2 cent Andrew Jackson Confederate Stamp

by Hank Nuwer

I don’t gamble, but if I did my adrenaline might skyrocket as it did the night I entered an online Great North Auction for the stamp collection of the late Russell Hobart Green Jr. of Fairbanks.

I knew exactly what was in the collection and had a pretty good sense of its monetary value. Great North Auction allowed my wife Gosia and me to appraise the stamps. Some gems stored in stamp collection books were as pristine and lovingly kept as can be — unlike my books that have the smudge of my former 8-year-old child’s thumbprint I had dipped in buttered popcorn.

I calculated how the Green collection might enhance my own holdings. My 19th-century rare U.S. holdings from 1847 to 1899 were superior to his and my occupied and free Poland stamp collection beat his hands-down, but his Confederate stamp collection and worldwide collection put mine to shame. He collected an immense inventory of rare plate blocks going back a century. I never met Green, but I respected him as a knowledgeable philatelist.

Being a man of stamps myself, I saw he was methodical and fastidious. Every stamp was encased just so in protective plastic. His notes to himself were copious and meticulous.

Gosia watched me hungrily inspecting the stamps.

“Maybe you should look at me like that,” she joked.

Yes, it was true. Like Jimmy Carter once blurted, I lusted after those stamps in my heart.

“How much do you plan on bidding?” she asked.

She looked apprehensive.

“Maybe we can take out a second mortgage on our house?” I joked.

“You’re dead.”

“Kidding, I’ll say $4,250. I’ll keep the ones I’m missing and sell the rest on eBay.”

“Can you really get back that much in sales?” she asked.

I assured her I could. Her cocked head told me she had doubts.

At last, the evening of the online auction arrived. My strategy was the same as when I bid for stamps or oil paintings on eBay. I tell myself what I can afford and not a penny more. I only bid in the last 10 seconds of an auction for the best chance of coming out ahead. I never bid early. That’s a sucker’s strategy.

I joined the bidding at 9 p.m. At 9:25 p.m. and 22 seconds there were 56 bids, and the total bidding reached exactly $4,250. The bidding came down to two bidders and a lurker, namely me.

“Are you going to try to bid?” Gosia asked. Was she biting her lips?

I shook off the adrenaline rush.

“No,” I said. “I promised you I’d stop at $4,250. Too rich for my blood.”

So, I never submitted a bid. The two anonymous bidders upped the ante. The 60th and final bid was for $4,450. The time was 9:46 p.m. and 42 seconds.

I couldn’t help thinking that Green, dead at 87, would have hated to see his beloved collection sell for such a small return. I know many families wonder what to do with a collection after a relative plays guest of honor at a funeral.

That’s just the way it is with collecting stamps these days when instant gratification rules. ’Tis a rare elementary school student now who combines a love of history with a love of geography and who vows to fill a blank stamp album. Hint, hint: Grandparents of Randolph County, maybe your darlings might like a surprise album as a Christmas stocking stuffer?

“Are you terribly disappointed?” Gosia asked.

“No, not really,” I said. “I would have felt guilty buying the collection and then breaking it up after Mr. Green labored so hard to put the thing together.”

First published: Winchester News-Miner