A.C. Roessler and his Influence on B.N.A. Philately

Article written by Murray Heifetz for BNA Topics, Sep-Oct 1991
and submitted to The Canadian Aerophilatelist Sep 2004.

Albert C. Roessler was born in Newark, N.J. on April 7, 1883. He became interested in stamps at the age of 10 while still at school and started dealing at age 19. Prior to going into business for himself in 1909, he had a varied career. For years he worked on a ranch In Colorado and in the mine, later becoming a linotype operator on the Rocky Mountain News. He graduated into a make-up man on the Denver Times and then turned his attention to aniline colours when employed by one of the biggest colour firms in the US for five years. He then went to work for four years for a stamp dealer in New York's Nassau Street.

While a general stamp dealer, Roessler's main areas of interest were in cover production - primarily first days and historical flight covers - production of philatelic accessories, and establishment of a large in-house collector's club supported by his two major publications - Stamp News, and Airplane Stamp News. These two were essentially house organs to promote sales of his philatelic inventory, but they also served as a platform for his very vocal expression on a multitude of issues. Stamp News first issue was May 1909. It was a monthly publication at a yearly subscription price of 25 cents. The first issue of Airplane Stamp News was some time in the winter of 1917-1918. The dates are uncertain because he never dated his issues. It is also uncertain as to the frequency of this publication, but the subscription price was 25 issues for 25 cents. Both publications also had a special dealers edition. The publications continued regularly until about mid 1935 for Stamp News, and 1937 for Airplane Stamp News.

His first location was at 1958 Washington Ave. in New York. By 1910 he was at 10 Clay St. in Newark, and by 1917 at his most publicized address at 140 South Parkway in East Orange, New Jersey. Most of his covers are identified by A.C. Roessler but he frequently used the abbreviation of A.C. Roe. There are other names at the same address such as E.K. Mulcahy which could have been pseudonyms. By about 1933 he started his downslide contributing to a permanent tarnishing of his reputation. He ran into trouble with Postmaster General, James Farley. The more important event was his arrest on January 30, 1933. He was charged with entering into an agreement with Hubert Wilkins giving Roessler exclusive rights to mail sent on the submarine, Nautilus, used by Wilkins for his arctic explorations. Finding a 'greater demand for stamps cancelled on that trip than he could meet, it was charged that he used a facsimile of a New York cancellation to cancel mail which was never taken on the trip. He was convicted of fraudulent use of the mails. He received suspended sentence, and was put on a three year probation. Within a few years he was unemployed, on the New Jersey welfare rolls, and died on January 26, 1952.

During the time and period of his influence - between 1919 and 1931 - Roessler created a large network of dealers, collectors, and postal officials on a worldwide basis who supplied him with leads on impending flights, and helped with preparation and procurement of covers. He also created an even larger network of customers, and a smaller but powerful group of philatelic enemies. In the category of corresponding dealers, his Canadian Group included Les Davenport, Gordon Crouch of Marks Stamp Co. In Toronto, and Chris Goulden of Century Stamp Co. in Montreal. In Newfoundland he had the Rev. Butler in St. John's. Among his advertisers, I have noted Imperial Stamp Co. in Toronto, W.W. Walsh and Emily King in Halifax, W.B. Swayze in Hamilton, a Mrs. Oughted in Montreal, and N.R. Hendershot of St. Thomas.  Among his overseas correspondents there are names well known in aerophilately such as Francis Field and John Davis in Britain, Anton Huber in Germany, and Maury and Champion - major catalogue publishers in France.

With the advantage of hindsight, we can perhaps understand the vitriol of his enemies by comparison with merchandising methodologies common today but perhaps new In 1919. He was a typical discounter. He claimed to deal in huge quantities which enabled him to offer items at markups very much lower than the traditional dealer. He would claim that dealers charged 100% markup, whereas he was content with as little as 5% or 10%. In addition, the image portrayed through his publications is that of a loud, abrasive, and egotistical person. He loved to publish funny and degrading comments about himself, and hit back at opponents with equal sarcasm - again a technique not uncommon today. We don't know whether this was the real Roessler, as he was a very private person who was rarely found in public, and who saw very few people. All his communication was through his publications and the mail.

His two main groups of detractors seemed to be a New York group which he referred to as The Trust and which were presumably led by two large dealers. Later he included a Boston group referred to as the Massachusetts Gang. He never referred to any antagonistic dealer by name and, even when referring to himself, generally talked about a certain East Orange dealer. My analysis of the opposition and subsequent very negative reputation seems to indicate three prime causes:

  1. fear and resentment of his price cutting techniques;
  2. his strong support for and participation in creating and merchandising Historic Flight Covers, i.e. covers carried on significant flights by favour which did not go through the normal postal processes. Even today, traditionalists downplay these items as philatelic and hence unimportant. It was worse in the 1920's and 30's. His response then, and equally valid today, was to point to the auction prices realized for these items compared to legitimately flown, commercial, non-philatelic items;
  3. he did create some phony items, many of which he did not identify as such. He was also accused of imitating official cachet makers. I don't know the-frequency of this overall, but that he did do this is a fact substantiated by his copy of the official cachet on the dirigible R100 cards issued during its visit to Montreal in August 1930. In his latter years he was also accused of advertising low prices for items for which he had no further supply.

Roessler's legacy and influence on world-wide aerophilately was profound. A list of his major involvements would include:

  • he used his publications to orchestrate strong pressure on the US Government to institute special markings for airmail, fought wartime embargo (1914-1918) on stamps from enemy areas, and fought censorship;
  • he created a major line of airmail accessories, including airmail labels and special airmail envelopes to encourage use of airmail;
  • he played a major role in creating flight covers of historic interest.

In this latter activity he had three different roles:

  1. for many covers he merely obtained his own supply to send to his subscribers, but there were many other cover producers;
  2. for a number of flights he took a strong position where anywhere from 30% to 50% of the covers carried on a flight were his creations;
  3. for a more limited but very important group of pioneer fliers he was the major backer, having almost exclusive access to covers on their flights. In this category we can list Admiral Richard Byrd, Sir Hubert Wilkins, Clarence Chamberlain, and Henry Mears. His usual stipend was $1,000 for 100 covers. It is interesting to note that while later getting very much involved in Lindbergh flights, he was very negative towards Lindbergh before his 1927 Paris flight, and was a heavy backer of Chamberlain against Lindbergh.

Another article about A.C. Roessler:  The Newfoundland "Essay"