marx-Engels papers published, theMarx-Engels Gesamtausgabe, between 1927 and 1935. Since the days of Adam Smith, classical economics had developed very much in a theoretical fashion through the writings of Bentham, Ricardo and John Stuart Mill. One of Marx’s revolutionary moves was to go back to Adam Smith’s empirical approach of seeing how events played out in the market.
Marx’s theory of history, whereby the incongruities between the economic conditions of production and exchange would inevitably conflict with the prevailing cultural and political order led him to posit an obvious development of class warfare between owners and toilers. There would be a growing concentration of monopoly power, which in turn would lead to increasing exploitation of both resources and labor. This, in turn, would lead to warfare and the end of the recognizably efficient capitalist system as workers would to gain control over the production process in which they were involved. In his Manifesto of 1848, he indicated the change would be both rapid and violent.
This view of inevitable warfare didn’t particularly take with the American working class, despite the I.W.W. ‘wobblies’ and other radical groups, for most workers saw themselves as either already being in the middle class or moving into it. Rather, the theory found American roots in the heart of the upper, or managerial, class and was widely expressed during Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency by those calling him a class traitor. It was still quite prevalent in conservative circles even after World War II and was also adopted by the scions of his class during the 1930s. Their acceptance of class war enabled them to justify an unreasoning support of Stalinist Russia as exemplified by the words of the ‘mandarin’ intellectuals of France, the British ‘Cliveden set’ and the ‘Oxbridge’ spy circles as well as the American spy rings who were serving Russia in government post here.
In addition to the useful point of forcing economists to again look at the marketplace, Marx made a second valid contribution in his focus upon the change in institutions. Although he proposed the changes would be sharp historical breaks with the past as in the French Revolution, the concept of change was important and acknowledged the Alfred Marshall (1842-1924), whose 1890 Principles of Economics dominated standard class economic theory until the 1930s. Marshall accepted Marx’s concept of change but rejected his radical break approach with his ‘Natura non facit saltum’ comment on the title page of his work as well as in his discussion of the ‘principle of continuity’ in the preface to his first edition of Principles. In the 1920 eighth edition he picked up on the influence of Darwin, when he noted: “the Mecca of the economist lies in economic biology rather than in economic dynamics…” It remained for A. C. Pigou (1877-1959) in his 1920 Economics of Welfare, re-edited in 1928 and 1932, to reject the smooth curves of demand and supply of classic theory and introduce ‘lumpy factors’ such as the jumps in supply when a new machine or new factory comes on stream. This is similar to the evolutionary discontinuities seen in the fossil records of evolutionary change.
Edward Chamberlin (1899-1967) of Harvard, in his 1932 Theory of Monopolistic Competition, and Cambridge scholar Joan Robinson (1903-1983) in her 1933 Economics of Imperfect Competition, pointed out that the assumptions behind the pure competition espoused by Bentham, Ricardo and Mill did not match the real world and that new models were needed. It remained for Marshall’s star pupil, John Maynard Keynes (1893-1963) to suggest in his 1935 General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money that the boom and bust cycle of economic activity was not self-correcting and that vigorous government policies were sometimes needed to combat the economic downturns. M.I.T.’s 1970 Nobel laureate in economics, Paul Samuelson, in 1986 state: “The Keynesian revolution was the most significant event in twentieth-century economics.”
In a preliminary essay on the Protest work ethic published in 1905, Max Weber (1864-1920) linked religion with the rise of capitalism. The essay was expanded in his 1920 Gesmmelt Aufstaze zur Religionssoziology. R. W. Tawney (1880-1982), in the 1937 edition of his 1927 work Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, noted in regard to the connection between the economic Radicalism of the Manchester mills and the religious Radicalism of the Calvinists, “ Religion influence, o a degree which to-day is difficult to appreciate, men’s outlook on society. Economic and social changes acted powerfully on religion..
Puritanism helped to mould the social order, but it was also itself increasingly moulded by it.” In his conclusion he added:
“Circumstances alter from age to age, and the practical interpretation of moral principles must alter with them. Few who consider dispassionately the facts of social history will be disposed to deny that the exploitation of the weak by the powerful organized for the purposes of economic gain, buttressed by imposing systems of law, and screened by decorous draperies of virtuous sentiment and resounding rhetoric, has been a permanent feature in the life of most communities that the world has yet seen. But the quality in modern societies which is most sharply opposed to the teaching ascribed to the Founder of the Christian Faith lies deeper than the exceptional failure and abnormal follies against which criticism is most commonly directed. It consists in the assumption, accepted by most reformers with hardly less naiveté than by the defenders of the established order, that the attainment of material riches is the supreme object of human endeavor and the final criterion of human success.”
What Tawney is saying on the eve of the great depression is that two of societies basic belief systems are in conflict. Conflicts such as this and the other challenges to social underpinnings meant that when the extent of the social devastation of the depression was seen, there was a cry for solutions and a new approach, possibly even a new order of society. It meant that a quintet of political theorists whose devotion to a critical examination of social structure in a realpolitik manner would at a later date have themselves labeled The Machiavellians in a book of that title by James Burnam in the 1940s. Many such as Francis Coker in his 1934Recent Political Thought saw them as attackers of democracy rather than creators of the basis of a new realpolitik democracy, which was also a possibility.
New Political Theories
The oldest of the five was Georges Sorel (1847-1922) who sought to analyze the use of social myths. His major work, Reflections on Violence, detailed the general strike as a social weapon and gave the intellectual backing to the 1910 French railway strike and the British strikes of the same period as well as the British general strike of May 3-12, 1926.
Sorel held that every effective social movement had its myths and that masses of men are stirred into heroic action and perseverance by such appeals to the imagination. He noted that the 18th century political dogmas of freedom and equality were irrational and impossible, but their myth radically modified the whole course of constitutional development. In the 1930s, one find Roosevelt effectively wielding social myth with his ‘We have nothing to fear but fear itself’ speech which mocked Marx’s Manifesto cry that workers had nothing to lose but their chains. Roosevelt lost out when he ran into the social myth of the inviolability of the Supreme Court when he sought to pack it. The myth was too strong.
Gaetano Mosca (1858-1941), a Sicilian student of constitutional process, wrote his The Ruling Class (Elementi di Scienza Politica) in 1896 but it was fist put in English in 1939. Mosca hated Marx and rejected the Nazi racial theories. What he did see is that all societies were ruled by minorities or oligarchies, even such small social societies as sewing circles, and stamp clubs and that they justify their rule by ‘political formulas’ that contain little ‘truth’ but which express the deep human need to defer to abstract universal principles rather than to the will of individuals. He also held that the internal stability of a ruling group can be measured by the ratio between the number and strength of the social forces it controls or conciliates and the number and strength of those it fails to represent; thus his ‘sense of social balance.’
Mosca held that aggressive individuals or social forces are checked by habit, custom or other juridical defenses (due process in a government by law). A high grade of juridical defense also depends upon a sufficient division of wealth to allow a fairly large number of people with moderate means. He saw the standing army as the key to why military dictatorships don’t dominate society. It succeeds because there is a sharp absolute distinction between the private and officer, and the officers come from the ruling class and reflect the balance of forces within that class. Nevertheless he holds officers had to be completely eliminated from political life. Mosca viewed the modern intensification of nationalism as a product of world religions, which re-embraced many diverse types within the same group, which inclined those groups to coalesce individually around political formulas of a non-religious nature. In this he anticipated such excesses as Bosnia, the Indian sub-continent internal and external massacres and the Sudanese civil war.
A third political theorist was Robert Michels (1876-1956) whose key work was Political Parties. An Italian Swiss, he first published his work in 1913 and in English in 1915 with an additional chapter on wartime conditions, which was also in the 1939 reprint. It was his thesis that the party oligarchies control the electors and the best that can be hoped for is a selection among a small coterie of leaders. Direct democracy is impossible he contended both because of the number of people involved and the technical means of expressing their will. Thus we have representative government, which is controlled by a party oligarchy. Elected officials tend toward life incumbency and custom becomes a right. In many case a political leader gains his point by threatening to resign at a critical point. Churchill used this threat during World War II. Leaders can also use their perquisites of appointment to gain support, as in committee appointments or chairmanships in the legislature. Another legislature leader’s tool was the acceptance of ‘port barrel’ legislation or including such proposals in other legislation. This method of oligarchic control is common in legislative party caucuses, as is the allocation of reelection resources.
The fourth theorist in the group was Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923). He was a Swiss Italian like Michels and developed as an economist and sociologist. His Cours d’Economie Politique was published in 1897, while the first two volumes of his Trattato di Sociologia Generale reached publication in 1919. This is a work that eventually comprised four volumes, published in English as Mind and Society in 1935. In economics ‘Pareto’s law’ held that income is distributed inevitably throughout society in the same way regardless of social or political institutions or taxation, a view not fully accepted in the post-World War II era. His economic views were combined with those of the syndicalists and used as the intellectual justification for the corporate Fascist systems used in Spain and Italy, even though Pareto had to flee Fascist Italy. Like Michels and Mosca, Pareto held that a small ruling class actually controlled modern
“There us a not very numerous governing class, which keeps itself in power partly by force and partly by consent of the much more numerous class of the governed…A governmental system in which the ‘people’ expresses its ‘will’ (if we could suppose that the people has a will) without factions, intrigues and cliques, exists only in the state of the pious designs of theorists…Democracies in France, Italy, England and the United States tend more and more to be demagogic plutocracies.”
The current ‘soft money,’ high election costs and ‘sound bite’ politics suggest some validity to Pareto’s observations.
Fifth of the group was professor Jose Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955), a Spaniard whose Revolt of the Masses was published in Spanish in 1930 and in English in 1952. He focused attention upon the attitudes and characteristics of what he termed ‘mass man’ rather than the bourgeoisie or rulers, citing the growing importance of this group as a result of urbanization and the depopulation of the countryside, trends very obvious in modern Africa. He noted that for the average mass man, life could be easier, more convenient, and safer than it could be for the rich of the past. Mass man, Ortega noted, was a spoiled child, intellectually complete in his own mind and willing to impose his view upon others. He held there was not: “A single group whose attitude in life is not limited in believing that it has all the rights and none of the obligations…(adding) This fighting-shy of every obligation partly explains the phenomenon, half ridiculous, half disgraceful of the setting-up in our days of the platform of ‘youth’ as youth.” Ortega was one of the early commentators upon the characteristics of the ‘youth culture’ that permeates modern society. .
Stamp Collecting: A Social Anodyne
As noted earlier, there was a major shaking of social verities that led to a profound sense of insecurity during the 1930s. This affected all parts of society. Speaking of the impact on family life, Steven Mintz in his 1988 Social History of the American Family stated:
“Unemployment or part-time work, lower wages, and demands of needy relatives tore at the fabric of family life, forcing many to share living quarters with relatives, delay marriages, and put off having children. The divorce rate fell, for the simple reason that fewer people could afford one, but the rate of desertion soared. By 1940, over 1.5-million married couples were living apart.”
Lois Banner in her 1983 American Beauty book commented upon the impact upon fashion: “The look for women was one of greater maturity, including heavier bodies, longer skirt lengths, fuller facial features, and shoulder pads, adopted from the standard mail tailoring. A nation in crisis seemed to look to its women to provide security.”
The concept that the individual had control of his own destiny was one that seemed most vulnerable to the psychological erosion of the depression. However, the individual success ethic continued to dominate. Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People was a massive publishing success in 1936, while foreign observers were particularly surprised by the passivity of the American unemployed who tended to hide, unwilling to show the world what they perceived as personal failure. What did come forth was a drive for conformity and structure. Ernest Hemingway’s 1940 For Whom the Bell Tolls used the Spanish Civil War to show the importance of solidarity in the face of oppression.
People also sought security through structure in their leisure time activities during the depression. Those pastimes that provided it became popular. In Nassau Street, Herman Herst seems to have sensed this and used it to justify his becoming a depression era stamp dealer:
“Despite the depression, thousands were taking up the hobby of stamp collecting. Money was still tight. Car sales lagged. Theaters sought to fill empty seats by giving away dishes and holding bank nights. Night clubs closed. Millions of people who under ordinary circumstances might be buying new clothes, going on cruises, visiting expensive restaurants, were staying home. Hobbies boomed. The sale of crossword puzzles zoomed. Monopoly, backgammon, card games were the big thing. Contract bridge swept the country. And tens of thousands of stamp collections, many of them with the dust of years on them, were brought out…”
Of these popular 1930s hobbies, several had ancient roots, but reached a popularity peak during the great depression. Backgammon went back to Roman and Greek days at which time it was known as the 12-line game, as reported in Plato’s Republic. A revised version was developed in the 10th century, while Chaucer referred to it as the ‘game of tables.’ It is a dice game, where the success of the winner hinges upon his evaluation of the probably throws of two dice. It has chance, structure and room for individual success. Contract bridge seems to have its origins in whist, a game dating back to 1526 when it was called triofi. It was one of the games codified by Hoyle in 1742 and seems to have been played in something like modern form in India in the 1800s. However, the best attribution for the modern game was William Vanderbilt’s devising of contract bridge while he was passing through the Panama Canal in 1925. Again, this card game has a strong structural reassurance while allowing for considerable individual initiative.
The crossword puzzle was invented in 1913, but it didn’t achieve its great popular success until the 1930s at which time newspaper after newspaper began publishing puzzle columns, bridge columns and stamp columns. It was cheap to participate, intellectually challenging enough to generate self-esteem without creating a sense of personal failure. The board game of Monopoly was invented in 1933 and quickly became the leading board game in America surpassing backgammon and Maj Jong. Another popular board game of the period was bingo, an American modification of keno or lotto, an old Italian gambling game. This game became particularly popular in churches as a way to raise funds.
All of these games were fairly structured in nature while allowing a reasonable amount of personal initiative in the play. This structuring aspect was very reassuring during an era when many verities were being unsettled. Stamp collecting also offered a structured format with its preprinted illustrated album, pages and detailed catalog listings. Yet, collectors could collect in a number of different ways as their personal initiative chose.
There was an intellectual challenge to the crossword puzzle, contract bridge, Monopoly and stamp collecting although it was not a difficult enough challenge to put off the average citizen. There was also considerable social reassurance in stamp collecting as a result of the widespread knowledge that stamps were the favorite relaxation of both president Roosevelt and King George V. Although dubbed the ‘hobby of kings,’ stamp collecting was a hobby that could be practiced on a number of different financial levels ranging from wastepaper basket diving and post office purchases to attending public auctions of rarities or acquiring items from the numerous retail shops of dealers. Social reassurance also resulted from the fact that many newspapers published regular stamp columns; there were at least three in New York, for example. Further, the two leading stamp hobby trade papers of the jazz era, Mekeel’s and Philatelic Gossip were joined in the 1930s by Western Stamp Collector and Linn’s, with H.L. Lindquist bringing out Stamps magazine. There were also radio stamp shows such as Captain Tim Healy’s Ivory Stamp Club. Both the British and American post offices recognized the importance of promoting stamps to collectors, and provided films on their operation, while Brooklyn postmaster Francis Sinnott, a stamp collector, developed a film Here Comes the Mail. Department stores such as Gimbel’s found it profitable to install stamp sections, while local stamp clubs and exhibitions popped up like mushrooms around major metropolitan centers, drawing hundreds if not thousands in attendance.
Foreign Political Developments of the ‘Age of Anxiety’
Throughout the 1930s, the Far East saw the Japanese menace grow. Japan had begun intervening in China as early as 1927, immediately following Hirohito’s ascension to the throne. The Mukden incident of September 18, 1931 was used to begin the occupation of Manchuria. In 1932, troops were landed at Shanghai, and, in 1933, Japan withdrew from the League of Nations preparatory to the invasion of China. In China, Mao took control of Nanking in 1927, but was soon driven out; he began his ‘long march’ to the northwest in 1934, about the time Chiang K’ai-shek gained control over the Kuo Min Tang. In July 1937, the Japanese began the occupation of north China, taking Beijing and Tientsin before the end of the month. Shanghai and Soochow fell in November 1937, the day after the Japanese bombed and sank the U.S. S. Panay.
In the Indian sub-continent, March 12, 1930 saw Gandhi inaugurate his second civil disobedience campaign and his ‘salt march to the sea’. In 1932 he was arrested and his Congress Party declared illegal; he then inaugurated his ‘death fasts’ tactic on behalf of the untouchables. His success was such that by early 1937 the Congress Party took over the Indian legislature. In 1934, a general strike in Syria led to a new nationalist Syrian government. To the north, Atatürk died November 10, 1938 and his appointed opposition leader, Inonu, became resident paving the way for a democratic Turkey. In Palestine, the Mosul fields oil pipeline to Haifa was opened January 4, 1935, while in April 1936, the Arab High Committee was formed to oppose further Jewish immigration with Jewish takeover of Arab lands. Following the British execution on June 28, 1938 of Solomon Ben Yosef, massive bombings of the Arab markets took place in Jaffa, Haifa and Jerusalem, in reprisal for which the Arabs massacred twenty Jews at Tiberias and took control of Bethlehem and Jerusalem. The British retook the two towns several weeks later.
In Africa, Italy began its invasion of Ethiopia in October 1935, generating a bit of Fascist poetry about the beauty of flowering debris from bombed towns. Addis Ababa fell and was looted May 5, 1936 with Italy formally annexing the country on the 9th. In March 1937, Mussolini made a surprise trip to Libya to open the great military road between Tripoli the west and the Egyptian border. In Kenya, a white ‘rump’ parliament met September 10, 1935 to denounce government policy, while in South Africa separate electoral rolls were established for native voting April 7, 1936, setting the stage for the apartheid government.
In South America, the ‘Chaco’ war between Bolivia and Paraguay, which devastated both countries, began in 1932 and lasted until June 1935. The boundary clashes between Peru and Ecuador hat still reverberate today was initiated in June 1938. In Nicaragua, the Sandinista revolt began in 1933, while in Cuba, Batista took control September 5, 1933 in an army coup and lasted until driven out by Fidel Castro. In Mexico, the British and U.S. oil firms were taken over March 18, 1938, while the failure to fully implement the land transfers of 1936 resulted in the uprisings we see in southern Mexico today.
Despite the above, the key poli6tical events of the depression decade took place in Europe. In England, a national coalition government was established on August 18, 1931, with the Statue of Westminster, settling the status of the commonwealth, passed on December 31st. July 27, 1933 saw the failure of the international economic conference leading to British adoption of economic nationalism and abandonment, in that kingdom, of laissez-faire. England recognized a German threat March 4, 1935 when the first move to strengthen British defenses was put forth. On January 20, 1936, England’s stamp collector king, George V, died and his successor abdicated December 10th the same year because he couldn’t get permission to marry Wallis Simpson, an American divorcee. Chamberlain had become Prime Minister earlier, on May 28th. The same eventful year saw Leon Blum and the Popular Front take office in France as the great labor sit-down strike of June 5, 1936 involving 300,0900 occurred. Popular Front governments lasted until October 4, 1938 when then Premier Deladier had to resort to right-wing support to stay in office.
In Spain, Franco, together with other generals, initiated the Spanish civil war July 18, 1936 from the Morocco enclaves. He had help from both Italy and Germany in his rise to power. In November 1936, the long siege of Madrid began; it gave us the term ‘fifth column’ for the Franco supporters who rose up within the city. Toledo fell September 28th, after a ten-week siege of the Alcazar. Bilbao and the Basque northeast fell in June 1937, while Barcelona fell to Franco and supporting Italian forced January 26, 1939. The final surrender of Valencia, the new capital, and Madrid took place march 28, 1939 with the Italian and German forces withdrawing in May. The Spanish death toll was 700,000 killed in battle, 30,000 executed and 15,000 killed by air raids. Spain had been the tactical testing ground for World War II.
Hitler’s brown shirts had only 12 Reichstag seats in 1929; the following year, 107, and by July 1932 the total was 230. On January 29, 1933 Hitler became chancellor and called for new election, which took place March 5, 1933 immediately following the suspicious Reichstag fire. On March 23rd, an enabling act established the Nazi dictatorship, while all opposition parties were banned July 14th. One of Hitler’s first acts was to call for a national boycott of all Jewish operations April 1, 1933. Germany won the Danzig elections on May 28, 1933 and in October withdrew from both the international disarmament conference and the League of Nations. On June 30, 1934, a ‘blood purge’ of his supporters eliminated potential internal opponents such as Roehm and Strasser.
Independently from Germany, the Austrian Nazi party rose and seized Vienna, assassinating Chancellor Dollfuss on July 25, 1934. However, they were temporarily suppressed. The following January the Saar plebiscite brought that region back under German control on March 1, 1935 following which Hitler denounced the Versailles disarmament agreements on March 16th. On September 25, 1935 the Nürnberg laws deprived Jews of German citizenship and forbade intermarriage with them. This launched the steam of refugees abroad, many with stamps as their only tangible possession.
The Rome-Berlin axis was announced October 27, 1936 and the Japanese pact on November 17th. On March 13, 1938, Hitler annexed Austria while during September he absorbed the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia with its border defenses and armament factories at Skoda. The takeover of the rest of the country waited until March 16, 1939. A pact was arranged with Russia on August 21st, surprising the world, and war broke out in Poland September 1, 1939. Russia joined in attacking Poland September 17th and joined up with German forces two days later. Warsaw held out until September 27th. Europe was at war. Russia attacked Finland on November 26th and strong Finnish defense stretch the ‘winter war’ until March 12, 1940.
There was little activity on Germany’s western flank as the ‘phony war’ lasted throughout the winter, but on April 9, 1940, German forces invaded Denmark and Norway, giving us the word ‘Quisling’ for the Norwegian who undertook to govern Norway for the Germans after it surrendered.
Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg were invaded May 10, 1940 in a smashing German flank attack through allied defenses with the result that on the 12th, German troops crossed the Meuse into France. The static defense of the Maginot line was outflanked. The same day, a discredited British Prime Minister Chamberlain (whose umbrella became symbolic of appeasement politics) gave way to a new war leader, Winston Churchill. His ‘V’ wave and cigar were to become symbols of continued determined resistance to Hitler. The British and French troops in Belgium had been trapped at Dunkerque by the rapid German advances, but were successfully evacuated by a small-boat flotilla on June 4, 1940. The ‘unassailable’ French fortress of Verdun fell June 15th, the same day Russian forces swept over the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. On June 17, 1940, French Field marshal Pétain asked for an armistice and France surrendered on the 22nd. From the Russian frontier to the Atlantic, Germany now dominated Europe. A new phase of the war began in August with the first mass bombing raids on England.
Most of the political events of the depression era discussed above had philatelic consequences. The Spanish Civil War gave a major boost to war cover collecting with all the new war issues. New collections were also beginning to be formed based upon the war in Asia, both the Japanese attack on China and the internecine war between Mao and the Kuo Min Tang.. These events generated a number of regional overprints while the Japanese-sponsored Manchuria ‘puppet’ state provided another new country.
In Africa, there were Italian surcharges for Ethiopia and, for new postal history, the Italian issues used in Libya beginning in 1939. In Turkey, the shift from Arabic to the Latin alphabet that began with the first republican issues of 1923 showed new themes and overprints as Atäturk’s programs were gradually implemented during the 1930s. These included the breakdown of Koranic proscription against human images and the 1935 suffragist congress issue of 1935.
While overprints date back to the earliest days of stamps, they received much greater attention from the ‘age of anxiety’ collectors than in the past. Historically the first overprint or surcharge was a manuscript ‘United States’ on the government’s provisional United States City Despatch Post adhesives applied August 16, 1842 on the Greig stamps when the government took over that local post. The first surcharge was a handstamped ‘2’ on the United States City Despatch Post adhesives of 1846, the printing plate was ‘overprinted’ in 1847 (each position) for the Cole locals of 1847. Cuba had rate surcharges in 1856, while Mexico used overprints for district names the same year as a control measure. This geographic overprinting was followed by overprints for Egypt on Turkish stamps of 1866 and the 1868 overprints for the Azores and Cape Colony in 1868. Overprints bean to be more and more widely used particularly after World War I with its territorial adjustments, so that there was a large supply for the depression era collectors with more being generated as the decade progressed.
The Rise of Nassau Street
The late Herman ‘Pat’ Herst, Jr. (1909-1999) in his 1960 book Nassau Street depicts the stamp business in that short street during the 1930s. The book suggests, incorrectly, that Nassau Street had always been the center of the American stamp trade. In the earliest days of American philately, only Mead and Cummings locals had offices on Nassau Street, although most of the early philatelic activity did occur in the neighborhood of the nearby main post office located in the Old Dutch Church. However, for most of the 19th century, Nassau Street was like a rooming house with stamp dealers moving in and out without ever becoming a focus.
The 1881 J. T. Handford International Stamp Collector’s Directory had only one listing for a stamp dealer on Nassau Street, an advertisement for Arthur Fountain’s Stamp Emporium at 79 Nassau. However, by 18843 when J. M. Hubbard’s Stamp Dealers of the World directory of 1885 was compiled, only one of the eighteen listed New York dealers, Henry Collin, had an office on Nassau, also at number 79. This is the old address of the J. W. Scott Company. Scott sold out in 1885 to a stock company managed by Henry Collin and Henry L. Calman, the younger brother of G. B. Calman. Thy operated the Scott retail store located on Broadway. Henry (1863-1935) started dealing in stamps with his brother, Gustavus, in 1876.
A number of the New York dealers in the 1885 directory were located near Nassau Street. The oldest dealer among them, William P. Brown (1842-1930) was then located on Ann Street, although earlier in 1876 he was located at 145 Nassau (Scott U.S. locals 31L1-5). He was to locate on Nassau Street at a later date and operate there until he retired in 1920. Brown’s ‘Reminiscences’ written in 1892 were published in the September 1987 Collectors Club Philatelist. G. B. Calman (see 87 left) was located at 299 Pearl in 1884-5. Calman was the largest stamp wholesaler in the country at the time and had over $50,000 in stock. He had been a collector since 1874 and had amassed a personal holding of about 10,000 stamp varieties. He became a dealer in 1876.
In 1884, Henry Gremmel, (see 88 right) was located on Ludlow Street. He had just begun dealing and made a specialty of U.S. stamp approvals. By 1889 he was at 85 Nassau, but later still he moved to 109 Second Street. He died in 1897, and his firm was bought by stamp dealer Julius Morgenthau.
In 1884, the Krebs Brothers firm was located on Varick, but a year later it was at 81 Nassau. It was founded and run by Jacques Krebs, who began dealing in Vienna in 1870. Krebs, (see 89 right) came to America circa 1884 and established a mail order stamp business. In 1886, Krebs published the International Philatelic Advisor, which was sold in 1887. He sold the firm name and assets in 1885 to A. Krassa, (see below 90 right). In 1888 Krebs established a new business, the New York Stamp Exchange and became its president. Krebs specialized in the U.S. departmental and periodical issues. A. Krassa (1864-1937), who had purchased the Krebs operation, continued operating at 81 Nassau for some years. He married Krebs’ sister in 1895.
Krassa was the publisher of the Ne Plus Ultra stock books and albums. He collected multiples, and in the 1913 international he exhibited platings of the British penny reds and the 2½d value as well as sheets and multiples of the Dominican Republic, Samoa, Alsace and the United States, particularly revenues. By this time he was located at 71 Nassau. By 1936 the firm, still on Nassau, was Homan-Krassa.
In 1884-5, the stamp firms of Klopman & Fischer and Smith & Handford were located on Church Street, while Steiger & Co. was on Park Place. The Boyd’s Despatch Post local in its later incarnation was also located there at number one in the early 1880s. Stamp dealer E. Turner was on Worth Street.
Rudolphus R. Bogart (1842-1907) listed his office in the Tribune Building (this was at 154 Nassau) in 1884-5. His firm was the predecessor of Bogart & Durbin. The other half of the firm’s name, Leonidas W. Durbin (1849-87) was a Philadelphia based dealer. Durbin began dealing in 1869 with just $25. He published the Philatelic Monthly, beginning in 1875 and also published a postal card catalog. Durbin died August 13, 1887 and his widow joined with E. B. Hanes (see 91 left), of Rhode Island to create Durbin & Hanes. Hanes had begun collecting in 1861 and it was he who sold the mint block of sixteen of the 90¢ 1869 stamp to Hiram Deats. On December 7, 1891, Bogart (see 92 below left) acquired Mrs. Durbin’s share of the firm, which then became known as Bogart & Durbin. Hanes came to New York to become president. Bogart was treasurer and A. E. Tuttle was named secretary.
In 1893, Hanes, who had a Providence bank account, was contacted by the cashier of his bank who was a stamp collector. The cashier had located the owner of the plate used for the Providence provisionals and Hanes purchased it for $2,500. Hanes, and Bogart’s cousin, Percy C. Doane, supervised the printing of 509 impressions. Hanes retired in 1896 and Bogart, under the influence of Henry Mandel, had the plate electroplated and allowed Mandel to make numerous reprints in 1898. (Hussey had sought the plate earlier and arranged for a Providence engraver to make him a facsimile, which he used for the Woods’ reprints.)
In 1900 Bogart retired and George R. and Arthur E. Tuttle took over the firm in a holding company operation. When Bogart died January 23, 1907, Tuttle bought out the widow’s interest. The Bogart & Durbin firm’s doors were closed and Tuttle moved back to Philadelphia to operate as a dealer under his own name. But, the Bogart & Durbin safe remained on Nassau Street to become the subject of one of Pat Herst’s stories.
Another early Nassau Street firm was that of Charles A. Burger, at number 83. Charles’ brothers Gustavus (1867-1952) and Arthur (1868-1949) operated it. Charles remained at the Ottwell Pharmacy, which he owned at 243 Broome Street. It was one of the best known in the city.
Charles Berger, (see 94 left) specialized in rare stamps and U.S. locals. In 1895, he sold out to his brothers what we have come to know as the Burger Brothers firm. Gustavus Burger and Arthur H. E. Burger are seen below (see 95). They moved the firm to 59 Nassau in 1887; however, by the time of the 1913 International Exhibition, it was at 90 Nassau. In the 1950s it was the oldest stamp firm on Nassau Street.
It wasn’t until 1894 when Frederick W. Hunter (1864-1919) formed the Nassau Stamp Company firm, that Nassau Street had a sufficient solid core of major dealers to generate the long-time association with the stamp trade.
The Nassau Stamp Company at 226 Nassau added to the firms of Bogart & Durbin, Burger Brothers, Henry Gremmel and A. Krassa to make the needed impart. In 1899, John Klemann acquired the capital stock of the Nassau Stamp Company and ran it with his brother for some decades. For over half a century now, Nassau Street was going to play a major role in American philately as the heart of the stamp dealing community.
In the years prior to World War I, the Stanley Gibbons American branch under Charles Phillips operated from 198 Broadway, rather than Nassau Street. It was sold to Eustace Power in 1911. Too, the firm headed by J. Walter Scott was not on Nassau Street. Scott, having sold out, was subsequently faced with personal financial reverses and reentered the stamp trade in May 1889 with $20,000 in capital. He located at 163 Fulton, later moving to 36 John. In November 1916, Scott again sold out, this time to J. H. Handshaw (1855-1923) and retired until his death on January 4, 1919.
The Calman brothers, who along with Henry Collin had bought the Scott Stamp & Coin firm, operated it from 127 Madison. Their father died in 1901, causing them to sell out and take care of their family’s firm. The purchasers were a consortium that with $450,000 bought both the Scott and the New England stamp Company (formed March 1893). Among the owners were Ernest M. Carpenter and Albert W. Bachelder (1857-1941), a stamp dealer from Boston who ran the New England Stamp firm portion of the consortium. Additionally, the consortium had Webster Knight (1854-1933), a prominent Rhode Island banker, whose personal collection is now at Brown University and Joseph S. Rich (1860-1932). Rich had joined the Scott Stamp firm under the Calmans in 1895 and, when Henry Collin retired in 1900, became secretary treasurer, a post held until 1913. The consortium named as resident noted author (and its catalog editor) John Luff in 1903. This American Collectors Company consortium ran both Scott and the new England firms from 1901 to 1914.
An important stamp firm not on Nassau Street was the Mozian family firm, which was located at 45 Beaver. The 1915 exhibition catalog showed ten dealers with Nassau Street addresses. These included L. W. Charlot at 81, Max Ohlman (1887-1951) at 75-77, E. Paimann at 76, Julius Morgenthau at 87, J. M. Bartels at 93-99, the Burger Brothers at 90, A. Krassa at 71, George Tuttle at 116, Percy Doane at 154 (the Tribune building) with the Economist Stamp Company at 87. Edward Stern (1880-1953) and Sidney Barrett (1893-1958) ran this firm. Stern, a youthful stamp collector who gave it u to be a dealer authored the History of the Free Franking of Mail in the U.S. in 1936, a field that didn’t conflict with clients. Barrett collected Masonic cancels. The first lasted until 1951.
During the jazz age, J. M. Bartels was still at 99 Nassau, while the Morgenthau firm held its auctions at 87. The Nassau Stamp Company, John Klemann and A. Eugene Michel were in the Morton building at 116 Nassau (named for Benjamin Harrison’s vice president, Levi Morton.) During the decade Kelton & Sloan joined them.
Pat Herst indicated that there were about forty stamp dealers in the Morton building at the beginning of the ‘age of anxiety’ decade, while Louis Robbins remembers about 26 still there in the mid-1940s. For a brief time, John A. Fox (an important postal history dealer in the post-World War II era) had a Nassau Street office; however, despite Herst’s report to the contrary, Robert A. Siegel did not. When Siegel came to New York he located at 505 Fifth Avenue, opposite the public library.
In the 1936 Tipex International Stamp Show catalog, some 42 New York dealers took advertisements; of these, seventeen had Nassau Street addresses. Among these were old-timers such as the Burger Brothers, Nassau Stamp Company, Max Ohlman, and the Homan-Krassa firm. This latter consisted of the elderly A. Krassa, who was joined by Benjamin (Bill) Homan, Jr. (1904-1976). Percy Doane also had an office on the street.
Among the other Nassau Street dealers of the period were Spencer Anderson (1907-1947) then working for the Reliant Stamp Company, George B. Sloane (1899-1958), a U.S. and locals specialist and author of theSloane’s Column in Stamps magazine, reprinted by the Bureau Issues Association in 1961; Eddie and Sophie Buser, Jr., who with Edward Buser, Sr. specialized in Swiss material from 1933 to 1968; and Frank Marquis (1896-1942), best known for his ‘gag’ bid of $5,000 at the 1933 Hind sale for the Boscawen provisional, from which auctioneer Charles Phillips refused to release him as there were no other bids. Unable to pay, Marquis, despondent, disappeared and later turned up in Montana as a ‘missing person’ in an amnesiac fog. .
Another who had a Nassau Street address was Eugene Costales (1894-1984). He had become a dealer at age thirteen as was employed by the Scott Stamp & Coin Company in 1922 when he created the United States Specialized Catalog. In 1928, Costales became a partner in the Economist Stamp Company on Nassau Street, leaving in 1932 to form his own Nassau Street firm. He had one of the more phenomenal philatelic historic memories, as I can personally attest from numerous phone conversations with him. Costales rejoined the Scott catalog company in 1955 and edited the catalog until his retirement in 1971. it was Costales who hired and trained Ezra Cole (1902-1992), a stamp dealer and important auction agent. Cole worked on the Emerson and Gibson holdings and later built the Lily and Grunin collections among others.
By the time of the international Tipex exhibition in 1936, the Scott firm was located on West 55th Street under the direction of Hugh Clark (1886-1956) who had taken over the firm in 1935; its Morgenthau subsidiary was on West 47th Street. In 1938 Norman Serphos (1890-1974) acquired the firm. Serphos helped mount the Miller collection at the New York Public Library. It was at that time large chunks of Miller sheets and multiples came onto the auction market, supposedly in trade for missing rarities.
Non-Nassau Street firms of the period included Stanley Gibbons (on Park Row) while its former manager, Eustace B. Power (1872-1939) operated from Chappaqua, N.Y. The Vahan Mozian firm (formed in 1901) run by sons Gregory and Herant (1907-1999) was a t 10 East 39th Street. C. J. Phillips (1865-1940) was on Central Park West. L. Charlot (an important jazz age airmail dealer was on Broadway, while Emil Bruechig (1901-1947) a Scott alumnus who also specialized in airmails at on Fifth Avenue as was Victor Weiskopf. Precancel specialists the Hoover Brothers were on Fourth Avenue, while the Broadway Stamp Shop was don on Fulton Street. Philatelically, a key event during the 1930s was the flow of both collector and dealer refugees to American shores as a result of the international events discussed above. Souren Yohannessiantz (1892-1949) had left Soviet Georgia in the 1920s with a valuable collection of clocks, later converted into stamps. He changed his name to ‘Y. Souren’ and became one of the most flamboyant dealers during the 1930s. His stamp holdings were sold by H. R. Harmer in early 1951. Julius Stolow had left Lithuania prior to the depression and developed an important mail auction and retail business in New York.
Another early émigré was Jacques Minkus (1901-1996) who left Lublin, Poland in 1929. Minkus formed a successful retail and catalog stamp business beginning in 1931 when he leased a six-foot counter on a day- to- day basis at Gimbel’s department store and built it into a retail chain selling largely stamp packets and inexpensive albums. In 1953 he created his own Minkus catalogs as a result of a dispute with Scott. The firm was a very well-known depression era operation that lasted well into the 1970s; its catalogs are still published today.
During the last days of the depression decade one of the most important European stamp collections arrived from Austria as a direct result of the Nazi movement. Baron Alphonse de Rothschild (1878-1942) left his younger brother, Baron Louis de Rothschild (1882-1955) in Vienna in 1937 and came to the United States at the instigation of Alfred Lichtenstein (1876-1947). The timing fell between the abortive Nazi putsch in Vienna and Hitler’s Anchluss annexation of Austria. Baron Louis had to surrender the family steel holdings to Herman Göering to enable his family to escape Austria. Baron Alphonse’s collection came onto the American stamp market following the death of his son, Albert (1922-1938), who was the only other collector in Baron Alphonse’s immediate family.
Herbert Trenchard in Philatelic Literature Review, 1st quarter 1998, has identified some 52 auction catalogs and price lists that represented the dispersal of this fabulous holding, believe to be the finest of each of a number of European countries. The initial dispersals were made through Harmers of London and J. Murray Bartels in the U.S. However, large portions were turned over to the Viennese refugee dealers Otto Friedl and Edwin Müeller to be sold under the aegis of their Mercury Stamp Company, named for Austria’s famed ‘scarlet Mercury’ newspaper stamp (Scott P4). The firm had the quiet financial backing of Lichtenstein and others. Soon after the firm was formed, Friedl and Müeller were joined by Herbert Bloch, a German refugee from Baden. Müeller (1891-1962) had organized the very successful WIPA show in Vienna in 1933 and emigrated to the U.S. at Lichtenstein’s suggestion in 1938.
Another famous Viennese stamp refugee was Fritz Billig (1902-1986). He formed his own company in 1945 and joined that same year with a fellow Viennese refugee, Fred Rich, to create the auction firm of Billig & Rich. Billig’s contributions to philately include an under-appreciated 200-page index of philatelic literature called Mondial, six specialized catalogs as well as the thirty volumes of the well-known Billig Handbooks. These contain numerous contribution of import from a series of authors.
Among the other refugee stamp dealers who settled in New York to make it an international stamp center during the 1930s and 1940s were Max Block, Felix Brunner, Hans Frankel, Hans Lazarus, Leon Tankel and Frank Warner. At least one, John Ross, went west to Chicago. The refugees didn’t come only to the United States. Dr. Richard Marash, in 1942, went to Canada where he founded one of that country’s leading auction houses. Erwin Herschkowitz (1929-1989) was taken by his parents from Vienna to Bolivia in the 1930s. He became the premier student of Bolivian philately in the 1960s.
A Decade of Change
During the decade of the 1930s Americans felt anxiety about many of the challenges in social fundamentals. But, it was a domestically focused anxiety. They had not like the European refugees, had to face extinction or flight. The foreign anxieties were more real and choices sharper. One of the places where it did impinge upon America was in stamps. More than most groups, stamp collectors dealt with people whose religious choice might mean extinction, whose understanding of reality might unleash mass destruction, who had already experienced even greater economic reversals than here, who found that basic institutions had changed roles. Military decorations didn’t necessarily protect, nor did financial wealth. The old political orders had been overturned.
The stamp-collecting hobby boomed in reaction to the stresses created by society, but the hobby remained deeply conservative in its basic approaches to collecting. More aware of what was occurring overseas, but more insulated from the financial threats at home, there were only modest shifts between 1926 and 1936 International Exhibitions. The number of exhibits rose by 50% reflecting the additional social levels now attracted to stamps. Pack was no longer president, but honorary president. Alfred Lichtenstein, the man who warned European dealers to flee, assumed the operating role in running the 1936 show. Honorary vice presidents were Colonel E. H. R. Green, the ‘witch of Wall Street’s’ mistreated son who now played a sybaritic role as a stamp accumulator) and John Luff (in his last years of life).
The professional side of the Tipex show saw a reduction in representation. It was led by the Klemann brothers, Charles J. Phillips, Hugh Clark and Harry Lindquist, a reduction in both number and caliber of professionals from a decade earlier. Serving with Lichtenstein is close associate Theodore Steinway and Admiral Harris, treasurer and secretary respectively. The only new directors on the collecting side are Laurence Mason and Arthur Owen. The new lineup reflects more interest in back-of-the-book material.
From the extremely local focus of the 1889 Eden Musée show one now finds an increasing nation emphasis, with representatives from each region of the country. Edward S. Knapp, Robert S. Emerson, Ferrars H. Tows and Frank C. Atherton represent the Northeast. Henry Needham, Alfred Brigham and Charles K. Nevin join them. Representing the Midwest and West are William H. Crocker, Hal Brooks and a. H. Wilhelm who are joined by Saul Newbury, William G. Saxon and Henry C. Hitt. The greatest change takes place in the Southern representation. There, Thomas Pratt is joined by Carter Glass, William West, M. H. Judd, Harry L. Jefferys, John Clapp and Gus M. Mosler.
Checking the exhibits, there was a significant geographic increase in the non Anglo-Saxon area of the globe where the exhibits more than doubled from 107 to 144 in 1936. Empire exhibits rose from 83 to 132 while the U.S. exhibits declined slightly from 65 to 58 reflecting the increase in specialty areas.
Among the more significant of the specialty areas to grow was that of airmails which rose from 25 in 1926 to 102 in 1936. Precancels, 4 exhibits in 1926 rose to 44 a decade later, while stampless exhibits went from 1 to 16. Topical exhibits also shot up from 14 in 1926 to 69 in 1936 while a new class, postal history, had 20 exhibits in 1936, forecasting a major exhibition shift for the latter half of the 20th century. Studies of individual stamps also doubled from 18 in 1926 to 33 in 1936. Revenue exhibits rose from 6 to 23 indicating a revived interest in the area. Confederate exhibits went from 7 to 15.
The number of stationery exhibits remained static at 6 in each decade, while essays and proofs were almost constant (7 against 8 in 1936). Junior exhibits rose from 12 to 17, while cancellation studies were fairly static (27 against 29). Canadian exhibits rose from 12 to 18, but with the death of T. Charlton Henry, memorialized in the 1936 catalog, the British West Indies section declined from 21 to 17. The ‘rarities’ class, which had stood at 10 in 1926 was dropped as individual rarities were absorbed into other exhibits. The study of reprints (14 in 1926) was not presented in 1936. Another change was the presentation by societies (25 of them) in 1936, which was not part of the 1926 International. General world-wide collection exhibits declined from 12 in 1926 to 6.