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Ray Novak
Cachet Maker Biography
 Colorano first day covers 1965 - 1995

Ray Novak
Ray Novak b.1/12/1928 d.3/27/2011
      It's hard to believe that Colorano "silk" first day covers will have been made continuously for 40 years on it's anniversary in 2011. The "silk" cachet that captured the hearts of first day cover collectors the world over. Here is the biography and personal recollections of Ray Novak, the man behind Colorano "silk" first day covers.

      Ray Novak, born in Brooklyn, NY, on January 12, 1928, was destined to have a tremendous impact on modern First Day Cover collecting. Ray spent his childhood in Brooklyn and first started collecting stamps at the age of 12. He recalls that at that time he put all his available cash into 19th century U.S. stamps.

      As a teenager he attended Queens Vocational High School where he specialized in printing but with little enthusiasm, as his real interest was music, especially the trumpet and the bass fiddle. Following graduation from high school he was drafted, as was customary in those days, and served with the 88th Infantry Division Army Band, where he gave his trumpet a good workout.

      When he was discharged in 1946, he decided to continue his music career and attended the Hartnet School of Music in New York. Upon graduation he played with a few name bands and supplemented his income by selling real estate in the Bellerose district of Queens, NY. Throughout this period Ray retained an interest in stamps on an on-again off-again basis and in 1948 started collecting Artcraft FDC's, a practice that he continued until 1953 when he took Jennie Mannino as his bride.

      For the next few years Ray continued to be occupied with his real estate and music. It was not until 1957 that his interest in covers was reawakened. This happened almost by accident when he was sorting through some of his possessions and came across his abandoned collection of stamps and covers. He was immediately inspired to do something with them. Jennie also showed considerable interest in his collection and thus they soon decided to go into the stamp business. Ray had met his destiny.

      The first step was a thorough study of the collecting habits represented in Linn's Stamp News. It was apparent to Ray that there were not too many First Day Cover dealers displaying their wares. In fact there were not even many collectors in evidence. Feeling that the potential for growth was there, the Novaks decided to slant their new business toward world wide First Day Cover collecting, a move which they have never regretted.

      Their expertise and wholesale business grew by leaps and bounds and within a few years they were able to supply dealers with covers from 99% of the countries participating in the philatelic recognition of world events, such as World Refugee Year and Freedom from Hunger, to name a few.

      In 1958, Ray was still in the real estate business and by coincidence was to meet a man who was to have a profound influence on Ray's cachet making career. It seems that Ray had a potential client with a house for sale in Bellerose, NY. That client turned out to be none other then Ludwig W. Staehle, the "King of Early Cachet Making". The name didn't mean anything to Ray at the time but in the process of selling the house, which was both Staele's home and studio, their mutual interest in stamps cropped up in the conversation. Ray was not familiar with Staele's work, but when Staehle showed Ray some of his cachets he was immediately impressed and asked Staehle if he would design a few for him. Staehle agreed and thus the Novaks prepared their first cachet, signed by Staehle, for the U.N. slogan cancel, "Second United Nations International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy". This was to be the start of an important, long-lasting friendship.

      Staehle subsequently designed a number of cachets for Ray. The first cachet the Novak's produced by themselves was for the Project Mercury stamp (Sc.1193) issued in 1962. (Click HERE to view a few early Ray Novak produced covers with Staehle cachets.) The Novak's continued with several additional printed cachets on envelopes until they hit upon the idea of producing the first day covers on full color maximum cards instead of envelopes. While the project was still on the drawing board Ray started casting about for a name for the series. One night Ray recalls receiving a phone call from the publisher of Ayal Albums. "Ray," he said, "I got you a name for your series: Color-Ray-Novak shortened to Colorano and pronounced Colorayno." Ray immediately accepted the suggestion and Colorano Maxi-Cards were a step closer to fruition.

      The first in the series was produced for the Churchill issue (sc. 1264) of May 13, 1965. Arthur Novak did the artwork from the design of the stamp and Ray as President and Jennie as Secretary of Colorano Publishers (which became incorporated in 1979 as Colorano Publishers Ltd.) did the rest of the work involved. Over 1200 of these cards were printed by photo offset.

Maxi Card Sc.1265               Maxi Card #2 The Magna Carta

      The Colorano Maxi-Card series continued to be produced in lots of 1200 for each issue through the MacArthur stamp (Sc. 1424) issued Jan. 26,1971.

      The artists of the series were Arthur Novak and Mal Cann. During this period Ray and Jennie were still dealing in foreign covers and were casting about for a full color concept of their own. When Ray first saw the silk cachets produced by the French firm Ceres in 1970, he knew instinctively that that was the route he had to go. He felt certain that these lovely silk cachets surrounded by a delicate gold border would be well accepted by the American collector.

      Thus, in 1971 he replaced the maximum cards with the now famous "Colorano Silk Cachet" beginning with the America's Wool stamp (Sc. 1423) and the "Colorano Souvenir Card" beginning with the Blood Donors stamp (Sc. 1425).

Colorano silk #1 / 1423 American Wool            Colorano silk #1 - 1423 American Wool

      Arthur again served as the artist for the American Wool cachet. 1200 were printed and this production rate was maintained during 1971 and early 1972 with the exception of the Space Achievements issue (Sc. 1434-5) for which 4800 were prepared, as the Novaks were still dealing in topicals at the time. In late 1972 production was increased to 2400 covers per issue and has been increasing ever since to the all time high level in 1981 of about 10,000, which serves to indicate just how popular these covers are with collectors.



      The Colorano Souvenir Cards feature the same silk cachet design as the envelopes but they are centered within a gold border on a vertical format card. Each is hand cancelled. About 1,000 of each maxi-card were produced and that level was maintained throughout their production till the series was stopped in 1996.

      Ray recalls that when his silk productions were put on display at a stamp show in Madison Square Garden in 1972 everyone would look up at the sign and comment - "Oh, you're from Colorado?" - And then they were called Colorama, and you name it, until eventually Colorano caught on. However, because there was no "y" in the spelling, pronunciation evolved to "rah" rather then the intended "ray", a practice which the Novaks themselves preferred.       In addition to his brother Arthur, Ray has used several other artists for his Colorano series, including Mal Cann, Harrison Gillette, Chris Dunne and his brother Tom, Lawrence Finney, and the Italian artist Tenzi, who designed the Project Skylab (Sc. 1529) issues.

Colorano silk 1529 Project Skylab     Colorano silk 1529 Project Skylab (1 of 4 covers)

      Other FDC series that Ray was involved with using silk cachets were: The Black Heritage series, prepared for Laura Hardin beginning with the Tubman issue (Sc. 1744), the NOW-NY series, prepared for Judith Kaplan beginning with the Pottery issue (Sc. 1706-9 & 1709A) and the American Black Heritage Philatelic Society cachets for Chris Comer beginning with the Dirksen stamp (Sc. 1874). These series have all since closed. Numerous Event covers were also done that have continued into the present as well.

Colorano silk Event Y961 President Nixon Resigns   Colorano silk Event Y961 President Nixon Resigns

      Every once in awhile an early Colorano Silk Cachet appears with a block or pair of stamps affixed rather then a single stamp. Whereas Ray never marketed blocks in his early years, he is often asked how these very early blocks and pairs came to be? When Ray first started doing first day covers there wasn't a central unit to cancel bulk orders. This meant that a person in Washington, DC had to be hired to affix the stamps and get them postmarked. Back in 1971 Gladys Jackson and Bill Solomon did Ray's servicing for him. Bill used to ask Ray to send along 25 covers or so for his own use. For instance, for the Historic Preservation issue (Sc. 1440-1443) Ray sent Bill 25 sets figuring that he was going to service them with single stamps. Many years later, however, Ray learned that Bill actually applied setenent blocks to these covers so there exist approximately 100 FDC's with blocks for this issue and Ray has yet to see one - only a photo copy! This also happened for the 1971 Christmas stamps (Sc. 1444-1445) and the Wildlife issues (Sc.1427-1430) and others. Starting in 1974 Ray applied setenent blocks in large quantities to first day covers so it is only for the early issues that they constitute a rare find.

      Another rarity is a set of 1994 covers made for the Norman Rockwell stamp (Sc. 2839). Ray produced special first day covers featuring Rockwell Paintings for a company who framed and matted them and then sold them as framed collectibles. The special order was completed and then shipped to the framer. Ray accidentally found several boxes of these with 14 of the cachet designs at a much later date and tried to get in touch with the company. He was unable to contact them after many attempts and since they were never purchased, Ray decided to sell them to collectors.

                               The Rarities

1430A Wildlife (block on 1 cover)
          approximately 100 covers exist
1434A Space KSC cancel (pair on 1)
          approximately 50 covers exist

1434A Space setenent pair on 1 cover (KSC cancel)         1434A setenent pair on 1 cover (KSC cancel)

1434C Space Houston cancel (pair on 1)
          approximately 50 covers exist
1434E Space Huntsville cancel (pair on 1)
          approximately 25 covers exist
1443A Historic Preservation (block on 1 cover)
          approximately 100 covers exist
1445A Christmas (Pair on 1 cover)
          approximately 50 covers exist
1459A Craftsman (block on 1 cover)
          approximately 100 covers exist
1460A Olympics (Broken Ring Variety)
          quantity unknown - extremely rare
1462A Olympics (4 on 1 cover)
          could have been produced/ none reported
1502A Electronics (4 on 1 cover)
          approximately 100 covers exist
1552E Christmas pre-cancel with Chicago cancel
           approximately 15 to 20 exist
1552F Christmas pre-cancel with Show cancel
          approximately 15 to 20 exist
2400A Christmas Sleigh (missing curlicue on sleigh           runner) approximately 50 exist
2839AA - 2839AN (Rockwell Paintings 14X1400 covers)               approximately 100 of each cover exist

2839AN Colorano Norman Rockwell / The Runaway   2839AN Colorano Norman Rockwell / The Runaway

      Ray recalls "The other day I was thinking back on when we started Colorano, Jennie and I couldn't believe how time has gone by since we started the Colorano maxi card in 1965 and the silks in 1971. The cards did well at first but the Colorano covers gave me the money to enjoy my old age. Boy, Colorano took a lot of work and we would have never made it without my brothers help. (Arthur Novak was a graduate of Pratt Art Institute in New York City) He did the paintings at almost no cost; all we had to do is purchase the materials to get our business off the ground. We started without a customer and I remember advertising 10 X 10 different Colorano "silk" FDC's in a package deal in the Stamp Wholesaler for $28.00, including American Wool etc., I'd like to have a few of those now!

      Ray and Jennie sold the name "Colorano" and the printing process to Paul Schmid in 1995. Paul continues to produce the ever-popular Colorano first day cover in the same format as before.

     


I want to thank Ray Novak for his memories relating to the history of Colorano first day covers.
Permission was granted from the author and magazine of the following article used as reference:
©First Days, The journal of the American First Day Cover Society, Sept/Oct 1981, Volume 26/No.5 article, "Happy Birthday - Colorano Silk Cachet" by Richard A. Monty.
© Knottywood Treasures 2005