The following article was published in the Philatelic Literature Review, third quarter, 2022.
A recent rereading of Stamp Hunting led me to fondly recommend this book to all stamp collectors, regardless of what you collect. We all hunt for additions to our collections and we all seek dealers who spend time hunting down items to offer us.
Lewis Robie was a traveling salesman for the J. Elwood Lee Co. in the late 1890s. He wrote about his buying proprietary stamps still attached to old medicines and how he sold these stamps to collectors in Stamp Hunting, published in 1898.
For those of us who collect private die proprietary stamps, we will probably never know how many of our prized possessions once were found by Robie while visiting stores that sold the products of J. Elwood Lee Co. It is difficult to know whether Robie found it more important to find these old proprietary stamps than sell his company’s products.
In one of Robie’s visits in search of proprietary stamps, a doctor takes him into a back room where his boy is described as a stamp crank. Robie describes what he was shown on the wall:
“There was a big picture of George Washington, fully three times the natural size, made out of Washington heads cut out of ten cent 1847, catalogued four dollars each. By actual count there were six hundred and eighty-six of them, and the eyes were from the New York stamp, a larger head of Washington. You understand the boy had cut out the little round heads, and pasted them on the wall so it was a perfect big head of Washington. The druggist said his father left the stamps on his old correspondence and his son conceived the idea, which he thought was pretty good. I didn’t say anything, and am keeping the place a secret, but the next time I get there I am going to buy that side of the wall if I have to tear down the drug store. That picture intact will be something that can’t be matched at a stamp exhibit."
Is this story true? Are all the stories we stamp collectors tell true? Regardless, it makes a great read.
I suspect that we revenue stamp collectors also have Robie to thank for urging his employer, J. Elwood Lee Co., to order their own private die proprietary stamps in five denominations (shown), albeit they were only used in the final year of the proprietary tax, which ended June 30, 1901.
We are indeed grateful to Kenneth Trettin and the late Richard Riley for reprinting this entertaining and informative tome in 2016.
The J. Elwood Lee Co. private die proprietary stamps, Scott RS290-RS294.
The book was published in 1898 by Donohue, Henneberry & Co., of Chicago and is available for loan from the APRL. It also is available to read for free online via the Internet Archive . The reprint is available from Eric Jackson for $12.50, plus shipping and from Richard Friedberg.