Obituary: Herman Herst Jnr

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HERMAN HERST Jnr made himself the world's best-known philatelic auctioneer of the mid-20th century. He died after a protracted fight against Parkinson's disease which only a year ago finally led to his contacting friends around the world to say he would no longer answer letters.

For a man who always replied within 24 hours, this was a sad decision; "Pat" Herst (he was born on St Patrick's Day, 1909) relished the stimulus both of unexpected finds among items sent for auction and in exressing his always outspoken, often outrageous views in letters and in his long- lived house journal - Herst's Outbursts.

He graduated from Reed College, in Portland, Oregon, in 1931, gained an MA at the University of Oregon, and worked briefly as a newspaperman. With the Depression biting he soon lost the job and, lacking the rail fare, "rode the rods" to New York, where he worked as a delivery boy for a Wall Street municipal bond house at $12 a week.

That didn't last; Herst spent his lunch hours with stamp dealers on Nassau Street, America's philatelic centre, and loved to tell how he cornered supplies of new stamp issues, made money for colleagues, and speedily departed to start his own business. Unlike most dealers, he was ready to share a tip with readers, and helped many a collector to a better understanding of the stamp market.

Working both in Nassau Street and from his home in Shrub Oak, New York, Herst created a "local stamp" to pay postage as his Alsatian dog carried mail to the post office: envelopes bearing these triangular "Shrub Oak locals" are eagerly sought by collectors.

His first wife, Ingeborg Adam, whom he married in Berlin, encouraged him to travel widely at a time when few other US dealers realised what opportunities lay off their own shores. His adventures, especially around Communist Eastern Europe and in the still undeveloped Far East, made good copy for his New York Times features, for magazine articles, and for his 18 books: Nassau Street (1960) was the only work of its kind to sell over 100,000 copies.

Herst's first wife died in 1954, and in 1957 he married Ida Busch. Still writing when he retired to Florida in 1973, he was often invited to address meetings when he would uncover rare "finds" from his hosts' attics. In 1982 his prolific writings brought him an honorary LLD from William Penn College. He won every philatelic award in the United States - including Most Distinguished Philatelist award of the American Philatelic Society - and several in Britain, and in 1994 was voted Man of the Year by the American Stamp Dealers Association. He served on philatelic juries in India, Taiwan and Britain, and as a Commissioner represented US exhibitors at many international exhibitions.

Like most informed dealers, Herst was also a collector: his study of the stamps and postal history of early Great Britain was frequently exhibited and earned many awards. There's an old philatelic joke, "Stamp dealers never die, they just become unhinged" (the perfect condition of a rare stamp); although he was confined to a wheelchair in later years, many a collector will remember him careering around London stamp and ephemera shows, his wheels a constant danger to others, avidly snapping up what he knew to be bargains.

In 1994 Herst's home was burgled and he lost all his awards, a sad blow. He founded the Herman Herst Jnr Philatelic Library at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, and was active in the American Civil Liberty Union, Citizens for Religious Liberty. A 32 Mason and a Shriner, he was also a board member of Temple Beth El in Boca Raton.

Pat Herst's reputation will live on; many of his writings are still reprinted in magazines today, to bring his decades of experiences to a new readership. Even when he is wrong, his writing is readable and amusing.

Hermann Herst, stamp collector and dealer: born 17 March 1909; married first Ingeborg Adam (died 1954; one son, one daughter), second 1957 Ida Busch (one stepson, one stepdaughter); died Boca Raton, Florida 31 January 1999.