Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Robert E. Zoellner (1932-2014)

As this blog has been happily writing itself the past few days due to all of the excellent comments being submitted, I'm going to feel free to digress a bit. Perhaps the most erudite stamp discussion group I regularly read is PhilaMercury which is largely devoted to 19th century United States, but with frequent forays into other time periods and countries. Even though the US is no longer a specific collecting interest of mine, the quality of the contributions and depth of knowledge keeps me coming back.

Recently on PhilaMercury, Scott R. Trepel wrote of the death of Robert E. Zoellner, apparently the only collector to have acquired every Scott listed United States stamp. This prompted me to go back and look at the Robert A. Siegel auction catalog for Mr. Zoellner's collection which was sold October 8-10, 1998 (the pdf of the auction catalog is available online).

Four aspects of Mr. Zoellner's collection stood out:

1) I had been curious whether it was possible to form a complete US collection but had never taken the time to research the question. One reason this interests me is a common admonition against collecting the world is that a complete collection is impossible. But we've seen that it is possible for a worldwide collection to be 99% complete, at least as regards the major numbers. Which begs the question of how many single or area country collectors ever come near that goal? That they don't presumably does not argue against country collecting.

2) Only of personal interest, looking through the catalog took me back to my childhood when I first discovered in the local library Lester G Brookman's then two volume set on 19th century US stamps. I still remember drooling over the hand lettered album pages from the Philip J. Ward collection, as well as page after page of incredible covers and multiples. The Zoellner collection offers a similar feast.

3) Mr. Zoellner kept his collection in a Scott Platinum album, with custom pages designed to interface with the published ones.

4) Finally, Mr. Trepel's introduction to the Siegel sale  details how the collection was built. Here are a couple of quotes that I particularly enjoyed:

"…my thoughts go back to an observation once made by Raymond H. Weill… He told me that above all, the collector must have both the means and the inclination. The concept is so simple that my reaction upon hearing it was to look for other requirements. What about knowledge? Or time? Was it not important to join collector groups? Surely there must be other essentials.

Experience has taught me the simple truth of Raymond Weill's observation. Truly great collections begin with the inclination to collect and grow through the dedication of financial resources necessary to acquire significant items. Knowledge may come to the collector. Membership in societies may add sociability to the process. The time spent collecting may be long or short (the key is being there at the right time). However, means and, inclination are the fundamentals that determine how events in a collector's life will unfold."

"Collectors are motivated for many reasons, but the seeds of inclination are often planted in childhood, when many of us were introduced to stamp collecting by our parents or teachers. Robert Zoellner started as a child and tried to fill the spaces of a United States stamp album with the best copies he could afford. When his interest was rekindled in 1984, Mr. Zoellner pulled out that old album and became reacquainted with the Columbian, Trans-Mississippi and Overrun Nations issues. This time he could afford to complete those sets with examples in choice condition."

"When Mr. Zoellner told me he was considering selling the collection that he calls 'our' collection, I actually felt myself resisting the idea, despite the obvious benefits to me and this firm. Then I thought about Raymond Weill's words again-means and inclination-and I realized that for a dozen years Robert Zoellner was the most determined collector I have ever met, who had the means to achieve his goal. He did it, he enjoyed it, he learned from it, and now he no longer has the inclination to go beyond his original goal or to keep stamps locked away from other collectors."


James said...

Speaking of means and inclination--I'm sure the regular readers of your blog would like an update on your progress in filling the album!

Jim said...

Here! Here!

ChrisW said...

Or you can start fresh with the Browns?!

Jim said...

= Hear! Hear! (early "old-timers ;-)

Also, not to the point, I met Lester Brookman when I was a young adult in the late 1960s, and he had his store in Minneapolis. Well, actually, his spouse at the counter sold me those average-fine grade early 20th century U.S. (I was too cheap to buy the very fine grade from his stamp catalogue. ;-)

Bob said...

Now I'm going to stop approving comments if you all are going to make fun of my non-collecting. I'm certain when Siegel sells my collection, the introduction will answer all your questions. ("And in 2015 the collector acquired Scott #492 which catalogs for 30 cents for the bargain price of 25 cents.")

Since last March I've been in a transition where I can't easily mount new purchases, so while I've bought a few things, they have been more memorable items that I know I won't accidentally purchase again in the future. I expect all of this to change by the Summer at the latest and I can get back to serious work on my albums.

I suspect what will happen is I will purchase the Vintage Reproductions edition of the Browns and start by dividing the pages geographically to make them easier to work with. Then I will either sell the pages at a great loss and go back to the Blue :) or start buying country collections to build the new Browns.

Keijo said...

" I'm certain when Siegel sells my collection,..."

Since you're 'The Bob' (at least every 'properly educated' worldwide collector should know Your name), a properly named sale would no nothing but justice to Your collection ;)

Rand said...

Complete US collection. Bill Gross.