Part IV: Philadelphia Seemed Appropriate for Debut

By J. C. Kuhn

When I arrived home with the remaining 78 mint errors, the house was still quiet, except that my father-in-law, Charles Slattery, was up.

He met me in the dining room, and I told him the story. He inspected the sheet and listened with interest, although he had no background in philately and, as far as I know, collects nothing.

The almost-complete sheet of 93 stamps in the dining room was a pretty sight but could not be known to be much else. My other three copies of the stamp were in the mail to my father-in-law’s house address in Toronto.

Once I had decided to buy all the stamps I could, instead of just some of them, I thought that I could take my time learning about them and their possibilities. Fortunately, the same issue of the Irish Times that announced the issue of the stamps also stated that the Philatelic Section of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs had just published a new booklet covering Ireland’s stamps from 1922 to 1976. It was available on request.

This might be some help, as I didn’t know how many sheets of my–or of any other–stamps were printed in the first place. I asked in the Clifden and Galway post offices whether they had the booklet. Neither place had it, so I wrote to the Philatelic Section in Dublin the day I bought rest of the stamps, May 18: “Would you be kind enough to send me a copy of your recently issued booklet on Irish postage stamps 1922-1976? If the actual number of stamps issued for recent commemoratives is not included, would that information be available elsewhere? For example, for the new stamps honouring the American Bicentennial? Is a limited number of commemoratives printed, or are there subsequent runs after the first day of issue? . . .”

Again, I didn’t want to disclose my find prematurely without considering the possibilities. If the Irish Post Office learned of my variety too soon, for example, mightn’t they print more like it? I didn’t know.

I vaguely remembered such things happening in the U.S., where government authorities printed more flawed stamps or paper money for the sake of devaluing unintended curiosities. I got my answer quickly, with an abundance of information.

My stamp was actually the final one entered in the just-released booklet. Good timing there! The designer, descriptions, the printing method and the printer were all named. A supplementary sheet for the Bicentennial commemorative gave a very detailed description of this issue.

Of greatest interest to me was the fixed number of stamps printed: three million in this 15p value, which amounted to 30,000 of 100 each. Before I learned this, I had guessed that the quantity might have been as small as 500,000, but I had nothing to use as a measuring stick.

I have since learned that Ireland is one of the “honest” stamp-issuing countries in the world–it prints stamps primarily for postage and not principally for collectors.

Reading the GPO Philatelic Section’s booklet, I couldn’t learn then what the normal numbers printed were, but it turned out later that the numbers of even this Bicentennial commemorative were in line with past practice.

The Philatelic Section sent a third brochure which informed me that commemoratives are on general sale for three months and are withdrawn from all sale after six months. I knew, then, that if I waited six months, I could safely bring out my 96 stamps. Of course, other flawed sheets might appear during this time as well, but I was as prepared for this as for any other eventuality.

During the weekend of May 22 to 23, when I was wondering how to “show” my variety, I recalled the half-ingested bit of information from that first article in the Irish Times. I went back to the paper and read: “For the first time this year, Ireland will be represented at a philatelic exhibition abroad–Interphil ‘76 which takes place in Philadelphia from May 29 to June 6th.”

May 29 was only six days away–a very short time to do anything. I suspected, as well, that one cannot just bring a stamp out of nowhere and attract much attention or publicity with it. Collectable, salable varieties of stamps must be recognized or catalogued in one way or another.

An exhibition in Philadelphia sounded very auspicious, for the man pictured on my stamps was Philadelphia’s own Benjamin Franklin. With the Irish Post Office present in Philadelphia, on the occasion of the American Bicentennial emphasis of Interphil ’76, my copies of the stamp error would be seen there most appropriately. So, my earlier plans for a six-months’ silence had to be reconsidered.

I had to approach someone with professional expertise in stamps, so I went back to the outdated Golden pages for the address of David Feldman Ltd. in Dublin. In a local craft shop during the preceding week I had come across a current catalogue of Irish stamps published by the same David Feldman. This seemed to indicate that at Feldman’s there were experts I could consult.

Unfortunately, the catalogue had been of little help, for I had no background in reading stamp catalogues and didn’t quite know what to look for.

I could find no other missing colours listed. The greatest errors seemed to be of the odd line across the face of a stamp, or a bird of prey with three claws instead of two. Errors like this were catalogued at around two pounds, which didn’t give me dreams of grandeur for my stamps. Perhaps colour errors were so common that they were not even noted.

In Feldman’s catalogue it didn’t help me that the line-across-the-face-of-the-stamp and the three-clawed-bird errors had a code designation which I didn’t understand and which wasn’t explained. For the bird of prey it was R9-4. Clever as I am, I didn’t figure out that that referred to row 9, stamp 4, and that this error would appear in the same position on every sheet of the stamps printed.

If three million copies of a stamp were printed in 30,000 sheets, then there would be 30,000 copies of this kind of “constant error”–one per sheet. My stamps, on the other hand, were all alike on one sheet of 100. If numbers are used as a sole guide, then one of only 100 errors was 300 times rarer than one of 30,000 available errors. This rather basic information came much later through my own scrutiny. I wish I’d known that the reason there weren’t any other Irish colour errors listed was that I held Ireland’s first colour error.

I had already talked to Feldman’s on Monday, May 17. A week later, on May 24, I wrote a letter seeking information and factual advice. Was the variety I possessed rare enough to bother about? Were Feldman’s interested in showing a few copies for me in Philadelphia–if they had a booth there?

Imagine my surprise to receive a telegram less than 24 hours after I wrote. It was from David Feldman stating that their stand at Philadelphia was ideal for this. He was leaving in two days for Philadelphia, and he hoped we could meet beforehand. He asked me not to break the sheet and to telephone him immediately.

Contintue to Part 5