Wednesday, July 2, 2008

"They Collected the World"

The article mentioned in my earlier post about the two collectors who successfully completed the first eleven Scott Internationals makes a very interesting read. (Thanks to Len Beasley who posted the Washington Post article on the Virtual Stamp Club message board).

The two collectors were Stan Cornyn, a record industry executive and Murray Geller, a planetary astronomer. The impetus for the project came when Cornyn bought a set of Scott Internationals for his 12 year old son who turned out to be more interested in skateboarding. The two men first thought about only filling the volumes with stamps costing less than a nickel. They then agreed that a dime wouldn't be too bad. At some point, the desire to fill all those spaces triumphed over economy.

Not unsurprisingly, dealers felt this was a foolhardy endeavor: nobody collects the world! And their fellow collectors who were specialists argued that acquiring 195,219 stamps was something anyone could do and not fit for real philatelists. Why didn't they put their time to better use by researching, say, "19th-century ship arrivals showing mail service to Latin America."

The collectors had 11,965 stamps in July 1972. By January 1975 they had filled all but 1394 of the 195,219 spaces. At this stage, "the hunt [became] more important than the object of the hunt." Some of the last acquisitions took a lot of effort. After all, these were the days before email, much less the World Wide Web. Syria Scott # 106a, Syria RA12, Paraguay 704-7, and Spanish Sahara 36-50 were toughies--especially Syria 106a which is an error that doesn't belong in the album in the first place (2007 catalog value is $125). They purchased it from a dealer in Damascus. The last stamp to be acquired was from a New York City dealer: the Malaya Kelantan # 10 overprint. And then it was done. Every space in 29 binders filled.

Cornyn and Geller claimed to not know how much they had spent, although the estimated value of the completed collection was six figures in 1978. They are less reticent about the time it took: around 8000 hours.

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