Brookman, Lester G. 1966. The United States Postage Stamps of the 19th Century. Second edition. 3vv. H.L. Lindquist Publications, New York.

Johl, Max G. 1947. The United States Commemorative Stamps of the Twentieth Century. First edition. 2vv. H.L. Lindquist Publications, New York.

Johl, Max G. 1976. United States Postage Stamps 1902-1935. Quaterman Publications, Inc., Lawrence MA.

There are many beautiful and important books on philately. These six volumes are achievements in painstaking research that shames much that emerges from the academy. When serious art history catches up with United States postage stamps (as in due course it will), these books will lead the way.

Brookman and Johl were collectors of the old school, gentlemen with evident access to astonishing amounts of raw material not only through their own collecting efforts but from the noblesse oblige of others like themselves who put their treasures at these mens' disposal. Johl had actually gotten a start in the mid 1930s with his 4-volume United States Postage Stamps of the Twentieth Century, which covered all stamps through about 1940.

US stamps are broadly broken down into three large categories by collectors. These are "regular issues," the smaller stamps of many different denominations which are the workhorses; "commemorative issues," which, depending upon your collecting temperament, can be said to have started in 1869 or 1893 and are generally largish stamps with developed images that, as their name suggests, commemorate a person, anniversary, event, etc.; and "back of the book" issues, so-called from the normal position of the pages for these stamps in collectors' albums, which include air mail stamps, revenue stamps, postage due stamps, issues of the Confederate states, etc. The arrangement of the standard philatelic catalogues of US stamps published by Scott and Brookman reflect these practical divisions and to an extent have canonized the arrangement. These are merely conventional categories, however, and serious collectors make it a habit to impose special ordering upon their stamps and not vice-versa.

Johl originally treated regular issues and commemoratives together chronologically. The 100th anniversary of US postage in 1947 offered a suitable opportunity to rearrange and update Johl's work. Thus was published under separate covers The United States Commemorative Stamps of the Twentieth Century, which left the regular issues with the treatment in the 4-volume set of the 1930s.

This made sense because while commemoratives used to come out 5 or 6 per year, regular issues tended to come out in clumps every 10-20 years or so. (The recent practice of the USPS of issuing hundreds of stamps in individual years is a result of privatization and a systematic exploitation of collectors by producing as many collectable variants or new issues as possible. The US government pockets virtually every cent paid for a stamp that is bought but never used.) There was no call to similarly update the discussion of regular issues in 1947 because Johl had already covered the most recent issue, the so-called presidential series of 1938, and the next regular issue was years in the future.

Alongside Johl's volumes in 1947 appeared Brookman's 2-volume set The United States Postage Stamps of the 19th Century. Although no new 19th century stamps had been discovered, those barnstorming days of early printing, perforating, gumming, coloring, and other techniques had led to vast numbers of unintentional oddities, variants, errors, and similar problems in these first stamps. By 1966 a new edition in 3 volumes was needed, and that year's Sixth International Philatelic Exhibition offered an excuse to get it out.

Johl's 4-volume set had long been out of print when Quaterman released (in 1976) the chapters dealing with regular issues as United States Postage Stamps 1902-1935. Bound together with this book were the original chapters on "back of the book" parcel post and air mail stamps, as well as a 1941 pamphlet Specializing in Twentieth Century United States Stamps as a sort of prologue.

These books are marvels of scholarship. Good black and white photographs on fine, heavy paper mark the multi-volume sets; the Quaterman edition lacks the quality of the others but arguably needs it less because it has fewer illustrations (cost was certainly an issue). Every individual stamp is taken from commissioning to design phase, and then through production results (including oddities, errors, etc) and totals issued. Attention is paid to the design sources for all stamps issued (where known), and there are philatelically important discussions of postal cancellation marks, important surviving blocks of stamps in prominent collections, and similar material useful in the commercial aspects of the field.

Let's have a look at Brookman in action. Even more valuable than the "inverted Jenny" early air mail stamp is the shadowy, nearly legendary 4-cent blue Columbian. These stamps were part of a set issued in conjunction with the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893. They were larger stamps than anything seen previously and were issued in 16 denominations, each with a unique image (in "landscape orientation") commemorating some aspect of Columbus and his voyages. Many would argue that these were the first commemorative stamps, properly speaking.

The normal 4-cent issue of this series was a pale ultramarine blue, and it showed Columbus' three ships on the ocean. A few copies in a vibrant blue were found, evidently saved scrap from a bad printing run. Brookman (3.62), tells us what he has seen, where he saw it (offering a trail for those seeking provenience), and subtly indicates his long reach in getting to see private collections ("in a western collection"); he is also a master of the auction literature:

Many collectors have thought they had the 4c Error of color but the truth of the matter is that few of them ever have or ever will see one--let alone own one. The shade is very different from the normal ultramarine and once seen it is not likely to be forgotten . . . .

One error pane was found by J.V. Painter of Cleveland and bore the plate number D17. It is almost certain that at least one more pane of these existed in this shade, and that the used copies came from this other pane. We understand that Theodore Steinway of New York found a used copy on mail received by his father. When J.V Painter found the sheet he sold half of it to George Worthington while most of the balance was purchased by J.W. Scott, Sr. It is not known what became of the half sheet sold to Worthington as these were not found among his stamps when his estate was sold.

A superb mint block of this 4c error was in the Col. Green collection and there was a very fine mint block of 4--not the same block as was in the Green collection--that was sold at the Robt. Laurence Sale of September 17, 1940. We have seen a third block of four in a western collection and have seen several mint singles but we have never seen a used copy although they are known to exist. An Imprint Plate Number strip of 4 of the error was sold by Harmer, Rooke, & Co., in 1962.

All of these works are out of print and hard to find. Used sets of Brookman (in a 1989 reprint) can be had for about $150.00. The Quaterman edition of Johl can be had used for about $100.00. I have yet to see Johl's 1947 set be listed on Amazon (I paid $75 in 1998).

For those wishing to find scholarship produced on US postage after the end of the period covered by Johl and Brookman, the place to go is to back issues of The United States Specialist, the journal of the Bureau Issues Association, Inc. and The United States Stamp Society.

URLs for images (commemoratives including Columbians) (Columbians with commentary)

Further looking turned up a cheaper source for philatelic literature than the standard book outlets at

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