Stamp Collecting: My Story

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.

Stage I:

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

Analog Savage,

Brandon Bledsoe

grandma 84

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Transport and Telecommunications: Stamps of the Soviet Union, 1983

This stamp is most likely titled “Transport and Telecommunication.”  It was issued May 20th 1983.  There is not any text to translate, remembering that почта means is the word for “post” or “mail” and can be found on every stamp.  

    It is a part of the 12th definitive issue, which ran from 1976-1992.  Definitive issues are kind of an odd thing that should be addressed now.  They were supposed to be the pride of the Soviet Post, representing the proud symbols of the Soviet Union.  The part that makes them odd is that the stamps stretch across multiple years.   This stamp certainly fits the theme of globalization with these symbols, the passenger jet liner, the ship, and the bolt for electricity being over the globe.  

    It has a face value of 5 kopeks, and is part of the 1983 series despite the 1982 in the top corner, which I cannot explain.  It may be listed wrong on colnect.com, or it could have been delayed in being issued due to being part of a definitive issue.  

    The other notable feature is that the stamp is tiny.  I put it next to several objects, not having any coins handy, to give a scale.  

12th Definitive issue of The Soviet Union

Stamp Collecting: Great Analog Hobbies

For many analog hobbies, it is true that if you look near the heart of the thing, collecting can be found in some form or another.

For me the love of the stamp came naturally, and was partially detailed in a previous post, but here is the short version.  My Grandmother was a Rural Letter Carrier.   My mother worked there off and on, My grandfather also worked there, and later my grandparents would retire from that post office.  It is/was one of my favorite places in the world, it is the post office for home, Soddy Daisy Tennessee.  I used to play out in the parking lot, and there was a wall to keep the ground from collapsing into the lot.  If you climbed to the top of it there were railroad tracks, it was at this rural post office, as a boy, that I saw the tan tanks on trains heading off somewhere in the early 90s.

Stamp collecting goes back to the advent of well…the postage stamp.  I love history, and if you look closely enough, there is a history lesson in every postage stamp.  What makes it great as an analog hobby besides that?  Well, it does not require a lot of start-up capital or specialized equipment or the thing we all seem to be short on, time.  It can be as simple as buying a sheet of stamps that you like at the post office and putting it away.  Places like Hobby Lobby sell bags of around 300 stamps for about ten dollars a bag, and there is a big mash up of stamps in those.  You will, of course, come across many repeats, but there are great things too, I have pulled plenty of WWII war bond stamps out of those bags.

I collected ever since I was a child, and it usually consisted of putting away sheets of the stamps that had come out and my family bought me what they believed I would like. Remember for me, the post office was a deep part of life.  I looked forward to the post office picnic every year.  There were good prizes for the games, usually postal related.  The point is, I was never one to trace rare stamps, or to have a giant book, but what I did have was Classic Movie Monsters, Bugs Bunny, and I Love Lucy.  This hobby allows you to pick your own involvement level.  Minimal investment, a vague interest, and the willingness to research.

Here is where I will say this for the first time: Digital for the win.  This hobby has been improved through the wonders of the Internet and the personal computer.  Guides, and lists, that used to cost money, are now available for free online.  My real collection is the stamps of The Soviet Union, and a website called Collectors Net has saved me the price of a sixty dollar book.


You will all have to forgive me from this point on with this post, I was just informed that I lost a family member tonight.

I decided to involve my son in stamp collecting and so we expanded a bit.

We buy the bags together, sort the stamps together, and then we do his favorite part, we soak the stamps in hot water and peel them from the paper they are stuck to and dry them in books.  It is time together, not in front of a screen (minus part of the research, if we do not use the hard copy encyclopedias) and he gets to learn some things.  Stamps do not offer much in the way of the tactile, but even at four, the taste he had gotten was enough to make him excited to see the National Postal Museum in Washington D.C. and as I said, it does not involve a video game or a television.  It steps into the real a little bit.

Bottom line-  You can start a quick and easy collection that can grow with your knowledge on the subject.  You can give the collection and the passion to your kids.  You will also be in some good company, FDR and Freddy Mercury counted among the great philatelist.

Let’s address that, philately, the study of stamps, is not stamp collecting.  However, you usually cannot collect stamps without some light philately, so do not get hung up on the two being used interchangeably.

The Bullets:

  • low initial cost
  • something for everyone-national icons, celebrities, sports, the stamp world almost has it’s own rule 34.
  • low initial knowledge need
  • Self-adhesive stamps are the devil

Tip  Bullets:

  • look up the Vario system, second to none stamp storage pages
  • The National Postal Museum has better articles than I could ever write on how to get started, right here.
  • get the kids involved
  • pick a niche at first-Hollywood, musicians, Soviet Russia, Cold War-era, the 80s, there is no limit to niches
  • Every year the post office puts out a complete guide to every U.S. Stamp ever, get it as your first serious purchase, runs about 45$
  • slow down, enjoy the learning, and the collection
  • pull it out and review it sometimes
  • Read articles
  • Getting a pen pal or two can help, they usually have cool foreign stamps if they are not from U.S.

Get out there and get an old fashioned stamp, and look at it.  If you are still collecting in a year, maybe you will be ready to study how they are printed.

Ganger-Bjorn, The Analog Savage

Postage Stamps of the Soviet Union: 1983 Part 1

It is time to start the next thing I want to do in this blog.  I once read a blog about blogging, that said your blog should aim to help the reader, to teach them something.   Well declare, that at this point, I often as not, have very little to share about pencils as far as information goes.  Only my non-graphite groupie readers (love you guys as you are usually my IRL friends) so that stuff will still happen, just not in the same way.  Also I will be depending on all of you to help me launch the super secret second phase of all this that I have cleverly named, “Phase 2.”

However, I do have something to offer that is new and fresh for many readers and might even gain me a few new ones.  I give to you…

The Stamps of the Soviet Union

que The Best of the Red Army Choir

 

     As always, the first entry will offer a word of explanation.  I have always enjoyed postage stamps and most things to do with the post office as far as I can remember.  My Grandparents, and in small bursts, my Mother all worked at our local post office.  The post office of Soddy Daisy was such a second home that you used to be able to bring kids while you sorted mail, and people helped you out.

I was one of those kids.  As far as I know I really may have been the only/last one.  This is my favorite photo of this place.  It opened in 1983 and my Grandmother started there in 1985, two years later, I was born.  My Grandmother retired in 2011, My grandfather retired from here as well, but my information on his dates is sketchier and I am not going to text him all day for it right now.  Let us just say this place is as tied to the Ganger’s family as the name Bledsoe.  In 1998 the postal service was preparing for the year 2000 and celebrating the 20th century and the stamps that were in it, aptly titled, Celebrate the Century.  They held an essay contest and I won for my region, writing about either classic movie monsters, or comic strips.  I forget which.

The results are the same either way.  I was encouraged to collect stamps, and encouraged by the influences of my Great Aunt and Uncle, I studied the Soviet Union.  One night I was sitting there looking at Stamps when I had a “Eureka!” moment.  I had long operated under the assumption that commies would not be stamp collectors.  It seemed like something they would not be into…Until I asked myself what are stamps?  Stamps are state produced memorabilia that often feature symbols of national pride.  I texted my friend Carl, and my wife “WHAT IF THERE ARE SOVIET STAMPS!?!?!?”  Their reactions were similar to each other “…oh god…”  A little investigation and I not only found them, but I found out how to collect them.  Now I will share them with you, a few at a time, in series of a particular year.  I may skip dull ones, or lump them all together.

It turns out the Soviet Union produced on average 120 stamps a year, and they are amazing.  They are art.  I have been researching them bit by bit, and have helped to correct the one website that I have found useful.

We will be starting with the year 1983.

1983:

  • ARPANET becomes TCP/IP and the Internet begins
  • Fraggle Rock came out
  • Seatbelts became mandatory in the United States
  • Salem Nuclear Plant experienced a failure of the automatic shut down
  • Kursk Nuclear Plant shuts down due to fuel rod failure
  • A young Samantha Smith is invited to the USSR by Yuri Andropov
  • Return of the Jedi debuts
  • Margaret Thatcher and her government are reelected
  • Ronald Reagan is President
  • Yuri Andropov leads the USSR
  • Sally Ride is the first American woman in space
  • Embalse Nuclear Power Station experiences a coolant loss (seeing a pattern?)
  • The Famicom (Nintendo Entertainment System) goes on sale in Japan
  • The Sri Lankan Civil War begins
  • A Korean Airlines flight is shot down by the USSR killing 269 including a U.S. Senator
  • GPS is made available for civilian use
  • Guion Bluford becomes the first African American in space
  • Stanislav Petrov averts a crisis by recognizing that a radar alert is not a U.S. nuclear attack
  • The Beirut Barracks bombing occurs
  • Invasion of Grenada
  • Martin Luther King Day is signed existence by Reagan
  • Able Archer 83, NATO exercises interpreted by the USSR as an attack, *The Last Cold War scare
  • South Africa approves a new constitution
  • Chrysler creats the minivan with the introduction of the Caravan
  • The IRA bombs Harrod’s in London
  • The McNugget is introduced

I wish I had all day to talk about the 1980s, but I do not.  I am fascinated with this decade.  I have picked this selection of events to give a taste of what was going on.  The 1980s were a time of flux.  The Cold War was still tense, but it was dwindling.  A word of warning: I subscribe to the John Lewis Gaddis school of thought, The Cold War was won by the West, and that is a good thing.  Anyhow, racial, gender, social issues of all kinds were changing.  Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher would thoroughly end détente, and see the beginning of the end of The Cold War.  While the Soviet Union was stagnating, the United States was arguably doing well.  Video games were not only common but 1983 saw a video game crash.  If you want the full general article of the year, check out 1983.

For our purposes 1983 is the first full year of Soviet stamps I purchased.  I did this because it was the year my wonderful wife was born.  Let us get right down to some stamps.  From henceforth the posts will only be this long (hopefully) when it is time for a new year, and not even then, because you don’t always need to hear about how I came to love stamps.

Cosmonautics Day 1983

Cosmonautics day, to the rest of the world International Day of Human Soace Flight (which the stamp essentially says) was instituted in 1962 the year after Yuri Gagarin went up.  It is celebrated, somewhat quietly it seems, to this day.  This stamp features an image of Soyuz-T
The text inside the emblems essentially says, “International Manned (space) Flights,” with the emblem saying “Interkosmos.”  Some things to notice for the future.  Notice the obvious monetary denomination in the upper left of the actual stamp, the large 50.  Most stamps are in Kopeks, but the word почта means mail or post, and will be on every stamp.  So the denomination will be accompanied by the words “USSR Post.”  Below the capsule are the words “12 April- Space Day.”


A note on translations, I am doing them myself armed with a need to learn Russian, starting with the alphabet, which I learned, but am using this to exercise it, and a Russian dictionary to translate words.

If the ring of emblems is observed it can be surmised that Interkosmos gets one every year, and that the middle one is the latest.  Some of the others have the flags of other nations, some have years.

These stamps are incredibly detailed, showing even the cosmonauts inside the Soyuz.
This is one of my favorite parts of this stamp.  It means exactly what it looks like, these are the words “Soyuz” and “Apollo,” and they are symbolic of the cooperation between the Cold War enemies working together to advance space research.  There will be more about that at a later time.

This piece, despite the work that went into it, is much more straight forward.  This is the International Philatelic Exhibition 1983, called “Socphilex-83.”  This stamp is a mini souvenir sheet.  The words at the top are the name I gave you, the bottom is the title, and the symbol at the bottom says Moscow.

The exhibition was in Moscow, October 1983, and had the aims of exhibiting and fostering international cooperation and friendship in efforts to continue peace and ease the threat of nuclear war.  I feel like that symbol at the bottom is in line with that.  I am not going to cite that explanation as I do not feel the need to type in Russian, but I will link you a Russian page on the matter, here.

Summary: As I said, everything was in flux, and despite Western leaders snuffing détente, The Soviet Union was beginning to see that it would have to play nice, so to speak, and that if it was to survive it would need the international community.  Both of tonight’s examples, I believe, are evidence of this.

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