Adam K. Bert, a stamp collector and dealer who helped popularize the collecting of "bull's-eye cancellations" into a philatelic trend, died Thursday at Strabane Woods of Washington retirement village. He was 102.
He began collecting stamps when he was 14 and selling them to classmates and teachers. The next year he published his first sales list, and by the time he was 18 he was providing first-day covers -- envelopes or cards bearing a stamp canceled on its first day of sale by postal authorities -- through a mail-order business.
Although he spent three years after college teaching math at Carnegie High School, he continued his mail order business on the side. In 1932, he quit teaching to work full time as a stamp dealer. His first two years of business were spent operating out of his parents' Beaver Falls home, but in 1934 he opened an office in Pittsburgh, which he maintained until 1996.
His motto was: "We are not only selling stamps; we are selling pleasure."
According to a 2005 article in "First Days," a publication of the American First Day Cover Society, one of his customers was then-N.Y. Gov. Franklin D. Roosevelt. Mr. Bert offered to sponsor him for membership in the American Philatelic Society. FDR wrote back and thanked him, but said he'd already been proposed by another collector.
Mr. Bert later sent the future president several pairs of first-day covers with a request that FDR keep one and mail the second back with his signature. Mr. Roosevelt complied.
By 1950, however, Mr. Bert began collecting first-day covers bull's-eye cancellations, also known as "socked on the nose" stamps, which are centered directly on the stamps. At the time, many collectors considered these stamps spoiled, but within a few years Mr. Bert's business in them grew. He later began collecting and selling bull's-eye "medallions," those with the pictorial part of the cancel on the stamps.
His late wife, Eleda, used to help him separate the stamps so the perforations wouldn't be damaged.
Until he closed his Downtown store in 1996, it was the nation's oldest first-day cover service. A member of the authenticating committee of the American First Day Cover Society, he authored numerous articles on first-day cover frauds, earning him the society's Silver Tray award.
He joined the Society of Philatelic Americans in 1922 and the American Philatelic Society in 1926. He was the longest tenured member of the society.
Mr. Bert was a 1927 magna cum laude graduate of Washington & Jefferson College. In 1997 the school honored him with the Maurice Cleveland Waltersdorf Award, which recognizes innovative leadership.
He is survived by a son, Paul A., of Eads, Tenn.; four grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
Visitation will be tomorrow from noon to 2 p.m. at Piatt & Barnhill Funeral Home, 420 Locust Ave., Washington, Pa., followed by a service. Entombment will follow at Washington Mausoleum.
Contributions may be made to First Lutheran Church of Washington, 92 W. Walnut St., Washington, PA 15301.
Steve Levin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1919.