By Robert Zeigler, President, APS Board of Directors
When you were a kid, as I was long ago, your beginning stamp collection was confined to one book, maybe one shoe box, one pack of stamp hinges, one pair of tongs (if you were careful) and, if you could afford it, a catalog or two.
If you were particularly fortunate, perhaps there also was a magnifying glass or lens, maybe even a watermark detector gifted from a generous uncle or elder brother, although keeping the fluid from evaporating could be tricky.
Often, as an adolescent or college student, the stamp collection you had so cherished at an earlier age would end up being put aside, exiled to a dark corner shelf in a storage closet. What hours you had available went instead to concentration on your studies, the allure of mature activities, the development of a social life and pursuit of the wherewithal to accomplish all the preceding.
Eventually, some of us—I like to think “the fortunate ones”—returned to philately. Occasionally, some event, such as National Stamp Collecting Month, might turn our minds back to what fascinated us as a child about stamps in the first place. Hazy dreams of faraway places, exotic creatures and remote destinations in distant times, each indelibly immortalized on tiny bits of paper. These could be a way of unlocking our own past, too — relating to history or a specific subject, a person, place or thing we remembered and cherished.
But a strange thing happened to many of us, including me. The beloved hobby we kept so compact as children somehow became a good deal larger — more (if you’ll pardon the word) enveloping.
After all, a stamp is a tiny thing, almost weightless by itself. But its very slightness means that it is subject to a host of vulnerabilities: to the insatiable appetites of insects, to heat, light and moisture, to fungal invasion, rodent assault, problematic pets who know no bounds, and—last, but far from least—relentless incursions of curious children with sticky fingers.
This means that anyone devoted to collecting stamps also must take steps to protect them.
We become custodians of commemoratives and covers, solemn stewards of stamps, heroic guardians of these tiny bits of paper. And the space that they command begins to grow exponentially. What was a box becomes a shelf, then a bookcase, then a desk with a filing cabinet and adjacent cupboard. One day you return to find philately has filled your favorite room.
For some of us, even that entire room is not the end of it. A philatelic library next blossoms, even if just to hold a dozen catalogues and a decade or three of The American Philatelist. If untreated, the collection, its literature and its accessories can gradually consume all available space.
Of course, a serious collector will triumph over this kudzu-like overgrowth, imposing order to avert catastrophe. (The alternative doesn’t bear thinking about; nobody wants to be featured on the reality TV show Hoarders.) And, in the triumph of order over chaos, we again become happy. Balance is at last restored, and all is again right with the world.
Actually, it’s a lot like the pleasure of sorting a good stamp mixture.
Once again, our hobby has delivered us from the cares of the workaday world and our own abode. We have gained knowledge. We have learned details that no one else may know, or possibly even care about. And we are better people for having had the experience.
And so we celebrate National Stamp Collecting Month. If we can recruit and welcome others into the new world that has consumed a big part of our homes and hearts, so much the better.
Editor's Note: The column was published in the October 2019 issue of the American Philatelist, available for members to read digitally. We will be posting the columns of APS executives on this website to provide updates about American Philatelic Society. Membership information is available through this link.