When the members of the American Philatelic Society gather in Portland, Oregon, next week for their national summer convention, the organization will be on the cusp of its 130th anniversary. St. Louis attorney John K. Tiffany convened the first meeting of what was then called the American Philatelic Association on September 13, 1886, in New York.
Stamp collecting had become very active by 1886, and Tiffany was known to have put together a world-class collection of some 13,000 stamps. Yet, a St. Louis Times article referred to him only as “a St. Louis gentleman,” leading Alvin Harlow in his stamp history, Paper Chase, to speculate that his name was withheld “for fear of bringing him into ridicule and weakening the belief of clients in his sanity and ability as an attorney.” The next day Tiffany was elected first president of this first national collector’s organization.
Harlow described most of the 24 men who attended this first meeting as “under the age of whiskers” and representing “nearly all the learned professions, with a strong dash of insurance men thrown in.” A detailed article in the Chicago Morning News took great pains to describe the routine manner and dress of these first delegates, pointing out that “They look like other reasonable people.”
Changing its name to APS in 1908, the organization’s early priorities of promoting and advancing stamp collecting went beyond just facilitating the purchase and exchanges of stamps. Sharing knowledge was very important and The American Philatelist has been published since 1887. Tiffany’s passion for philatelic literature also lead him to publish, among others things, a History of United States Postage Stamps in 1887 and a listing of all known philatelic works called The Philatelic Library in 1875, nearly all of which were in his personal collection. Organizational leaders were inspired to create their own library and today’s American Philatelic Research Library (APRL) boasts more than 23,000 book titles and 5,700 journal titles, including its own quarterly publication the Philatelic Literature Review.
Fraudulent stamps bugged members from the earliest days and they elected as their first counterfeit detector a Boston dealer named E. A. Holton. There were no fees for this forerunner of the American Philatelic Expertizing Service (AMEX) that issued its first certificate in 1903. Now AMEX has a network of some 120 specialists using the latest technology to examine stamps as to the correct identification and determine their condition.
Expertizing was instrumental in legitimizing Inverted Jenny position 76 after it emerged earlier this year in Northern Ireland (in this case, performed by The Philatelic Foundation). One of a block of four stamps stolen from a 1955 APS show in Norfolk, VA, owner Ethel McCoy had assigned the claim to the stolen block to APRL in 1979 in the hope that one day the stamps would be found. In the midst of great fan fare, position 76 was turned over by Keelin O’Neill, who inherited the stamp from his grandfather, to APRL administrator Scott English at the New York City World Stamp Show in June. APS will proudly display the stamp in its Court of Honor for the run of the Portland conference.
American Philatelic Society, History of the APS and APS: the First Century, Robert L.D. Davidson, http://www.stamps.org/Historical-Information.
APRL news release (6/2/16). Inverted Jenny Stamp Cold Case Heats Up in NY 2016, http://www.stamps.org/NewsItemDetail.aspx?id=133.
Harlow, Alvin F. (1940). Paper Chase: The Amenities of Stamp Collecting. Henry Holt and Company.