Shifting into a smaller flat, or a retirement village? Tidying up a loved one’s estate? This is the time of the big clean-out. If it doesn’t look “interesting”, should you dump it, or give it away? This is a typical scenario in these days of decluttering.
However, amongst all the rubbish that has been disposed of in this way, many thousands of old envelopes, some worth hundreds of dollars, have been destroyed.
The major problem is that the average person just does not realise that there is a very strong market for many ordinary looking old envelopes. The common misconception is that collectors are only interested in “first day covers” – these are the mass-produced illustrated envelopes that are issued to commemorate the day of issue of a new set of stamps, or an event.
This is far from the truth. While there are many stamp collectors who collect first day covers, advanced collectors both here and overseas are more likely to be interested in commercial mail. It is amongst this latter group that there is a good chance of a valuable “find”.
The reason is that “interesting” looking covers, celebrating such events as royal weddings, Olympics, Post Office openings, etc. are inclined to be kept, where the “boring” envelope that the Govt. Life Insurance Co sent their invoices out in, were torn up.
If you are having a clean-out, play it safe and put ALL the correspondence together, especially anything pre-1945, and have it checked through by someone who knows this specialized field – not necessarily the guy next door “who once collected stamps”. Once it has been destroyed, it’s too late!
Some things to look out for:
On Active Service mail
Almost all correspondence from any serviceman (or woman) should be checked. Much of this mail was posted without stamps, so don’t overlook this. Obviously mail from the Maori Wars is rare, but there are many types of correspondence that will find a ready demand.
World War I mail is very popular . Any mail showing troopship, hospital ship, or reinforcement markings is worthwhile, if in reasonable condition. Old postcard collections are a good source for these.
While World War II mail is more readily available, some “finds” can stil be made. Prisoner-of-war mail is very popular, with the special pre-stamped aerogrammes that were issued for mail from NZ to the European POW camps being worth at least $50 each. Although envelopes from German and Italian POW camps are not scarce, envelopes to and from Japanese camps are rare.
Mail from RNZAF and Army bases in the Pacific are popular, with mail from the Air Force units on Norfolk Island being particularly scarce.
Modern campaigns, such as Korea, Malaya, Vietnam, etc. are also popular with specialists, so any military mail is worth looking out for.
Almost every household during 1900 to 1920 used to have a family postcard album. It was the golden age of the postcard, and billions were sold worldwide. Postcard collections and accumulations can produce “finds” for three different types of collector, so they are always worth a closer look.
There is the picture side, of course, with some types of cards being very popular. These include trains, ships, close-ups of old street scenes, and especially cards showing historical events. Postcards of small towns are usually much better than “touristy” shots of more well-known places.
Secondly, there is always the chance of a scarce stamp on the card, though that is most unusual. Thirdly, there is a chance of the card being cancelled with a rare postmark. New Zealand has had thousands of Post Offices over the last 150 years, and some of these were open for a very short period of time.
Most old legal documents bear adhesive stamps, many of which are not listed in the normal stamp catalogues, because they are “revenue’, rather than “postage” stamps. Some of these revenue stamps are very rare, and can fetch large sums.
The £75 Yellow Queen Victoria stamp would easily sell for over $5,000, if one was discovered – though we believe it was printed. If the documents are confidential however, the stamps can be removed before destruction of the document, but expert advice should be obtained first. Old “Wage Books” (pictured) can also produce “finds”.
There were over 400 date/denomination combinations, and although most are only worth a nominal amount, there are a few that sell for over $100 each, and 4 or 5 that fetch $1,000+
Almost any quantities of pre-World War II commercial envelopes should be kept intact, and checked, no matter how uninteresting they may look.
A tremendous amount of non-confidential mail has been dumped over the last few years. I recently paid several thousand dollars for an exceptionally nice group of covers. They had been rescued from the area dump where they had been discarded by the local council.
There are dozens of other areas that can produce rewarding “finds”. Some stamps that fetch only a few cents a hundred soaked off paper, are very scarce still remaining on the original envelope.
So, have ALL old envelopes and documents checked before destruction. Can you afford to have $$$’s go up in smoke?