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A Cover from the Ghost of Philatelist Gustave B. Calman, 1901

As a stamp collector, it's fun to come upon correspondence between renown philatelists of the past. One such cover in my collection was sent by Joseph A. Steinmetz to himself in 1909. You can read about that item here.

This cover is another example from 1901 (Figure 1). It was sent from New York City on February 26, 1901, and arrived in Berlin, Germany on March 8, 1901. It is franked with a 5-cent stamp, which was the Universal Postal Union (UPU) letter rate for international mail in 1901. In the US Scott Catalog, it is number 234 and depicts Christopher Columbus soliciting aid from Queen Isabella. This stamp was among 16 different denominations that the Post Office issued to commemorate the 1893 World Columbian Exposition held in Chicago.

While unused Columbians today are highly valued - an unused copy of the 5-cent has a catalog value of $55.00 - they were considered surplus postage in the early 1900s and were used by stamp dealers to mail correspondence into the 1920s. Hence, it is not unusual to find them used on covers well after their issue date in 1893.

The return address is "G.B. Calman, 42 E. 23d Street, New York." That would be Gustave B. Calman (Figure 3), a noted wholesale stamp dealer in the late 19th century. Gustave was born in 1860 in New York City and took an interest in stamps from boyhood. He had quite a career as a stamp dealer.

It's estimated he held more than 20 million stamps in stock that he sold to dealers throughout the world.

In 1886, he and his brother Henry L. Calman purchased the stock, rights, title, and goodwill of the Scott Stamp and Coin Company from John W. Scott. Just three years later, Scott reopened his stamp business and was promptly sued by the Calman's. The Calman's lost their suit in a case that made it all the way to the US Supreme Court.[i]

His reputation was tarnished a bit when he was slammed in the philatelic press for peddling stamps printed by Nicolas F. Seebeck. Seebeck printed stamps for several Central American counties, and under the contracts he had with those countries, he was permitted to produce as many stamps as he wished to supply philatelists. In his defense, Gustave claimed that Seebecks represented less than 10% of his business, but he promised that the contract he had with Seebeck would not be renewed when it expired in 1899.

But Gustave never made it to 1899. He died at age 37 on January 25, 1898, in New York City. His passing was lamented. His obituary in the March 26, 1898, edition of The North Adams Transcript was titled, "Greatest Stamp Dealer." The Stamp Dealers Protective Association adopted and sent this resolution to the American Journal of Philately in February 1898[iii]:

WHEREAS, we have learned with great sorrow of the death of Gustave B. Calman, and whereas in the death of Mr. Calman, philately loses one of its foremost adherents and one whose character in commercial records is without a blemish.

Resolved, that we, the Stamp Dealers Protective Association, herewith express our sympathy and sincere condolences in behalf of his relatives, as well as his bereaved family.

Resolved, that a copy of this resolution be sent to Henry L. Calman, brother of deceased; also to the American Journal of Philately for publication.

W. Sellschopp, President

J.N. Makins, Secretary

E.F. Gambs, Treasurer

Gustave B. Calman is buried at Salem Fields Cemetery in Brooklyn.

His brother Henry continued in the stamp business after Gustave's death. That may explain why an envelope bearing Gustave's name and address entered the postal system three years after his passing. You can find other covers with Gustave's name and return address posted after his death. Figure 4 is a one example. That cover, which contains an entire set of the 1898 Trans-Mississippi issue, was sent by registered mail to Germany on July 18, 1898, about six months after Gustave's death. By the way, that cover sold for $40,000!

I could not find much information on the recipient, Alfred Krolik. He is listed on page 56 in the 1898 edition of the International Philatelic Collectors Directory with the same address as on the cover. You can also find him listed in the Berlin city directory as late as 1926 with the occupation of Briefmarkenhandlung, or "Stamp Shop."

This cover was acquired in a group of 60 covers at a July 16, 2022, Sterling Stamps auction. The cost for all 60 covers was $170.00 plus a 15% buyers' premium, which works out to about $3.25 per cover.

[i] Biographies of Philatelists and Dealers, Brian J. Birch, 2018., p. 2482.

[ii] Seebeck: Hero or Villian?, Danilo A, Mueses, 2018, pp. 102-103.

Figure 1 - Front

Figure 2 - Back

Figure 3- Gustave B. Calman

Figure 4 - G.B. Calman return address cover from July 18, 1898. Source: Siegel Auctions, November 6, 2013.

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