Stamp collectors converge on show in Hunt Valley

September 06, 1993|By Jonathan Bor | Jonathan Bor,Staff Writer

When Bill Langs speaks of long-term investments, he doesn't mean gold or mutual funds. To him, true value is a postage stamp with an upside-down image, a missing color, a blurred detail or an out-of-place perforation line.

Take, for example, his "ghost stamps," a 1988 issue in which astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin E. Aldrin were seen planting the American flag on a lunar landscape. He displayed them yesterday at the Baltimore Philatelic Society's annual exhibition in Hunt Valley.

He values the $2.40 stamps at $3,500 each because of one delicious fact: the astronauts, who should be dressed in gray, puckered suits, appear white as ghosts against the light-blue ground and midnight sky.

Out of an original run of 40 million stamps, only 40 were printed this way. And he's got eight of them.

"They're high value because it's about space -- that gives it worldwide appeal -- and it's got that appealing dramatic error," Mr. Langs said, placing his stamps on his table at Marriott's Hunt Valley Inn. "You're looking at about $28,000 in front of you."

Mr. Langs, a stamp dealer from New Milford, N.J., said he purchased the stamps about a year ago for $2,250 a piece. Yesterday, he admitted that he didn't know whether he would ever get his asking price.

"It's a long-term investment," he said. "I've made money, and I've lost money, too. It's a crap shoot."

At the show, 50 dealers from across the country hawked stamps ranging in value from mere pennies to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Yesterday, about 2,500 collectors turned out, flipping through plastic files and hovering over stamps depicting everything from stampeding buffalo to Elvis.

The show, expected to draw 5,000 people during a three-day run that ends today, isn't just for serious investors.

It also is for people who delight in colorful subject matter and the encyclopedic knowledge that can be gained through the images.

"I'm 67, and I've been into it since I was 6," said Norman Katz, an attorney who serves as the club's publicity chairman.

Mr. Katz said he has used stamps to learn about famous people, geography, history, mathematics and monetary values.

Ruperta Waters, a Baltimore stamp collector, said she has confined her collection to three topics that are utterly unrelated: Bermuda (she was born there), Finland (her girlhood friend had Finnish parents) and mountaineering ("it's man against nature").

"One thing about a topic is that it takes you around the world," she said, flipping through envelopes stuffed with mountain stamps from China, Pakistan, Bhutan, Nepal "and of course, the Alpine countries."

Although she has never scaled a slope, her stamps have inspired her to compile a library of mountaineering books and learn whatever she can about the sport.

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