The Olympia Philatelic Society meets on the second and fourth Mondays of each month at the Olympics West Retirement Inn, 929 Trosper Road SW, Tumwater, Washington. Although our formal meetings are usually quite brief and begin at about 7:00 p.m., the more enthusiastic members begin showing up around 6 p.m. or so. We are always looking for new members, and our dues are a ridiculously low $12 per year.
The Olympic Philatelic Society consists of a membership that has a general interest in collecting stamps – both of the United States and worldwide – along with several members who have a stronger interest in collecting Pacific Northwest postal history.
Although our club has been active since perhaps the 1930’s, this is our first attempt at a website, and this is very much both a brief beginning and a work in progress. Your webmaster is in the process of learning enough HTML, along with becoming familiar with various publishing programs, to be able to put up a competent website. We intend to publish a few scholarly articles regarding stamp collecting and postal history, along with a few tongue-in-cheek articles regarding the same subjects. We have no intention of reinventing the wheel, so there will also be some links out to existing sites regarding collecting, local clubs, and local shows.
Did I mention local shows?! Well, the Olympic Philatelic Society sponsors a semiannual Roundup stamp show, which is typically held on the last Saturdays of April and October, although we have held the more recent shows on different days in an effort to avoid conflicting shows being held at other venues.
For the moment, feel free to show up at one of our twice-monthly club meetings and to become a member.
WEBSITE PADDING (No extra charge)
Now, to pad this location -- at least until we come up with something more substantial -- please read about the time my father leash-broke a salmon.
Someone recently emailed me, asking if I was the one who wrote about the leash-broken trout. C'mon guys, you can't leash-break a trout. It was a salmon. Yes, that is my story - actually my father's story - and I am the one who wrote it. Anyway, here it is again . . . .
I was born on December 22, 1944, on the first day of winter, at Mount Vernon, Washington. But this is not about me. It is about my father. He was born on April 22, 1913, on the Sauk River Prairie, near Darrington, Washington. If you were to look at a map, you would see that these two locations are not thirty miles apart as the crow flies, the assumption being that crows fly in a straight line, which they undoubtedly do not, for crows must contend with the limitations of mountain ranges and weather, to somewhat the same extent as do we pedestrian humans. And, as my father and I have neither one of us strayed very far from our ancestral home, so to are our memories somewhat conjoined. Things that happened in his life-time, to the extent that they have been related by him to me, as so many of them have been, have become my memories too, and it has often been the case that what began as my father's experience has been lost from his memory, even though it continues on in mine.
It is also true that I spent the first few years of my life living in a home that was no more than half a mile from the home in which my father spent the first few years of HIS life. He and I walked the same fields as individual youngsters, saw the same streams, and explored the same forests, though it was perhaps not until our individual later years that we each marveled at the continuity of life and at how we were but examples of that continuity. When I was old enough to become both observant and contemplative, I was amazed at the abundance of salmon that would return in the fall of each year to spawn in their stream of birth, the Sauk River, which is a tributary of the Washington's Skagit River. It would be no exaggeration for me to tell you that I used to skip flat stones across the rolling waters of the Sauk, and that in the fall of the year, if my aim was good, and my thoughts of wildlife not especially considerate, I would also skip flat stones off the backs of fish, laboring as they were in their last efforts to reach the river's headwaters to deposit their eggs and then to die as their final gesture to nature's grand design. It WOULD be an exaggeration, however, for me to claim that upon occasion, when I was quick and sure-footed, I could get from one riparian shore to another without getting my feet wet, by leaping from the back of one fish to another, even though in viewing the scene as I did back then as a small child, I nevertheless contemplated the possibility of such act.
But I have digressed, for this is my father's story. In my father's day, it was easy to wonder and at the same time take for granted the bounty that was provided by the Sauk's waters. In my father's time, the river was so filled with salmon that there was seldom enough room for the water, let alone the fish, and the salmon would take turns sitting it out on the banks of what would have been a flowing river had there actually been less fish and therefore room for more water. It was a simple matter for a child to catch his limit, for there were no limits. There were no boundaries to the number of fish that would return to the river each year.
One October afternoon, after my father had gotten out of school for the day, he ran down to the graveled banks where the Sauk River flowed behind his home and proceeded to fish, using a pole that his father had made for him out of a cedar bean pole and using an old cast-off reel that his uncle had provided him. A distant dog gently barked, and from the other side of the river drifted the campfire smoke of another fisherman. My father proceeded to catch three or four fish in short order, which were enough to provide my father's extended family with food for the evening meal, with enough left over for sandwiches for the following lunch, and probably even enough left over to take care of the cats out in the barn, although providing the cats with a meal or two of salmon tended to guaranty a more than proportionate increase of the barn's rat population. When my father ended his afternoon of fishing and stooped to gather up his fish to take them home, he noted that one of the fish - in fact one that had been out of the water for more than an hour - was more than just alive. In fact he was in good health and spirits, not seeming at all bothered by the fact that he had been out of the water for such an extended period of time. Curious, but only idly so, my father withheld this particular fish from the evening meal and put the salmon in the farm pond.
The following morning, my father ran down to the farm pond to see if he could see the fish. More than just being able to see the fish, my father was surprised to see that the fish had brought himself up out of the water, and, from observing the marks in the mud, my father could see that the salmon had traversed the entire perimeter of the farm pond, and had managed to do so outside of the confines of the water. Although the spoken histories of the indigenous Native Americans talked of such things as a walking salmon, the immigrant Whites had always thought of this as being nothing more than native folklore. Nevertheless, here before my father's eyes, was proof of the existence of such phenomenon as a salmon that could not only survive outside the confines of his watery world, but who also became ambulatory in a terrestrial one with no apparent effort.
It was a matter of the briefest period of time before the salmon became my father's almost constant companion. Although totally unnecessary to assure that the fish remained at my father's side, my father nevertheless saw the possible humor in removing the farm collie's collar from a dog that was most willing to give it up and to install it on the fish, which seemed totally ambivalent to the restraining presence of the collar. And then it was the next obvious step to tie a string to the collar, so that boy and salmon could walk though the neighborhood together, taking turns one leading the other, as is so often the case when a pet is on leash, it often becoming unclear which organism is leading the other.
It became well known around the community that my father had successfully leash-broken a salmon. As fall's days shortened, it was common for the denizens of the neighborhood to observe my father walking his salmon along the roads and paths of the neighborhood, and on occasion taking the salmon over to the school yard where the playing school children could marvel at the salmon that thrived outside of the water and at the obvious close bond that had formed between a boy and his fish.
I wish I could provide you with a happy ending to this story, but I simply cannot. I am bound to relate to you the truth of what actually happened. As fall's days grew blustery and rainy, and as winter approached, one early evening my father and his salmon were walking from the house in the direction of Joe Bennett's neighborhood store. They came to the creek that was traversed by a wooden bridge over which they had already walked numerous times before. All would have been well on this occasion too, except that the cedar boards of the bridge had grown slick with the rain, and there were blustery gusts blowing across the stream's rising waters that made unsteady one's efforts to maintain a foothold. Fish and human reached mid-span without incident, but at the exact moment that the two arrived at the mid-point over the creek, the fish lost his finning, fell into the rushing waters, and drowned.
And here is an article I wrote several years ago as an introduction to the collecting of discontinued post offices and/or old and/or interesting postmarks on cover. There are probably things I would say differently today, as some of the facts have changed AND my knowledge of the field has increased. I also intend to add some appropriate illustrations. However, and for the moment . . . . .
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the hobby of collecting DPO’s, let’s start by establishing that a DPO is a discontinued post office or maybe a dead post office -- simply a post office or post office name that is no longer functioning and/or in use. As far as I am concerned, the basic bible in the field is United States Post Offices, Volume I – The West as compiled by Richard W. Helbock. I suppose, however, that I should also mention that I live in the State of Washington and that my postal history collecting interests revolve around the Pacific Northwest. His business is entitled La Posta Publications and it is in Lake Oswego, Oregon, although Mr. Helbock has since found romance and as a result has moved to Australia. [Where he passed away of a heart attack on May 15, 2011] To learn more, you need to go to la-posta.com. Helbock has written and/or published quite a few specialized volumes and check lists pertaining to postal history. I also have in my philatelic library a copy of Post Offices of Oregon, Washington and Idaho – Illustrated by Dr. Robert Landis. I also have numerous other volumes relating to state, county, and regional postal histories, but too many to list. Once I think I have everything there is to have, another book falls into my lap.
My home counties are Skagit and Snohomish. I was born in Mount Vernon in 1944, lived with my grandparents near Conway until dad came home from WWII, then lived for 5 years or so at Bennettville just inside the Skagit County line north of Darrington, then moved to “the new place” at Oso, went to Oso Grade School, and then junior high school and high school in Arlington, then to the U of Dub, graduated, Army (Charlottesville, Virginia, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, Vietnam, Fort Lewis) and have been temporarily living in Lakewood south of Tacoma for almost 40 years. Anyway, let me use a few dpo examples from Snohomish and Skagit counties. The post office of Pueblo existed some distance up the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River in the period of 1894 to 1896. It carries a rarity factor of 7. Although I would like to have an example of its cancel for my collection, it might well be that none exists to be had. That post office was discontinued in its most basic sense in that the building isn’t there anymore; the post office was not moved or merged, the post office was just plain discontinued, and it might well be that no one really knows where it was.
Many post offices just plain cease to exist. Fir on Fir Island, Skagit County, lost its raison d’etre (It’s Frawnch; look it up!) when the South Fork of the Skagit was bridged and it became convenient to post mail at Conway. Baker lost its reason to exist when a bridge was put across the Baker River, making it easier to get over to Concrete.
The Sauk, Washington, post office was discontinued in 1944. Although the cancel by itself is not rare, its cancel on a patriotic envelope such as this one is probably quite difficult to find. The Sauk post office was located in the Presentine general store, and for that matter, the Presentine store more or less made up the town of Sauk. There used to be a train that stopped at the store on its way up the Skagit River Valley, but the tracks were long ago taken up, and the main highway now bypasses this particular spot. We drove the area a couple of years ago and see that the store has been converted to a residence. This particular patriotic cover is by Richard P. Boone and is relative uncommon. Although I personally make a market in Pacific Northwest postal history, this item is staying in my collection.
Engrained in the U.S. Constitution is the concept that Americans are to have ready access to postal services. (Article I, Section 8, Clause 7 of the United States Constitution, known as the Postal Clause or the Postal Power, empowers Congress "To establish Post Offices and post Roads".) As people arrived in the West, more and more post offices were established according to where the people seemed to be settling along with according to whoever was able to get himself appointed postmaster, often operating out of a general store or someone’s kitchen. But as people filled the empty spaces AND as transportation improved, many of the post offices became unnecessary and redundant. First the railroad and then cars and roads made these changes possible. In my home Stillaguamish River Valley, there is the community of Hazel. I remember as a small child watching the lumber mill at Hazel burn to the ground, causing that community to lose its will to live, but it had already lost its post office way before in 1927. The river has since taken most of the town site and is working on taking the main highway in and out of the valley. The town of Fortson ended in 1954 when “they moved the mill” to Darrington and closed the post office. What was once the town of Cicero with its post office has reverted to empty cow pasture.
I grew up – at least became old enough to move out on my own – at a wide spot in the road named Oso a few miles down the Stilly from Pueblo. Oso is Spanish for “bear.” The bear part makes sense, for I occasionally saw bears on my dad’s property, but why it’s a Spanish bear is beyond me. If you lived in that community, you were typically either from Scandinavia or North Carolina. Be that as it may, the name of my crossroads community was Oso. Oso ceased to exist as a government Post Office in 1954 – in my personal memory – even though it continued as a contract post office and/or branch station of Arlington. Although the Oso DPO carries a scarcity index of only 1, for the longest time, I was unable to locate a decent example of its cancel. At one time there was a beat-up Alaska Pacific Yukon Exposition post card carrying the Oso postmark that has been on eBay sporadically for the last year or so, but it was just too rough for me to be interested in it. Then, in a recent box lot that I bought, there was a clean and clear Oso postmark on a decent greeting card. Now, I have already said that when Oso went DPO, it was still there as Oso CPO, a contract post office run by George Anderson out of his Oso General Store. (His wife Viola taught me second grade.) The post office could have ceased to exist whatsoever, or it could have been merged, but instead it was discontinued and its function awarded to George on a contract basis. Several owners later, the Oso General Store is now empty and for sale, and its CPO has ceased to exist also. As an aside: Just after putting this article into its final form, I found a last day cancel for Oso, signed by George, and found it in my own inventory. I really need to look at my own stuff more often. And as an aside to an aside: Over the past few years, a Seattle millionaire lady (She got her money the old-fashioned way; she inherited it!) has built up a destination-quality horse ranch next to my dad’s old property. Oso has become a destination and not just a wide spot in the road. The store might be worth purchasing after all.
Here is a fairly common, though early, cancel from the town of Oso, on the address side of a nondescript Christmas postcard. Depending on how far you want to go with your sleuthing, you can Google the names of the sender or recipient for whatever information you might find. If you have a subscription to anscestor.com, then you can go totally wild.
I am not quite done with Oso. During 1889 and 1890, what was to become Oso was originally known as Allen with a scarcity index of 7. And let me correct that: I recently came across an old map that shows Allen as having been a half mile or so south of Oso, and which would also have been more or less at the end of the quarter mile lane that led into my dad’s property. I have the vaguest recollection of some sort of building ruins existing at that location when we moved to “the new place” in 1951. Maybe that was Allen? Soon after we moved to the new place, the valley got telephone service. For a few weeks and until utility poles were installed, the phone wires into our place were strung from the fence posts. It didn’t work very well because the cows kept sticking their heads through the wires. For a few days, I had a nice example of the Allen postmark. Someone offered to pay me way too much for my Allen cover and then promised that I could inherit it back some day, so I agreed.
I believe the town of Concrete in Skagit County started out life as Cement City, although I cannot find reference to it in my standard guides. Actually, I do believe that Concrete was Cement City, just at a time when it did not yet have a post office.
I went to high school in Arlington, which is now a decent-sized town – scarcity index of 0 because you can walk into the post office any day of the week and obtain its cancel – but Arlington in its previous existence was known as Haller, scarcity index 6, and then Haller City, still scarcity index 6. Same location, same town, same post office, but a substantial change in postal name. So, occasionally simply renaming a post office creates a DPO of the old name. Helbock has (had?) some mixed feelings about this, as do I. What if the mythical community of scenic Gooeyduck Acres changes its name to Gooeyduckacres, and the Post Office tags along in the name change. Is “Gooeyduck Acres” now a DPO? Sometimes the Helbock books will say yes and sometimes not. And sometimes I suspect that Helbock just overlooked a fairly minor name change. Once I opened an envelope of what turned out to be one of my eBay purchases from several years ago. There I had a nice example of Haller. In addition to going through my own stock more often, I should probably also open my own mail! And the same person who absolutely had to have my Allen also ended up with my Haller. Post offices are also lost through merger. Well at least the post office names. In Skagit County, there was once the town and Post Office of Sedro, scarcity index 3 - and there is that unexplained (see above note) Spanish influence again - and there was the town of Woolley, scarcity index 3. But when the towns merged and became Sedro-Woolley (my mother graduated from high school there in 1938 and worked at the mental hospital for several years during WWII.) , so did their post offices, and two DPO’s were created in the process.
Mansford on Sauk Prairie had a post office from 1890 until 1922. (My dad was born on Sauk Prairie in 1913.) Although Helbock assigns it a scarcity index of 3, I feel that it is more rare than that, as I have never seen an example of the postmark.
In terms of dollars and cents, market value for various discontinued post office cancellations is determined by the usual capitalist merging of supply with demand. (I have a degree in economics from the U of Dub. I am so good at it that I can't even balance a check book!) If it was so darn difficult for me to find an Oso cancel, why is it only rated a 1? Well, there is probably not a huge demand for that cancel either. Most the various reference guides I have seen through the years use a term such as “scarcity index” or “rarity factor” or the like and typically rate the various covers, cancels, usages, whatever is being rated, as being on a scale of 0 through 9, 0 being something that is currently available from an active post office and 9 perhaps being something that is non-existent. I am used to selling something with a rarity factor of 1, 2 or 3 in the range of a couple of dollars up to $10 or so. The 3 and 4 range can be in the area of $20 or $30. When I have something with a 5, 6 or 7, however, we are usually talking around $100 or so. I have had only one or two 8’s, and they had several things wrong with them, and I have never ever seen a 9, whether in my own hands or in the hands of another dealer.
Condition, type of usage, time of usage, and a lot of other factors enter into pricing. I recently sold a postcard on eBay for over $150, which struck me as being quite a bit. Well, it was a real photo postcard (people like real photo postcards) of the 1913 Tulalip Indian women's basketball team (people like to collect Native American memorabilia), and it was franked with a 1 cent parcel post stamp (some people collect unusual postal usages), and it was cancelled with the name of Tulalip, which is a discontinued post office, and it was by a Marysville photographer who had a contract with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to photograph the various Indian facilities. All these factors – I suppose – got me my $150. Now how about if I can find an early Coca Cola advertising cover franked with a U.S. zeppelin stamp, canceled with some obscure Eastern Washington DPO and sent overseas on the Graf Zeppelin? Big bucks, right? Well, sometimes, but sometimes people are willing to pay no more than the most valuable factor that goes to make up the item. Sometimes people are willing to pay a premium for strange names. One of my favorites is the now-defunct town of Mold in Eastern Washington. The Monte Cristo postmark carries a premium because of its town’s history as a gold-mining town and railroad terminus. I visited there as a 10-year-old back in the mid-50’s, and still have the J. Boyd Ellis photo postcards – another of my interests, as I now have almost 2,000 of them! -- that I bought at the general store, which is now gone because of the careless use of a fireplace.
Although I tend to concentrate on “postal history” – who it’s from, who it’s addressed to, the sending cancel, the receiving cancel, transit markings, auxiliary markings, etc. – and this whether the item is a cover, a message card, or a picture postcard, sometimes the value is in the picture side of a postcard. Several years ago, one of our stamp club members passed on, and his daughter gave boxes of philatelic items to the club. The boxes got divvied up among the club without a whole lot of thought as to their contents. Club members appreciated that I was interested in picture postcards, and I ended up with the box that had a few Eastern Washington real photo postcards in it. One of those postcards – mere “good” condition only – was a photo by Conconully photographer Frank Matsura depicting a group of people in Sunday best perched in an open-air jitney that looked to have been built on an early ‘teens Mack truck chassis. Matsura is a known early Pacific Northwest photographer. I scanned the item and listed it on eBay with a rather overblown description and with quite a bit of background on the town of Conconully, Okanogan County, and the photographer Matsura. I would probably have been happy to get $20 or $30, but a bidding war erupted between two collectors of Okanogan County postal history, and the item ended up at about $450. So, although my primary interest is in the canceled side of the postcard, I have also learned to research the picture side also. Then, we also come back to the first rule of eBay: You need at least two bidders to create an interesting and profitable auction.
Condition! So many DPO’s I have and have seen have weak strikes, strikes that fail to tie the stamp to the envelope, or partial strikes that did not totally land on the envelope. Such covers are worth considerably less than the clear and solid strikes that might even show the complete month, day and year as a bonus. Dealers who are asking top dollar for a cover for which the postmark is decipherable only under magnification or through knowledgeable interpretation are kidding themselves. I have been there too! I have seen covers where the strike has been helped along with a #2 lead pencil, thereby making it worthless. Some people will not accept a receiving strike as being desirable, but I fail to see what difference it makes. However, I DO have a strong distaste for #10 business envelopes and window envelopes where the contents no longer exist and you have no idea of the items’ destination.
Earlier is almost always better. I have gotten good money at times for postal cancels from towns that still exist but which are early usages. Seattle cancels are a dime a dozen for the recent ones and the territorial cancels are so common that they don’t bring much money either. Well, early discontinued Seattle branches sometimes are OK.
Early postmaster-signature types of cancels sell extremely well. These were created because the postmaster did not have a canceling device. Typically, he or she would write the name of the town and perhaps the date on the envelope and then cross out the stamp so that it could not easily be reused. This would be a manuscript cancel.
As another what-if set of examples of rarity and/or value, consider Port Townsend. Port Townsend has had a Post Office since 1852, Washington became a territory in 1855 and then a state in 1889. A current Port Townsend cancel has no particular value, but what about one on a real photo postcard from the early 20th Century? What about a territorial usage? What about a PRE-territorial usage. What about Port Townsend’s famous kicking mule cancel? All these considerations go to the issue of rarity and value. It also depends on how many people are collecting.
As indicated at the beginning of this article, my strongest interest in Washington state postal history is in my home counties of Skagit and Stillaguamish. For me to want the item, it doesn’t necessarily have to be an actual DPO. An early usage is good enough. Or an interesting usage. Or the DPO or early usage on an advertising cover. Or a real photo postcard. I don’t have much interest in branches, types, contract stations, or railway post offices, but a lot of other people do. There is usually someone there to buy what I don’t want.
Here is an item that I am quite proud of. Centreville, Snohomish County, Washington, had a post office from 1870 until 1877. Helbock reference guide assigns it a scarcity factor of 6. It is not to be confused with Centerville, Klickitat County, which is still active. The item carries a manuscript cancel and the notation of Centreville, Snohomish Co, W.T. Aug 8/71. The 3 cent stamp is from the 1869 pictorial issue. Although the stamp calls for a grill, I absolutely do not see a grill on it. Should I send this off and get lucky on the expertization that I have a used Scott 114 without grill and on cover, then I will have a quite rare item.
This introduction to DPO cancels is intended as just an introduction and is a work in progress. A friend recently asked me to provide him with a copy of this article and I have fallen into the trap of reading it first. So I sit here reviewing this article for the first time in several months and find myself rewriting portions of it, probably creating some jumps and starts in the process. An outside reader might rightfully point out that I have jumbled irrelevant personal recollection in with the hobby of collecting, and my reply would be that personal recollection is often the REASON FOR the hobby of collecting. Hey, I am getting old enough to be able to say that I was there and I am part of history, so there! Comments and corrections and additions (irrelevant additions as long as they are interesting) are always welcomed.
By the way, does anyone out there in eBay Land, Internet Land, or whatever land you reside in, have a SUBSTANTIAL accumulation of Washington State postal history that I can buy? If so, send me an email with your phone number, and we can take it from there.