If there is one recurring theme that comes up time and time again in the world of stamp collecting, it is the importance of knowledge.
It seems that whenever a rare stamp is discovered, the story follows a familiar pattern. After being passed around for a number of years, the rarity eventually ends up in the hands of someone who has enough knowledge to recognize that it is worth a closer look. It is that closer look that leads to a discovery, and then the stereotypical “aha moment”when a common item becomes a stamp of great value.
Certainly there is an element of luck, no matter how informed and alert you are, rare stamps are by definition rare, and you don’t come across them very often. However in most cases, the person who is credited as the discoverer is rarely the first person to handle the stamp.
The two-cent large queen on laid paper, which was announced last year, and the Bechuanaland overprint in this issue of Canadian Stamp News are both stamps which have been around for more than 100 years. Both were found, not tucked away in some old drawer, but among philatelic material which had already passed through the hands of other collectors. In other words, both “discoverers” were simply people who knew enough to spot a potential winner while others had failed to notice anything special.
There is no shortcut to this ability; it is simply the willingness to spend time and sometimes money gaining knowledge. In most cases the knowledge is easily found for just the cost of purchasing a good reference book. Another interesting factor is that both had enough smarts to keep quiet about their discoveries until they knew what they had were the real deal. That means they sought out expert opinions, and got them backed by certificates. It is one thing to think you have a rarity, another to verify it through diligent research, and still yet another thing to have it in writing from an impeccable source.
While chances are slim that most of us will discover a spectacular rarity in our philatelic career, this is a hobby that abounds with variety. That means there are often dozens of minor varieties, postmark details, and even uses of specific stamps that can make an issue special.
I have seen fascinating exhibits built around such details. A dealer told me once that his most valuable asset was not his inventory, but his library. The knowledge contained on those shelves was worth more than a truckload of stamps.