Stamp Collecting: Even stamp collectors can be extravagant

By Breck Pegram/Ky. Stamp Club Published:

I have often wondered how and sometimes if, I would enjoy collecting stamps if I had unlimited resources and a stamp collecting budget that would rival the legendary collectors of the past.

Not too long ago while in Louisville, I saw a stamp club program given by a noted U. S. stamp collector. The entire program was a slide show of this gentlemen’s very valuable collection of covers (stamps on envelopes), and also some covers from the stampless period.

This is a part of Philately or stamp collecting that not a lot of collectors venture into because it can be a very expensive pursuit. I wondered as the program progressed just what the bottom line on this fellow’s collection might be. Someone mentioned that they thought it might be as high as $1 million.

I can assure you that no one I know in the Kentucky stamp collecting hobby has a collection worth anywhere near $1 million! I think I can speak for most of the collectors in our area and say that they do not measure the enjoyment they get from stamp collecting by the money they’ve spent on it.


Let’s look at some of the wealthy stamp collectors from the past that did spend a lot on their collections.

One of these, not far from our area here in the Bluegrass, was Josiah K. Lilly, Jr. son of Josiah K. Lilly, Sr., and grandson of the founder of the noted pharmaceutical company, Eli Lilly Company in Indianapolis. The financial success of this firm established the strong footing for J. K. Lilly, Jr. as he acquired expensive, rare stamps and other collectables.

The Lillys were very private people and Josiah, Jr. certainly followed this family tradition. When he selected Raymond Weill of New Orleans as his stamp dealer of choice, this tradition of anonymity continued. After Lilly’s death, Weill in an interview with noted Philatelist, Dr. Stanley Bierman, told of his visits to Lilly’s home outside Indianapolis on several occasions.

Even then Weill provided only the sketchiest details of his dealings with Lilly. One detail that I found amusing was that when someone visited Lilly at his country home they came under what you might call his own custom transportation privacy policy.

If he wanted to drive around the estate alone, he’d drive the very nice car with the single seat. If he thought a lot of you and really wanted to make you feel welcome, he’d drive you to your guest house in his two-seat car that had had the back seat removed. In this way if he didn’t want to listen to much of what long-winded guests had to say, it was easy for him to not have to. He probably had one of his servants drive them in a separate automobile.

His annual budget for the acquisition of stamps ran between $200,000 and $300,000 a year during much of the 1940s and 1950s. Today that would be somewhere above $5.5 million!

You would literally have to hire some one or perhaps two people to help you spend money like that on stamps. The end result of that kind of stamp collecting is that you’ll have a really superb collection. My question is how much time a collector on that level will take to just look at and study and enjoy his or her collection.

I do know that according to the records, Josiah Lilly, Jr. was so private, he never displayed any part of his collection nor did he enter it in any Philatelic competition at stamp shows. That is a real shame. I’m sorry he took secretiveness to such a degree.


Another prominent and wealthy collector who had very ample financial resources with which to acquire a classic stamp collection was Alfred H. Caspary. Caspary did not own a philatelic library as did many other prominent collectors, but he did study stamps extensively both as to value, condition and rarity.

Caspary was a successful investment banker, born in New York City in 1868. Not much is known of his early years, but we do know that he became a stamp collector as a young man. He latched onto classic unused stamps as a preference and his collecting interests grew from there.

At that time some very significant stamp collections were coming on the philatelic market and with his growing financial resources, he was able to take advantage of this to build a classic collection. This took a bent toward United States and Confederate States stamps.

The stamp collecting community was much smaller in the 1920s and so when it became known that Caspary was buying high end material, many of these items seemed to gravitate to him. In the economy of the day Caspary reportedly spent around $50,000 a year on his collection.

For all his reputation as a careful and studious stamp collector, it is somewhat shocking to know that many of his stamps were casually kept in glassine envelopes and other packaging and merely tucked in albums in a very casual manner. Most of the time they were in albums in or near where they should be mounted, but the casualness in which some very significant stamps were kept was shocking.

While you will not find our local stamp collectors keeping any of their stamps in a casual manner, I do think you will find that the stamps we do have, we enjoy a lot. I hope you will avail yourself of the opportunity to come to our meeting this coming Saturday Nov. 10, 2 p.m. at Memorial Baptist Church, 130 Holmes St.

We’ll show you the enjoyment of stamp collecting and how you can enjoy it for a fraction of what Mr. Lilly and Mr. Caspary spent on the hobby.

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