Mystery of the Grinnell Missionaries

The story of the Grinnell Hawaiian Missionaries reads like a mystery, but it’s a true story, full of real-life drama.  For nearly 100 years, their genuineness has been debated.  Are they really scarce Hawaiian Missionary stamps… or some of the greatest forgeries ever created?

The saga of the Grinnell Missionary stamps is a long and dramatic one.  From the pages of an old prayer book locked away in a battered trunk to a courtroom filled with witnesses for the prosecution and a judge’s verdict of “forgeries” to a high-tech laboratory in the UK, the Grinnells have journeyed a very long way.  And many believe they had already survived an even longer journey – one that began over 150 years ago in the Kingdom of Hawaii.

Now you can explore the Grinnell Missionary stamps in Mystic’s series of booklets.  Then watch David Beech, Curator of the British Library Philatelic Collections, deliver his presentation about the Grinnells during the National Postal Museum’s 2003 Maynard Sundman Lecture.

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In The Grinnell Missionaries, you’ll discover the history of the Hawaiian Islands, the role the missionaries played in it, and how the kingdom’s postal service began.  Then you’ll read George Grinnell’s story of how he found the stamps and read articles from both sides of the case.



Screen Shot 2014-07-01 at 12.46.57 PMThe Case for the Grinnell Missionary Stamps presents the facts gathered by the descendants of the original players, who have spent a lifetime believing in the stamps’ authenticity.  You’ll learn little-known details about the stamps, their discovery, and the research that has been ongoing for nearly a century.


Screen Shot 2014-07-01 at 3.10.28 PMResponse to the 2004 Royal Philatelic Society Opinion on the Grinnell Missionaries refutes the findings of that organization by presenting rational and logical counter-arguments.  Patrick Culhane, great-great grandson of the original owner, also wrote the response in the hopes it would foster further research on the stamps’ genuineness.



And finally, watch as David Beech of the British Library Philatelic Collections discusses the Grinnell Missionaries. Will all of this evidence help you solve one of philately’s greatest mysteries?  Probably not, but you’ll sure enjoy trying!

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12 Best Reasons to Collect Stamps

Screen Shot 2014-07-01 at 10.47.18 AMYou know stamp collecting is fun, but did you also know it’s good for your health?  Learn how, plus more of the great benefits of being a stamp collector!  Click here for Mystic’s free booklet, 12 Best Reasons to Collect Stamps.

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Your Complete Guide to Stamp Collecting

Screen Shot 2014-07-01 at 10.46.49 AMGet collectors tips and more from the stamp experts at Mystic!  You’ll learn how to start or build a collection, how to identify your stamps, collecting tools, a stamp glossary and much more.

Browse through Mystic’s Guide to Stamp Collecting now… and bookmark it for later reference.

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It’s Your Collection – Organize it Your Way!

An important and fun challenge for every stamp collector is the protection and display of your collection.  You can organize your stamps any way you want.

Some collectors accumulate stamps and keep them in glassine envelopes, stock books, shoe boxes, etc.

Most stamp collectors enjoy arranging their stamps in an attractive, organized way for easy viewing.  By doing this, you’ll not only have a collection to be proud of, but you’ll also be protecting your stamps from damage.

You can organize your stamps by country (U.S., Spain), by region of the world (Europe, Asia), or topic (animals, space).

You’ll find more tips from Mystic’s experts in this section, including advice on how to choose an album to hinging stamps, selecting mounts and more.  These are suggestions for you to consider.  But remember, this is your little corner of the world – you’re in control.  Please yourself!

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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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