Every story has a beginning. This is ours…
Over 600 major stamp auctions since 1892.
It is the year 1886. A twelve-year-old by the name of Johannes Leonardus van Dieten –“Jan” to most people – gifted with the power to see far into the future, hangs sheets with foreign stamps in the window of his father’s Rotterdam bookshop. In November 1892, Jan van Dieten organizes his first stamp auction. It is followed by many more: the hundredth auction takes place in January 1906, the two-hundredth in February 1923. In 1931 Jan van Dieten dies, to be succeeded 18 months later by his son, Hans. In May 1940 the Rotterdam aerial bombardment levels the property to the ground, but in September of that year Hans rebuilds the business, moving it to The Hague. He organizes the three-hundredth auction in September 1942, and the four-hundredth in October 1963; it is followed, under the new general managers Bram Hagemans and Kees Heemskerk, by the five-hundredth in September 1982. On August 1 of the year 2000 the then one-hundred-eight-years-old firm is itself sold. Its new owner and managing director, Peter Storm van Leeuwen, naturally chooses to continue the business under the old name. He is confident that the six-hundredth auction will be held sometime in 2006.
At the time of his father’s death in January 1931, Hans was only 16. He left school and took an unpaid job for eighteen months as an apprentice in the stamp business of Rudolf Friedl in Vienna. While he was posted abroad, the family business was continued as before and preparations were going ahead for auction no. 244 — all under the management of A.G. Bastiaanse, who by that time had been employed by J.L. Van Dieten Stamp Auctioneers at Delftschevaart 44, Rotterdam, for a good ten years.
In September 1933, Hans van Dieten himself took charge. In spite of the economic crisis then prevailing, Van Dieten managed constantly to expand the business. He published pricelists and from February 1938 through to October 1940 edited and distributed the Van Dieten Newsletter: a total of 18 issues bringing information, special offers, and some light reading. When Germany invaded Holland in May, 1940 and the premises were bombed, the entire stock and all of the business records and correspondence were lost.
A new, difficult period began. First, Van Dieten found temporary accommodation in Rotterdam’s Coolsingel Post Office, much of which remained standing after the air raid. Then, in September 1940, Van Dieten moved to 37 Noordeinde, The Hague. Somehow the business survived war and disaster, and in November 1958 lack of space prompted a move to 58 Anna Paulownastraat. It was followed by three more moves: to the fine, stately premises on 2 Tournooiveld in September 1968, then to 3 Prinsessegracht in early August 1980 and finally to the present address, 3 Bazarstraat.
In May 1942, Van Dieten obtained official recognition as a sworn stamp broker and dealer. Apart from organizing auctions, Van Dieten also was an important collector in his own right. After World War II, for instance, he put together a fine collection of stamps of former German territories. And his collection of Dutch letters for the years 1579-1879 was widely exhibited and won many prizes. In April 1946, Van Dieten was besides appointed Treasurer of the reconstituted NVPH – the Dutch Association of Stamp Dealers. Years later he was to become its Secretary and an Honorary Member. From the very beginning (1948) he also sat on the NVPH Keuringscommissie (Authentication Board). Certificates, no matter how old, bearing Van Dieten’s signature always retain their validity.
As a writer on postal matters, Van Dieten produced several significant publications (all of them in the Dutch language). Topping the list is, of course, his highly acclaimed Proevencatalogus (Proof Catalogue), published in 1967 and re-published in 1988 in a revised and updated edition. This standard work will always retain its value for the collector of Dutch stamps, the more so as an entirely new, loose-leaf edition contemplated in 2001 got no further than two instalments. People interested in the first hundred years of the Dutch stamp trade should absolutely read Van Dieten’s memories, published in the December 1986 instalment of Filatelie Informatief. For a refreshing examination of the question “Are old stamps antiques? Do modern stamps qualify as art?” see the exhibition catalogue published on the occasion of the first NVPH Show in March 1969. And his articles on “The NVPH Authentication Board” and “The Dutch 1867 Issue”, published in the catalogue of the second NVPH Show (May 1972), are still regularly consulted.
In addition to being a writer, Van Dieten also acted as editor/publisher of several standard works. The first of these – De Poststempels in gebruik in Nederlands Oost-Indië van 1789 tot 1864 by W.S. Wolff de Beer — appeared in 1971 and deals with cancels used in the Dutch East Indies in the 1789-1864 period. Van Dieten himself took charge of the time-consuming division between the text and the list of cancels. The casually written Korte Kroniek van de Geposte Brief (Short Chronicle of the Posted Letter) by Alex L. ter Braake appeared in 1975. A Postal History of Curacao, by Frank W. Julsen and A.M. Benders, was published in 1976. The seventeen parts of the series on the 1852 issue (Emissie 1852) written by G.C. van Balen Blanken and Bert Buurman were distributed by Van Dieten. Dr J.D. Riddell’s magnum opus, Suriname. A Postal History – Postale Geschiedenis 1700-1956, which came out in 1970, admittedly was not published by Van Dieten, but he did arrange for its translation into Dutch. A high point in Hans van Dieten’s career was reached in September 1982, when he was made an Officer of the Order of Orange-Nassau. This honour was bestowed on Van Dieten on the occasion of the firm’s 500th auction and its 90th birthday.
How can it be that the business survived two world wars, a stock exchange crash in the thirties, the 1973 oil crisis, and other major economic adversity? The brochure 100 years of Van Dieten issued to commemorate the firms first centenary has this explanation to offer: “Quite simply because the business has always been based on TRUST. It is a fact that we are all deeply conscious of. The continuity of our business is conditional upon the trust buyers and sellers place in us. Proving one’s HONESTY is difficult. Yet we spare neither expense nor effort to make it clear to our clients that straight dealing is what we are about.”
Van Dieten has auctioned numerous prestigious collections, in the last ten years including those assembled by Dr. G.C. van Balen Blanken, H.K. Berghuijs, Professor D.A. van Dorp, Eric Dreikurs, J. Dutilh, G.W. ten Geuzendam, A. de Jong, John de Leeuw, P.A. Mattern, Sir John Nabarro, Dr. Fred L. Reed, Rolf P. Salinger and E. Voerman. Apart from these, we auctioned many other collections, using the same scrupulous care.