The Roadshow More Traveled, Pt. III: Stamped Out In Its Prime

The other reason for bringing The King In Yellow to the event was not as direct as simply gaining information on the book's value. You see, I really had no choice.


I had initially wished to bring a far different item to the Antiques Roadshow, an item which I had also obtained in the exact same manner as the Chambers' book: through my granny and my various trips to Wisconsin as a youth. It was my late, great uncle Sam’s postage stamp collection. It doesn't sound all that exciting, does it? But wait...

I received this book as a child when I was flush with my own burgeoning interest in stamp collecting. I had received a starter set as a present at some juncture, and for a short while, truly became vested in the hobby. I somehow obtained a then recent set of Scott's Catalogues at some point, got a few first issue envelopes, and collected what my youthful mindset believed were stamps of truly ancient vintage: stamps from 10, 20, 30 years ago. Friends gave stamps to me by the dozens, neighbors were happy to give me their opened envelopes, and I had endless stacks of what were actually completely worthless stamps of the current times. But I didn't care. And I didn't know it...

Then I went to Wisconsin. My granny was so taken with my usual overabundance of joy in the subject that she eventually bestowed upon me, on a subsequent trip, Uncle Sam's amazing stamp book. Here's the kicker: the stamp book was published in 1945, stands about four inches thick, and any stamps in it after 1945 are purely a coincidence. They are scattered about on open sections of pages where there is room, but the chief concentration of the book is the fact it is an international postage stamp book. It's not just for American stamps, but for the whole world. And a quick peek through its pages reveals stamps for dozens of countries, and the vast majority of them before 1945.

While the percentage of American stamps is high (mind you, this is only from a spot check, and I have no actual statistics), the bulk of stamps in the volume appear to be of foreign extract. Given that my family stems from Wisconsin, it should come of no surprise that a great many of the stamps are of Scandinavian origin. There are any number of stamps from Sweden, Norway and Denmark. But Britain also gets a good turn, as does Germany (there are a handful of stamps emblazoned with Hitler's sourpuss visage) and France. Most surprisingly, there is a vast reservoir of Russian stamps contained in its pages. Not Soviet stamps, though: these are all from the 19th century, and some of them date as far back as the 1850s. It became apparent to me even as a child that perhaps my great uncle Sam had been brought into the hobby in the same way as I: a spurt of interest, and then emboldened by the passing down of stamps from older relatives and friends.

I don't know this for a fact -- I don't know much about Sam at all, really -- just that I have a postage stamp book and several boxes of books that sat in his tiny home for a multitude of years, including The King in Yellow. Myself, I never truly got into the stamp world. Despite the boost from Granny, my attention was soon divided (and very swiftly) by baseball cards. Once I hit twelve, I was lost to the National Pastime, at least in the collecting sense. Sam's stamp sat undisturbed for numerous years, except for occasions where I would take it out of the box in which I stored it, and fleetingly glanced through its pages. Each time, I would tell myself that I really should get back into the hobby, and make a survey of Sam's collection. And I would even -- every couple of years or so, even recently -- take some time and work on my own collection, in the assumption that this time I was actually going to make some headway. Another secret is that I have always collected every stray stamp that has come my way, for over thirty years now, and I have squirreled them away for a future where I would actually have some time to relax and enjoy the hobby. But it has never been so.

And so, when I first heard we had tickets to the Antiques Roadshow, my first thought was "Why not bring Sam's stamp collection?" Instead of hiring an appraiser, I figured an expert's cursory glance at such a show (in a safe environment) would be enough to ascertain whether or not I had something of a certain worth that required a little bit more care than I was currently (and for three decades) giving the collection.

But it was not to be. Because, on a list of a scant few items that cannot be brought to the Antiques Roadshow, "stamps" is the very first thing on the list...

[To be concluded next Saturday...]

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