News from the American Philatelic Society

  • 2019 APS/APRL Meeting Schedule

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    APS-and-APRLFebruary 14, 2019: AmeriStamp Expo, Mesa, AZ ; Public Session; 10 a.m. MST

    February 16, 2019: AmeriStamp Expo, Mesa, AZ; General Membership Meeting; 9 a.m. MST

    February 16, 2019: AmeriStamp Expo, Mesa, AZ; Candidates Forum; 10:30 a.m. MST 

    May 15, 2019: Telephonic Board Meeting; Public Session; 1 p.m. EDT

    July 31, 2019: StampShow/NTSS, Omaha, NE; Joint APS/APRL Board Meeting; 10 a.m. CDT

    August 3, 2019: StampShow/NTSS, Omaha, NE; General Membership Meeting; 9 a.m. CDT

    August 3, 2019: StampShow/NTSS, Omaha, NE; Joint APS/APRL Organizational Meetin;g 1 p.m. CDT

    October 25, 2019: Civil War Symposium, Bellefonte, PA; Joint APS/APRL Board Meeting; 1 p.m. EDT

    * Executive Session/Appeals Tribunal may be scheduled prior to Public Session (updated as necessary).
    * 2020 Budget will be presented at October meeting

  • Let's Grow the Philatelic Community Together!

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    Attention all APS Chapters!: Are you up for the challenge?


    APS Chapter Challenge Details:

    Between January 1, 2019 and June 30, 2019 APS will provide an extra $5 payment for each new member for any chapter that sponsors 10 or more new members. Payments will be made in July 2019.  

    In addition, cash prizes of $1,000, $500 and $250 will be offered to the three chapters who recruit the most APS members (minimum of 25 required to qualify).

    Who Counts?

    Any individual who joins the APS as a regular or life member between January 1, 2019 and June 30, 2019 and has not been an APS member during the previous three years.  Associate members and conversions from regular to life membership do not count.  Reinstatements of individuals who were last members of the APS more than three years ago will count toward the total number of members sponsored but no recruiting credit or bonus $5 payment is provided for reinstated members.

    Chapters may solicit new members directly or send names and addresses of prospective members to APS for solicitation.  Each new member may only be credited to a single club.  The first party to refer an individual as a potential member gets the credit for being their sponsor.

    Results will be announced at the APS General Meeting at StampShow 2019 on August 3 in Omaha, Nebraska.

  • Authors’ Talks Contribute to the APRL 50th Event

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    APRL Library View from Second Level (2)One of the special events that will take place as part of the upcoming Golden Anniversary Celebration is a series of authors’ talks scheduled throughout the day on Saturday November 3. The idea beyond the talks is to highlight the American Philatelic Research Library (APRL) as the home of philatelic research and knowledge sharing. Topics for the talks were chosen by each of the invited speakers under the general theme of “the role libraries, like the APRL, play in philatelic research.”

    Gary Wayne Loew, a frequent visitor to the APRL and acclaimed philatelic author and researcher, will present a talk titled “Diary of a Philatelic Author” in which he will share what he has learned about research, writing and philately while preparing an upcoming book on the art and science of postal history.

    Also in the field of postal history research, particularly local postal history, author of the recent updated version of her 2007 book "Bellefonte and the Early Air Mail 1918-1927,"  Kitty Wunderly will reveal her methods and sources for researching local history during her talk “Mining the News: Origins of a Local Postal History Book.”

    In still another avenue of philatelic history those attending the day’s events will be treated to a history of one of the nation’s oldest and most esteemed philatelic institutions. Charles Epting, past Young Philatelic Leaders Fellow and current President/CEO of H.R. Harmer Auctions will present a session on the rich and  storied history of the prestigious H.R. Harmer auction house with his talk titled “The First Family of Philately: A Century of Harmer Auctions.”

    While history is the focus of the these three sessions, Tasos Kalfas, also a former Young Philatelic Leaders Fellow currently working for the U.S. Postal Service Office of the Inspector General, will look to the future of philatelic research and the new role libraries will play as part of this change in his talk “The Future of Philatelic Research: Bridging the Gap Between Researchers and the Libraries that Serve Them.”

    From the future to the present, one of the more recent developments in philatelic research and a common reference request involves “analytical philately,” known as the application of scientific methods and technical research to the study of stamps. Richard Judge, frequent researcher and writer on the topic, will discuss this emerging philatelic field during his talk “Moving from Qualitative to Quantitative: Modern Instrumentation in Philately.”

    Along with analytical philately, the most universal and common reference request received at the APRL concerns the care and preservation of stamps and collections. For that Sue Kellerman, Head of the Pennsylvania State University (PSU) Preservation, Conservation & Digitization Department, and Bill Minter, PSU Senior Book Conservator, will discuss disaster planning for philatelic collections as they share their experiences and expertise on disaster planning and recovery for collectors and their collections.

    All of these aforementioned talks are FREE to attend during the Golden Anniversary Celebration on Saturday November 3 and will take place in a special area of the public space on the second floor of the APRL, using the library as the appropriate backdrop. Plan to attend these talks and celebrate with us the first 50 years of research and resources of the APRL.  Check out the Golden Anniversary Event page on the APS website and make your plans to  join us today!

  • Going from Better to Great: a Message from the Executive Director

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    This month, I celebrated my third anniversary as Executive Director of the American Philatelic Society with thousands of fellow members at StampShow/National Topical Stamp Show in Columbus, OH. It’s amazing how time flies, but I want to thank all of our members for the warm welcome in this stamp family.

    When I interviewed for the position of Executive Director, I told the search committee and the Board that it would take five years to transform the organization from where it was to where we wanted it to go. Unlike the private sector, we have not had the luxury of radical transformations or experimenting with ideas and failing. So the plan to change had to be deliberate and thoughtful. By and large, the members and the Board support this approach and have provided great energy and talent to move the needle.

    Over the past three years, the APS team has focused on delivering services effectively and efficiently to strengthen the organization’s finances, reduce debt, and unite the hobby. We are now financially strong, and we have to use this opportunity to invest in growing our membership and delivering information to stamp collectors of all ages. Things have gotten better, but we are aiming for great.

    To accomplish this ambitious goal, I am pleased to announce we have formed a Senior Leadership Team to focus on the areas where we need to improve outcomes.  With our new leadership team, we will work to make the APS more relevant in the modern age and recruit new members 24/7 and 365 days a year.


    Meet the Team

    Rick BanksRick Banks, Chief Administrative Officer: Rick joined the APS in 2004 as Controller and Director of Internal Operations. He has previously worked for Arthur Andersen & Co., Piper Aircraft, and Vice President of Finance with Bellefonte Lime Company. Banks graduated from Penn State University in 1976 with a Business Administration degree.

    Though he loves his alma mater, Rick is an unapologetic fan of the University of Alabama Crimson Tide and makes an annual sojourn to Tuscaloosa with his three sons. Over these past three years, Rick’s leadership has been critical to getting us to the strong financial position we have today.


    Ken MartinKen Martin, Chief Membership Officer: Since 1980, when Ken joined the APS, he’s been one of its most loyal members. He joined the APS staff in 1995 in the Sales Division and has held numerous positions including Executive Director and most recently, Chief Operating Officer. Ken is also active in the Centre County community including leadership positions with the American Red Cross, State College Rotary, Central Pennsylvania Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Historic Bellefonte, Inc.

    Within our hobby’s grassroots, everyone knows Ken. He skipped his own college graduation to help set up for AMERIPEX in 1986 and staff the Junior Philatelists of America table for all 11 days! There is no better choice to lead our recruiting efforts than someone who has that kind of passion for the hobby and the APS.


    Martin Kent MillerMartin Kent Miller, Chief Content Officer: Miller joined the APS staff in 2017 as Editor of The American Philatelist and Philatelic Literature Review. His role grew in 2018 as he took over the modernization effort to overhaul the APS website. At StampShow/National Topical Stamp Show 2018 in Columbus, Martin did a demonstration of the new site for APS members and is working on implementation to be launched by Labor Day.

    As Chief Content Officer, Martin will lead the APS efforts to expand philatelic writing and information beyond the monthly journal to digital writing, video and other online content. He’s been a member of the APS since 2008, but a collector since he was a young boy.


    Strategic Plan

    In Columbus, we did mid-point review of the 2016 Strategic Plan for the APS and APRL Boards and the members present at the show. Progress has been strong in some areas, needs improvement in others, and some items should be eliminated. Our primary focus in the 2016 plan was to eliminate debt, improve operational efficiencies and deliver information in new ways.


    In the three years, we’ve taken a debt of effectively $5.6 million and have brought it to $3.9 million as of this month – this includes making accelerated payments of more than $900,000 over the past 15 months.

    We retired one of five bank mortgages for the APRL in 2017 with the sale of Position 76 of the Inverted Jenny. In Columbus, we raised enough money to retire the $600,000 we borrowed in 2016 to pay for unexpected costs from zoning requirements during the construction of the new library.

    Our cash operating surplus has more than tripled in three years from $175,000 at the beginning of 2015 to $630,000 today.

    The APS team shifted our education focus to provide more courses for adult and member collectors, exceeding our goals for “On the Road” courses and the annual Summer Seminar.

    We built real philatelic partnerships with our national affiliates through joint shows with the American Topical Association in 2018 and now 2019 in Omaha, as well as another first ahead in 2020 when the APS, ATA, and the American First Day Cover Society will hold a joint national show in Hartford, CT.

    Still to Come

    We proposed overhauling the APS website, creating a virtual library of philatelic journals and literature, and pushing more content across the digital platforms. We did not have the talent to get these projects done on time. Thankfully, when Martin Miller joined the staff, he took over the project earlier this year and is working to get it back on track. We are very close to completion on the site and plan to roll it out in September. There will be more elements to the site as time progresses, so keep tabs on our blog to get the latest.

    Online Education has been a goal since our 2004 strategic plan and remains one today. This is most in-demand service from APS members and stamp collectors. This is going to require some investment of time, people, and applications. We are blessed with a large number of philatelic experts on any topic and we should be bringing them together with fellow collectors. As part of our website overhaul, we will be putting together a plan to make this happen.

    Membership continues to decline. The Strategic Plan promised to strengthen the grassroots by getting APS Chapters more linked and having them serve as active recruiters, as well as working harder to identify prospective members elsewhere and recruit actively. This is a data-driven project and requires a broad knowledge of the philatelic community and Ken Martin is uniquely-talented to get this project moving and successful.

    The Challenge Ahead

    At the mid-point of the 2016 strategic plan, I believe we’ve accomplished the critical elements of that roadmap, in particular amassing an energized member base and financial resources to move aggressively to address these critical challenges. I requested the Board create a committee to work with this team to develop a new five-year strategic plan to make a serious investment, not in our survival, but our growth. APS President Bob Zeigler and APRL President Ken Grant have enthusiastically endorsed this request and assembled a joint committee to work with us on a plan.

    Joint Strategic Planning Committee:

    From the APS Board: Bob Zeigler (President), Cheryl Ganz (Vice President), Bruce Marsden (Treasurer), Rich Drews and Mark Schwartz (Directors-at-Large).

    From the APRL Board: Ken Grant (President), Patricia Stilwell-Walker (Vice President), and Ken Nilsestuen (Treasurer).

    Previous strategic plans have produced reports that sit on shelves, so thanks to the APS and APRL Boards and the great team we have in Bellefonte for supporting the vision and working to make it happen.

    The Committee work is underway and will report back to the APS Board at AmeriStamp 2019 in February with a plan to move ahead. I will continue to update members as things develop, but if you ever want to share your thoughts on this or other subjects, please contact me at or 814-933-3814.

  • An Overview of the American Philatelic Society

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    Collect and Connect with the United State’s Largest Organization for Stamp Collectors

    American Philatelic Center

    Founded in 1886, the American Philatelic Society is a nonprofit association for stamp collectors which seeks to promote the hobby and serve its members. The 28,000+ member organization is run by a full-time staff of 33 from Bellefonte, Pennsylvania and guided by a volunteer Board of Directors elected by the members.

    Annual dues of $45 per year (for U.S. residents) generate about 35% of the Society’s annual $4.5 million budget. Nearly 60% of the budget comes from service related fees, and the remaining balance from donations.

    The largest share of the dues is used to produce The American Philatelist, the full-color one hundred page monthly magazine sent to all members. It includes a mix of articles written by members, information on U.S. new issues; hobby-related websites; Society news, and a calendar of stamp shows and exhibitions.

    Member dues also support the American Philatelic Research Library,the largest library of its kind in the world, with over two miles of books, catalogues, auction listings, journals, dealer price lists, indexes, research papers of famous collectors, and other materials. The materials in the library are supplemented by the Society’s Reference Collection of genuine and fake postage stamps.

    The Society’s circuit and Internet sales divisions are used by the membership to buy and sell stamps. An inventory of $8 million, primarily of stamps selling for less than $10 is available through the mail. More than 300,000 additional items are available for viewing and purchase through StampStore

    The insurance program which allows for purchase of $8,500 coverage for only $25 per year is also popular. Unlike most riders to home owner’s policies, the standard Society insurance includes no deductible and requires no appraisal or inventory (except for individual items valued at $25,000 or more).

    More than 6,000 items are submitted for authentication to the Society’s Expertizing service each year. For as little as $20 an item, a member can receive a guaranteed opinion on the genuineness of their stamp or cover. This Society service has been a forerunner in the use of technological equipment employing the use of a Crimescope and other scientific analysis to assist personal expert evaluation.

    The Society offers educational programming in its 45,000 square feet of space at the American Philatelic Center as well as shows around the country and over the Internet. Its flagship educational offering is a weeklong event at which about 70 students choose among several major courses which are supplemented by electives and social events. The Education Department also works with teachers to develop lesson plans to incorporate stamps in school classrooms.

    More than 450 local clubs and over 200 national specialty organizations are chapters and affiliates of the APS. Contact information for these groups is provided on the Society’s website at and the APS provides other services for the organizations including over 100 audiovisual programs that may be used for local meetings.

    A monthly e-newsletter supplements the printed magazine and provides the latest news, tips, and links to useful websites and other resources such as free downloadable mini-albums.


    More information on the American Philatelic Society is available from, e-mail to, by calling 814-933-3803 or by writing to APS, 100 Match Factory Place, Bellefonte, PA 16823.

  • Come Celebrate 50 Years with Us

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    Bellefonte, Pennsylvania – Come join us as we celebrate 50 years of philatelic knowledge, research and resources. In honor of National Library Week (April 8-14) and this year’s theme of “Libraries Lead” the American Philatelic Society is proud to announce a golden celebration event to mark the 50th anniversary of the American Philatelic Research Library on November 2-3, 2018 at the American Philatelic Center in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania.

    The event will begin with an informal meet-and-greet on the evening of Friday, November 2 followed by a full day of activities on Saturday, November 3, including author talks, displays of rarely seen items from the APRL archives, a ceremony in recognition of past APRL librarians, special behind-the-scenes library tours, all concluding with a celebration dinner with a very special guest speaker.

    “We look forward to sharing this special event with our members and the philatelic community, all of whom made this day possible. With the commitment of their time and the investment of their resources we can proudly look back on the last 50 years and with confidence look forward to the next 50 years and beyond,” said APRL Librarian Scott Tiffney.

    APS member Jean Stout, 2013 American Topical Association Distinguished Topical Philatelist, states, “the American Philatelic Research Library is a gold mine of resources and references for philatelists. The hallmark of a good resource library is the ability to serve its patrons’ needs from the simple to the complex. The APRL meets this requirement a thousand-fold.”

    Adds 40-year APS member Bill Schultz, “The APRL has been a reliable source over the past number of years for all the desired information I ever need or want. It has made my philatelic life significantly more pleasurable.”


    In 1967, APS President Edward L. Willard called for the “creation of a Library Service.” On October 28, 1968 the American Philatelic Research Library was officially incorporated and the philatelic home for research and resources for the APS and the philatelic world was born. From its humble beginnings in State College, the APRL has grown to include a vast array of resources that spans the breadth of philatelic knowledge and research. With the grand opening of the APRL’s new $4 million 19,000-square-foot facility at the Bellefonte Match Factory on October 29, 2016 thus began a new chapter in the history of the APRL as the research home of America’s stamp society.

    About the American Philatelic Research Library

    With more than 85,000 volumes and nearly 6,000 periodical titles on three miles of shelving, the APRL is host to a world-class collection of resources that includes catalogs, books, journals, government documents, auction catalogs, stamp show programs and copies of exhibits. In addition, there are many specialized items in the archives such as the Daniel Hines Air Mail Collection and a 1729 postal map showing New England, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, the oldest item in the library’s collection. With its vast philatelic holdings and resources, the APRL serves as a leader of philatelic research for not only its members but the worldwide philatelic community.

  • APS and ATA Will Join Forces at 2018 StampShow

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    The American Philatelic Society and the American Topical Association will co-host next summer’s large national philatelic show scheduled for Columbus, Ohio.

    Leaders of the APS and ATA made that announcement Friday, June 23 at the ATA National Topical Show in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

    “The 2018 show in Columbus just got even more exciting,” said Scott English, Executive Director of the American Philatelic Society, “The partnership between the APS and the ATA gets stronger every day and together we’re going to have a ‘can’t miss’ stamp show.”

    “This highly anticipated event is a real sign that philatelic organizations have begun a new era of cooperation for great benefit to our hobby,” said ATA President Dale Smith about the joint show. “This is a wonderful project to combine resources to create one of the best shows to attract a great number of collectors.”

    This will be the first time the APS, founded in 1886, and the ATA, founded in 1949, have combined their large annual national shows. The ATA four times has held its national show during a U.S.-based international, most recently in 2016 at World Stamp Show-NY 2016.

    “This should be a sign of things to come for the hobby,” added English, “The only way we're going to grow is by working together. I'd like to thank the Board of the ATA for being first to join us in this new vision.”

    Next year will be the 132nd show and convention for the APS and the 68th annual National Topical Stamp Show. Both shows usually change locations from year to year.

    The APS – the world’s largest association devoted to philately with about 30,000 members worldwide – every summer hosts StampShow, the country’s largest annual philatelic show, which includes world-class philatelic exhibits, scores of dealers and postal agencies, society and study group meetings, special presentations and guest speakers, youth areas, and a banquet. The ATA, devoted to topical stamp collecting, often presents a similar lineup, though often over three days rather than the four presented by StampShow.

    This year’s ATA show, being held this weekend in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, features an all-thematic philatelic exhibition, a 30- dealer bourse, and attendance by several cachetmakers, along with meetings, seminars, and activities. Topical exhibits must be thematically treated; that is, they tell a story. They tend to be creative exhibits that make for enjoyable reading.

    The American Topical Association, with members in 60 countries, has compiled more than 1,200 checklists (from the common – horses and roses on stamps; to the more unusual, such as hairstyles, banjos, and yellow fever) containing more than 400,000 stamps.

    “We find that traditional philatelists often collect a topic or two, and topical collectors often collect a country or other specialty area,” Smith said. “This show will enable them to pursue their full range of philatelic interests.”

    The American Philatelic Society will handle all management and logistics for the combined 2018 show. A certain number of exhibit frames will be set aside for topical/thematic philatelic exhibits.

    More information about the organizations and their shows are available on the APS and ATA websites.

  • American Philatelic Society Announces Chapter Newsletter Winners

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    The American Philatelic Society has announced the winners in its 2017 Newsletter Competition.

    The purpose of the annual newsletter competition is to spotlight stamp club and federation newsletter editors, to acknowledge their hard work on behalf of philately, and to publicize it within the philatelic community. In addition to the awards themselves, each submission receives a judges' critique on the newsletter's content and format, with suggestions for possible improvements.

    This year, Judy Johnson, Competition Manager, was joined by judges Donald J. Chenevert Jr., Springfield, Missouri; Gary W. Loew, Atlanta, Georgia; Jessica Catherine Rodrigeux, San Jose, California.

    "We are fortunate to have this level of expertise assisting us in the judging and it speaks to the value of the competition," said Johnson.

    Twenty entries were submitted in Class II — Multi-Page Publications category. Winners are:
    Calgary Philatelist (Calgary Philatelic Society), edited by Dale C. Speirs, Calgary, AB, Canada
    Hollywood Philatelist (Hollywood Stamp Club), edited by Enrique Setaro, Miami, FL
    Knoxville Philatelic Society News (Knoxville Philatelic Society), edited by Tom Broadhead, Knoxville, TN
    Stamping Around (Mid-Cities Stamp Club), edited by Peter Elias, Plano, TX
    The Postmaster (New Haven Philatelic Society), edited by Campbell Buchanan, Branford, CT
    Newsletter of the PSLC (Philatelic Society of Lancaster Co.), edited by Paul Petersen, Lancaster, PA
    Rockford Stamp Notes (Rockford Stamp Club), edited by Timothy G. Wait, Rockford, IL
    Scribblings (Rocky Mountain Philatelic Library), edited by Jeff Modesitt, Littleton, CO
    San Jose Stamp Club (San Jose Stamp Club), edited by Jim Steinwinder, San Jose, CA
    Stamp Chatter (Sequoia Stamp Club), edited by Ed Bierman, Redwood City, CA
    The Stamp The Stamp Forum Newsletter (Forum/APS Chapter 1591), edited by Nelson Laviolette, Woodbridge, VA
    Wichita Stamp Club Newsletter (Wichita Stamp Club), edited by Jeff Lough, Lawrence, KS
    Wilkinsburg Stamp Club News (Wilkinsburg Stamp Club), edited by Deborah Foltyn, Pittsburgh, PA

    The Chattanooga Stamp Chronicle (Chattanooga Stamp Club), edited by Gene Bricker, Ringgold, GA
    The Greater Philadelphia Stamp & Collectors Club Newsletter (Greater Philadelphia Stamp & Collectors Club), edited by Ed Weisberg, Willow Grove, PA
    Huntsville Philatelic Club Newsletter (Huntsville Philatelic Club), edited by Arthur J. Cole, Huntsville, AL
    Palo Duro Philatelist (Palo Duro Philatelic Society), edited by John Abrams, Albuquerque, NM
    The Magnifying Glass (Wyoming Valley Stamp Club), edited by Ron Breznay, Hanover, PA

    Brattleboro Stamp Club Newsletter (Brattleboro Stamp Club), edited by Joseph Antosiewicz and Marshall Brooks, Swanzey, NH
    The Atomic Mariner (N.S. Savannah Chapt. #109 of the USCS), edited by Arthur J. Cole, Huntsville, AL

  • APS and Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum Release New Book

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    One small error that produced 100 years worth of stories

    The Inverted Jenny – popularly known as the upside-down airplane stamp – is the United States’ most famous postage stamp. Desired by collectors from around the world, the little red, white and blue stamp has been making news for 100 years now.

    A single Inverted Jenny – with an original price of 24 cents – cost its first real collector $1,500 a century ago. A perfect stamp from an original sheet 100 – the only sheet ever released to the public – could bring nearly 1,000 times that price today.

    What makes the stamp so special and who has pursued and owned it?

    The Stamp of the Century, a new book by Kellen Diamanti and Deborah Fisher to be released May 1, tells about the origins of the airmail stamp and particularly focuses on those who sought out and have owned a copy over the past 100 years.

    “… The stories told here reveal the passions of collectors, portrayed in an endearing way, connecting both the worldly and bizarre,” said Cheryl Ganz, Ph.D., curator emerita of philately at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum.

    Characters from the famous to infamous abound in these pages. Among those you will meet are William Robey, who discovered a sheet of 100 error stamps at a Washington, D.C. post office and ultra-rich collector Colonel Ned Green, whose wealth came from his mother, “the Witch of Wall Street.”

    Within The Stamp of the Century’s pages are the stories of brave soldiers and wayward pilots; owners of old money and new money; industrialists and politicians; smart, strong women who dared to shine in a hobby dominated by men; war heroes and schemers; the braggadocio and collectors of quiet gentility.

    The book will be officially unveiled May 1 at the National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C. In a day filled with activities at the National Postal Museum, the U.S. Postal Service will issue the first of two first-class forever postage stamps commemorating the 100th anniversary of the advent of U.S. airmail. Following the ceremony, Stamp of the Century authors Kellen Diamanti and Deborah Fisher will be on hand to autograph the book and talk with museum visitors.

    Additionally, the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum has invited the authors to conduct the museum’s History After Hours presentation on the evening of May 2. The discussion will focus on the impact of airmail on Washington, D.C. The authors will be on hand after the presentation to autograph books and talk with visitors.

    The Stamp of the Century has been published by the American Philatelic Society in partnership with the NPM. The book will be available for purchase ($24.95, plus shipping) from Smithsonian bookstores and from the American Philatelic Society at

    About the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum

    The National Postal Museum is devoted to presenting the colorful and engaging history of the nation’s mail service and showcasing one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of stamps and philatelic material in the world. It is located at 2 Massachusetts Ave. N.E., Washington, D.C., across from Union Station. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). For more information about the Smithsonian, call (202) 633-1000 or visit the museum website at

    About the American Philatelic Society

    With nearly 29,000 members in more than 110 countries, the APS is the largest, non-profit organization for stamp collectors in the world. Founded in 1886, the APS serves collectors, educators, postal historians, and the general public by providing a wide variety of programs and services. Located at the American Philatelic Center in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, the Society is entirely supported by membership dues, gifts, and the sale of publications, souvenirs and services. For more information call (814) 933-3803 or visit the Society website at


AP Archives: Sometimes Poor Ideas Create Good Philately

AP Archives: Sometimes Poor Ideas Create Good Philately

121118_December 2015-cover




This column originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of The American Philatelist, pages 1116-1120. Read Collecting Coast to Coast by Wayne Youngblood every month in The American Philatelist, one of the many benefits of membership with the APS.



Saga of the 25-Cent Stamped Envelope 

The United States 25-cent Snowflake stamped envelope of 1988 (Scott U613) was a poor idea to begin with.


And for several reasons. In a failed attempt to promote the United States Stamped Envelope Agency and its return-address printing capabilities, as well as its desire to begin working with greeting card producers (an idea that has resurfaced several times over the years), the U.S. Postal Service dreamed up the idea of releasing its first non-standard-sized stamped envelope in more than a quarter of a century for the holiday season of 1988. Previous non-standard envelopes were generally either smaller or longer than a No. 6¾ or No. 10 envelope. 



Although there was no first-day ceremony when the envelope was issued September 8, 1988, there was a pictorial first-day cancel in Snowflake, Arizona [Figure 1, above]. Another cover [Figure 2, below] shows an apparent 1986 cancel (almost two years before the envelope was issued), but it was caused by an inverted numeral in the cancellation device.



As a bit of subtext, the USPS has long been trying to find ways to work with Hallmark and other greeting card producers, feeling there were various revenue-generating synergies to be had in conjunction with stamps, stamped envelopes, and other products. In this case, the Snowflake envelope (7½ by 5 inches), did not conform to any industry standard for letter envelopes, because its length was between that of a No. 6¾ and No. 10 envelope, and it was a full inch taller than both.


The original press release stated the Snowflake envelope should be compatible with many sizes of holiday cards. This is all well and fine, but the vast majority of greeting cards are sold with exact-size envelopes, and U.S. stamped envelopes at the time were being sold at a 5-cent premium over face value. There was little incentive to purchase and use a nonstandard- sized envelope for greeting cards when they came free with most purchases and little reason to purchase them for other uses (particularly if they did not fit perfectly), unless one was a collector. Thus, the obvious shortage of proper uses almost 30 years later.


Still, the Postal Service promoted the fact that the U.S. Stamped Envelope Agency (for about an additional halfcent each) would print your personalized return address in black on the envelopes for quantities as small as 50, a service that was a bargain (and the service became even cheaper with larger quantities). Thus, for a cost of about 30.4 cents each, one could have personalized holiday stamped envelopes with postage already affixed (printed) to use for holiday mailings. What the USPS didn’t count on was the fact this information generated little news beyond the philatelic press. Therefore, relatively few people took advantage of the address-printing service.



The bottom line is that relatively few Snowflake envelopes, such as the example shown [Figure 3, above], were purchased and used during the holiday season of 1988. According to information provided by postal stationery specialist Bill Geijsbeek, the Snowflake envelopes were pulled from sale by the USPS shortly after the beginning of 1989 (right after the holiday season).


They were once again placed on sale for the holiday season of 1989, but with a small twist: This time, the return addresses were printed in red, rather than black ink. This brings up another interesting aspect of the production of these envelopes.


The letterpress-applied return addresses on stamped envelopes at the time were provided by computer driven linotype machines. When one ordered envelopes over the phone, the order-taker typed the information into a computer, after which the information was sent to an integrated 1930s-era linotype machine. The linotype found and arranged the type and created a lead plate. This plate was then applied to a small press, which applied the addresses to the envelope and was immediately melted down to create new type. And so on.

Examples of two types of preprinted addresses are shown [Figures 4 and 4b, below]. All are scarce, but the red addresses are far more so.




The printing of the envelopes themselves was done by two-color flexography (a form of letterpress, or raised, printing) on the U.S. Stamped Envelope Agency’s VH machine (named for inventor Vincent Heywood), which begins with blank rolls of paper on one end and delivers finished stamped envelopes at the other. At various times the Stamped Envelope Agency used both rubber and polymer plates, the impressions from rubber being superior, but the plates wore out more quickly.


121118_Snowflake-Youngblood-archive-fig5121118_Snowflake-Youngblood-archive-fig5bDetermining which type was used on an individual envelope is far more difficult. Either way, as the plates wear, the appearance of the printed image becomes more swollen and distorted, as shown in the comparison images nearby [Figure 5 and 5b, right].


Despite the stark difference of appearance of these envelopes (from opposite  ends of the plate-wear spectrum), both are considered to be within the normal realm of production and are not listed in the Scott catalog as varieties. Occasionally, one of the plates was replaced before the other, creating “hybrids” that is: envelopes with worn denomination but fresh snowflake or the reverse. These, too, are considered “normal,” but they are highly collectible varieties.


Another interesting aspect of the Snowflake envelope is the design and typography (lettering). The stylized snowflake design was created by Randall McDougall, who also designed the 1974 ZIP Code and 1984 Crime Prevention stamps. But the typography was custom-created by well-known typographer Bradbury Thompson, who has numerous type styles (both philatelic and non-philatelic) to his credit.


As part of a USPS design, all elements of a stamped envelope are, in theory, covered by USPS copyright. Imagine my surprise when, in 1992 I found the envelope postmarked January 28 [Figure 6, below] in a large batch of incoming company mail. The “Holiday Greetings!” inscription at lower left is a dead ringer for that found on the 25-cent Snowflake stamped envelope.



The difference is that there is no image and no denomination on this cover; a29-cent Flag Over Mount Rushmore stamp was applied. This is not a color omitted error; it is a privately produced envelope. The envelope also has a self-adhesive flap, but is otherwise identical in terms of size and the flexographic printed inscription. I have been unable to determine when the envelope was printed, but I would be willing to bet the “who” was Westvaco (which operated the Stamped Envelope Agency and also produced commercial envelopes). This particular depiction of a typographic representation should have been fully protected under the Postal Service’s copyright. Thompson’s work was created specifically for the Snowflake stamped envelope.


For those interested in collecting the 25-cent Snowflake stamped envelope, thankfully there are no major errors known. However, finding a properly used example — within a contemporaneous time frame of roughly 1988 to 1991 (while they were available and being used) — will set you back $35 to $50, if you can find one.


They are very elusive despite the Scott catalog valuation of $50. Even a used cut square is listed at $20, but would have to display some visual, verifiable evidence of dating. Mint and first day-canceled examples are common and inexpensive. In addition to the previously shown examples here are a few more.



The cover shown in Figure 7 (above) is likely the last of what could be considered a contemporaneous use of the Snowflake envelope. Postmarked October 7, 1991 (that year’s holiday season), the cover bears a 4-cent Make-up Rate stamp (Scott 2521) to cover the rate hike to 29 cents effective February 3, 1991.



Special uses of the Snowflake envelope are particularly scarce and I have found only a few. One of the more unusual of these is shown [Figure 8, above], in which the sender reduced the envelope at left to fit an odd-sized item. By doing so, the sender created a square envelope that is non-machinable. When the cover was mailed May 2, 1989, the non-machinable surcharge was 10 cents, paid in this case with a 10-cent Red Cloud stamp of the Great Americans definitive series.




The cover mailed October 31, 1990 [Figure 9, above], is the only certified use I have seen of the Snowflake envelope. The $1.30 franking reflects a two-ounce piece with the 85-cent certified rate at the time. Finally, although the cover is technically out of period, the last item [Figure 10, below] represents the only registered use I have seen of the Snowflake envelope. Mailed July 22, 1994, the philatelic item bears a total of $5.60; likely $5.30 for material insured up to $4,000, with 29-cent first-class postage. This cover was overpaid by one cent.



Similar to any form of elusive postal history, there are very specific reasons for the scarcity of properly used 25-cent Snowflake stamped envelopes. It is an impractical item that received little use during its period of relevance, even by collectors, and is now (after almost 30 years) becoming the object of philatelic treasure hunts.

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StampShow/NTSS 2019

Omaha, Nebraska | August 1-4, 2019