In the late 1970s a fascinating series of articles written by Mr. K. Kouwenberg about the history of Stamp Collecting, appeared in the Dutch magazine Philatelie. This series has been the source of inspiration for PostBeeld owner Rob Smit to rewrite the history of stamp collecting in instalments. This is Part 15 – Jean Baptiste Moens.
Moens is undoubtedly one of the most famous names in the history of philately. As a very active trader from his base in Brussels, he had an enormous influence on philately in Europe. Not for nothing is he also immortalised on the Belgian postage stamp from 1973, shown below. The stamp was issued to mark the 50th anniversary of the Belgian Association of Stamp Dealers.
Who was Moens and how did he become so influential?
Jean Baptiste Moens was born on 27th May 1833 in the Belgian town of Doornik, 85 km south-west from Brussels. His mother was Colette Blangenois and his father, a soldier, was Phillipe Moens.
He began his career with some trade in coins in the bookstore, where he sold both new and second hand books from the Bortier arcade in Brussels. He also developed an early interest in stamps, already collecting in the early 1850s with his partner and later brother-in-law Louis Hanciau. From 1853, when Moens was 19, he started to sell stamps in his bookstore. Moens and Hanciau worked together for forty years. Hanciau as the philatelist Moens as the businessman.
Moens definitely had great business acumen. Bravely – but with great foresight – at a time when many people saw stamp collecting as a temporary fad, he bought for many years from various postal administrations large stocks of in-circulation stamps. In addition, he regularly made special requests which were often actually granted. For example he requested, and was provided with, 200 imperforated series of the third issue from the Netherlands.
From 1862 to 1865 the stamp market experienced a good time. Interest then declined, but Moens continued to invest. Then from about 1880, when the popularity and hence demand for stamps rose again Moens was the only dealer in the world who could provide almost anything. Due to rising prices, his stock became more and more valuable (in 1908 the Dutch Philatelist magazine estimated the value of his stock in 1892 to be two and a half million guilders, around 31.5 euros today). Moens was also one of the few stamp dealers who became rich from the stamp trade.
Thanks to his courage, business acumen and the loyal co-operation of Hanciau, their stamp trading and philatelic publishing businesses flourished. Moens commanded great respect. His judgment was doubted by no one and many philatelic discoveries were due to him (including the Mauritius “Post Office”, of which he himself had eight copies).
He was a supplier to all the major collectors of the day, because what you bought from Moens was guaranteed to be genuine. Even for stamps with some minor flaws, such as reprints of Bergedorf and Romagna such was the case, Moens was an extremely reliable supplier.
In 1900 Moens sold his business. In April 1900 his stock of stamps was bought by E. M. Ruben from Copenhagen.
Moens spent last years of his life living from his wealth. He died at the age of 75 on April 29, 1908.
Moens was a philatelic publisher as well as a stamp trader. In the next instalment we will discuss the great importance his publications had in the history of philately.
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