You make a living doing what ? part 2

You make a living doing what? Part II
By James E. Lee

The legendary Louis K. Robbins was the premier philatelic literature dealer in the United States for decades. With his wife Estelle, Lou operated from an office on West 42nd Street in New York City. Lou was also the leading auction agent in this country. What is truly amazing is that at age 95, Lou is still active today.

As a collector I could always depend on Lou for a hard to fi nd title. His literature auctions were also a source for a scarce book or auction catalogs. Over the years he sold chunks of literature inventory to other aspiring literature dealers. In the mid 1990s an opportunity arose for this aspiring literature dealer.

On a brisk fall morning I received a call from a New Jersey dealer. He had just returned from looking at a literature inventory that was for sale. The inventory was huge and he thought that it was beyond his reach to bring to market. When I asked the name of the seller my friend responded with the name, Louis K. Robbins. He asked if I would be interested in looking at the deal. This was an opportunity that I could not turn down and later that morning I was talking to a legend and setting up an appointment to view his literature holdings.

The ASDA Fall Postage Stamp Mega Event was just a few short weeks away. I was planning to attend to walk the floor and see what I could buy from the show dealers. A day was added to the front end of the trip to view the Robbins inventory. Our appointment was for 9:00 am on a Wednesday morning and I arrived at 8:00 am.

Lou met me in the lobby of his cooperative and took me down to the basement. He had rented two rooms there to house his inventory. These we not small rooms, and were packed with shelving  units housing books, pamphlets, auction catalogs and periodical runs. I just stared in amazement. Lou abruptly brought me back to earth. He said: “Here’s the deal. I want (a low five figure amount) to be paid over a number of months and the figure is not negotiable. Look it over and tell me if you are  nterested.”

For the balance of the morning I wandered the aisles, making notes, and realizing that it would take weeks to fi gure what the inventory was worth. The amount of literature was overwhelming. I gave up trying the figure it and just estimated the number of cartons it would take to hold everything. Once I reached 300 cartons I gave up on this approach as well. Based on the volume I was sure that Lou’s asking price was more than fair. The only downside was how to move the contents of these two rooms to Illinois. That afternoon we met again and I told Lou that I would give him an answer at the show on Thursday.

Back at my hotel room that evening I tried to figure out how to make this deal work. As great an opportunity as it was I also realized that the sheer magnitude could  sink my business. I wound up writing a new business plan just for this acquisition. The plan included not just the steps necessary to transfer the stock and a marketing strategy, but also a strict outline as to the time I would spend on this project each week. It was important to keep my business going and only work on this outside of prime business hours. If I had not stuck to the plan I would not be in business today.

On Thursday at noon we had a deal. I would come to New York the first week on December and spend seven days packing and preparing the literature for shipping. I stayed at a hotel in Secaucus, N.J., and drove into the city each day. For nine hours a day, for five days, Lou and I packed cartons. By Saturday night we had 356 cartons ready to ship. There was also a pile of auction catalogs that went to the dealer that gave me the lead. He picked these up on Sunday morning and they filled a cargo van from fl oor to ceiling. There was also another pile which filled a second cargo van that went into a Lowell Newman Auction as a single lot. On Monday, Yellow Freight picked up the cartons which fi lled a 40 foot trailer. The hard part was wheeling the cartons from the basement to the street to be loaded onto the truck. By fi ve that evening I was on a fl ight back to Chicago. The flight was empty and I just laid across three seats and slept the entire way home. It had been an exhausting week.

The best part of the week that I spent with Lou and his wife was lunchtime. Everyday Lou would regale me with stories of his over 60 years in the trade. His stories were priceless.

A week later the 356 cartons arrived as 11 skids that went directly into warehouse space that I had rented. Fortunately I had the foresight to number the cartons and record the contents as we had packed them. The Robbins purchase really solidified the literature portion of my business. Twelve years later I have just opened up the last carton.

Fast forward to a Sunday night in December of 1998. On that night I had a blind dinner date with the women whom I would marry on the beach on Hilton Head Island in August of 2002. Over dinner I tried to explain to Melanie what I do for a living. Her response is the title of this article. Nearly ten years later while she may not completely understand my business she does know that it works and it also pays the bills.

This is the second and final installment of my article.

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.