In The Spotlight
GBCC Webmaster Larry Rosenblum interviews
John and Tina Carlson, proprietors of JET Stamps Part 1
Published in the July, 2003 issue of The Chronicle, the journal of the Great Britain Collectors Club. Reprinted by permission.
|Stamps are shown from several of the countries handled by JET stamps, including this one from Ireland.|
Rosenblum: I believe, John, you were the first to begin in the stamp profession. How and when did you become a stamp dealer? What prompted you to pursue this line of business? And what, if anything, did you do before that?
John Carlson: Well, I got a Minkus stamp collecting kit as a Christmas gift in 1966. When I started playing with that, my dad joined in with his old collection from the thirties. These were just my first steps that ended up with me taking a summer job in 1972 with StanGib in New York, just prior to beginning my freshman year at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. StanGib was a noble experiment to expand the American market for British stamps. Their shop on Fifth Avenue carried a mix of rarities, good GB and Commonwealth, and new issues of GB and the Crown Agents’ countries, as well as the full array of Stanley Gibbons Catalogues and supplies. They were only there for a few years in the early 1970s. A couple of armed robberies unfortunately inspired London to pull the plug on this venture.
I think the stamp business pursued me nearly as much as I pursued it, right from the get go. In Chicago, I was very involved in two local stamp clubs, and in many shows, learning about stamp collecting and exhibiting all along the way. While I was working in New York, philatelic author Viola Ilma got me heavily involved with the junior division of the APS Writers’ Unit and subsequently the Junior Ambassadors. It was all just so fascinating and absorbing that it became inevitable that once I earned my Business Degree from the U. of I., I would put it to good use in the philatelic world, my first post-college job being one of nearly 500 employees of H.E. Harris in Boston.
Rosenblum: When did your wife, Tina, join you in the business? And how do you split your tasks/responsibilities?
John Carlson: Pretty much right on the day we met. I was so into what I was doing at the time, and she was an eager listener and learner. We didn’t technically form our own business, JET Stamps, until the spring of 1984, but from our first meeting in 1976 until then, she participated in many of my business activities, absorbing everything she could about stamps and the business along the way.
We don’t have a lot of hard and fast rules about tasks and responsibilities. We just look at what needs to be done each day, prioritize it, and then tackle it all as best we can. There are just so many facets to running a mail order/new issue/occasional weekend stamp show operation, that there are plenty of tasks to choose from and delegate between ourselves.
Rosenblum: How many hours a week on average do your separate duties consume?
Tina Carlson: Too many to count.
Rosenblum: What prompted you to specialize in GB?
Tina Carlson: We’ve both been very keen Anglophiles since our childhoods, one of the things that initially brought us together when we met, and has kept us together since. We also strongly feel that the quality of British stamps is unparalleled.
Rosenblum: Do you sell philatelic material of other countries, too? If so, which?
Tina Carlson: Yes, we do. Aside from Great Britain, Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey, we also try to maintain fairly strong stocks of Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Bermuda and Singapore, right up to the newest issues. Anyone visiting our table at local shows will also discover that we have a reasonable smattering of other British Commonwealth countries as well as the occasional collection or lot of random countries as they may come our way.
Rosenblum: Within G.B., how does your stock split by time period/type of material? For example, what percentage of your stock/business is in Machins?
John Carlson: We try to maintain a good stock of mostly mint GB from Edward VII to the present, but we find that most of our retail activity lies firmly among the Machins. It may surprise some readers to hear that we have a number of customers who collect Machins, but no other GB whatsoever.
Rosenblum: Most “Machin Maniacs” are, I’m sure, curious as to how and from where you obtain your material. What’s the secret?
John Carlson: We obtain our material from the same sources as anyone else, really — the Philatelic Bureau, fellow dealers, and collectors.
Rosenblum: To what do you personally attribute the popularity of this long-running definitive series?
John Carlson: Very simply, its attractiveness and its complexity. There are many different levels on which one can choose to form a Machin collection, appealing to a wide range of collecting personalities.
Rosenblum: Do you see any signs of its popularity fading?
John Carlson: We are seeing more collectors drawing the line at the “basic” Machin collection, and not expanding to all of the specialized varieties. Having said this, we are also seeing many new people just beginning to take an interest in Machins.
Rosenblum: How often do you reprice your stock, if you do so? What prompts this? And how long does a reprice take?
John Carlson: In some regards, we are always repricing our stock, certainly on items that are very actively traded in the current market. At any given time, we always try to be sure that our prices are competitive, but that they will also allow us to steadily restock popular items.
Rosenblum: From what sources do most of your business come? Do you, for example, operate a new issue service?
Tina Carlson: Yes, we operate a new issue service. We do our best to tailor it to the collector’s individual needs, breaking up booklets for specialized singles, etc. No standing order is too small or too large. We’re happy to serve all comers who share our enthusiasm for British stamps.
Rosenblum: As stamp values rise and the number of issues increase, what percentage of your clientele continues to seek “completeness?” Is this percentage declining?
John Carlson: It seems to us that the term “completeness” as it applies to Machins, or GB collecting in general, is continually being redefined. Albums and catalogs are always changing their scope and coverage, adding new things, and sometimes deleting items that had previously been deemed worthy of a full catalog number or album space. In many cases it really just depends on what catalog or album the individual collector is using. Within those parameters, it still seems that most collectors strive for completeness.
Rosenblum: How many shows a year do you attend? Is this number increasing or declining? Why?
John Carlson: We attend roughly twenty shows a year, and set up a booth at about ten of those. Our number of booth set-ups has definitely declined over recent years, as, given our degree of specialization and as show expenses have skyrocketed, it is often just not cost-effective. From day one, setting up at shows has never been an important part of our business plan, although we do appreciate the importance of lending our support to local clubs where appropriate.
Rosenblum: On what basis do you choose the shows you attend? And how far afield have you travelled/do you travel? Is this changing? And, if so, how?
John Carlson: We choose to set up at the shows we feel will be most cost-effective, in locations where we have a reliable customer base, mostly within southern New England. We also attend on foot most of the major shows in New York.
Rosenblum: Do you sell – or buy – through internet auctions like eBay?
Tina Carlson: No, being only a two person operation, we feel we need to devote all of our attention to the steady customers already with us, as well as those who continue to come to us through our webpage, Linn’s Stamp News ad, direct mailings, and word-of-mouth. Monitoring eBay transactions would just eat into time that we feel can be much better spent giving personal service to our customers.
Rosenblum: Do you see such on-line activity helping or harming the hobby? Why?
Tina Carlson: As an alternate means of exposure for the hobby, it’s certainly a good thing. It does seem to be contributing to lower attendance at weekend stamp shows, but that may be just a temporary phenomenon. Time will tell. It is worrisome to hear stories of philatelic materials being misrepresented in on-line auctions from time-to-time. We can only hope that such incidents do not lead to the business as a whole being given a tainted reputation.