Putting a stamp on Las Vegas

Some people map out a career course and follow it the rest of their lives. Some people find their passion along the way. And some people find their niche in the world of work through serendipity.

Ruth Hilliard, owner of Charleston Stamps, falls into the latter category, but dealing in collectible postage stamps has become her passion.

Hilliard, who worked at the former Showboat casino as a waitress for several years, agreed to open a store for stamp collectors because her late husband, then a sergeant with the Metropolitan Police Department, wanted to become a stamp dealer.

Charleston Stamps faced several competitors when it opened on West Charleston Street 24 years ago.

Hilliard now believes she operates the only store for stamp collectors in the Las Vegas area.

The store is located behind a convenience store in a strip shopping center, sandwiched between a comic book shop and an insurance agency.

Her shop is cluttered with displays of stamps, stamps in clear plastic holders, files of stamps, stacks of stamps, posters of stamps and boxes of stamps from around the world.

Stamp collectors stop by her store to buy, sell, get appraisals and chat. The Southern Nevada Stamp Club uses her store as its mailing address.

Question: Do you like running a shop for stamp collectors?

Answer: I love it. I guess it was my fate and meant to be. Here I am 24 years later. I really didn’t know much about stamps and stamp collecting when I started.

Question: How did you end up in Las Vegas running a stamp shop?

Answer: I moved here in the mid-’60s, originally from Oregon with my husband.

Question: What did you do here?

Answer: I worked 15 years as a waitress for the Showboat, which is no longer there.

Question: How did you become the owner and operator of the stamp shop?

Answer: My husband, Robert Hilliard, and I opened the stamp shop in September 1984. There were probably three or four other stamp stores. I’m the only one now.

He was the collector, and he always wanted to have a mom and pop shop. We got divorced in ’86, and I bought it.

Question: How do you get stamps to sell?

Answer: I buy (stamps) strictly from people who walk through the door and want to sell them. Generally, it’s people who have inherited stamp collections and are not interested in collecting.

Question: What’s the biggest collection you’ve purchased?

Answer: Probably the biggest collection I bought was several years ago. I think it was 26 boxes of U.S. and worldwide stamps.

Question: What kinds of stamps do you reject?

Answer: If the stamp is scarce but not popular to collectors, then I would be hesitant to buy. Certain countries are more popular than others.

The U.S. is more popular, because, of course, we’re in the United States. China, Hong Kong, Great Britain are popular countries.

Question: How about stamps from African countries?

Answer: Typically they have less value, because what some of these countries do is pump out stamps by the gallon as a source of revenue. So they’re not scarce.

Question: You also conduct a bidding system for stamps.

Answer: It’s basically like a silent auction. You have to bid on the item. It’s a four-to-six-week exposure to the public. I charge a fee of $10 for bidders, and you get a bidder’s number. Twenty percent (of the sales price) goes to the store from the sellers.

Some people are surprised they are going to get what they get (from the auctions), and some people are disappointed.

Some items come from collectors. A lot of collectors have duplicates, or maybe they don’t want to concentrate on a particular country anymore.

Question: How do you organize your inventory of stamps?

Answer: Everything is put in stock by country and by number. They are called Scott numbers.

Question: What sorts of people collect stamps?

Answer: A wide range of people are collectors. We don’t have enough young people collecting. They have so many distractions today.

Question: What kinds of stamps do people collect?

Answer: You can collect however you want to. One country or two or three. Or topics — ships, animals, birds, flowers, airplanes.I’ve got one guy, all he collects are ships. I guess he was a design engineer for ships or ship engines.

People like sports. They like the Olympics. They like space.

You can collect (U.S.) series of stamps in series, such as Legends of Hollywood, Black Heritage, Distinguished Americans, Prominent Americans, Great Americans.

Some people collect strictly used stamps. Some people collect only mint stamps.

Question: Could you collect only Nevada-related stamps?

Answer: Yes. They printed stamps of Boulder (Hoover) Dam, the 100th anniversary of Nevada statehood in 1964, the 100th anniversary of Nevada’s first settlement in 1951.

If they wanted to get into Nevada postal history, postcards, they could do that. Some people collect cancellation marks, and some concentrate on dead post offices (that have been closed). The value comes in how long these post offices were actually open.

The Nevada post office in Acoma in Lincoln County was open from 1905 to 1907. There was one called Los Vegas instead of Las Vegas. It’s extremely rare.

Question: Could you give me examples of an expensive stamp?

Answer: An 1893 Columbian, $5 stamp. It costs $14,500 for a single mint in very fine condition. I haven’t sold that one.

I am offering to sell for a customer a set of three plate blocks of 1930 Graf Zeppelins. (A plate block has four or more attached stamps with the plate number in the margin. Graf Zeppelin stamps show the inflated airships built by German businessman Count Graf von Zeppelin, whose most famous airship, the Hindenburg, burned in 1937.)

There are three different denominations and six to each plate. The set goes for $21,000. I keep a (photocopy) of the stamps in the store, rather than the stamps.

Question: Are you a stamp collector?

Answer: I would be in trouble if I collected stamps. I would probably want to keep them all.

Question: Do you have a lot of friends who are customers?

Answer: I’ve got a lot of regulars. We’ve become friends. I know some by their bidding numbers.

Contact reporter John G. Edwards at jedwards@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0420.

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