In my opinion, Herman “Pat” Herst Jr., from Portland, Oregon was easily the most interesting and the most energetic stamp dealer in the 1930s and 1940s and in Pat’s case probably beyond that time.
Today, some 13 years after his death, he is very much an icon of stamp collecting. His enthusiasm for stamp collecting was boundless and he was very intolerant of those in the stamp business who couldn’t see what a great hobby it is.
On one occasion he invited a stamp dealer, who occupied the same building on Nassau Street in New York City as he did, to go with him to hear a very knowledgeable stamp writer give an interesting talk at the Collector’s Club of New York. The dealer turned Pat down flat saying that at closing time he was through with stamps for the day.
Pat’s question for this fellow was: “Don’t you want to learn all you can about stamps?” The fellow’s reply was that he didn’t need to know any more about stamps than he would if he was selling potatoes.
This lack of depth in his fellow dealer’s thinking floored Pat. He’d never heard anything like this and he told the story of his conversation with this guy many, many times, without naming him, of course.
During his active time as a collector and dealer, Pat never quit trying to expand his knowledge of stamps and encouraging others to do the same.
CAME TO EARN A FORTUNE
Pat had come to New York City in the heart of the Great Depression to seek his fortune, so to speak. He had a recently acquired a college degree, but that was not helpful in the failed U.S. economy of the day, so he rode the freight cars heading east from Portland.
After some short jobs in the city, he obtained a full time job in an investment bond office and he did very well even in those tough financial times. As time went on stamps played a bigger and bigger role in his life. Finally, after some five years during which stamp dealing became more and more the vocation that he loved, he resigned his Wall Street job and went into stamp dealing full time.
As you might well imagine, his mother was horrified when he came home and told her that he had resigned a good paying job to go into stamp dealing full time. Shortly however, he persuaded her that it was the right move. He fit into stamp dealing like a hand in a glove and it showed.
His timing couldn’t have been better. Even though the country was in financial shambles, the stamp hobby was booming. People were noticing that the President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt, was a very active stamp collector along with some members of his cabinet. Stamps were being issued with the promotion of the stamp-collecting hobby in mind. New stamp publications were coming out and the hobby was very much front and center. It was in this atmosphere that Pat Herst thrived.
MET A LEGEND
It wasn’t long before he crossed the path of the legendary New York stamp dealer Y. Souren. Souren’s name was actually Souren Yohannessiantz. You can see why upon his arrival in this country not long after the Bolsheviks took over Russia and his native Georgia, he changed his name to Y. Souren.
Pat’s first encounter with Souren wasn’t a pleasant one. Pat had returned some stamps he’d purchased in one of Souren’s auctions and Souren summoned Pat to his business and made his displeasure known telling him to never again bid in one of his sales.
Soon after this Souren reversed course and attempted to help Pat in a legal matter involving another well known stamp dealer, H. R. Harmer. After this Souren made many efforts to get business for Pat and help him in other ways. For his part, Pat found himself being used as a sounding board for ideas that Souren had that were related to the stamp business.
Souren was not bashful about asking Pat to come to his home and listen to his latest idea even if it was 2 a.m. He was a great talker, but a poor listener. Souren at one time also was bidding on stamps in auctions for Pat and these did not always fit Pat’s budget or his inclinations. After a while he did slack off on the bidding on Pat’s behalf much to Pat’s relief.
During this period there were a number of legal cases involving the federal government defending the post office in various suits. On many occasions the two “expert witnesses” were: Herman Herst, Jr. and Y. Souren.
STAMPS IN EUROPE
When Pat and his mother traveled to Europe in the late 1930s he found many attractive stamp deals. This was mainly because few American stamp dealers had been on buying trips to Europe after World War I. Pat’s energy and knowledge of stamps was invaluable in helping him find stamps his American customers were looking for at very reasonable prices.
When Pat arrived back in the United States from Europe, he had a much-improved knowledge of stamps and a wife. Once in the 1950s when he had moved to Shrub Oak, NY and was doing business from his home, he found himself in a position to help the U.S. Post Office located basically across the street from his home.
On the occasion of a rate change the Shrub Oak Post Office found itself out of whatever the needed stamp denomination was to make the new rate. The local Postmaster came to Pat and asked to buy some of these stamps. Pat had a very ample stock and gladly helped the Postmaster out. This was probably one of the few occasions in which a post office bought stamps from a stamp dealer rather than the other way around.
In future stamp columns, I’ll tell you more about Pat Herst and his very interesting life in stamp collecting. In the meantime, I hope you’ll consider coming to our next meeting this Saturday, 2 p.m. at Memorial Baptist Church, 130 Holmes St., and see some of the fun we have collecting stamps.
Breck Pegram is the president of the Kentucky Stamp Club.