You make a living doing what ?

You make a living doing what?
James E. Lee

Most months three will be several ideas for this column bouncing around in my head. This has been one of those months when even a mere spark of an idea for this column has eluded me. As the deadline approached I turned to my editor, Randy Neil, for help. At his suggestion I am writing about my experiences in the philatelic literature business.

For Christmas in 1972 I received a three volume set of Lester Brookman’s opus: United States Postage Stamps of the 19th Century. This wonderful gift became the foundation for my philatelic library. For the next 15 years my appetite for acquiring books for my library was insatiable. By the mid 1980s the book shelves were full, and file storage boxes were employed to house the overfl ow. At times I would purchase an entire lot of books at auction to get just one title. It was during this period that I endured a setback in my personal life. My room full of books was one of the few things that moved on with me. However, this only created another dilemma. Just try fitting a room full of books into a two bedroom apartment. My dilemma became one of the factors that propelled me into this business.

In order for my sons to spend quality time with me during the week and on weekends they needed a bedroom so there went the library room. After sorting down the boxes of books I found that about 40 percent were duplicates. I turned to advertising them in “The Members Clearing House” in the Philatelic Literature Review. Over the next few years I sold most of them. By this time I was remarried and living in a three bedroom town house. There were now shelves for all of the remaining books, the clutter was gone, until lo’ and behold, opportunity came in the form of a phone call at 7:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning.

On the phone was Robert McClellan, the famed Black Jack collector, and relative of the late Civil War general by the same name. Bob, had read a small classified ad that I had run in the U.S. Philatelic Classics Society’s Chronicle, in which I advertised a few books. He wanted to know if I would like to buy some books. Since he only lived about 10 miles from me we agreed on a date and time when I would stop by to review what he had for sale. Bob, didn’t have a few feet of books on a shelf, he had a 30 foot square room, with built in floor-to-ceiling bookcases that covered every square foot of wall space, except for a window. After I gathered up my jaw from the floor I spent the entire day evaluating what he had.

My prior experience buying books had been limited to buying a few cartons at a time. This was going to be a very major purchase. That evening Bob and I agreed on a figure. Fortunately I had just enough to cover that amount which approached five figures. Since I was still working for a living, I had to pack the books in the evening and cart them back to what had been my two car garage. Over a week’s time I packed and moved (down two fl ights of stairs) 175 file storage boxes of books. The boxes filled the garage and I was now in the literature business big time or so I thought. Two months later I left a fabulous 14-year career in the printing business, to sell books. Every one of my friends, business associates, and clients suggested that I seek counseling instead.

In about three months time I realized that man cannot eat on books alone. I soon expanded into United States stamps (now long gone), postal history, and essays and proofs. Over the years, the sales of postal history and essays and proofs have far outdistanced book sales. However, book sales still produce annual sales in the low six fi gures. And of course, I still retain my longtime love of great philatelic literature.

Bob McClellan’s library started it all, but there are two other acquisitions that helped to put the business on the map. In 1992, I received a call from a gentleman stationed at the Great Lakes Naval Training Facility by the name of Henry Hensel. Henry was a career Navy man and he had also sold philatelic books, stamps and covers during the time he was stationed in Louisiana. He had around 70 cartons of mainly in print titles that had traveled with him when he was transferred to Great Lakes. Henry was about to retire from the Navy and return to Norman, Oklahoma, where he was born and raised. The books were not part of the plan for his return trip home. Henry’s stock provided me with something that I did not have—depth. His stock really provided a platform upon which to build my literature business.

The second acquisition came just a few years later and this was the purchase of the stock of legendary philatelic literature dealer Louis K. Robbins. I have been told that Lou had sold out his inventory on two previous occasions over the years. I was the third fish and did Lou ever provide me with ocean full of books, auctions catalogs, and pamphlets to swim in. Travelling to New York City to acquire the Robbins holding is another story and I’ll continue this column next month with the tale behind the Robbins purchase and the title of this two part column.

(To Be Continued)

Jim is a member of ASDA his philatelic business is, James E. Lee, and he can be reached by email at

United States of America - IL
Mr. James Lee
Business Address Postal Address
PO Box 3876
Oak Brook, IL 60522-3876
United States of America
PO Box 3876
Oak Brook, IL 60522-3876
United States of America
Additional Info
Quality U.S. stamps, fancy cancels, essays, proofs & 19th & 20th century postal history. U.S. Essay & Proof literature and auction catalogs.