Neat Stamp Stories

What’s the World’s Rarest Airmail Stamp?

If you think the Jenny Inverts are the rarest Airmail stamps in the world, you’re wrong.

Black Honduras 600dpi copy

Watch Mystic’s video about the Black Honduras here

Years ago, the 1925 Black Honduras held the record for the highest price ever paid for a single stamp in a public sale in America. The four stamps then slid into obscurity… and copies began to disappear. Only one Black Honduras is known today – making it 100 times rarer than the Jenny Inverts!

Like it’s more famous American cousin, the Black Honduras represents the earliest days of airmail flight. And like the Jenny Inverts, the stamps were shrouded in mystery and surrounded by intrigue. Here’s the little-known tale of the unique 1925 Black Honduras…

Airmail was in its infancy in the early 1920s. The U.S. had begun delivering airmail in 1918 (when the Jenny Invert was created.) Dr. Thomas C. Pounds, a native of Montana, was living in Honduras.

Pounds lived in Tegucigalpa, which was the only capital city in the Americas without a railroad connection. Honduras’ main seaport, Puerto Cortes, was 150 miles away – a trip over mountains that took three to seven days by mule, depending on the weather. A plane could fly between the cities in two hours.

In 1922, Pounds contracted with the Honduran government to fly mail between the two cities. Each piece of mail would require two stamps – a Honduras stamp (the government would keep these proceeds) and one issued by Pounds, who would keep this revenue to cover his costs.

Pounds named his company Central American Airlines. But before he could get it off the ground, a revolution forced the U.S. to limit the shipment of planes to Honduras. Once politics stabilized, Pounds arranged for financial backing from Juan Trippe, a commuter flight operator who later founded Pan-American Airlines. In February, 1925, Trippe sent Pounds a plane and a pilot, Sumner B. Morgan of upstate New York.

Morgan flew to Tegucigalpa in a seaplane outfitted with special landing gear. Pounds greeted Morgan at the dock, where local resident Julio Ustariz meandered over to see what the excitement was about. Ustariz – who was one of the fastest gun-handlers in Central America – offered the men the use of his nearby airport. The men accepted, and lived at Ustariz’ hacienda while they made final plans for their airmail service.

The official inaugural airmail flight was scheduled for May 1, 1925. At the last moment, the Honduran government told Pounds the special stamps he was promised for his use hadn’t been produced. Instead, they gave him a small number of obsolete 1915 Honduras stamps and authorized him to apply overprints.

Pounds and his associate, a jack-of-all-trades named Karl Snow, used a very small hand-operated printing press to prepare provisional airmail stamps using the old Honduras stamps. They worked in two sessions – one using red and black ink near the end of April and a second printing in blue ink a little while later. Pounds made the stamps available at post offices and private locations, which was common in Honduras.

Central American Airlines was a failure and ended after just seven months service. This rare stamp is the evidence of its existence. But it’s story isn’t over yet…

In 1927, John Luff, editor of Scott Catalogue, was excited to receive four unknown stamps in his mail. This was two years after the famous Black Honduras was issued, but collectors were unaware this stamp existed.

Luff knew the surcharge matched those seen on genuine stamps. But he thought the stamp could be from a trial printing, which would make it less valuable than a real stamp. Luff wrote to Ustariz and implied the stamp was counterfeit. Karl Snow, who helped print the stamps, also told Ustariz he didn’t recall printing the 25¢ surcharge on the stamps.

Days later, Luff received a letter from Raul Duron Membreno, who worked as an agent for Scott Co. The envelope contained 16 1925 Honduran airmail stamps, including a pair surcharged exactly like Ustariz’s. Membreno, who was once an official in the Honduran post office, thought the stamps were genuine. Luff didn’t say he thought they were genuine, but didn’t return them to their proper owners.

Three years later, a stamp dealer named H.A. Robinette announced the find of a new 25¢ on 10¢ Honduran stamp by mailing it to Luff. The original owner claimed to have bought it from a post office. Unlike the previous issues, it was the first example that can’t be tied to Dr. Thomas Pounds, indicating it was actually an issued stamp rather than a proof.

In 1933, Raul Duron Membreno’s stamp collection containing the pair of surcharged Honduras Airmails was stolen. The stamps were never recovered, leaving only two examples of the #C12.

Apparently, Luff sold the Ustariz example to Bruechig, a stamp dealer and author. At one point it appears to have been on cover but it was removed, cleaned and regummed. The last time the stamp was seen publicly was 2002, when it sold at auction. The #C12 was reportedly lost and has never been recovered. However, some collectors have theorized the owner – who may have owned the only two remaining – of destroying one to increase the catalogue value of the other.

Dr. Philip Cole purchased Robinette’s copy and showed it in his grand award exhibit at the 1936 TIPEX show. The #C12 was now referred to as the “World’s Rarest Airmail Stamp” by Stamps magazine. The Robinette example made history twice – first by selling for $11,500 in 1957 and again in 1961, when it sold for $24,500. It was the highest auction price ever paid for a single stamp in America at the time. The Robinette copy – the only surviving Black Honduras stamp – is the stamp now owned by Mystic.

Watch as Don tells the story in this exclusive video – click here.

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North Korea Stamp News

Stamp Collecting Makes Headlines as U.S.-North Korea Tensions Mount

Mystic and its stamp collectors are unfairly caught up in international politics. The problem stems from an embargo on North Korea stamps that began over 60 years ago. There is good news, though – the general media is covering part of the story, which is good for our hobby.

National Public Radio (NPR) recently interviewed Mystic President Don Sundman about the embargo’s impact on stamp collecting, and a magazine published in Great Britain is writing an article about it. More coverage is likely.

The embargo dates back to 1950 and the Korean War. Under the terms of the 1917 Trading with the Enemy Act, Americans were prohibited from doing business directly or indirectly with North Korea, including buying postage stamps. The embargo continued until 1999, when sanctions were eased during the Clinton administration.

Stamps are tiny windows into cultures and a great way to learn about secretive nations like North Korea. They are also seldom seen, which makes them even more appealing. On behalf of its collectors, Mystic applied for the necessary license to import North Korea stamps. Permission was given by the Treasury Department in 2000. The stamps were popular with Mystic’s collectors, so permission was asked for and granted a few more times as the license expired.

In 2010, Mystic renewed the license to deal in North Korea stamps, but this time the permission was only granted for one year (previously, it had been valid for several years.)

In July 2011, Mystic again applied for what appeared to be a routine renewal. A year passed before it learned from the Treasury Department that the request had been denied. A request for information on the appeal process went unanswered.

New York Senator Kristine Gillibrand was contacted by Mystic in the fall of 2012 and asked to investigate. In January 2013, she forwarded a copy of a letter she’d received in response to her inquiry. It turns out the Treasury Department must coordinate these requests with the Departments of State and Defense. Those two departments had never acted on the application, so the Treasury Department simply denied the request.

Mystic and our stamp collectors are victims of international politics and governmental red tape. Denying collectors the chance to collect North Korea stamps doesn’t ease U.S.-North Korea tensions. Instead, it prevents Mystic’s collectors from enjoying their hobby and interferes in business during a challenging economy.

The bright note – due to the media coverage, more people are becoming aware of stamp collecting and its rewards. Look for further updates on this developing story.

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What are Farley’s Follies?

754 mint center line block copy

U.S. #754 Imperforate and without gum as issued

Farley’s Follies is one of stamp collecting’s most interesting stories.  And since most of the stamps are readily available and inexpensive, it’s easy enough to put a specialized collection together.  Let’s step back in time and discover one of the Postal Service’s biggest scandals…

James A. Farley (1888-1976) got his start in politics in 1911 as town clerk of Grassy Point, New York. He moved his way through the political system, forming the Upstate New York Democratic Organization and bringing many upstate voters to the Democratic party. In 1924, he met young Franklin Roosevelt at the Democratic National Convention. Four years later, FDR asked Farley to run his campaign for New York governor. Farley helped FDR win the elections for governor in 1928 and 1930. A driving force in the U.S. political system, Farley helped FDR win the 1932 and 1936 presidential elections. Roosevelt made Farley his Postmaster General. Farley was pivotal in turning around the U.S. Post Office Department. He helped the department finally turn a profit and revolutionized airmail service.

753 mint center line block

U.S. #753, the Byrd Expedition World Map Special Printing

The infamous “Farley’s Follies” controversy began in 1933 when Farley removed several stamp sheets from the printing presses before they were gummed or perforated. He autographed these sheets (which were not available to the public) and gave them to colleagues and family, creating precious philatelic rarities. Stamp collectors were outraged when they discovered what had happened. Finally, the Post Office came up with a solution – the reissue in sheet form of all the stamps issued since March 4, 1933, in ungummed condition, all but the first two imperforate and in sufficient numbers to satisfy public demand. Although Farley and FDR had a falling out over Roosevelt’s plan to run for a third term, Farley remained a strong force in the political and business worlds. He went on to serve as Chairman of the Board of the Coca-Cola Export Corporation and served as a trusted advisor to several Popes, dignitaries, and Presidents until his death in 1976.

Farley’s Follies are Scarce and Valuable Collectibles

The British stamp firm Gibbons reportedly declared the reprint was “nauseous prostitution,” and at first refused to list the issues in their famous stamp catalog! But even today, over 80 years after they were issued, collectors still love Farley’s Follies.

“Farley’s Follies” were issued in large sheets that are way too big to fit in stamp albums. So smart collectors snapped up blocks and pairs in a variety of formats instead. They not only fit, but these key formats are an easy way to understand the stamp printing process.

Mystic purchased full sheets of these mint stamps and made them available in scarce formats like vertical, horizontal and gutter pairs plus arrow blocks, line pairs and cross gutter blocks. All are hard to find – some occur only once in every stamp sheet. It’s a neat way to own a scandalous slice of U.S. postal history. Our experts even designed custom album pages to display them on. Learn more here.

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