Monday, May 16, 2011

The Straw-Stacker Stamp Album of Grandpa5000

Warning: Essay-Length Post
Twitter-Equivalent Translation: Looking through my grandpa's stamp collection.  OMG it's cool. Ck out pics!

I kept a stamp collection for a while when I was a kid, and since you’re here it’s a safe bet that you might have as well. Back then, when I visited Grandma and Grandpa5000’s house, I would often dig out their own mothballed stamp collections and get lost in an older, stranger world. It was the first contact I ever had with countries that had since disappeared, unheard-of places like “Lithuania” or “Bosnia,” or “Germany” without an “East” or a “West."  Their stamps were by and large older than mine, as were their stamp albums, and they were, well, the second-most interesting thing in the house, after the jam-packed games cabinet.

When Grandpa died in 2001, my parents very sweetly gave me the stamp collection, and in the decade since I have treasured it – but abstractly, without ever really looking at it. Until a rainy day a few weekends back, when I was repotting some house plants and moving things around and one thing led to another and suddenly I had the old albums spread out on a table, enchanted.

From a strictly personal perspective, it is interesting to read the biographical clues left in the collection by my grandparents. They clearly took up the hobby in about 1961. Grandma was interested in U.S. stamps, mostly contemporary, and liked collecting blocks of four and first-day issues. Grandpa liked older international stamps, and if he had any criteria for their selection it is not at all obvious.  He might have just picked ones he thought looked cool, and if so he and I had some tastes in common. They kept up their collections for about five years, and then they petered out. After that, like me, like you maybe, they just had a box into which they tossed interesting stamps that happened to land on their doorstep, against the possibility that the philatelic bug would bite them again in the future. But it never did.

It hasn’t bit me, either, at not in the sense that I intend to seek out new stamps or even organize the three collections – Grandpa’s, Grandma’s, and seventh-grade Michael5000’s – that I now have in my possession. I’m not a stamp collector. But I have some stamp collections, and as you may have noticed I have an enthusiasm for paper ephemera. Which is why, summarily and without even consulting the Dork, Vice-Dork, or Dorks Emeriti, I am adding stamp imagery to the purview of this online variety magazine. Forewarened is forearmed.

The Reeves & Co. Scrapbook.

One of the most singular items in the grandparental collection is a small album in a agricultural brochure that must date, judging from the graphics, from around the turn of the 20th Century. The handwriting might be Grandpa’s and the stamps are very old, but whether this is an artifact from his youth, or something he put together in 1961 before he got organized, or just something he encountered and kept from the margins of life’s random roads, I don’t know.

Here’s the cover:

On the inside, we see that it is both an account book and an advertisement for a piece of agricultural equipment. I suppose that equipment salesmen must have passed out swag to farmers back in the day the same way that pharmaceutical reps do with doctors now. Also, we see the words “United States” scrawled on the top – by my grandfather? – and that things have been pasted in and then removed. I think this page may have held some of the stamps that eventually ended up in Grandma’s U.S. albums.

On the next page, there’s a message from Reeves and Co. and some info on their new hay stacker…

...and a set of stamps from “England”! We also get a look at the improvised hinges that must have held two more stamps in place at some point.

Another page gives us another page of pre-professional marketing bluster, and some stamps from Germany. Old stamps!

These appear to be – although how would I know, really – from a series issued in 1889, and worth as much as five bucks apiece! ...if, you know, they are unused and in mint condition and not essentially taped to an agricultural pamphlet. Frankly, though, this way is much cooler.

The organizational scheme appears to have been U.S., England, Germany, and Other: the next page brings us specimens from the Netherlands, Denmark, France, Italy, the South Africa Colony, India, and Hong Kong.

Then we have a page of what I find is the 1893 “Landing of Columbus 2 Cent” issue.

Wow, you can buy those for $45.00 apiece online!, unused. Or you can buy used ones for 20 cents.And then, on the right hand side, more writing.

Many of the negro tribes cultivate the soil, raise cattle, sheep, and goats, and manufacture various articles. some are harmless and very industrious while others are ignorant and savage. 
The tribes suffer grately from wars among themselfs and from the cruelties of their chiefs and the Arab slave trader. Some of the natives are tall, brave and well formed. The chiefs of some of the tribes are very creul not only their prisoners but their own subjects. The great desert which is about two thirds as large as the United States is almost destitute of rain.  Places in 
The essay jumps up and continues underneath the stamps -- which, for those of us with sophisticated training in interpreting original documents, yields a clue! This pamphlet was used as a school notebook before it was used as a stamp album!

After this, there are several pages that were set up to track a student's progress in various classes. This log was kept faithfully for three days.

The booklet ends with a list of the countries of Africa…

…and lists of major African rivers, mountains, lakes, and islands.

Two hypotheses: This could be a Depression-era relic of my grandpa’s youth, an old pamphlet adapted for schoolboy use. Or, since the stamps come from a decade or so before Grandpa was born, maybe it is something he picked up from someone else, perhaps a great-grandparent who must, logic dictates, have existed before him (Grandpa didn’t like to talk about his childhood). Either way, what we have here is a typical specimen of a common sort of document from the late 19th or early 20th Century. It has no real value.

Bidding starts at $500.


UnwiseOwl said...

Assuming that whoever this student was was learning about CURRENT African countries we can assume this book was used between 1927 and 1934, because it lists Tripoli as a country in its own right (after Italian North Africa and before Libya)....
Then again, the Orange Free State stopped existing in what... 1899? And Senegambia only existed for a few years last century...
I give up.

UnwiseOwl said...

Whenever this comes from it's pretty cool. If I were you I wouldn't part with it for $500.

UnwiseOwl said...

Hrmm... looking at a few period documents, and this list looks pretty similar to this 1885 atlas...investigations continue.

Elaine said...

So, M5000 claims at least ONE victim with this blog entry. Unwise Owl is HOOKED!!

Michael5000 said...

Owl: I think the list describes the state of play in Africa, from a Euro perspective, before the 1888 Treaty of Berlin recarved the map into the fairly arbitrary shapes that we still have today. That means that our scholar would be working before 1888... OR, after 1888, with outdated reference materials. Which is consistent with a kid having used the book in the late 1880s in school, then digging it up a year or two later for a stamp album.

Elaine: Why wouldn't he be hooked?

UnwiseOwl said...

Pretty sure I've been hooked on various M5000 items (except the postcards, I find them boring) for quite a while now, nothing new.

Africa is fun times.

Jennifer said...

AIEEEE! Blogger just ate a comment of mine that was almost as long as the original post (allowing for some exaggeration).


In more cursory fashion:

I was going along with UO, agreeing about the dates of the countries and anticipating (in a clever and uber-dorky fashion which is now lost to eternity) Michael5000's comments about outdated reference materials and noting that the student was apparently writing down a list orally (based on the spelling "Mozambeak" and others).

This is not the only company to have a Thresherman's Account Book printed for distribution. A. B. Baker of Baker Randolph Printers died in 1892, and most references seem to end in 1893; however, in the 1940s, a Randolph of Chicago (where they also had had a base) became president of a printer's union, so perhaps Randolph took over Baker-Randolph.

I couldn't identify the fonts, but they seem consistent with a late Victorian/Art Nouveau period.

I couldn't read the "Compliments of" guy unless it's "T. Wright," in which case I couldn't find any references to a T. Wright associated with Reeves & Co.

I couldn't find info on the patents, but the straw stacker was invented 1881. Since it's No. 3, I would assume that the earliest possible date would be 1883, though this marketing tool might well not have been implemented immediately.

In short, other evidence does corroborate the suggestion that the book could have been printed, distributed, and written in around the mid 1880s through early 1890s.

mrs.5000 said...

I love it. And am impressed at all the research already! But we're not selling. I declare this a priceless cornerstone of our Proto-Book-Arts collection, since it turns out we have TWO late 19th C. agricultural publications with fabulous paste-ins. Perhaps a future post on the prettification of gape-worm disease in fowls is in order.

Jennifer said...

Gape-worm disease in fowls? *Swoon!*

Congratulations on your new collection! Instead of receiving postcards and old maps and things, your family can receive old agricultural texts for all the major gift-giving holidays--something to look forward to!

Now, if only I could find an old postcard of a farmer driving a straw-stacker across a map of a midwestern state....

Michael5000 said...

Jennifer, you think you jest, but when I found the 1898 Dept of Agriculture census of sugar beet production in a heap of rubbish, I knew that Mrs.5000 would be on Cloud 9. And I was right!

Jennifer said...

Aww, the best kind of gift! (And one of the best kinds of jests.)

Jenners said...

Judging from the comments, this series is going to be a big big hit.

dhkendall said...

Me as well! I have a stamp collection - over 5K stamps, covering about 95% of the countries of the world (naturally, I made a map showing the countries I have) but the ones I like the most are the old stamps exactly like what your grandfather had (and you have now). Keep it and cherish it forever. (My dad did the same thing, collected stamps when he was little, stopped after a few years, recently he offered me his stamp album and, while it's full of the old (ie pre 1960 or so stamps that are mostly one colour, like what you show) stamps that I like, I asked him to keep it, so that he can still get enjoyment out of it. i offered to take it after he passes on, so that I can remember him when I look at his stamps.

I too was wondering about that African countries list, as there wasn't that many African countries to begin with (the Scramble for Africa left I think just two countries (Liberia and Ethiopia) unclaimed by European powers on the continent). I have a map of Europe my grandmother drew for a homework assignment in the early 1920s that also lists countries and their capitals (however, I think she may have copied them from somewhere, she lists the capital of Turkey as Moscow, then the capital of Russia as Oslo, then the capital of Norway as Stockholm, etc.) I also got from her after she died an old atlas; it seems to have been published in early September 1939, and has a postscript in it of how Poland no longer exists, having been recently conquered by Germany and the Soviet Union.

One can never put a price on these.

Aviatrix said...

I like to think that your grandfather inherited this album from someone in the same fashion as you received yours, making it a family tradition. I too approve of this blog theme.

Michael5000 said...

Update: Handwriting -- not Grandpa's! Provenance -- unknown, unknowable.