There is no hobby which has so many pleasant ramifications as philately. It lays open to the collector a thousand alluring bypaths. – Alvin Fay Harlow
In keeping with this issue’s theme of some of the more “interesting” people and events in philatelic history, one of the more colorful and somewhat controversial characters of note in philatelic circles is that of Hungarian philatelist, publisher, society organizer, auction house manager, stamp dealer and forger Béla Desiderius Szekula (later Sekula) (Figure 1).
Born on February 9, 1881, in Szeged, Hungary, Szekula opened a business in Budapest as a wholesale and retail merchant of postage stamps in 1898. In the same year he published his first and ultimately only issue of a journal he titled Levélbélyeggyűjtők Lapja (Figure 2). Using the journal as an advertising platform for his business, Szekula’s first dubious philatelic moment came as a result of his sending large quantities of unsolicited approvals abroad to notable philatelists. Although this action may have been more zealous than controversial, the result earned him his first negative rumblings among collectors and the philatelic press.
Figure 1. Bela Szekula in 1901, age 20.
Undeterred, in 1901, Szekula went on to publish his second philatelic journal Szekula Briefmarken-Verkehr in Budapest and later Geneva, Switzerland (Figure 3). Szekula used the journal as a political platform when in the January 1902 issue he called for the foundation of an international society of stamp collectors to be called “Internationale Philatelisten-Verband” (Association of International Philatelists) with himself as its director. Seemingly audacious at first, the idea caught on, when in two years’ time the fledgling group grew from 20 founding members from 10 different countries to more than 400 members.
However well intentioned, controversy continued to follow him when in 1903 he received further criticism for extensively advertising certain stamps of Puerto Rico that had been surcharged “HABILITADO 17 OCTUBRE 1898,” but were never valid for franking. Upon seeing these issues in the marketplace, many prominent collectors widely regarded the issues as fraudulent.
Figure 2. The December 1898 issue of Levélbélyeggyűjtők Lapja.
Figure 3. The July 1902 issue of Szekula Briefmarken-Verkehr.
Further negative press continued in the same year when Szekula offered the 1902 commemorative stamps of the Dominican Republic, issued on February 25, for sale, cancelling them with fake postmarks of Santo Domingo dated January 20, 1902.
But the two controversial incidents for which Szekula is best remembered occurred in the early 1930s.
The first involved Jean Adolphe Michel, the former postmaster in Ethiopia. Michel was the sponsor of the Ethiopian 1919 Animals and Rulers issue (Scott 120-134) and owner of the original dies and plates. At the time, Michel was given permission by the Ethiopian government to reprint and sell these stamps 10 years after their first issuance in 1919. Michel commissioned Szekula for the reprints. However, when the latter began offering these stamps as “originals,” he and Michel were brought under criticism. Notable European stamp dealers initially called the issues “forgeries” then later “unauthorized reprints” before grudgingly accepting them. By then, however, the damage was done.
The second incident involved Szekula’s suspicious involvement in the creation and distribution of the colorful 1934-1936 Tannu Tuva issues. With little hard evidence of his specific connection to their issuance, but with a strong suggestion of a conflict of business interest nonetheless, Szekula became one of the main promoters, suppliers and sellers of these issues. The philatelic press cried foul as they were wary of the Hungarian’s hand in the appearance and distribution of these issues.
But this is just a brief overview of just one man’s philatelic story. For more about the colorful life and times of Bela Szekula and many other interesting people and events in the history of this great hobby, feel free to contact the library at [email protected] and make use of the services and collections of the APRL.
Ongoing subscriber special
As mentioned in last month’s column, there is a Philatelic Literature Review (PLR) subscription special for new and renewing subscribers ongoing in 2023.
For today only if you become a new subscriber to the PLR, the library’s quarterly journal, you will receive a $10 one-time discount code to use for the purchase of books from the library’s used books inventory. New subscribers will be sent a one-time use code when they subscribe. In addition, for those renewing their PLR subscriptions, the same $10 one-time purchase discount code will be sent.
Upon receiving their codes, subscribers can use them for a one-time purchase in the months of January through March. To see what items are currently available in the library’s used book inventory, click on the “USED BOOKS FOR SALE” tab on the first page of the David Straight Memorial Philatelic Union Catalog or contact the library at [email protected] (Figure 4). Be sure to check back regularly as the inventory is updated on a weekly basis as new items come into the library.
Figure 4. The landing page of APRL online catalog with “USED BOOKS FOR SALE” tab circled.
If you have been interested in becoming a PLR subscriber in support of the library, now’s your best chance!
Figure 5. Student volunteers processing library donations.
Whenever one of the library staff members talks about or provides a tour of the library for visiting members, we regularly refer to the APRL as “your library,” meaning it belongs to our members. As staff, we do our best to meet and exceed the expectations of our members and library patrons. One of the ways is which we accomplish all the tasks and projects that are part of managing the library is through the help of volunteers (Figure 5).
Currently, the library is fortunate to have six on-site volunteers that regularly provide weekly hours of work for us, but we always welcome those who can assist us with tasks that can be done remotely. The primary task for which we are always in need of remote volunteers is that of indexing articles in philatelic periodicals. Using a template provided by the APRL, remote volunteers can create article records for inclusion into the online catalog.
If members are coming for a visit, they can also volunteer time to the library in areas such as donation and archives processing. If you are interested in volunteering in the library whether remotely or in-person contact the library at [email protected] and we can arrange possible volunteering opportunities.