Editor's Insights: Who is studying at the expertizer’s knee?

By Charles Snee

In his March 24 U.S. Stamp Notes column, John Hotchner began what we hope will be a long-running monthly series devoted to expertizing stamps.

After explaining the rationale for the new series, Hotchner reflected on how he became an expertizer.

“What competence I have developed tracks back to having learned at the feet of George W. Brett, the senior expertizer in the field when I began,” Hotchner wrote.

Brett, who died in 2005, left a huge void in the world of U.S. expertizing.

As Hotchner aptly puts it, “When Brett was the primary expert looking at a patient, a second opinion was rarely needed.”

A “patient,” in this context, is a stamp being examined.

The community of expertizers and affiliated organizations is going strong, but it is, by and large, a graying group.

In the coming years, their numbers will dwindle due to retirement and death.

Years ago, the hobby had a more robust population of experienced collectors and dealers. As such, the knowledge transfer from one generation to the next took place without much difficulty.

Today, that does not appear to be happening to the degree necessary to ensure the competence of the next generation of expertizers.

This ought to concern all collectors, regardless of their level of experience.

To get a sense of the current state of affairs, I asked Hotchner if anyone is learning to expertize at his knee.

“If they are, they are doing it quietly,” he replied. “I would say that experts are self-taught in specific areas these days.”

He told me that some in the hobby are learning the trade from seasoned expertizers, albeit below the philatelic radar.

“I trip over them in the exhibiting field … [b]ut I am not sure they volunteered to expertize, or if they did, they have branched out beyond their specialty.

“I would say that the broad-gauge people of yesteryear are a vanishing breed, as much because the field is expanding at warp speed as for any other reason.

“I think that most of the broad-gauge people in expertizing these days are involved in the trade because they handle a volume of material and because they have to educate themselves or fail.”

William R. “Bill” Weiss, who operates Weiss Expertizing Service (www.stampexpertizing.com), tells me he is passing his knowledge on to others.

“I have had several people who have paid me an hourly fee to come to my house and be taught by me. I also have a couple of online friends whom I teach (gratis) on an ongoing basis,” he said.

A broad pool of expertizers is essential for maintaining the integrity of the certificates that the various expertizing services produce.

Expertizing certificates send a positive signal to collectors and help them avoid the pitfalls of damaged, counterfeit or otherwise fraudulent stamps, and steer clear of stamps that have been altered to make them appear to be something more valuable than they are.

Many years ago, a dealer told me you shouldn’t buy a stamp that costs more than $200 without a certificate of authenticity from a recognized expertizing service. That advice seemed prudent then, and even more so now.

Many dealers today will refund the purchase price of the stamp plus the expertizing costs if the stamp comes back with an unfavorable opinion, such as a removed cancellation or regumming.