Part V: Author Corrects Inaccuracies Associated with Error Stamps

By J. C. Kuhn

When I got David Feldman on the telephone, he was eager to see the stamps. He repeated that he had a stand in Philadelphia, and that he was the only Irish stamp dealer to have one.

He was on his way through Dublin from Geneva, where his main operation now was, and it was coincidental that he was there when my letter came. He was leaving on Thursday night for Philadelphia, which meant that there was only Wednesday, tomorrow, for me to bring the stamps to Dublin.

I tried to raise questions concerning the value of the stamps, because the trip to Dublin would involve some expense, but he demurred discussing these matters on the telephone. He sounded ebullient and positive, which led me to say that I’d come to Dublin the next day, arriving just before noon. He would be free, he said, to talk about the stamps, and on that note I hung up.

When I returned home, Maura and I were still not more informed than we had been. If Feldman were to show a few of the stamps in Philadelphia and sell them on a commission, we would have to learn from him what one should ask for the stamps and what his commission was. I guessed that a 10 or 15 per cent commission would be reasonable.

Maura and I decided to go together. It was Dublin tomorrow and Philadelphia for a few of the stamps (probably) the day after. We would leave Martin with the O’Tooles, where he would be safe and happy, and would travel in the very early morning to get to and from Dublin in a day.

Upon arriving at Heuston Station in Dublin, Maura and I took a taxi to Feldman’s premises, a converted house on Leinster Road, arriving a few minutes after noon.

As we went up the walk, a youngish man came out of the door and said, “Professor Kuhn? We’ve been expecting you. I’m David Feldman, and I’ve made an appointment for us at Dublin Castle to show the stamps to the Director of the Stamping Branch of the Revenue Commissioners. We can take my car.”

I asked him, “Don’t you want to see the stamps that I’ve brought?” He showed us into the house, into his office, where I opened my attache case and laid out the intact partial sheet of 78 stamps. Feldman looked as though he knew what to expect.

I was excited at the opportunity to show these curiosities to someone who knew more about them than I did. Precisely why we were going to Dublin Castle wasn’t apparent to me. I packed up the stamps again and we went out to his car.

The way to the Castle wasn’t far, and the only thing I learned was that we were going to show this sheet to the man in charge of having stamps printed and circulated in Ireland. I never suspected that I, my stamps and my story were being tested.

Not until much later, when I read about the postal inspectors who hounded Mr. Robey, trying to pressure him into giving back his 1918 airmail errors, did I realize what had happened.

The top government official in charge of stamps would inspect these errors. He had the right, or could have assumed it, to take the stamps from me and to refund me my 15 pounds. If this had happened, I would have been left empty-handed, and the stamp adventure would have had a quick, unceremonious ending.

Mr. Robey, I’m sure, would never have gone near a U.S. Post Office authority with his stamps. But my test turned out all right because everything was entirely above-board and Mr. Sheehy was not a petty official but was instead a large-minded, gracious man.

Maura, I and Feldman were ushered into Mr. Sheehy’s office, and I laid out my 93 stamps on his desk (96 less the three that were in the mail). Mr. Sheehy had his control officer, Mr. Byrne, beside him, and they examined the sheet with intense interest.

I told the story of the discovery to them and they listened quietly, all the time staring at the stamps on the desk. There were numbers in the margin in several places. I explained that the writing was that of the postal clerk, Mrs. Keane, who had figured out three separate times how much I owed her. First, 2.10 pounds; then 1.20 pounds; finally she had multiplied 79 by .15 and had come up with 11.85. The writing was in her hand, an official’s writing, which gave it the kiss of absolute authenticity.

By this time no one was touching the stamps very much. They had become distinguished objects. After some examination and discussion, Mr. Sheehy said: “I can’t see any reason to reclaim these. I can honestly say that this got by us, and I feel like the farmer who went to the zoo and saw a giraffe–I see it but I still don’t believe it.”

We laughed, but not too much, and he acknowledged that these had somehow got by their numerous checkpoints, at the printer, in Dublin Castle and in Galway.

Mr. Byrne got out a large post office envelope which would give the stamps adequate protection without folding the sheet. We thanked him and headed back to Feldman’s car.

Feldman stressed the importance of the verification at Dublin Castle, and it was now that he told me that Mr. Sheehy could have taken back all the stamps if he had had the slightest reason to suspect anything underhand.

The Department of Posts and Telegraphs had now seen the Roundstone error and had effectively taken a position on the sheet. The error was a genuine error and had unwittingly been allowed to go into circulation.

This concludes the first part of my stamp story, which I originally called High Spirits. It has been composed for several reasons: 1) there is universal fascination in unlikely occurrences of this sort, especially when coincidences pile up as they did on me; 2) every stamp collector nurtures the hope that he will find a major variety on an ordinary trip to the post office counter, and when it happens, stamp collectors–especially general collectors–like to share vicariously the excitement of the discovery.

Finally, and perhaps most important, my account–lighthearted though it may often be–is historical record. I wanted to correct some inaccuracies which existing published versions embody or imply.

Philately is not only a business for some and a hobby for others, it is a liberal science to which I can make a small contribution in the form of accurate historical record. The Roundstone errors are a significant part of Irish postal history–they are the first authenticated colour errors.

Since I am the prime participant and am competent to write up this part of Irish postal history, it is my privilege and duty to do so, fully and accurately.

The second part of my stamp story, which is not yet read to be told, goes under the title of High Stakes. When I am ready to publish it, I will observe the same standards of factuality and detail that I did in the present series.

The rest of the story will be relevant and interesting. Collectors who read about the stamps during the summer of 1976, or who saw them in an attractive frame with Sold stickers over many of them at Interphil ’76, have a legitimate curiosity concerning these stamps.

Purchasers of the error in Philadelphia may have wondered how they were discovered and what happened next. The relation of the 15p error to the missing-silver errors on the four-stamp souvenir sheet which turned up in Ireland after Interphil is also a matter for philatelic history.

The Irish Independent for July 6, 1976, quoted the managing director of the Hibernian Stamp Comapny in Dublin as saying that these souvenir-sheet errors were selling for several thousand dollars each. The collectors who pay good [continued on Page 34] money for stamps and who thus support the financial side of the hobby are entitled to accurate information.

On the broadsheet handout which David Feldman distributed at Interphil ‘’76, one reads that after I had seen the error I went to check it out with Feldman’s and that they “thought it very unlikely,” and that “an error of such a nature and importance had not occurred before on an Irish stamp.”

As a matter of fact, neither piece of information was communicated to me over the telephone when I called Dublin from Roundstone. That telephone contact was entirely unproductive and non-directive. Feldman’s broadsheet implies that the stamps were seen, investigated and acquired on the same morning, which is inaccurate.

In Scott’s Monthly Stamp Journal for August 1976, Joseph Lincoln gave an account of Interphil ‘’76, reporting that David Feldman “said he purchased the sheet from a Canadian tourist in Ireland” (p. 13). I was not a Canadian tourist; I was a registered alien resident in Roundstone for more than a year. Also, the stamps shown in Philadelphia were visibly not a whole sheet but were a three-quarters-intact (L-shaped) partial sheet.

Otto Hornung, reporting on the find in The Stamp Magazine for August 1976, stated that on the first day I saw the errors, I “took (my) find to David Feldman Ltd for their opinion and advice. They told (me) that they had not heard of this important error before and told (me) they were willing to buy.”

This is inaccurate. Not a word was said that day about anyone’s willingness to buy. It would have been imprudent for Feldman’s to say so without having seen the stamps, which did not happen until nine days later.

In conclusion, I will say that I would be happy to engage in correspondence with those collectors who purchased copies of this error at Interphil ’76. They may feel that their collection would be enhanced by my letter of authentication.

Feldman Broadsheet

More coming soon!