By Martin J. Frankevicz
Thinking about World Stamp Show-NY 2016, I hear the strains of that old Billy Joel song, “New York State of Mind.” That’s because I used to work for Scott Publishing Co. in New York before it was purchased in late 1984 by Amos Press (now Amos Media), and moved to Sidney, Ohio.
I got a position with Scott in September 1981, after working for a few months at another publishing company in midtown Manhattan. I got both jobs from dropping my resume off the previous year at places that I thought I might like to work because of my hobby interests, though I did drop off my resume at dozens of places, even the marketing firm that was peddling Slim Whitman records through television commercials.
When I first started working for Scott, I was still living with my parents on Long Island and commuting by train and subway. It was rather expensive and exhausting, and by November I decided to try to find an inexpensive place to live somewhere in the city. I answered a “Roommate Wanted” ad in the Village Voice. I did indeed find cheap.
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I ended up living in Queens with two guys who now might best be described as “Harold and Kumar” types. My girlfriend (now wife) dubbed them “the Mudworms” for their utter lack of 1) couth, 2) ambition, and 3) knowledge of the purpose of cleaning supplies. Oscar Madison was a clean freak compared to these guys. Though living with them was less than ideal, it was a short walk and a 45-minute subway ride to work.
In 1981, New York was just beginning to rebound from the fiscal crisis of the 1970s. That “Ford to City: Drop Dead” headline from the Daily News was still fresh in everyone’s mind. At that time, the subways were filthy with graffiti everywhere, and the train cars were constantly breaking down system-wide because maintenance was put off for years.
Because so many cars were in the shop, trains would arrive in stations with each car sporting a different route sign. It was obvious that just attaching eight working cars in a row was a struggle in the yards. I recall one subway ride in a car without air conditioning on an extremely hot day. By sticking a subway token in the turnstile’s slot you could pass through the gates of hell. Nonetheless, new subway cars with air conditioning were on the way for some lines.
The Times Square area was seedy, and even in the area around the Scott offices, one would find homeless people sitting on the sidewalk grates. Yet, the Trump Tower, at Fifth Avenue and 56th Street, and the nearby AT&T Building, on Madison Avenue, were under construction.
The Scott offices were at 3 E. 57th St., across the street from Tiffany’s. Plenty of other fancy stores were a short walk away. Not that I could afford to shop in any of them. At lunch hour, I could partake of the limited fare offered by numerous nearby hot dog vendors standing beside their carts. If I wanted to go to an actual restaurant, the nearest ones were not that close to the office.
The 3 E. 57th St. building is known as the L.P. Hollander Building, though I never saw any sign noting the building’s name when I worked there. Hollander was a women’s clothing retailer back in the 1930s, and it occupied the ground floor.
In 1981, the ground floor of the building also housed a designer label clothing store for rich young women who wore dress sizes that apparently ranged from 0 to just slightly above 0, with those slightly above 0 sizes being in the back of the store, far from the front window. The corporate offices for this line of clothing were in the three floors above the store. No woman who boarded the elevator and pressed the buttons for the designer’s offices could in any way be considered “zaftig.” For some reason, every time I see Robert Palmer’s 1986 “Addicted to Love” video, I think of that elevator.
Stampazine, a retail stamp store, took up the fifth floor of the building. Stampazine’s owners were also in Scott’s ownership group, and they assisted in providing values for the catalogs in the time I worked for Scott.
Bert Taub, the principal of the firm, was a jovial, happy-go-lucky guy who was fun to be around. The floor of his office was a bit strewn with litter, however. I could imagine him pushing aside some of that litter and accidentally uncovering a set of Zeppelins that had been in the piles of detritus for years.
Irving Koslow, who handled the United States valuing for the Scott catalog, also worked with Bert, along with other clerks. Bert and Irving were always pretty good about sharing their knowledge with me, on the few times that I had the occasion to ask them questions.
The Harmer Rooke Galleries, which sold high-end collectibles, occupied the sixth floor. One day, on the way back to the office from lunch, a short woman wearing large sunglasses got off at the sixth floor. This was my first brush with a famous person, because I learned later that it was Yoko Ono.
The Scott Auction Galleries were on the seventh floor. In 1981, the British Commonwealth values in the Scott catalog were handled by Richard Gordon, the auctioneer. Gordon was another member of the Scott ownership group.
The elevator only went to the eighth floor, and upon exiting you saw the receptionist’s desk. The Scott management, marketing and advertising, and customer service staffers occupied the eighth floor. I had to walk up a flight of stairs to get to my desk on the ninth floor, where the editorial and art departments were located.
During my years working for Scott in New York, I created the album supplements, answered mail, and assisted with various writing and editorial projects.
The catalog had an editor emeritus, James B. Hatcher. He worked for Scott for decades, starting just after World War II. Before working for Scott, he spent a number of years before the war in Japan as a newspaper reporter. Hatcher reviewed my initial writing assignments and red-penciled them rather severely, but I learned so much from him. He was an incredibly witty fellow who knew how to cut someone down without them even realizing it, but he was always pleasant and polite to those he worked with on a daily basis.
Every so often, the catalog editor, Bill Cummings, would send me to the FDR branch post office or the United Nations post office, to pick up the newest stamps. Working with the album supplements meant that I worked rather closely with the new-issues editor, Barbara Weinfield. I’d occasionally run down to the Minkus stamp shop in Gimbels Department Store on 34th Street to pick up stamps for her. At Gimbels, the stamp shop was essentially a display case containing new issues on stock cards. I’d occasionally see stamps I had not seen listed before and bring them back.
In 1981, Scott was just beginning to put its catalog data on computer, and that was only the catalog numbers, design numbers, denomination, descriptions, catalog values, and set totals. The computer handling the data wasn’t even in New York. All changes had to be written on greenbars, and in catalog production season, stacks were sent to the computer company by express mail.
We used this less-than-perfect computer system until a new one was installed for the 1989 editions. To put the computer world of 1981 into perspective, one of my roommates purchased a Commodore 64 shortly after it was introduced in 1982. Only a few summers before, I worked at a place where there was a large computer and all of the data was stored on reels upon reels of magnetic tape. It was a time that today’s computer tech people would call “the stone age.”
The catalog was produced with type that was put together in plates by typesetters not that many years before 1981. Sometime in the 1970s, this was replaced by photographic reproductions of the last pages created in that manner. This, however, made changing information on those pages a bit more difficult.
Value changes, listings for new stamps, and even the page numbers were typeset onto photographic paper, which was then waxed and placed onto cardboard template pages. We always hoped that the waxed-on pieces stayed put. A similar process was used to create album and supplement pages. But the wax was never a great solution because eventually it would dry out and the attached pieces would fall off the page.
When you consider that when John Walter Scott started up his little price list of stamps in 1868 and created a rather small tome that lacked catalog numbers, and his pages were typeset in much the same way the catalogs were created until the early 1970s, it makes it clear how much things changed in 40 years.
For a few years in the early 1970s, Scott was owned by William Wylie. Under his ownership, some parts of the Scott operation moved out to Omaha, Nebraska, but from 1868 to 1984, the Scott editors were based somewhere in New York City. At that time, New York was still the most important place in the country for philately, and the editors were not willing to move to the Great Plains.
Over the years, the Scott offices moved from building to building in Manhattan. Starting in lower Manhattan at 34 Liberty St., which is just on the other side of the West Side Highway from the site of the World Trade Center, John Walter Scott moved the firm to 146 Fulton St. and then to 163 Fulton St. The Fulton Street addresses are just off of Nassau Street, which for years was the place where most New York stamp dealers had their businesses.
Scott then moved to 721 Broadway, a block north of West Fourth Street. The next move was to 18 E. 23rd St., near Madison Square Park. It then moved to 127 Madison Avenue, north of East 30th Street. The offices then moved to 33 W. 44th St., and then to 1 W. 47th St., which is now in the Diamond District. From there, the offices headed to 580 Fifth Ave., which is essentially next door. The next Scott address is 461 Eighth Ave., a block north of the main New York post office, and across the street from the New Yorker Hotel.
From there, Scott moved to 488 Madison Ave., just north of East 51st Street. The offices then went to 604 Fifth Ave., just south of West 49th Street and Rockefeller Center, before going to 530 Fifth Ave., not far from its earlier location on West 44th Street. Scott ended up at 3 E. 57th St., its final New York address.