This is a very big first for this blog and I, we have our first request for a post. A reader asked if I would tell how I became involved in stamp collecting. I thought that was a very fine question, as it allowed me to talk about one of my favorite subjects…me. Just kidding, I love to talk stamps.
First off, what is a stamp? Well, as best as I can put it, a stamp is something which marks the monetary requirement of something as having been met. It means to us, something with which to send mail, and can be used to ensure that a tax on some commodity has been paid. If you are, or know a smoker, look at a pack of cigarettes. If the bottom portion of the cellophane is still there, most likely you will find a tax stamp present. Fortunately for our lungs, our subject at hand is postage stamps. There was a time when you could send mail without the use of a stamp, but the recipient would have to pay to receive it. This was terrible. It was the collect call of the day except that should the recipient refuse to collect their mail for any reason, then the service had already made the effort of physically moving the mailed object. The London Penny Post of 1680, moving mail around London eliminated the basic flaw, collect the money before hand, and prove that it was done by physically stamping the piece of mail. Voila! I will not make a huge history of stamps here, after all this is about my history with them.
I am from a town call Soddy-Daisy, Tennessee. The current post office was erected there in 1983. My grandmother went to work there in 1985. My grandfather worked there as well, I cannot tell you when he started at this moment. Sometimes, my mother was even a sub when there was a need. I remember a good deal of time spent in the back of that post office due to the fact that they all had to work, and I had to go somewhere. I could walk in today and find my way around…well up until I was arrested for trespassing as almost no one there knows me anymore. I was recognized when I went to mail something there during my recent road trip, but that happens less and less, and it is a bit perturbing considering the connection I feel with the place. There is a retaining wall in the back parking lot with train tracks at the top. I remember seeing tanks being moved by train there, and my grandmother told me they were going to the war (Desert Storm if it was true). I have many memories of playing out there if she needed to go finish work after picking us up from school. It is a rural place and to me, that post office had a yard. I truly love it.
We kids were always being taken to post office picnics, helping at the post office booth at the county fair, wearing post office (and more importantly Stamp) shirts. It was a part of life. So for me, stamp collecting was kind of Organic.
My grandparents would show me stamps, and by my nature the minute I found out that a thing could be collected, I collected it. Now, at this time this might have consisted of a bunch of cancelled postage in a bag in my room, haphazardly glued to the pages of something. Nothing of this early collection remains.
Stage 2: Invested
Stage two came in fifth grade. We had been on a class trip to the Coca-Cola bottling plant, and we were asked to write an essay about it, and the next day a winner would be picked, six pack of Coke as a prize. I won! I was kind of shocked, but I mean I had wanted to be a writer, and now I had won something for writing. My family was told, and my grandmother told me there was an essay contest for the “Celebrate the (20th) Century,” stamp campaign going on at the time. I really loved the Celebrate the Century stuff because it was all very in your face and wow stamps are cool. I wrote about my favorite set (only set) which was the Classic Movie Monsters. They are awesome. You could buy this little plastic card that revealed hidden images in them, like bats behind Dracula. I had that thing…need to see if I can get one off of EBay.
Much to my shock, I won that to (for my state.)This was huge for me! I had won two things for writing. The prizes were not to be sniffed at either, I was buried under stamp stuff. I still have exactly one item from it besides the plaque. I have the 1997 stamp collection. More about those later. The news came and did a thing about it, at the post office. I have a picture of that somewhere, and I wore a stamp tie (Looney Toons) and they gave me 150$. I used that to by a nice new Sanyo TV.
Stage 3: It was just my thing
After this, everyone just kind of knew I was a stamp collector. I think if not for my great aunt and my grandmother, I really would have been known for being one without being much of one, but they would buy sheets of stamps they knew I would like and give them to me for my birthday and such or just because. I think my favorites so far are when my great aunt surprised me with the Lucille Ball stamps (I really do love Lucy,) and my grandmother ensuring I had a set of the Harry Potter stamps (ok. So this still goes on. I had a kid already when those Harry Potter ones came out.).
Around eighteen, I joined the army, and I reconnected with my love of the mail. I do not know how basic training is now, but when I went, it was like the movies, you got very few phone calls, and you wrote letters home. I certainly did. I am very glad that our drill sergeants did not always like us to pay for each piece with pushups. In a training environment, a drill sergeant distributes the mail, which they have to go and get from somewhere secure. When we would get back late, I think often times they were just hoping that we were too tired to care, and they hated me because I would ask in front of everybody (sometimes I was discouraged from this) “Drill Sergeant! Is it too late to ask for mail drill sergeant?!” They did not have to go get it, but usually they did. After a while they made me go get it and bring it. Then it became my task to gather up everyone’s outgoing mail and take it to the mailbox in the morning.
Fast forward two year. Baghdad Iraq. I wrote letters still. I did not need to. We had computers with email a good bit of the time, but I really liked mail. Every team had to have a guy who could pick up the mail, usually someone in charge. I would always get mad because they never went to get it, and then I would pester the mail room sergeant about it and he would go on and on about “being certified!” Finally I asked him how to become certified and he asked for my ID card and my assurance that whoever was in charge of it wanted it. I gave both (I had an ID and I was not actually clear on who was supposed to be getting our mail.). He bent down, wrote my name and unit in a book, gave my card back and said “ok.” I thought, “wow. That was easy. So easy as to almost be arbitrary….”. I signed a book and wheeled our mail back. No one really ever asked why I started showing up with it everyday.
Back to the stamps. I came home and ignored my hobby for sometime. I ignored many things. Later, after I was out of the army, and my first son had been born, I realized that without ever noticing, I had been buying stamps and putting them in a binder by the sheet. Just because, that was my thing. I was collecting again and had resumed it without ever noticing. I had some catching up to do though. So I took to eBay for that. Now, whenever stamps come out that I like, I buy two sheets. One for me to use (as I write a lot of letters) and one for the book. I tried two for the book (one for each son) but that got pricey in a hurry. One for the book it is. I love going to the post office to get stamps (Fort Sam Houston, clean it up, the stamp situation here gets sad,) and to see L. L is the clerk here, and he is amazing, and almost singly responsible for me discovering a love of Jazz. He is everything you want in a postal employee, he makes you feel like you are family and you matter.
How and Why: The Sticky parts
Today my son got involved. Well, he has been but until today, he just liked to put the paper that old stamps come on by the bag into hot water and remove and dry them. Today we collected, and I am indicating that we did it together on the label of each one. Let’s talk about the why. I do not know why it started, maybe just a way to get a second use out of something back when. Some people collect for the sheer love of stamps (woohoo!). Some collect because stamps are national symbols, little posters of history (double woohoo!) some collect for profit (every community has them.).
I took my son to the National Postal Museum (go! I will write about it later) and it was awesome. That is as close as I care to come to valuable stamps. I collect because I love stamps. I collect because things I love are on stamps, the collection is a form of expression about the collector (see photos.) Now I collect to express a love of history. I major in history and I collect stamps of the Soviet Union because it allows me to learn, and to be amazed by the art that these people produced. They are beautiful pieces of history. Now my son collects with me. I collect for love. Whatever your reason, make sure you love it. You should feel something when you are with them.
Now, here is my primer on how.
- Ask yourself why you want to collect stamps. Do you just wish to amass stamps and Scrooge McDuck swim in them? Cool! Do you like the ones being put out in your lifetime? Do you want the presidents? Are you looking for stamps about something dear to you? Do you write letters and have realized that the ones from other countries are fun? Understand what started to pull you in and that will tell you where to start.
- You can find proper supplies on Amazon. Search stamp collecting supplies, get a binder, a magnifier ( to check out the details!) and some decent quality stamp sheets. I like the Light House Vario brand. You can buy books if you like, they are helpful guides.
- If you are collecting sheets of current stamps as they come out, a book will not be necessary. If you are collecting older stamps, every year the post office puts out a stamp guide that has every U.S. stamp up to the printing of that book. I recommend it for dating stamps and such.
- If you plan to lift the stamps off your mail, be prepared to be frustrated. The self adhesive ones are the bane of every collector I know. They do not come off the same way as the others (hot water) and the only way I know to get them off is with a citrus cleaning spray that ruins the whole thing for me (very smelly) so I do not try.
- If you want older stamps, especially without a theme, go to places like hobby lobby. They sell stamps by the bag. You will get tons of repeats ( I trade mine or give them away) and you get to have fun looking through them. There is killer variety too. I get plenty of WWII war bond stamps there.
- The USPS is a great way to collect. They put out a stamp collection every year (like the one I showed above) that has information and a copy of every stamp made that year. This is an investment, but you get them all, and no research, and you still stick them in their places in the book, so you are hands on. The also just sell every stamp that year as a bagged set, so collect how you want. I prefer sheets myself, but the set can be more cost effective, because then you only have one of each rather than the 10 or however many on a sheet.
That is my stamp collecting story, and I hope you enjoy it. I truly love this hobby, and I have far more stamps than I actually use on mail, and that is saying something. However, I firmly believe that time spent on an unharmful passion is time well spent, and I will never regret my son asking me if we can do more stamps.
Thank you Bill.