After learning that an avid stamp collector was going to be giving a talk in WNY in June, I reached out to ask a few questions pertaining to his collection – Buffalo Cinderellas. What the heck is a Buffalo Cinderella, you might ask? According to philatelist Rick Barrett, these special stamps were issued for the 1901 Pan American Exposition. Barrett is so fond of these hard to find beauties, that he has published a book called Buffalo Cinderellas.
“The book is prime for Western New York readers of all kinds, and it focuses on the amazing lives of two men who sold souvenir stamps – called ‘cinderella stamps’ – in stamp collecting circles,” said Barrett. “Shortly after the book’s release, I spoke at the Buffalo History Museum, as well as twice at the large annual stamp show put on the Buffalo Stamp Club. I also heard from a member of the Historical Association of Lewiston (NY) who invited me to speak to their organization on June 11th at the Messiah Lutheran Church.”
If you’ve ever thought to yourself that reading about stamp collecting is a bit mundane, because you can’t relate, then this is your chance to pick up a book that relates to Buffalo in numerous ways. While Barrett no longer lives locally, he is originally from Orchard Park. Plus, the subject matter obviously pertains to one of Buffalo’s famous events that shone a worldwide spotlight on the city.
“I humbly feel very fortunate to say that my project has been extremely well received in stamp collecting circles, and won two prestigious literature medals,” noted Barrett. “Yet I want to stress that the book is easily accessible and enjoyable to non-stamp collectors; readers of all kinds can enjoy the 182 pages of adventures inside.”
As for Barrett’s passion for the Buffalo Cinderella’s you could say that it all started when he worked at a stamp store in Orchard Park, before moving to Texas to attend the University of Houston, where he has resided ever since.
“I have been a fan and collector of the Pan American Exposition for many decades and have accumulated a huge amount of 1901 Expo cinderellas over the years,” said Barrett, who is now 61. “As a long time philatelist, I decided about 18 years ago that I would like to document the various Pan Am Cinderellas and create a standardized numbering system for them too, which had not been done in any depth until now. In 2012 I decided that I would like to expand it to include the true stories of the men who actually created and sold most of the Cinderella stamps. It has been quite a task and an adventure to uncover decent, interesting material on the two fellows born in the 1870’s! To help explain further, here is the text that will be on the back cover of the hardcover book:
The electrifying 1901 Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York offered a spirited message of hope and possibility. Over eight million people flocked to the spectacular Pan Am, and there were substantial opportunities for businessmen to profit.
Two very different people did so by creating souvenir “cinderella” stamps for the event. One was a reputable man who sold over four million Expo stamps and became a respected philatelic expert; the other was a traveling charlatan who later drifted into the darkness of forgery and swindling.
Their fascinating stories and adventures are inside this book. The items they created, that are an ever increasing attraction to stamp collectors and lovers of intrigue alike, are beautifully pictured and precisely detailed inside as well!
How many different types of these stamps were made?
I began collecting the cinderellas, or souvenir stamps, for the 1901 Pan American Exposition when I was 10, in 1968. In 2001 or so I decided I wanted to create a numbering system for all of these interesting stamps, as most all stamps of all kinds have been “officially” assigned a number for collectors to refer to. Even though souvenir type items like Christmas seals and Easter seals had been given numbers, the PAE cinderellas never had. Years later, I decided to finally get in motion, and in 2012 I thought I would create that numbering system and put it out as a 16 page pamphlet.
As far as I knew, there were around 107 stamps associated with one person marketing PAE cinderellas (the “gentleman”), and I had no idea how many were associated with another fellow (the “huckster”). As I dug deeper to really investigate the stamps themselves, I asked myself “who were these two people who were behind the PAE cinderella stamps?”, and when I saw that one was a good guy and one was not, I chose to expand my project and include their life stories. And along the way, with the help of another very qualified stamp dealer, we looked closely at the thousands of PAE cinderellas I had accumulated since 1968, and uncovered many varieties which had never previously been mentioned in the philatelic community. So my book has an amazing full color appendix which pictures all 202 different known varieties of both men’s cinderella stamps.
How hard are they to find?
There are 116 stamps associated with the gentleman, and 115 of them are not hard to find. One of them is very, very difficult and I have only seen two in 51 years of collecting.
There are 86 stamps associated with the huckster, and around 60 of them are what you would call extremely difficult to locate. That is because the huckster actually did not pay the printing bill for those stamps, and though his name is printed on 82 of 86 of them, he had very few of them himself! The printer, who was in Paris, sold the stock to get his expenses back to dealers in France, Belgium, England, and India. Those stamps are quite hard to find, and I have had to reach out to collectors and dealers specifically in those countries to find them.
Are they pricey?
Most of the Pan American Exposition cinderella stamps are not very expensive. Of the 116 stamps associated with the gentleman, a collection can easily be put together for a reasonable amount, with the exception of the one stamp that is very difficult to locate. Nearly all of the 115 stamps can be found in the $2 to $6 price range, depending on condition and the seller, etc. The price of that hard one to find, a Spanish-American War Veterans “overprint” stamp could be anywhere from a few dollars to $50, if you could locate one.
The 86 stamps associated with the huckster (there are two designs, with 43 color variations of each = 86) are more expensive, and the same 10 or 15 varieties seem to turn up most frequently. Those usually sell in the $5 to $12 range. Then the rest of the ones in the set are just very difficult to find. When one does, they usually sell in the $10 range if purchasing in bulk (in a dealer lot) or possibly between $20 and $50 if found individually. I should say that one could get very lucky and find some of the harder ones to locate very inexpensively; not all dealers are aware of the scarceness of the stamps associated with the huckster. Yet they rarely turn up…
If someone wanted to see some of these in Buffalo, where would they find them?
I am not aware of anyplace in Buffalo where these stamps could all be viewed. Even the Buffalo History Museum’s collection consists of just a few of the 202 stamps; I hope to change that, since it is a part of our heritage to archive properly. One can find all of the 116 stamps associated with the gentleman online (though I don’t believe they are all in one place on one site), and the huckster’s 86 varieties are not pictured all together anywhere online (you can probably see the most common 10 or 15 varieties if you look hard). Right now my Buffalo Cinderellas book is the ONLY option where one can view ALL of the PAE souvenir stamps all in one place, all enlarged and in full color. And of course, they have all been assigned an individual number!
How extensive is your Pan Am collection (overall)?
The worlds of stamp collecting and the collecting of Pan American Exposition artifacts and memorabilia are HUGE. Like many, I have chosen one small niche… like a grain of sand on a beach… to focus on, collect, and enjoy. I am likely one of a handful of people who own all 202 varieties of the known Pan American Expos cinderella stamps. In fact, I may be the only one, as the other avid collectors of these stamps may not have sought out the varieties which I uncovered when doing the research for my book.
Besides having a complete collection of the stamps, my interest also involves acquiring “covers” (envelopes with stamps on them which have passed through the mail stream) which have cinderella stamps on them, or which are associated with either the gentleman or huckster that I write about.
Consider this… if each of these men, who had extensive mail order stamp businesses, sent out 1,000 pieces of mail per year for six years when they were really active (and that number is just a guess… it’s likely smaller), then there would only be 8,000 covers pertaining to each of them. Most likely the vast majority of recipients of those piece of mail threw out those envelopes after they were opened, and read or saved the contents, likely a letter, price list, or possibly stamps. So say that maybe 10% of those covers each man sent actually survived, then that would mean that there’s only 800 possible covers around relating to each of these fellows, and they are likely literally spread all across the globe. I believe even that number is way too high, and there’s probably only a few hundred covers each associated with those fellows, and I am interested in finding and purchasing any I can locate. I have about 10 or 12 pertaining to each man, plus several dozen covers with Pan Am Expo cinderella stamps on them.
It has taken me decades to compile this cover collection, which along with other interesting items may include 100 or 125 pieces. I feel very fortunate to find maybe 10 specific items each year, plus incidental pieces… so I probably add a couple dozen items to my collection each year. And it is not that owning them is so thrilling… the fun is in the hunt!
What is your most prized Pan Am piece?
I have two favorite items, and they are unique pieces. One is a beautiful promotional postcard (lead image) sent by the gentleman in my book to a customer in British Guiana in 1900. British Guiana is where the rarest stamp in the world is from (the 1856 “British Guiana” 1 cent magenta stamp), and for me, it is remarkable that the gentleman’s promotional reach would be nearly 3,000 miles away in South America. My second favorite item is a huge block of 50 stamps (a partial sheet) of what is called the “map stamp” cinderella; no other block that large of stamp #BC6 has ever been uncovered anywhere before.
Is there a Cinderella stamp that you don’t have?
The fellow in Paris who made the huckster’s Pan American Exposition cinderella stamps printed up a very, very few “imperforate” stamps, probably as a test run to see how the ink and die looked before printing large amounts of the stamps. (Most stamps have “perforations”, which allow for easy separation from each other. Sheets without perforations have “imperf” stamps, which must be cut apart with a scissors to use or collect.) I have a nice strip of two of the huckster’s olive yellow imperf stamps, yet I would like to find two single stamps; cutting the strip of two apart would lessen their value, since there are likely more single stamps around than strips. Yet single stamps imperf stamps are EXTREMELY difficult to find. Besides that, I feel fortunate to have a complete set of the gentleman’s and huckster’s stamps. In 51 years I have only been able to complete ONE full set like this; I have a second set which just needs eight stamps, yet it could take years (if ever!) to complete.
Is there a Pan Am article that is on your “most wanted” list?
Well, I have always dreamt that somewhere in someone’s attic or basement in Western New York lie either a full sheet of any of the Pan American Exposition cinderella stamps… which would be an absolutely AMAZING thing to find and see… or maybe even possibly a printer’s die or printer’s plate used in the manufacturing of the stamps. That would be INCREDIBLE!
Can you tell me more about The Buffalo Stamp Club?
The Buffalo Stamp Club merged with the Bison Stamp Club in 1926; it is one of the older stamp clubs in the country. The BSC currently has about 100 members; dues are $12.00 per year. The Buffalo Stamp Club meets at 7:30 PM on Fridays twice monthly except in June, July and August at the Leonard Post VFW, 2450 Walden, Buffalo, NY 14225.
Upcoming talk: Historical Association of Lewiston on Tuesday, June 11th at 7pm at the Messiah Lutheran Church, 915 Oneida Street.