Question: I've heard the U.S. Postal Service plans to issue a new stamp this year honoring Mark Twain. Has there been a Mark Twain stamp issued in prior years? --H.K.R.
Answer: Yes. A 36-cent "aerogramme" (air-letter sheet) for use in overseas air mail will be issued Nov. 30 in commemoration of Mark Twain and Halley's Comet. Mark Twain died in 1910 when the famous comet was last visiting Earth. So it is appropriate on the 75th anniversary of his death and of the last visit of the comet to issue a postal item honoring these events.
On Oct. 28, 1940, the U.S. Post Office Department (as our Postal Service's predecessor was called) issued a 10-cent Mark Twain stamp (Scott catalogue No. 893) in the "Famous Americans" series of 1940. It is now worth a couple of dollars in mint condition.
Also, in 1972, the Postal Service issued a Tom Sawyer stamp showing Norman Rockwell's painting of the fence-painting incident from Twain's novel (Scott No. 1470). This stamp is still worth face value.
Q: I have a friend who is a serious philatelist, and I want to get him a stamp present for his birthday. What do you suggest? I don't want to duplicate what he already has in his collection, but I am afraid to ask him what he needs because I want the gift to be a surprise. --A.R.
A: Unless you are well acquainted with your friend's collection, chances are you won't buy the stamps that he particularly wants; although, if he is a beginner, he probably lacks just about everything.
I recommend stamp-collector tools (stamp hinges, an extra pair of tongs or watermark fluid). A book on stamp collecting is a nice gift, providing you are sure it isn't one he already has.
If you can ask him what stamp magazines he gets, then maybe you could buy a subscription to one that he doesn't receive. Two of the best general stamp newspapers in the United States are:
Stamp Collector, P. O. Box 10, Albany, Ore. 97321 (subscription rate $16.95 per year); and Linn's Stamp News, P. O. Box 29, Sidney, Ohio 45365 ($22.95 a year). Both are published weekly and will deliver copies by mail anywhere in the country.
Q: With South Africa in the news so much, I'm wondering what the market is for South African stamps. My collection of these cost about $200 over the past 10 years and is mostly very fine mint copies of commemoratives and regular issues. --E.J.
A: Stamp-market prices are resistant to world affairs. In fact, trouble and turmoil in a nation may focus collector attention on that country and actually increase interest and, therefore, stamp values in the country's stamps. There are many collectors of South African issues in England, and some in the United States who would be happy to pay a reasonable price for a nice collection of South African material.
Q: In a box of old envelopes, which I recently bought at a garage sale, I discovered an envelope from England that is addressed to a soldier of the "Hong Kong Volunteer Defense Force, British Prisoner of War, c/o Japanese Red Cross, Tokio, Japan." What is this worth? --S.L.
A: This is World War II prisoner-of-war mail, probably sent from the soldier's family in Great Britain to Japan in the hope that it would arrive at the proper camp where the soldier was interned. The fact that this cover (envelope) exists means that the soldier probably saved his mail and was allowed to leave with it or had it in his possession when his camp was liberated by Allied troops.
Condition is all-important in pricing military mail. The cover that you have is worth maybe $50 to $100 retail in fine condition.
Q: How can you tell if a cancel is genuine on a stamp? --M.E.
A: By experience. Only by examining a lot of genuine cancels can you get to know what the real thing looks like. Stamp expertizing services, such as the American Philatelic Society and the Philatelic Foundation, have expensive and sophisticated equipment that can analyze the ink in a cancel to determine if it is authentic. Many forged cancels exist, and if you're buying a stamp that has an increased value because of the cancel, you either must trust your dealer or get an expertizing certificate for it.
Q: I would like to sell my 65-cent Graf Zeppelin first-day cover. What is the best way to sell this? And what is its approximate value? --V.I.L.
A: Current catalogue value for this cover is $2,250, but actual sales prices tend to be less than this, maybe $700 to $1,000 for a nice cover. The 65-cent U. S. Graf Zeppelin stamp had its first day of issue on April 19, 1930, and covers canceled with this date are worth several times as much as a non-first-day item canceled later.
Auction is probably the best way to sell this cover. Any stamp-auction company that handles U.S. covers would be happy to include your cover in their next sale. Expect to pay the auctioneer a 10% commission off the selling (hammer) price.
Q: What is the value of World War I savings stamps in the 25-cent thrift denomination? I also have some 10-cent values. --E.N.B.