The History of Stamp Collecting Part 36 – Dutch Cow Madness

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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 36.

Up to now, in this series of articles, the history of stamp collecting has been described more or less chronologically, mostly based on the Kouwenberg article series from the 1980s. I will certainly continue with that, but there are also so many fun facts from more recent years that I have decided to write a story concerning “only” about forty years ago.

In 1974 a 25 cents (letter rate) stamp was issued in the Netherlands with the subject “Dutch cattle studbook”. The stamps showed the back of three cows on the left, and the front of the cows on the right. Many collectors quickly put away the stamps after buying them because they thought they had just got hold of a valuable misprint – that turned out not to be the case.

It was not unusual that Dutch stamps were characterised by quirky designs. But when Davo produced the supplement sheets for the stamps of 1974, apart from the loose stamp in the series there was also a box for two stamps together so that the cows were at least visible as a whole. Many people collected Dutch stamps in Davo albums at that time and naturally did not want an empty space. At the post offices the stamps were sold out, so the cow madness began.

Everyone suddenly needed three of those stamps in their collection instead of one, with two of them being connected as a pair. Many collectors bought several copies of the new stamps, but many had already been separated. Collectors went searching for pairs at stamp fairs, where at that time many traders and semi-traders tried to capitalise on the Dutch cow stamps’ popularity. At those fairs the fever quickly spread, causing the prices for cow pairs to rise.

Were they really that rare? Not if we look at the numbers sold (more than 4.5 million), even if you divide that amount by three. A number were, of course, simply used on letters, but many had been purchased by collectors who bought the stamps in sheets or blocks, so even pairs were not very rare. But as I said; the fever quickly spread and people went a bit crazy trying profit from the supposed “mistake”.

Then print it yourself!

In 1982 the police in the city of Haarlem, following tips from the public, raided a local printing company. Passers-by had noticed that work was being done in the evenings and sheets of stamps were being examined and had reported this to the police. During the police check, three people were caught red-handed printing forged stamps. It transpired that sheets of 48 Dutch cattle studbook stamps were being produced. At least 5,000 sheets were confiscated. Only the last print run was missing. 3,700 sheets had already been gummed. It is noteworthy that among those caught in the act, the same 45-year-old Haarlem man was sentenced to one and a half years in prison shortly before for being involved in the theft of millions of stamps from the Joh. Enschedé printing works.

Apparently the price and marketability of these stamps in 1982 was so good that “printing in-house” was seen as rewarding.

Incidentally, the three were acquitted in this case because it had not been proven that they had printed the stamps to use as franked items.

The “Cow Madness” price development

Here is an overview of list prices per stamp (in guilders). A pair therefore will be twice the amounts mentioned.

First issue: 1.00

1977: 2.25

1978: 7.50

1979: 11.50

1980: 16.50

1981: 21.25

1982: 25.00

1983: 27.50

1984: 31.25

1994: 27.50

1996: 25.00

As a comparison to current values PostBeeld now offers a pair for 3 euros (or about six guilders and seventy cents) and per 10 pieces at a time for 20 euros.

Every Dutch collector and many others knew about the cow pairs because there was frequent talk about it, also at stamp clubs and parties. At a certain point in time, Playboy magazine even displayed its own version of a little cow couple (jumping together).

The madness has long since subsided. Cow stamps and pairs are plentiful and cost very little due to the fact that the supply is greater than the demand.

As an aftermath, other continuing image pairs emerged for a short time. A special “continuing image catalogue” even appeared. When a stamp appeared a few years later with an image covering two stamps, the KMA (Koninklijke Militaire Academie) stamp (NVPH 1165), there was so much demand that it was decided to print a second edition.

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