Looking back at classic posts from Earl Apfelbaum's original Apfelbaum's Corner column, which ran in Linn's Stamp News from the 1960s to the 1980s. Earl's regular contributions ranged from personal stories and views, to profiles of classic U.S. and world stamps, to insights on the wider philatelic hobby.
Labor Day of 1930 marked the dividing point of public opinion as to whether “Hoover’s Depression” was to be a big bump or a careening cataclysm rapidly getting out of control. On this eventful day my father, Maurice, and I embarked on an enterprise intended to provide the proverbial roof over our heads and destined to become life work for both of us: a stamp business.
We opened our first stamp shop in a small, third-floor walk-up office in a building at the southeast corner of 10th and Chestnut Streets in Philadelphia. Dad’s and my personal collections, plus $500.00 borrowed from insurance companies financed the purchase of fixtures, signs and advertising— and paid the rent for a while too.
Business was hardly what you would call good. Even so, the market for stamps was much better than those for diamonds, first editions, autographs and other collectable valuables. Stamp collectors retained their interest in the hobby and continued to purchase needed materials though, of course, in much smaller amounts than in the years prior to 1929.
One big help to us then, as now, was the fact that we dealt in and stocked stamps of all countries and times. We weren’t as subject to the fluctuations caused by the rise and fall of specialties as were many dealers at that time and even today. And we were lucky too. At low points in our venture, something always turned up— a “good buy” or a commission to handle the liquidation of a valuable property.
In 1933 we were able to move to a slightly larger, street level store at 52 North 11 Street. We stayed at this location for eleven years, catering to a local trade on the limited scale of such stores.
Our first few years in the stamp business weren’t as bad as the several that followed. In 1934 we started our public auctions and seemed to be gaining some slight momentum. Then my father died. It was probably the greatest personal tragedy I have suffered. His loss affected me for some time, and with general business conditions growing worse by the day, it seemed for a while that our little stamp shop wasn’t going to make it.
With a lot of help from friends and family, we managed to pull through. Soon we began to get a little bigger. We grew slowly at first, then a little faster. Today we are growing so rapidly that it is almost impossible to believe such progress possible.
I often think back to those early “depression” years. They were hardly the fondest I have spent, but they did teach me a great lesson that, I think, has helped me to keep my feet on the ground during the wonderful years we are now experiencing. It may seem strange to you, but I still get a pins-and-needles tingle every time I compare that first 225 square-foot store to what I have now. It’s a good feeling.