Monday, April 6, 2009

Philatelic Covers

Although not as common these days, I still hear people disparage an item in an exhibit as, “Oh, that’s just a philatelic cover.” I suspect this may just be sloppy use of language.

A case could be made that any cover in an exhibit is a philatelic cover (I know that is not what is meant.) since it is acquired by a philatelist.

Oftentimes the cover in question is one addressed to or from a stamp dealer. Does that automatically make the cover philatelic? In my opinion NO. Remember, stamp dealers are business people and so most of these covers are really business covers, especially if they use stamps currently available at the post office. Shown here is an example of currently available stamps in the minimum number necessary to pay the fees.

Say you have a cover going from one person to another. Is that always a non-philatelic cover? In my opinion, again NO. If they are old enough how do you know that one or both were not collectors? You probably don’t unless one was a famous collector and you recognize the name. Here is an example of a cover going to a collector although you may not recognize the name. (He wrote the classic article on the Old Postal Cancellations of Nicaragua that appeared in the magazine Die Post in 1935.)

To overcome the problem of sloppy use of language, I submit that we should always use the term “philatelically inspired cover.” So, how do you recognize a philatelically inspired cover? There are several ways. If it is an unaddressed cover it means it was created specifically for collectors so it is philatelic ally inspired. Another way is if the stamps were not regularly issued to the general public. Here is an example from El Salvador. Most of these stamps were not issued to the public but if you had the right political connection you could get examples and their usage was tolerated.

What is your opinion?


  1. Hi Joe. I like your re-phrasing of the wellknown claim that this cover is just a "philatelic cover". A "philatelically inspired cover" is much more precise. Your examples are however limited in number and your choises pretty uncontroversial, on purpose I suppose.

    I propose to add covers where the rate does not correspond with the surface value of the stamps on the cover, especially when the surface value exceeds the rate and when such an abuse of money cannot be explained in other ways than the sender wanting to send the receiver the whole set of a newly issued series.

    Another example - maybe a bit more controversial - is a cover franked with stamps still valid having been out of circulation since say 20 years. The postal history value of such a cover is indeed questionable even if the postage fits with the rate.

    And what about the tin-can mail, covers sent by pooney express anno 1955, covers sent by balloon unless from the time of the French-Prussian war.

    As you can see my examples become more and more controversial. I therefore would like to state as a kind of conclusion, that collectors can collect whatever they want to collect and whatever way they want to collect, but if they present in an exhibit under the banner of postal history a cover franked with stamps still valid, but out of circulation since say 20 years, such a cover would and should be disqualified. In other words. If you have chosen a title for your collection then stick to it and don't show something else. Such is the rule of the game. Regards Svend

  2. Hi Svend,

    Thank you for your thoughtful comment on my post.

    Apparently I used some sloppy language as well. Where I said, "...stamps currently available..." I should have clarified it with "at the post office." That would have precluded stamps from 20 years ago.

    Sometimes senders have some stamps that will soon be invalid and so they may use them even though they overpay the rate required. I don't consider these philatelically inspired covers. However, the problem is how does one determine that with certainty? Also, you could have a cover where the sender is just visiting and wants to use of whatever stamps they have before leaving as they would not be worth anything back home.

    I would say any cover 1955 Pony Express, 19?? Baloon covers, etc. are philatelically inspired since they are prepared to sell to collectors. That is, anything specifically produced to sell to collectors even if such has gone through the mail system is, in my opinion, a philstelically inspired item.

    I never meant to imply that collectors can't collect whatever they want. Of course they can and if it brings them pleasure that is all that really matters. However, when exhibiting then the rules change. I have seen some delightful exhibits of First Day Cover cachets and I feel they well deserved the awards they obtained. However, they were basing the exhibit on the cachets not the stamps or postal history.