Saturday, July 13, 2013

Chon Day's Brother Sebastian on First Day Covers

First day covers are stamped envelopes with a special cancellation indicating the first day of issue and the local post office of issue. They exist primarily to meet collector demand and, as a practical matter, aren't necessarily all physically cancelled on the precise date of the postmark. I think it's fair to say that most of them aren't actually sent through the mail but are obtained on unaddressed envelopes or cachets bearing printed artwork created specifically for that stamp issue. The Postal Service gets to sell a stamp with a cancellation and often doesn't even have to deliver it.

Whoever first came up with the idea of collecting autographs on first day covers is no doubt lost to philatelic history. That person's logic must have gone something like this: first day covers are collectible. Autographs are collectible. First day covers, at least when unaddressed, have large areas of blank paper suitable for autographs. Combining a first day cover with an autograph makes for a unique collectible. Therefore, the market value of this collectible should be greater than the sum of the separate values of the autograph and of the first day cover.

Well, yes and no. I see little point to an autograph on a first day cover when the two are unrelated. If there is some relationship, as in astronauts signing a cover bearing a space stamp, then I can certainly see why that should be highly-prized and even sought after.

There are currently three first day covers listed on eBay which bear not only the signature of cartoonist Chon Day (1907 - 2000), but also a drawing of his character Brother Sebastian. Brother Sebastian cartoons appeared in Look magazine beginning in 1954 and they were subsequently collected in three volumes.

Let's look at a first day cover with a totally unrelated pairing. The stamp commemorating the centennial of the Civil War has absolutely nothing to do with Chon Day or Brother Sebastian. In this case, I'd think it preferable to have the drawing on a blank sheet of paper, and the Gettysburg first day cover without a drawing.

Chon Day, Brother Sebastian on 5-Cent Gettysburg First Day Cover
Scott No. 1180, 1963 US 5 cents

It's interesting that Day chose a view for his souvenir drawings of Brother Sebastian
that is not quite a side view but rather a view from slightly behind the monk. I suppose this allows Day to emphasize the hood and tonsure.

The next first day cover is I think a little more interesting. Day's drawing of the monk is not dissimilar, but whoever requested the drawing provided a first day cover with the Touro Synagogue stamp. Now that's an autograph seeker with a sense of humor. The asking price is the same as the previous cover, but I'd rather own this one.

Chon Day, Brother Sebastian on Touro Synagogue First Day Cover
Scott No. 2017, 1982 US 20 cents

This final example is my personal favorite of the three, with Brother Sebastian holding up a fountain pen to echo the quill pen in the cachet cover art. This could easily have become another unrelated cover, but instead the cartoonist got creative, and that, my friends, is what makes the game interesting. This is being sold by the same seller as the first eBay example above, but the price for this one is lower by a third. Amen.

Chon Day, Brother Sebastian on William M. Harnett First Day Cover
Scott No. 1386. 1969 US 6 cents

Note:  See more of this week's blog posts about Chon Day here.


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