Now 62 years old, Herst has been a stamp dealer and auctioneer since 1936. His slogan is, "If it's U.S.A., see Herst first." His home and office are in Shrub Oak, N.Y., and outside the driveway is an enormous painting of a postage stamp. The stamp is Barbados, Scott's Catalog No. 109, the so-called "olive blossom" because it was issued in three colors. The stamp intrigued Herst as a boy, and he has adopted it as his trademark, painting out Barbados and substituting Herst.
Herst ordinarily arises at 8 and puts in a full day exuberantly examining stamps, cataloging lots for sale at auction (he has sold more than $10 million in stamps at auction since 1936) and trotting to a bank vault in Peekskill to examine his philatelic treasures. The workday ends at midnight, but around 4 in the afternoon Herst takes a break. He pours himself a small nip and relaxes by talking about stamps or writing letters about stamps to friends and acquaintances at home or abroad. Every day Herst dispatches 50 to 100 letters to philatelic pen pals, and it does not bother him that many of his correspondents haven't bought a stamp from him in years. "I just love it," Herst says. Indeed, one need not write a letter to Herst to get a letter. A recent visitor was astounded to get four letters in one week. "Thought you'd be interested," Herst explained.
Herst has such a compulsion to write that when he goes off on a trip with his wife Ida, he pecks away at a typewriter on his lap in the front seat of the car while she drives. Besides Stories to Collect Stamps By, he has written a couple of other books,
Nassau Street and Fun and Profit in Stamp Collecting, and co-authored the scholarly Nineteenth Century U.S. Fancy Cancellations and The A.M.G. Stamps of Germany
. Several times a year he writes and publishes his own periodical, Herst's Outbursts, copies of which are sent gratis to anyone sending in six stamped self-addressed envelopes. So far, more than 6,000 people have written in to subscribe, and recent issues include a photograph of Herst kissing the Blarney Stone on a trip to Ireland and a long piece on the infamous Jean Sperati of Paris, "one of the most dangerous stamp counterfeiters ever to wield stamp tongs." Sperati, Herst told his readers, was a genius who even made his own paper, duplicating that of original stamps. Fortunately, Sperati's American counterfeits were few, limited mostly to Confederate stamps, and, although the counterfeits were superbly done, Sperati tripped himself up by using the faked postmark of Middlebury, Vt.
Above and beyond writing his own magazine and books, Herst serves as an untiring correspondent for any number of philatelic publications. Last February he and Ida took a two-week vacation in the Bahamas and, as Herst reported to readers of the 1971 spring issue of Herst's Outbursts, "Aside from the fishing, swimming and just relaxing, we spent the time producing this issue of Outbursts; 14 of our weekly columns for Mekeel's Weekly Stamp News; 16 of our monthly columns on 'Stamps' for Hobbies; feature articles for Western Stamp Collector; a series of articles for First Days; two articles for Philatelic Magazine of London and one for Stamp News of Australia, for each of which we are American correspondent."
Philatelically, Herst has received honor after honor. He is one of only five persons to receive the gold medal of the New Haven Philatelic Society, and in 1961 he won the John A. Luff Award of the American Philatelic Society, the most coveted in the country, for his exceptional contributions to stamp collecting. Herst himself is not only a member of the APS but one of its five accredited experts qualified to pass on U.S. stamps submitted for authenticity. He was the stamp consultant for the radio program The Answer Man. He is a member of the American Stamp Dealers Association, the Oklahoma Philatelic Society, the Royal Philatelic Society of Canada, the British Philatelic Association, the Texas Philatelic Association and five dozen other stamp organizations. He is a founder-member of the Cardinal Spell-man Philatelic Museum, and he was once pleased to hear the late prelate remark that it was easy to be a cardinal but difficult to be a philatelist.
Stamps aside, Herst is a rabid joiner and do-gooder. "I'm everything!" he exults. "I'm a Kiwanian, a 32nd degree Mason, a Shriner! I'm in the Baker Street Irregulars where I've been invested as Colonel Emsworth, V.C." Herst is also a member of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Manuscript Society, the American Feline Society (he feeds stray cats), the Bancroft Library of the University of California and various other organizations, including the Boy Scouts, for whom he is a merit badge examiner in stamp collecting. "I just can't say no," Herst says of his multitudinous memberships.
When it comes to memberships or honors, he is rivaled only by his dog Alfie, a gigantic German shepherd. Alfie is mascot of the destroyer Alfred, an honorary citizen of West Germany, an honorary postman of the Italian post office and recipient of a commendation promulgated by the German Shepherd Squad of Scotland Yard. Alfie's honors have come about through the efforts of his energetic master. Back in the 1950s Herst discovered that federal law permits private carriers to issue "local" stamps in delivering mail to and from post offices that do not offer home delivery or pickup. Herst issued his own Shrub Oak local stamp, and in 1967 he put Alfie on a second issue. The stamp shows Alfie carrying a letter in his mouth.
Herst's discovery of the local loophole in federal law has prompted several persons elsewhere to print their own stamps. A narrow-gauge railroad buff on Long Island issued a triangular stamp for local mail on his midget line, but the Federal Government confiscated his stamps and suppressed the mini-service because he had put the prohibited words " United States" on the stamp. Similarly, federal authorities seized the local stamps used for delivery to Rattlesnake Island in Lake Erie because they were "in similitude" to government issue. In Walpole, Mass. the members of the "906 Stamp Club," all inmates of the Massachusetts Correctional Institution, operate a local post carrying letters from cells to the prison post office. Requests to have the route extended have been denied, says Herst, who is a patron of the prisoners and goes there once a year to speak and judge the inmate stamp show.
In the course of a year Herst gives 30 to 40 speeches before all sorts of groups. "I am the most in-demand speaker in philately," Herst says. "That's because I don't charge."
Before a staid audience of stamp collectors, Herst is fond of posing as a collector of tea tags. With a straight face, he solemnly talks about the pleasures of collecting tea tags, especially from unusual varieties of tea bags. Using philatelic jargon, Herst will hold up a tea bag and say, "This is the double string variety. Note the misprint, 'TOOO-LONG.' " If the audience is receptive he will go on about tea bags all night. Several years ago Herst was paying a hotel bill in Portland, Ore. when a woman in front of him dropped her purse and the contents spilled all over the floor. "I'm terribly embarrassed," she said to Herst. "You must think I'm crazy, but I collect tea bags." Herst shouted, "So do I!"