The Romance of the Roundstone Hundred

"You don't understand stamp collectors! They love to have a romance woven around stamps, a bit of a story." The stamp dealer said this in earnest and all three of us were ready to believe it. Unknown to any of us in the room, however, the romance of the Roundstone Hundred had barely begun. For one thing, stamp-error stories rarely begin with romance. Stamp errors are not supposed to happen–one does not set out on a quest for a sheet of misprinted stamps. Occasionally there is a memorable and even dramatic episode of discovery at the time of the stamps being issued. But actual stories with multiple characters, coincidences, misunderstandings, twists and turns, New York auctions, Irish courtroom drama–these are so rare as to be perhaps unique to the stamp story to be told here. The few other ones will be discussed as parallels or precedents as this story unfolds.

Cylinder Block of four stamps

The difficult transaction in the stamp dealer's office in Dublin was completed in mid-afternoon. The tension of a long and nuanced negotiation was beginning to subside. The dealer was to leave presently for Philadelphia where he had a booth at Interphil 76, the international philatelic exhibition that was to start at the end of May 1976 honoring the U.S. Bicentennial. Sitting opposite him were the Canadian professor and his wife who had been living in Roundstone for almost a year and would reside there for the rest of the summer. Nine days earlier the professor had discovered in a rural post office in the far west of Ireland a sheet of a hundred misprinted Irish commemoratives honoring the U.S. Bicentennial with Philadelphia's Benjamin Franklin pictured on the stamp. Stamps that he had bought for 15p apiece in the post office, nine pounds for the 80 in the present transaction, had been miraculously transformed from postage stamps to philatelic rarities in the blink of an eye. In Dublin Castle only two hours before, the Commissioner of the Stamping Branch, which had responsibility for issuing stamps and preventing misprinted stamps from reaching the public, had confirmed his department's error and had recognized the Roundstone sheet as genuine and legitimately purchased. He would not reclaim the stamps which were the consequence of several honest errors. After the scrutiny and validation in Dublin Castle, the professor now had a check in his hand and the dealer had eighty stamps on his desk.

The professor and his wife had started their day at 5 am, when they arose to take a morning train from Galway to Dublin. Now they had to catch an afternoon train back to Galway to drive the further fifty miles back to Roundstone. The young but seasoned dealer had an outstanding philatelic object on his desk, and he began to make plans quickly but skillfully for introducing and promoting the eighty stamps of the original Roundstone hundred. He asked the professor, Joaquin Kuhn, to go over the details of his discovery again; he had heard them several times but now his interest was personal and intensely focused. Maura, the professor's wife, had been taking notes during the negotiation, and she wrote about her own comment at this point: "I intervened that surely such homely details were unncessary. But he said, 'Oh no, you don't understand stamp collectors. They love to have a romance woven around stamps, a bit of a story.'"

"My Stamp Story" that appears below was written in the fall and winter of 1976. I submitted it to the Canadian Stamp News, which accepted it for publication in five installments. The story appeared in consecutive issues from June 13 to August 22, 1977. At the time of that appearance in a Canadian stamp newspaper, I was in a steep learning curve about stamps, stamp collectors, stamp experts, Irish philately, Irish stamp characters, auction houses–the gamut of international philately.

The first published account is brief, discreet and ingenuous, with little technical explanation. That sufficed to keep the narrative moving faster, but it was strictly owing to the fact that I hadn't had or taken the time to gain the technical knowledge to give the reader a full realization of what was the immediate background to the foregrounded story. The whole story is infinitely more varied and fascinating than the short version here reproduced word for word. It will come, in all its maturity and awareness. Ultimately it mutates from being Joaquin Kuhn's stamp story to being the Roundstone Hundred's stamp story. The romance woven around the stamps belongs to them and to their proud owners.

Go to Part 1