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Producing Handpainted First Day Covers

by Don Reinke

The following terms and topics deal with the production of First Day of Issue Covers. Here are some of the most common:

ENVELOPES

We'll start with the selection of the envelope. Since one is planning to keep the cover for a long time, envelopes should be of the highest quality acid-free paper. Over the years many cover makers have chosen 100% rag content envelopes or those made from high quality bond. Envelope size varies, however the most popular has been the #6 3/4 (actual size is 3 5/8 X 6 1/2 inches). There is no standard for the envelope choice ... it is strictly a function of personal preference.

CANCELS

There are choices to be made in the canceling of the FDC. Beyond the choice of addressed vs. unaddressed, the cachet maker must decide on the type of cancel.

The most widely used cancel is the Official First Day of Issue Cancel consisting of the regular time/date/city circle along with the words 'FIRST DAY OF ISSUE. Another choice is a simple circular cancel applied by hand, known as a 'bulls-eye'. More recently special cancels have been produced by the USPS that consist of a logo that is specifically tied to the theme of the stamp. Many collectors also enjoy getting their cover canceled in person, then taking it to another city for a second UO cancel (note the cover by Fred Collins on page 5 has both an official and unofficial cancel - the bulls-eye cancel is the UO).

CACHET DESIGN

As previously mentioned, there are many options for the cachet (ie. HD/HP, P/HP, T/HP, etc.). Some producers make cacheted FDC's in limited editions which are signed and numbered, others set no such limit. Some cachet makers who produce hand-painted cachets limit their production to current issues only, others have no problem with adding art to older, uncacheted covers. This type of cachet is known as an Add-on. Most cachetmakers try very hard to match the topic of their cachet to the topic of the stamp, a few do not. Some producers think it is important to have only one design per stamp issue, others will produce more than one design within a single issue. These multiple designs are called varieties.

ISSUE SIZE

Issue size will vary with each cachet maker. In most cases, issue size is driven by their ability to repeat the same artwork over and over again. One cachet maker (Curt Poormon) has produced many issues of 125 or more, while most limit their issue size to somewhere between 10 and 50.

In addition to the obvious advantage of a smaller issue size (minimizing the probability of burn-out), there is also the opportunity to do more issues per year. Also, it is likely that the covers will become more valuable with time because of the smaller numbers.

Most people work their way up to an issue size that they feel comfortable with. A common practice is to start out with about 10 covers and increase gradually as new subscribers are added until reaching a quantity that is comfortable. We have found the average to be about 40 covers per issue for established cachet makers.

NUMBERING AND IDENTIFYING

Most handpainted covers are signed and numbered by the cachet maker. For a one-of-a-kind, a number of 1/1 will uniquely identify it as an edition size of one. Signing may seem obvious - but we have seen several very nice covers with no identifying marks that will unfortunately, for artist and collector, go down in the annals as 'origin unknown'.

In addition to numbering the copies within a given issue, it is recommended that cachet makers consecutively number each issue ... ie. the first stamp that they produce a cover, or set of covers for would be issue #1, with each cover numbered as 1/40, 2/40, etc. (for an issue size of 40). This is very helpful to the collector who is trying to complete a collection of a cachet maker's 'regular issue' covers. The issue size can also be placed on the back of the envelope if the cachet maker doesn't want to add any more markings to the front.

SPECIAL vs. REGULAR Issues

We define a cover as a regular issue if there are at least 10 covers, of the same design, for a given stamp. A special issue was defined as one in which the cachet maker does less than 10 issues of the same design or it contains artwork or stamps not on each of the other regular issue covers for the same stamp or cachet respectively.

The reason for differentiating between the two, is primarily to protect the collector who is trying to build up a collection of each regular issue that a cachet maker has produced. Thus if an artist produces a one-of-a-kind cover, it is not an 'official' regular issue and will not impact the 'complete' collection of the subscriber who considers that a key to the value of their collection. It also allows the cachet maker and collector to identify all of the covers that make up a complete set. (Ask a stamp collector how rewarding it is to have a complete set of stamps)

An important caution -- once a cachet maker has regular subscribers, one-of-a-kinds are generally discouraged. The subscriber usually 'subscribes' for the express purpose of obtaining one of each cover that the artist produces. If a special is to be done, it is only fair to at least offer subscribers the opportunity to obtain it (via a lottery, or auction).

ADD-ONS

The most common type of 'add-on' is the practice of doing a cachet for a cover long after it was originally canceled. For example, a cachet maker produces a cachet on an uncachetted FDC from the 1940's or 50's. This is not necessarily unethical, especially if it is identified with the date that the cachet was applied, but can again cause some problems if it was purchased for a price that would support a 40 or 50 year-old cachet. It is certainly unethical if advertised as an older cachet.

Another type of add-on comes about when extra covers are produced with the same design as a Regular limited-edition cover after the completion of the regular edition. For example, a cachet maker identifies a regular edition of 20 covers, and produces an additional 10 covers with the same cachet. The problem here is that the subscriber is purchasing the cover at a price that is supported by a limited-edition size of 20 ... only to find out later that 30 were produced. We have found that the best way to avoid this situation is to avoid doing add-ons. If you have already done them ... let yor subscribers know how many you have produced and adjust the size of the affected regular editions to reflect the add-ons.

VARIETIES

An example of a variety is a cover which has extra art added to it that is different than the other covers in the issue. Or perhaps a completely different design is produced on one of the 20 by special request. Doing varieties follows the same rule as the one-of-a-kinds with respect to the subscribed buyer of a cachet makers production. Varieties are also discouraged when an artist begins producing regular edition covers.

SUBSCRIBERS

Most cachet makers prefer to have a list of regular customers who 'subscribe' to their work. Some will present the subscriber with a written contract, while others will simply agree to supply the subscriber with future issues (we'll address pricing in the next section). Some cachet makers will send their covers on approval, while others expect subscribers to purchase each issue or discontinue their subscriber arrangement. It is normally a good relationship for both the artist and the collector. The artist has a core of regular customers, and the subscriber receives the covers at a lower (normally) issue price.