World Stamps

North American international stamp exhibitions, a personal odyssey: Washington 2006 and New York 2016

Apr 27, 2016, 12 PM

By Ken Lawrence

As we look forward to the upcoming New York 2016 world philatelic exhibition that begins at the end of this month, my Spotlight on Philately column has taken a look back at international stamp shows held in North America for the past three decades.

Last month (Linn’s, April 18), I reviewed my experiences between 1986 and 1997, from the euphoric success of Ameripex 86 in Chicago to the disappointing financial failure of Capex 96 at Toronto, causing Canada to cease hosting world stamp exhibitions, followed by the calamitous losses incurred by the Pacific 97 show in San Francisco, which wiped out the accumulated patrimony of seed money that had jump-started U.S. internationals since 1976.

Ameripex 86, held under the patronage of the International Philatelic Federation (FIP), had inspired two successful non-FIP internationals — World Stamp Expo 89 in Washington and World Columbian Stamp Expo 92 in Chicago. Both shows proved that FIP patronage wasn’t needed to bring the whole world’s collectors, dealers, and philatelic treasures to our shores. Nothing comparable to those events occurred between 1997 and 2006.

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The Pacific 97 debacle prompted soul-searching and retrenchment among planners of the next United States international show. The Washington 2006 committee, which consisted largely of experienced organizers of the annual Washington-area Napex national exhibition, resolved to keep a close watch on finances, to contain costs and make no frivolous expenditures, and to keep the FIP burden to a manageable minimum.

Among the first and most important decisions was to reduce the number of days that the exhibition would run. Previous internationals in this country had been 11-day affairs. Washington 2006 was reduced to eight days. That might have been the most important choice that the organizers made to assure the success of their enterprise, but it meant reducing almost every feature, from the number of seminars to the time allotted to jury matters.

Serendipitously an opportunity arose for a smaller-scale international show conducted under FIP rules on American soil in 2001, which served in part to verify the recovery from our collective Pacific 97 hangover, but also demonstrated to the world community that our exhibitions are second to none in quality, comfort, and enjoyment.

Nordia 2001, Tucson, January 19 to 21

Nordia is the annual gathering of collectors from the Nordic countries, the Baltic States, the United States, and Canada who specialize in Scandinavian philately. It moves from country to country, not only under FIP auspices, but also under the continental Federation of European Philatelic Associations (FEPA).

Nordia 2001 was the first ever held in the United States. It was hosted by Aripex, an Arizona-based national World Series of Philately participant, and Ameristamp Expo, which combines the spring meeting of the American Philatelic Society and the single-frame Champion of Champions competition.

Former assistant postmaster general Gordon Morison was president of the show, which in some respects cast it as a rehearsal for his role as executive director of Washington 2006. FIP president Knud Mohr of Denmark was a prominent participant.

Of the exhibits entered and judged according to FIP and FEPA criteria, Tonnes Ore of Norway won the grand prix international for “Trieste,” Heikki Pahlmann of Finland won the grand prix Nordique for “Finland 1566-1856,” and Lennart Daun of Sweden won the top prize, the grand prix Nordia, for “Swedish Postal Stationery 1872-1897.”

International participation also included special exhibits presented by the postal museums of Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and Iceland. The Swedish court engraver Czeslaw Slania, the world’s best-known stamp artist of the era, attended and autographed his works.

Danish auctioneer Thomas Hoiland displayed the unique Treskilling Yellow stamp on behalf of its owner (the orange color error 3-skilling banco Coat of Arms stamp of 1855, Sweden Scott 1a), which he had sold in 1996 for the equivalent of $2.3 million, a record price at the time.

Upon his arrival at New York en route to Tucson, Hoiland and the stamp were featured on the NBC Today show.

Awards that could be worn as jewelry were an innovation that deserves to be emulated. Morison explained them: “The medals were of Native American design, crafted in silver with a different stone signifying the different levels.”

In an era when the annual number of opportunities to enter FIP-juried competitions are fewer than in times past, Nordia 2001 provided an extra opportunity for first-time five-frame exhibit entries to reach the vermeil medal level that qualified them for eight frames in subsequent international competitions.

Washington 2006, May 27 to June 3

Our nation’s capital city was not a newcomer to philatelic pageantry. Besides annual Napex national-level exhibitions, Washington had previously hosted the Sixth International Philatelic Exhibition (Sipex) in 1966 and World Stamp Expo 89. But Washington 2006 was the main stamp hobby event of the first 21st century decade, and it lived up to its billing.

Among the special exhibits were such treasures as the unique Alexandria “Blue Boy” postmaster’s provisional cover (Scott 1X2) and the cover addressed to Miss Eliza Dawson franked with two Hawaiian Missionary stamps (2¢ and 5¢, Hawaii Scott 1 and 2) and a pair of U.S. imperforate 3¢ George Washington stamps of 1851 (Scott 11).

Several events at the show engaged me personally. As an exhibitor my eight-frame display titled “The Nazi Scourge: Postal Evidence of the Holocaust and the Devastation of Europe” earned a large vermeil medal. A year later, I sold the entire collection to the Florence and Laurence Spungen Family Foundation, which has kept it intact. It can be viewed on the foundation’s website.

Coinciding with the exhibition, the National Postal Museum opened the exhibit “Rarity Revealed — The Benjamin K. Miller Collection,” which is owned by the New York Public Library but had not been on display for more than 30 years. Miller’s was the most complete collection of United States stamps that had been formed at the time he donated it to the library in the 1920s. To explain the exhibit, NPM and NYPL published a book of the same title by Scott R. Trepel with Ken Lawrence.

William H. Gross’s exhibit “United States Classics, 1847-1869, and their 1875 Reissues” won the grand prix national. Omar Rodriguez’s exhibit “Classic Mexico — The First Issues from Colonial Mail and First Hidalgos to 1867” won the grand prix international. The grand prix d’honneur went to Edward J.J. Grabowski’s exhibit “Guadeloupe Postal History.”

Ellen Peachey and I had donated a special prize, a large framed chromolithograph by Arthur Szyk titled The United States of America together with a smaller print of the same design that Canadian dealer-publisher Kasimir Bileski had sold as a stamp album title page in the 1940s. The jury awarded it to an exhibit from Israel.

Mystic Stamp Co. exhibited the storied Grinnell Hawaiian Missionary stamps. Earlier in the year, the expert committee of the Royal Philatelic Society London had published a book that concluded the Grinnells were dangerous forgeries of rare 1851 Hawaii stamps. Among the selection in the Mystic display were 10 stamps mounted on a card that had not previously been shown in public.

About a month after the show closed, while studying a high-resolution image of the card, I realized that one of the stamps on the card was a genuine 13¢ Hawaiian Missionary stamp (Hawaii Scott 3). When I shared my discovery with Dick Celler, who had made plating studies of these stamps, he found a second genuine example on the card. Our discoveries were reported on the front page of the Honolulu Advertiser and in news media around the world.

On a personal level, our Grinnell surprise was a gratifying postscript to Washington 2006, but more important for the continuing health of our hobby was the financial success of the exhibition, which left a substantial legacy to support worthy philatelic causes.

Americas 08, Los Angeles, October 10 to 12

Although Washington 2006 did not spark impressive follow-ups comparable to the post-Ameripex international stamp fairs, the United States hosted two smaller international exhibitions during the decade that followed. First was Americas 08, a hemispheric show at Los Angeles co-sponsored by the annual Sescal national exhibition and the Inter-American Philatelic Federation (FIAF).

It was the largest Sescal exhibition ever held, with 600 frames of exhibits, and the first continental exhibition actually brought to completion in this country, after earlier attempts had aborted. Besides FIAF, FIP auspices and an FIP-qualified jury assured that awards earned by exhibitors qualified those exhibits for future internationals.

The grand prix national was awarded to Steven Walske’s exhibit “Heart of the West: San Francisco as a Postal Hub from 1849 to 1869.” The grand prix international went to Yamil Kouri’s exhibit “Spanish Colonial Maritime Mail in the Americas.” James Peter Gough won the grand prix of the exhibition (the top award) with “UPU: Rules, Regulations, and Rates.”

Aerophilately 2014, Bellefonte, September 12 to 14

Aerophilately 2014 was the second smaller North American international between the major world philatelic exhibitions of 2006 and 2016. In 2007, the American Air Mail Society had become the first sponsor of a national-level stamp exhibition at the American Philatelic Center in Bellefonte, Pa., called Aerophilately 2007. When AAMS brought Aerophilately 2014 to the APC seven years later, it was not only a national-level show, but also offered exhibitors the option to be judged according to FIP standards for international-level awards.

In the absence of shows prior to New York 2016 in venues that were accustomed to American entries, such as Israel and Canada, Aerophilately 2014 offered airmail exhibitors another opportunity to qualify their exhibits at the vermeil medal or higher award level, which allowed them to apply for eight frames at the next international outing instead of the five-frame limit allotted to first-time entries.

The show was held in conjunction with the Eighth Postal History Symposium sponsored by the National Postal Museum and the American Philatelic Research Library, this one with an appropriate theme of trans-oceanic airmail. Another outstanding feature was Mystic Stamp Co.’s exhibit of the Black Honduras and Red Honduras, the world’s rarest and second-rarest airmail stamps. Those are nicknames for the surcharged 25¢ black AERO CORREO on 10¢ dark blue Ulua Bridge and overprinted red AERO CORREO on 5¢ light blue Bonilla Theater airmail stamps of 1925 (Honduras Scott C12 and C3).

A.D. Jones won the Aerophilately 2014 multi-frame grand award and an FIP large gold medal with “Establishing U.S. Trans-Continental Airmail Service 1918-1924.” James W. Graue won the reserve grand and an FIP large gold medal with “DLH [Deutsche Lufthansa] South Atlantic 1934-1939.” Both also earned national gold medals. The single-frame grand award, FIP and national gold medals, went to Cheryl Ganz’s exhibit “LZ-129 Hindenburg Onboard Postmarks.”

Anticipating New York 2016, May 28 to June 4

Naturally, I’m eagerly anticipating New York 2016. Continuing the scaled-back duration that began with Washington 2006, this will be an eight-day show. It seems doubtful we’ll ever return to the eleven days that used to be normal.

This year I won’t be an exhibitor, a judge, or a prize donor, but I’ll be participating as an author.

The United States Philatelic Classics Society will publish “My Adventure in Expo Collecting: Postal and Related Relics of New York’s Crystal Palace and the 1853 World’s Fair” in a special edition of the Chronicle that will be available at the show.

Mystic Stamp Co. will again exhibit the Grinnell Hawaiian Missionary stamps, and will distribute a booklet that I have written about them for the occasion.

Mystic will also display the Black Honduras and the Red Honduras, and will distribute a booklet about them based on my original research.

I look forward to seeing again the unique British Guiana 1¢ black on magenta stamp of 1856 (Scott 13), often dubbed “the world’s rarest stamp” and definitely the most expensive, purchased by businessman Stewart Weitzman in 2014 for $9.48 million. It was present in John du Pont’s grand prix exhibit at Ameripex, but this time will be on display as a singular highlight.

Conversely, other legendary rarities that have been in past international exhibitions’ courts of honor, such as the unique 24¢ Winfield Scott stamp of 1873-75 printed by Continental Bank Note Co. (Scott 164) and the Dawson Hawaiian Missionary cover, will probably be present in competitive exhibits this time.

Most of all, I shall enjoy sharing time with stamp friends old and new, the fellowship that I first experienced 30 years ago at Ameripex.

What will the future bring?

Trying to anticipate the next North American international philatelic exhibition might be an exercise in folly. We can’t know today whether we will see more non-FIP shows comparable to World Stamp Expo 89 and World Columbian Stamp Expo 92, whether Canada or Mexico might rejoin the ranks of show hosts, or whether the planned 2026 international slated to be held at Boston will actually materialize as planned.

However, I do think we can anticipate some trends in exhibiting that have not yet matured, especially with respect to U.S. postal history. This year will mark the 75th anniversary of the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor that thrust our country into World War II.

Recently on Richard Frajola’s chat board for philatelists, Gordon Eubanks, a champion exhibitor of 19th-century classics declared that we should now regard  WWII covers as classics.

I agree, and I think over the next 10 years we will see a number of elite exhibitors, having achieved the peak of success with earlier material, directing their resources to mid-20th-century postal history, with greater sophistication than has characterized typical exhibits of Presidential series, Transport airmail, and other mostly rate-oriented studies.

Most Memorable Moment

Looking back over my Spotlight travelogue through three decades of North American international stamp exhibitions, one episode overshadows all my other fond recollections.

Ameripex 86 was held at the convention center in Rosemont, Ill., a small Chicago suburb near O’Hare International Airport. At the opening ceremony the show’s executive director, Les Winick, introduced all the dignitaries who had brought the exhibition to fruition. One was Donald E. Stephens, the mayor of Rosemont.

Winick invited Stephens to the podium, saying, “Don, in all these months of work together, today is the first time I’ve ever seen you wearing a tie.” Stephens replied, “You’re right, Les. The last time I wore a tie was to my indictment.” The crowd roared.

(In 1983 Stephens had been prosecuted for tax fraud and bribery, but had been acquitted. Nevertheless, when he died in 2007, his obituaries noted that the “mayor for life” had been dogged by unproven accusations of association with organized crime throughout his long career.)

A more fitting introduction to Chicagoland would have been hard to script. Will New York 2016 have a story to top that? We’ll soon know the answer. I’ll see you all there.