One of three known existing letters with this Brunswick stamp is among those being sold at auction Tuesday. Photo courtesy of H.R. Harmer

Letters predating Maine’s statehood that were sent from towns that no longer exist, like Schoodick and Passamaquoddy, are part of a collection being sold at auction Tuesday.

Consisting of over 120 individual lots, the collection could be the most significant grouping of historical envelopes from Maine, according to experts, who expect it to sell for tens of thousands of dollars cumulatively.

“In a lot of cases, these letters are the only physical record we have of these towns,” said Charles Epting, president and CEO of New York-based fine-stamp auction house H.R. Harmer, which is handling the auction. 

Nancy Clark is auctioning off much of her stamp collection that documents the postal history of Maine. Photo by Carlos Vergara

The collector, Nancy Clark, who lives on Cape Cod, started amassing the items in 1971, when she could buy some letters for as little as $5. Her interest, she said, started with her parents, who were both born in the Midcoast and collected stamps.

“A lot of people collect what is nearest and dearest to their heart,” Epting said. “(Clark) decided she was going to put together one of the greatest collections ever assembled of envelopes originating from the state of Maine.”

Different than traditional stamp collections, postal history collections are concerned with chronicling people and communities through old mail. They are less about the stamps and more about the letters they’re attached to. 


“My first husband thought that when I got into postal history that I really just liked to read other people’s mail,” Clark said, laughing. “You can tell so much about how a community is going, about how a family is dealing with life when you read their letters.”

Stamp collecting is shifting toward this more historically minded, living form. Scott English, executive director of the American Philatelic Society, said he welcomes it because it shows stamp collecting’s ability to reach beyond the stereotypical image that many have of it.

It’s not just old guys hanging over a stamp book,” English said. “There’s no wrong door to becoming a stamp collector. There’s not a set of rules.”

Epting was similarly drawn to stamp collecting because of its ability to connect to the past. As a 29-year-old, he represents a new generation in the hobby.

“I’m really trying to bring a new approach to the industry and to the hobby at large,” he said. “What I love about postage stamps – especially the original envelopes – is their history, their value, is derived from the people who touched them. You know exactly who put a stamp on a letter.”

Clark, 76, said she decided to sell the bulk of her collection because she knows there are people out there who are waiting for it to become available.


After a while we (collectors) don’t just have a want list, we have a death list. We know who has it, and we’re waiting for them to part with it, and that’s kind of what I’m doing with some of this stuff. People have been waiting for it, here it comes,” Clark said, adding, “I’m not dead yet though.” 

Among the most sought-after items is an 1815 letter with a Brunswick postmark. The postmark is a negative imprint, meaning that everything but “Brunswick, ME” shines in red ink, and the letter is one of three known existing adorned with this distinct stamp. There is also an anti-statehood postmark created by the postmaster of Bowdoinham and letters to Maine’s first congressman, George Thatcher.

Letters to Maine congressman George Thatcher are included in a stamp collection being sold at auction. Photo courtesy of H.R. Harmer

All of the letters in the auction are from the what Clark called the “stampless era,” when postmasters had to stamp and sign every piece of outgoing mail themselves.

“I was just fascinated by the whole idea that every time that you mailed a letter somebody had to write on it,” she said. “They had to write the name of the town, they had to write the date.”

Although Clark said she’s “delighted” to share these stamps with another generation of collectors, there are some that she’s keeping for now. Stamps from the counties of Knox, Lincoln and Waldo are especially meaningful to Clark, and they will be staying with her.

“That still is home for me,” she said about the Midcoast.

To postal history enthusiasts, Clark’s collection is a window into the lives of the people who originally sent and read these letters that both tells the history of the state and represents a new approach to stamp collecting.

“A collection like Nancy’s shows that you don’t have to limit yourself to filling in gaps in a catalog,” Epting said. “You can tell the story of your hometown, you can tell the story of your state, you can tell the story of a war, you can tell the story of a country.”

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