Recipient Paid the Postage Before 1840

Question: I have a letter that consists of a page folded in triple sections with the address "To Harriet Hammond, Oak Orchard, Orleans Co." (my great-grandmother who lived in New York). It bears a circle postmark of Tarrytown, N.Y., Oct. 29, to the left side of the address. There is no stamp on the letter. Could you comment on its collector value?--J.T.N.

Answer: This is a stampless cover, used before the invention of postage stamps in 1840. The United States first used postage stamps extensively in 1847, so any letter originating from a U.S. Post Office before 1847 will almost always be stampless; the postage fee was collected from the person who received the letter. Envelopes were rarely used before the introduction of adhesive stamps; the procedure was to fold the written letter and hand cancel the outside where the address was written. Surprisingly, most stampless covers are cheap. Yours is worth a few dollars.

Q: I would like to purchase stamps directly from the Republic of San Marino. Can you help me find this address?--D.L.

A: Write to Philatelic Office, 47031 Republic of San Marino, for information on ordering stamps. This office sells mint stamps, first-day covers and special postmarks for various fees. It accepts certified bank checks and international money orders. San Marino stamps are collected by many philatelists who specialize in Italian issues, in both the United States and in Italy. San Marino stamps are issued with the collector in mind, in reasonable quantities and are often beautifully engraved. Resale value is minimal for recent issues, but older San Marino stamps are more valuable.

Q: Could you please tell me the value of the cover of the first airmail flight out of Newark Airport, Newark, N.J., 1929? I also have a 50th anniversary, 3-cent stamp commemorating the first presidential inauguration under the Constitution.--D.T.

A: About a dollar each. First flights from the late 1920s to the present day are usually common covers with a very limited collector demand, so they are not worth much. Your inauguration first-day cover actually honors the 150th anniversary of the inauguration of President Washington. It was issued in 1939 and is not rare unless it is of an unusual cachet (envelope design) type, and then it would be worth only about $5 or $10 more on the average.

Q: I have a post card from Vienna, Austria. The stamp is green, and the date on it is 1908. It has a picture of Franz Joseph I. The picture on the post card is a photograph of three army nurses. Does this have value?--R.N.

A: About $5 or $10 retail price. World War I post cards aren't as popular now as they were in the years immediately after that Great War, but there are still a number of specialists who collect and study World War I Era material. Of greater value would be a card with a battle scene or with a photograph of a popular general in his dress uniform (like Germany's Hindenberg or America's Pershing).

Q: My mint set of Great Britain Queen Elizabeth stamps has four values, with the date 2 June, 1953, on the 1-shilling, 6-pence denomination. Can you tell me something about these stamps and their collector value?--R.D.

A: Issued on June 3, 1953, in honor of Queen Elizabeth's coronation, this set (Scott Nos. 313-316) has a current retail price of about $25. Queen Elizabeth issues are popular both here and in England, and special albums for the stamps of her reign are available from stamp dealers.

Q: Can American stamps be used in foreign countries?--R.T.

A: No. Only in U.S. post offices, as well as in Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, U.S. military bases and certain ships at sea.

Q: When I was in Russia I bought a lot of uncanceled stamps. Where can I have them appraised?--W.A.G.

A: At any stamp shop. You can also use Scott's catalogues in the public library. There are several volumes. Look under "Russia," not "Soviet Union," and remember that catalogue values are a rough approximation of retail price, not what the stamps are actually worth either retail or wholesale. Most libraries using the Dewey Decimal System classify stamp books under No. 383 in the book stacks.

Also, chances are that your Soviet stamps are not of great value. Modern Soviet issues are freely obtainable in America, and they are not as popular as the stamps from Western countries.

Q: How much are the first Olympic stamps worth?--R.K.

A: I assume that you mean the Greek set of 12 values issued for the 1896 Olympiad (Scott Nos. 117-128). Current catalogue value for a fine mint set is $936.

Q: What are the best stamp tongs to buy? I'm getting more interested in expensive stamps for investment purposes, and I don't want to damage them when I handle them.--T.K.

A: Stamp tongs look like tweezers without any serrated rough edge on the grasping surfaces. The best tongs are made of stainless steel and are sold with a variety of points: narrow and pointed, spade shape and round. Personal preference determines what type is most comfortable for you. I use all types, depending on the nature of the job: Delicate stamps with brittle paper may require a wide-tip tong; modern cheap stamps are easy to pick up with narrow points that can damage a stamp's paper if the narrow tips are pressed onto the stamp at the wrong angle.

Go to a stamp dealer's shop and ask to see some tongs and ask how to use them. Cheap nickel tongs are fine for beginners and retail for about $3. A proficient philatelist can hinge a stamp into an album without ever touching it with the hands. Remember that stamps are fragile, and human fingers often have dirt and oils that can affect paper when touched.

Q: I have three airmail stamps showing a dove, map and the word RYUKYUS at the top. The denominations are 8 yen, 12 yen and 16 yen. What are these?--T.S.

A: The first airmail issues of the Ryukyu Islands, better known to some people as Okinawa. These islands were seized from Japan by the United States in 1945 and were given back to Japan in the spring of 1972. Many collectors save Ryukyu stamps issued under U.S. postal authorities, and your set has a current retail price of $75 mint.

Barry Krause, a member of several national stamp-collecting organizations, cannot answer mail personally but will respond to philatelic questions of general interest in this column. Do not telephone. Write to Your Stamps, You section, The Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.

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