Nicholas Frederick Seebeck (1857 Germany - June 23, 1899) was a stamp dealer and printer, best known for his stamp-printing contracts with several Latin American countries in the 1890s.
Life in USA
Seebeck emigrated to the United States
at the age of 9. He soon established himself as a stamp dealer and cataloguer
(as a sideline to owning a stationery and printing shop) in New York City
, and published the Descriptive Price Catalogue of All Known Postage Stamps of the United States and Foreign Countries
in 1876. In 1879, he began printing stamps for the Dominican Republic
and the Colombian State of Bolivar
. These stamps were printed under a standard sort of printing contract, where he received a fee for printing a specified number of stamps. However, with the Bolivar issues, he began the soon to be infamous practice of year-dating otherwise identical stamp designs. Seebeck was successful enough to be able to sell his business in 1884 and purchase a significant interest in the Hamilton Bank Note Engraving and Printing Co., whose main contract was for printing tickets for the New York City transportation system.
Hamilton Bank Note Engraving and Printing Co
In 1889, Seebeck developed a novel plan for Hamilton to print stamps for foreign countries. He offered to supply the stamps for free, provided that:
1. The stamps would be dated and invalidated at the end of each year, to be replaced by a new series.
2. Unsold (invalid) stamps would be returned to Seebeck for sale to collectors.
3. Seebeck retained the right to reprint any invalid stamps as needed for sale to collectors.
Seebeck also apparently insisted on printing stamps with values not relevant to the postal rates of the countries using them. There are many long series of stamps where only a few values corresponded to common postal uses. The remaining values were intended for collectors.
Seebeck went on a tour of Latin America and signed contracts in 1889-1890 with several countries: Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala (only for fiscal stamps not postage ones), Honduras, and Nicaragua. The contracts were for ten years worth of stamp issues, and also included official, telegraph, revenue stamps and postal stationery.
Seebeck failed to realize that most stamp collectors want to collect the stamps that are actually usable and available for postage, and not special creations designed to separate them from their money. They objected strongly to Seebeck's unlimited reprinting rights, the needless yearly creation of new issues, and the issuance of postally-irrelevant stamp values. Stamps with face values up to $10 were issued for the 1892 Columbus anniversary. Although the U.S. and Canada received similar abuse for their 1892 and 1897 stamp series (which included values up to $5), Seebeck's efforts were seen as particularly blatant. Many collectors refused to collect these issues.
Several of the countries backed out of their contracts with Seebeck (Honduras in 1893, Ecuador in 1896, and Nicaragua in 1899) due to the bad publicity and administrative nuisance of the frequently-changing issues.
Seebeck died at age 42, near the end of his stamp contracts.
The Hamilton Bank Note Company printed other stamps such as the 1902 issue of Dominican Republic and was still in existence in the 1940s when August Seebeck, Nicholas' grandson was president. However, millions of stamp reprints (and the plates from which they were produced) reached the market. Most of the Hamilton issues, pejoratively known as "Seebecks", are common and cheap to this day, at least in unused condition. However, many of the original post-1895 issues are scarce, or rare, in unused condition while the reprints abound. In part, this is because it is difficult to tell the stamps shipped for postal sale from the numerous reprints. Postally-used stamps are generally much less common, though the collector of this area needs to beware of forged cancellations.
Minutes of the Hamilton Bank Note Company
by Bill Welch, The Seebecker,1990
The Seebeck Issues of Nicaragua by Albert Quast & Dr. Robert Willer (ghostwritten by Joseph M. Sousa), The Collectors Club Philatelist, NY, 1968
El Salvador - The Seebeck Stamps, Part 1 & 2, by Joseph D. Hahn and Joseph M. Sousa, The American Philatelic Congress Book, 1977 & 1978