From Maps to Mail: Latvian Map Stamps

You’re in charge of the mail for a newly-independent country following a brutal war and an extended time of chaos. You need to create stamps as soon as possible, but most of the paper was used in the war. What do you do?




This was exactly the problem that Latvia faced after World War I and the Russian Revolution. Originally under Russian control, and then occupied by German forces, Latvia had few resources left. In 1918, one week after the end of World War I, the country declared independence.



s-l1600 (6).jpgThere was a lot of work to be done to secure stability for the new country, and creating a good postage system was among the top priorities. Before the war, Latvia had been part of the Russian Empire, and used Russian stamps. During the war, when German forces occupied it, the country had used German stamps. Now, they needed their own postage. But stamps need paper, and there was an extreme paper shortage from the war. The Latvian government soon realized that there was one good source for durable stamp paper: the military maps of the occupying German Army.




The map stamps came in sheets of 228 stamps, in 12 rows of 19. On the back of the existing stamps, sections of Latvia are still evident, with names and grid positions. The new Latvian government only printed 11,956 sheets; fewer than 5000 were perforated. Only 4750 actually made their way to the new government by 1919.



The Republic of Latvia was short-lived; in 1939, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact awarded the country to the USSR. During World War II, both the USSR and German armies occupied the country at different times. Finally, in 1945, it became the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic. After many years as part of the USSR, the Republic of Latvia once again declared independence on August 21, 1991, after a failed Soviet coup attempt. It joined NATO and the European Union in 2004.
There are many photos of Latvia map stamps here. Some excellent in-depth information on the stamps can be found here.


Friday Odds and Ends, September 30

It’s the end of September, and fall is officially here!



CoinWeek has an excellent post about the coins and history of 1916.




Are you planning on binge-watching the new Luke Cage show on Netflix this weekend? Read up about the history and backstory of the character at io9.





The Rosetta mission is over, as the probe crashed into the comet earlier today. In its 2+ years at comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, we have learned a staggering amount about comets and our universe.




Twitter user @ArtStamped creates spectacular works of art from common stamps.

When Mail Delivery Was A Series of Tubes


The line associated with the United States Postal Service is well known: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” But what happens when those legendary couriers are replaced by a vast interconnected system of tubes?


Pneumatic-tube-mail.pngIt’s mostly been forgotten, but mail was delivered via pneumatic tubes in some urban areas beginning in the 1890’s. Congestion in city streets, with the mixing of cars and horse-drawn carriages, often delayed mail delivery; underground tubes could deliver letters quickly and efficiently. The pneumatic tube canisters, similar to the ones still used in modern banks, could hold up to 600 letters, and sped under city streets at about 35 miles per hour. In 1893, these mail tubes were installed in Philadelphia, with Brooklyn, Chicago, St. Louis, Brooklyn, and New York City following soon after, with over 56 miles of pneumatic tubing in total.


This service was put on hold during World War I, and only restored in New York and Boston after the war. By the middle of the 20th century, the increase in mail volume as well as the explosive growth of urban areas had made the pneumatic delivery system impractical as well as expensive, and it was phased out.



Several European cities used pneumatic mail delivery systems as well; such a system was in limited use in Prague until 2002, and was only closed at that time due to flooding. Berlin, Munich, and Paris all had pneumatic mail delivery, and Italy actually issued stamps specifically for the service; 23 pneumatic mail stamps were issued in Italy between the years of 1913 and 1966. (You can see excellent pictures of the stamps here.)




The most definitive pneumatic mail system in the United States was, unsurprisingly, the one in New York City. The pipes were buried about 6 feet below the city streets, and the workers who operated the tubes were known as “Rocketeers.” In its heyday, the system handled 30% of New York City mail, about 95,000 letters daily.


Pneumatic-tube-mail-apparatus.pngHowever, the temptation to send non-traditional items through the tubes proved too much for some. When the tube mail system had its grand opening in 1897, the Rocketeers sent a Bible wrapped in a flag, as well as a copy of the Constitution. They also sent a cat. Yes, that’s right, a live cat (the cat was fine, if a little disorientated.) In one documented instance, a sick cat was sent via pneumatic tube to a veterinarian. Kenneth Stuart, in an article titled “Pneumatic Mail Tubes and Operation of Automatic Railroads,” writes that “other animals that were reportedly shot through the underground tubes included dogs, mice, roosters, guinea pigs, and monkeys. And also: fish. At a 1908 demonstration convened to celebrate the opening of a new tube line from New York’s Broad Street Station, postal workers loaded a tube canister with ‘a glass globe containing water and live goldfish.’ To prove, basically, that they could. And they could. The makeshift tank, luckily for its inhabitants, was sent through the tubes without incidence.”


11237633933_8c65cc51e0_h.jpgMichelle Young, writing for the Untapped Cities blog, notes that “In its full glory, the pneumatic tubes covered a 27-mile route, connecting 23 post offices. This network stretched up Manhattan’s east and west sides, from Bowling Green and Wall Street, all the way north to Manhattanville and East Harlem. Anecdotal stories indicate that the system may have extended into the Bronx, with sandwich subs reportedly being delivered via pneumatic tubes from a renown subway shop in the Bronx to downtown postal stations. The system even crossed boroughs into Brooklyn (using the Brooklyn Bridge), taking four minutes to take letters from Church Street near City Hall to the General Post Office in Brooklyn (now Cadman Plaza).”


Today, very few remnants of any of these systems can be seen, save for the pneumatic tubes in parts of Prague and the series of Italian pneumatic mail stamps. The reliability and flexibility of automobiles and human mail carriers won out over the shiny new pneumatic technology.


A Stamp Saved 6 Million Acres of Wildlife Habitat


Hunting season, for many, begins this month, so there’s no better time to look at the history and use of the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, or “duck stamp.”



The duck stamp is required by the federal government of the United States in order to hunt ducks, geese, and other migratory waterfowl. 98% of the proceeds from each stamp are used for conservation efforts through the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund. State governments also require stamps for bird hunting, as do many international governments.



s-l1600 (18).jpgIn 1929, President Herbert Hoover signed the Migratory Bird Conservation Act to preserve wetland habitats for migratory waterfowl; however, this law did not include a permanent source of funding. On March 16, 1934, the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act was passed by Congress and signed by President Roosevelt. The first annual duck stamps had a face value of $1 in 1934, increased to $2 in 1949, and again to $3 in 1959. By 1991, the stamps were $15 face value, and did not see another increase until the stamps rose to $25 in 2015. Most state stamps have a face value of $5, though some, like Louisiana’s non-resident duck stamp at $25, are much higher. Some Native American tribes issue stamps that allow hunting on their reservations (as long as the hunter also has the required federal stamp) which would otherwise be off-limits.



s-l1600 (19)Duck stamps are usually issued by conservation or wildlife departments; in the United States, the stamps must be created by legislation in order for them to be a valid government issue. Like the funds from the federal stamps, money raised by state hunting stamps is earmarked for conservation, usually in very local efforts. Though many stamps are bought by hunters, some are purchased by collectors, and can carry a premium when bought this way; some stamps are even produced in limited collector editions. Several states issue different stamp sets for hunters and collectors, while others are simply defined by differing serial numbers.


One of the most collectable kinds of duck stamp is the Governor’s Edition. Several states issue these stamps as a way to bring in extra revenue; the stamps are usually printed in quantities fewer than 1,000, at face value of approximately $50. The state governor may even hand-sign some of the stamps for increased value, often up to twice the price of the unsigned stamps. These stamps are valid for hunting in the state of issue, but never used as such, as this would significantly lower the collectible value of the stamp.


s-l1600 (17).jpgArtist-signed stamps are an increasingly trendy way to collect duck stamps, and usually cost only a premium on top of the cost of a mint stamp. That cost may be increased if the artist for the stamp is now deceased; premiums may also be charged for stamps on which the artist has hand-drawn or painted a unique work of art on top of the stamp design. Living artists may be commissioned to draw such art, sometimes known as a “remarque,” or to add tribute art to a stamp drawn by a deceased artist. Other collectors prefer text stamps: stamps with printed text but no illustration of ducks or other creatures.


The initial duck stamp design was created by Jay “Ding” Darling in 1934; Darling was specifically asked to design the stamp by President Roosevelt. It shows two mallard ducks landing in a small pond. Other wildlife artists were asked to submit designs for subsequent stamps, and the first open-entry contest took place in 1949. 88 artists submitted designs that year, with the number increasing to 2.099 entries by 1981. Artist Maynard Reece is a five-time winner of the stamp design contest, taking the top place in 1948, 1951, 1959, 1969, and 1971. The judging panel for the contest is composed of bird, art, and philatelic authorities, appointed by the Secretary of the Interior. The winners receive no prize or monetary compensation for their work, save for a pane of stamps with their design; however, the winners are permitted to sell prints of the design, which are highly prized by collectors.


s-l1600 (20).jpg

In the 82 years since its creation, the duck stamp has been a phenomenal success. Sales of the stamps have resulted in more than 6 million acres of waterfowl habitat being conserved since 1934. Duck stamps are not only an excellent modern collectible, but a piece of history and an investment in the future of our spectacular wildlife.


Looking for duck stamps for your collection? Check out the stamps available right now in our store.



Friday Odds and Ends, July 22





Tom from the Blind Coin Collector blog gave The Stamp and Coin Place an extraordinary review; thank you so much! (You can read our companion piece here.)





Check out this great article on about the benefits and challenges of collecting Seated Liberty coins. (Looking for Seated Liberty coins? We have them!)





Have you heard the story of “The Ruble for the Czar Who Wasn’t Czar”? Numismtic News has the story, and it’s a doozy. Scandal! Murder! Intrigue!





Learn some of Romania’s history through its stamps on Linn’s Stamp News. (Don’t miss the part with the elopement!)


Friday Odds and Ends for July 15


A 91-year-old woman filled in a crossword puzzle at a museum. The problem? The “puzzle” was part of an art display at the museum.




Thomas Edison was one of the first technology superstars; when Electrical Experimenter magazine ran this photo of his hands in 1919, the caption read in part: “IF THE WORLD WERE CALLED UPON TO MAKE AN INVENTORY OF WHAT MR. EDISON’S HANDS ACTUALLY WROGHT IN ENRICHING THIS PLANET, THERE WOULD NOT BE GOLD ENOUGH TO PAY HIM.”





The Machin portrait of Queen Elizabeth II is the most reproduced artwork of all time, and can be seen on stamps all across the world. The Machin portrait is 50 years old this year.






Two young adults playing the new Pokémon GO game managed to save a house and the life of a beloved dog.




Need a little cuteness after a rough week? Read up on ducklings: science says they’re both cute AND intelligent!


Friday Odds and Ends, July 8




A cyborg with rat tissue and a skeleton of gold? It’s real! And it’s beautiful.





Have you heard of ESPER? The Ebony Society of Philatelic Events and Reflections is “dedicated to promoting the collecting of stamps and philatelic material depicting people and events related to the African Diaspora and to encouraging and supporting the interest and participation of Black people in all aspects of philately.” You can follow them on Twitter, too!



Seeing planets outside the solar system is old news, but have we found extra-solar water clouds for the first time?





Today is the last working day for Treasurer of the United States Rosie Rios. Ms. Rios not only made appearances at collector conventions, but would autograph notes bearing her signature. Best of luck to you in your future endeavors, Ms. Rios, and thanks for your years of work!




Crime doesn’t pay, even for treasure hunters! This hunter thought he could get around the law for greater profit.

Friday Odds and Ends, June 10

New technology reveals machine instructions from 2100 years ago, revealing instructions and philosophy.





What do you know about African stamps? Check out this great post about the stamps of Basutoland.





Are you a custodian of your coins, or an end consumer? Great thoughts on a tricky topic.



slimVirtual monsters make it into the real world, via highly anticipated new game, Pokemon Go.





When coin collecting feels like walking on ice.




NASA’s JUNO spacecraft is set to enter Jupiter orbit next month.

Friday Odds and Ends June 3rd

Welcome to the Friday Roundup! This is where we share links and stories from the past week that caught our eye. Enjoy!


hawaiian.PNGHawaiian Island Stamp and Coin sent us a signed copy of their new Hawaiian Money catalog: thanks! It looks terrific!





The prestigious Alberto Francisco Pradeau Award was presented to Allan Schein by the Mexican Numismatic Society for his book on the Mexican “caballito” peso, Mexican Beauty.


Forever-stamps-views-of-Our-Planets-setThe USPS released two new stamp sets: Views of Our Planets and Exploring Pluto. The first shows the eight planets of the solar system in high-detail color imagery, while the Pluto designs showcase the newest photo of Pluto along with New Horizons, the NASA spacecraft that took the photo.


A mystery is solved when a family examines a little-known type of Australian love tokens.


CjxMoNeUgAIL7HAHobo nickels are a classic American art form, and they’re still going strong! Check out the Hobo Nickel Society website and Twitter to see some stunning examples of these unique coins. (Example shown is from artist Shaun Hughes.)

How to Stop Worrying and Love Technology


With interest in coin and stamp collecting on the decline, many collectors have begun to worry that their beloved pursuits could be in danger of falling into the dustbin of history. Government agencies have begun trying to spark interest in these hobbies as well; the Royal Mail recently released an “Animail” design of highly-colored stamps shaped like animals, designed to appeal to children.

pexels-photo-largeOne blogger responded, “Personally I think new blood in the hobby will come from older people.  Many young people don’t ‘collect’ anything these days, not even Panini cards, unless it is Apps on their smartphones or pads.  No, the target audience should be anywhere from 25 upwards, but especially the over 50s, even if they don’t get as much opportunity as a few years ago for early retirement and hours of time to fill…Few young people will use them: even the use of email is being overtaken by things like WhatsApp and Skype.”

While the author is welcome to his opinion, this is an unnecessarily pessimistic view of the way technology influences collecting. Coin and stamp collecting have been around for centuries, and there is no reason to believe they will disappear or be relegated only to certain age groups because of emerging tech. Change, on the other hand, is inevitable.
Coins and stamps are intrinsically tied to technology. The artistry and technique present in a coin or stamp is a way to gauge the technology of the culture that produced it, and advances in technology inspire collectibles of greater complexity, detail, and uniformity.
Hoard_of_ancient_gold_coinsBut sometimes it can feel like historic fields such as numismatics and philately are out of place in a world of Tweets, drones, and self-driving cars. Some are even advocating digital currencies to replace bills and coins, while historians and others are insisting that all antique coins be removed from sale and returned to their country of origin. More interpersonal communication happens online rather than via written letters.


Devotees of cyber currencies, like BitCoin, claim that these new currencies will soon replace traditional funds. Some, like the proposed Hayek currency, are still backed by gold. According to the press release, the Hayek coin will “be valued at 1 gram of gold at the day’s market price, [and] will serve as a more secure store of value than Bitcoin.” CEO of Anthem Vault, the creator of the Hayek,  Anthem Blanchard cites security concerns as a strong reason to support cyber currency. “Talking with friends of mine in the intelligence agencies, they say this is a real threat.” An attack could DDoS the current financial system, causing widespread chaos. Since cyber currencies do not rely on such central systems, they would theoretically be secure from this kind of attack, making them an attractive replacement for traditional cash, for some people.


Traditional stamps are also being challenged by websites like, which allow users to print legal, customized stamps for use on letters and other mailings. Many businesses simply use digitally printed postage instead of stamps, and personal mailings of all types have been on a steady decrease with the rise of the internet.
But new technology doesn’t have to mean an end to old traditions. It can not only enhance them, but actually preserve them, and enable current collectors to share their passion and knowledge with new collectors.


The sheer amount of information on the internet is staggering. Instead of spending hours paging through books, trying to find the relevant stamp or coin listing, collectors can ask questions on forums, use Google Image Search, or even reach out on Twitter or Facebook for information and help. On, Doug Winter writes, “The best thing about the Internet for all hobbies has been the dissemination of information. 10 to 15 years ago, if you wanted information about rare coins you had to dig for it. You could open a Redbook and get mintage figures and you could find information about die varieties in various specialized books. But like the man behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz, in the past, information was strictly controlled. If you were lucky, you were invited into the secret circle and given some of the information you needed. If you didn’t know the secret handshake, you were pretty much on your own.”


Elsewhere on CoinWeek, Jeff Garrett writes, “Nearly every successful rare coin company is now a technology company. Most have at least one or more individuals on staff at all times to solve tech issues, post coins online, create digital images, and tackle other computer-related tasks. Many successful collectors have also become more tech savvy in recent years. Quite a few can perform detailed online research, including locating coins and establishing values. A few years ago, I taught a class at the ANA Summer Seminar on rare coin pricing. Much of the class involved how to properly use online tools available to collectors.”


The old stalwarts of numismatics and philately aren’t going anywhere, but they will evolve. Coin collecting has seen a move away from collecting by date, mintmark, and other traditional variables; the new trend is collecting by design or theme. Coin design enthusiasts show their collections and finds on Pinterest and Instagram, taking advantage of the visual nature of these mediums.

800px-Brick_storefrontCollectors aren’t the only ones facing change: local brick-and-mortar stores will need to adjust to new technology as well. When smartphone cameras became high enough quality to take high-resolution photos of coins and stamps, collectors began sharing photos online for sale and identification, rather than going to their local store. In addition, collectors could purchase directly from the US Mint and Post Office without a middleman. Auction sites like eBay sealed the deal: now anyone could sell to anyone else, anywhere in the world.


Pat Heller, writing for, has some pointed advice for local store owners: “Extend your market. If you do not already deal with customers outside your local market, consider developing a regional or national presence. This can be easier to do if you specialize in some market niche. Serve customers online, by phone, or by any means you can.


Technology is changing and advancing every hobby, not just collectibles. The rise of “maker culture” and public maker spaces is providing access to new technology for more and more people to build and create everything from toys to costumes to prosthetic limbs. 3D printers are as affordable as inkjet printers were a few years ago, and will soon be just as ubiquitous.

sunrise-1371391077dmNIt’s an exciting time to be a hobbyist; the world is opening up to so many new possibilities. Rather than fear change or dismiss tech-focused younger generations, this is a chance to revolutionize collecting, and invite newcomers. Technology is coming to the world of collectibles: it’s only a question of when and how. The “when” is now, but the how is up to us.