Why collect Confederates? A short but very comprehensive answer is found in a letter from H. E. Wheeler to August Dietz in 1949.
But the greatest appeal in the whole realm of Philately the Confederate States of America still holds the palm and I think will continue to do so. The period of tragic history, the romantic features which every soldier’s letter embodies, the reach and range of the provisional issues, and the magnificent men and women that for a period of civil strife used what they could get in the way of paper and franked their letters with the issues of the Government for which they laid down their lives and fortunes, makes every stamp and every cover of priceless interest and almost sacred.
Much of the history of the Confederacy is reflected in its stamps and covers. There are hundreds of varieties of stampless (handstamped paid) and manuscript covers as well as patriotic covers and provisional adhesive stamps and envelopes used before the Confederate government could issue regular stamps.
There are 14 major stamp catalog numbers of the general issue Confederate States stamps — also numerous varieties and shades. The CSA Catalog and Handbook of Stamps and Postal History (page 313) provides a detailed list and cross reference of the catalog numbers for the general issues. There are prisoner-of-war and flag-of-truce covers, express company markings, blockade-run covers to and from Europe, college covers, official and semi-official envelopes, packet and steamboat covers, patriotic covers with their war mottos, covers showing use of United States stamps in the Confederacy, and many interesting letters.
Nowhere else in philately can one find such strange improvised uses and evidences of desperate shortages. There are envelopes made of wallpaper, envelopes used twice, and United States stamped envelopes seized and overprinted for the use of the Confederate Post Office Department.
Today Confederate items are almost 150 years old. Some are scarce and hard to find, but many are within the reach of all.
Confederate stamps and postal history have a reputation for being expensive and they certainly can be. Collectors see sky-high auction prices and shy away from this fascinating category because they assume, they can’t afford it. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
So how and what do you collect if you don’t have “deep pockets?” The more money you have, the more money you will typically spend. It is not unlike houses, boats, cars or other collectibles.
Stamps. The Confederate government was unusual in that it issued stamps using the three different printing methods available at that time—lithography, typography and gravure (intaglio or engraved). This makes for a wide variety of potential subjects including corresponding varieties, color shades, perforated issues, color cancels, auxiliary markings and more.
Covers. Obviously, rare provisionals on cover and unusual uses such as across-the-lines mail generate both great interest and a major drain on your wallet. What do you do if your resources are significantly more limited?
One-town collections—depending on the town—can be very reasonably priced, especially if you pick a city such as Richmond. Richmond produced an abundance of mail as the seat of political power, an industrial center, and a transportation hub. It was the terminus of five railroads, as well as a seaport with access to the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Soldiers passed through the city daily in great numbers. Multiple prisons and hospitals dotted the landscape, producing interesting categories of mail that often have a story to tell, such as the Libby Prison Escape in February 1864, one of the most successful prison breaks of the Civil War.
Another affordable area is Army field cancels on soldiers’ covers. These covers come without town markings to obscure troop movements. Temporary camp post offices were run by postmasters who traveled with the Confederate armies to provide postal services to the troops in the field. Army field post offices often used special postal markings on the mail they handled. They can be collected by types listed in the Confederate Catalog.
These are only a few examples of what is available relatively inexpensively. But, as with anything, it will depend on the size of your wallet and what you are willing to spend.
If Confederates are a new area for you, invest in a few books and a catalog. If not already a member, join the Confederate Stamp Alliance. If possible, attend the national meetings and avail yourself of the many resources such as the website, authentication service, mentor program and the like. Members are delighted to share their knowledge. All were new to this once and you’ll find them eager to help you.
Use reputable dealers who belong to the American Stamp Dealers Association or are American Philatelic Society dealer members. If they do mainly local or regional shows, check to see if they are members of a regional stamp dealers association with a code of ethics.