Nassau Street and Maiden Lane 1915 – The Center of Stamp Collecting
In this snapshot bereft of vehicles and full of people, Nassau Street is seen from Maiden Lane at ground level.
A boy runs towards the cameraman and pedestrians go about their business on a typical day in lower Manhattan.
In 1915 Nassau Street was lined with restaurants, drug stores, bars and merchants like an umbrella repair shop with its sign seen directly behind the man standing on the corner with the straw hat. Also behind the umbrella sign is 61 Nassau Street.
Wall Street Workers Have Money To Spend
This area is in the environs of the financial district. Quite a few of the downtown workers could afford to spend their money on luxuries and hobbies. Maiden Lane was once known for its cluster of jewelry manufacturers and shops. Eventually these stores migrated north to the area now known as the diamond district around 47th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenue.
Nassau Street was once famous for being the philatelic center of the United States. On the upper floors of time-worn buildings between numbers 61 and 116 Nassau Street, philately (stamp collecting) stores were abundant. The first stamp dealer settled on the block in 1887. By 1934 it was estimated that over 75 stamp stores were in business along Nassau Street.
The New York Herald Tribune asserted in 1940 that stamp collecting was the world’s most popular hobby. In the 1930s it was estimated by Postmaster General James A. Farley that there were over nine million stamp collectors in the United States. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt started collecting when he was eight-years old. The president, a devotee with over 25,000 specimens, said “I can almost say I owe my life to my hobbies – especially stamp collecting.”
Nassau Street long ago stopped functioning as a stamp collecting center. As simple pastimes like playing jacks or hopscotch receded into the past, stamp collecting, is also no longer something that the young are interested in. Old men die leaving behind stamp collections that few seem to want. Except for the few collections that contain the most valuable stamps, most people are disappointed to find that grandpa’s stamp collection is basically worthless,
Though its storefront is currently closed during the pandemic, Champion Stamp Co. on West 54th Street is the only stamp store remaining in Manhattan.
Vanished Centers of Commerce
New York City has always been known for pockets of similar businesses existing and thriving in specific areas. For many years Fourth Avenue was known as book row, with as many as two dozen shops lining the avenue. Cortlandt Street was once known as radio row. The electronic equipment center of the city where radio tubes and supplies were abundant.
The garment district, automobile row, flower district, fur district, leather district, meatpacking and many other trades were in concentrated pockets of the city. Some remain, others have moved, and many more like Nassau Street’s stamp center have faded away.