This winter, APS Development Assistant Erin Seamans had the opportunity to speak with Young Philatelic Leaders Fellowship alumnus Tasos Kalfas about the YPLF program, an educational scholarship program run by the Education department at the American Philatelic Society. YPLF supports young philatelists, offers them unique opportunities to attend stamp shows across the country, and connects them with experienced mentors in the philatelic world.
Tasos Kalfas was a Class of 2018 Fellow, and now works as a Program Analyst at the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General. As a Fellow, he completed the Curator track.
Read the full interview below.
Erin: Why did you choose to apply to YPLF and what did you expect to accomplish?
Tasos: Right, so I chose to apply for YPLF in somewhat of a roundabout way, as I remember it. I think it was the summer of my freshman year of high school . . . I discovered that pictorial postmarks were a thing. I started sending out like dozens of letters trying to get people who had pictorial postmarks or the post office that had pictorial postmarks to send them back to me. And I would send out a stamped envelope to them and they would send me it back to me with a postmark on it.
So I had dozens of these, and I remember we were on vacation visiting my grandparents in North Carolina, and my mom thought I was absolutely nuts. She was like, "Why, why are you spending all your money on stamps and postmarks?" And I said something like, "You know, I just really like it." From there, I guess my mom realized this was a hobby I was going to stick with. So she . . . I can't remember if it was my birthday or Christmas or something like that . . . but she got me a membership to the APS.
Oh that's cool!
Yeah, yeah. I had seen the APS intermittently through . . . researching the philatelic marks and trying to figure out what stamp collecting really was, but it never really dawned on me to sign up for the APS. I thought it was just always something that was out there that served as a resource. But I wasn't really sure how the APS would help me as a young collector so I never signed up.
So my mom gave me that as a gift and I was like, "okay this is interesting," so I started flipping through The American Philatelist, the first issue that I got with the membership, and I saw an advertisement for the Young Philatelic Leaders Fellowship. I said, "Well hey, I'm a young guy, I'm interested in seeing what a stamp show is." I had never been to a stamp show before I started collecting . . . just totally on my own volition. And I said, "Okay, a stamp show sounds interesting, I've never heard of that before, and YPLF is advertising that they're going to send me to one . . . so why not? I'm kind of interested in checking that out."
So I applied and Cathy [APS Director of Education] interviewed me, and basically the rest is history.
On your second question: what did I expect to accomplish? At the time that I applied to YPLF, I had just graduated from high school. I was moving on to the George Washington University in D.C., and one of the things that I was obviously trying to find out throughout my college studies was what I wanted to do with my life. What career options do I have ahead of me and what do I want to spend most of my time doing? And part of the YPLF program . . . what I expected to accomplish was not only to discover what the heck a stamp show was and what the stamp world really is, but also to orient myself and try to get an understanding of the different career fields out there.
What is really awesome about Cathy . . . she had the Curator Track in mind but didn't have it established yet and I was happy that she was able to implement it for my year so I could explore being a Curator and find out what making an exhibit is all about.
Oh wow, that's awesome. So it was specialized just for you
Not necessarily, I think Cathy had it in the works. And I came around, like "That looks interesting, let's try it out." So she accelerated it a little bit. I'm very grateful for her taking that step and allowing me to do that.
Well that happens a lot in the stamp community as well . . . where you have an idea or there's a certain way that you want to produce an exhibit . . . there's always someone who's willing to give you unfiltered or filtered feedback. And honestly, that's one of the great things about having a stamp community; being able to converse with one another and sort of understand different ways that we want to display our materials and share them with others.
So I know that you are working with philately in a general sense in your job now but in what other ways have you been involved with the philatelic community since graduating from YPLF?
So one thing that I really love to do when people come to visit me in D.C. or just when I meet new people around the city is give them a tour of the Postal Museum. I mean the Postal Museum only gets about 500,000 visitors a year, which compared to the other Smithsonians is a small number. If you think about it in the large scale of things, that's a pretty good amount of people coming over to the Postal Museum. So I love showing them because people tell me . . . "Postal Museum, oh, you're just gonna look at stamps," or, "What are you gonna do at a Postal Museum," "What's gonna be interesting there?"
I love taking them in for a tour; I'll give them the fast hour tour of the highlights throughout the museum. But I have yet to have an instance where they haven't wanted to stay longer. I think the longest I've been at the museum is three or four hours, giving a tour to friends . . . because they became too immersed in the world, and realized "Oh my god, there's so much out there in terms of philately and postal history."
There's really a huge impact by the post office in American history which is really awesome to share with them. I also enjoyed bringing friends to stamp shows, even though I don't expect a lot of my friends to get involved with philately when I bring them to a stamp show. But I want to share what the world is like; often time they're interested in what a stamp show is . . . because you think of a room filled with stamps as a very bizarre concept if you haven't been introduced to the philatelic world or the stamp world before. And then you come to a show . . . and it's bustling with people going back and forth, people reading exhibit frames, societies trying to recruit you . . . which is another really awesome part of the hobby . . . the different specialized societies, they collect some really cool things, obscure things. I love bringing friends around to the local stamp shows even though they aren't as big as the national ones; they still get a kick out of them . . . and really enjoy taking a look at the stuff.
I guess in a formal sense, the librarian at the APRL, Scott Tiffney, invited me to come up . . . I think it was last November . . . to give a talk on what future philatelic research could look like at the APRL anniversary celebration. So he was down here for an event and he picked me up in the APS van and we drove four hours nonstop to State College. That was probably the coolest four-hour conversation I've ever had with another human being. It was really awesome to spend that time with Scott and to give back to the APRL.
I'll have to share that with him and I'm sure he'll see it in this interview but that's really great to hear. And I actually funnily enough had watched the YouTube video before we had this interview.
Yeah, It was a fun presentation to give and it was a good time.
I see [the Inspector General] as a great opportunity to work for the American public.
So I know you touched a little bit about your current job right now as a Program Analyst but I'm curious about how your time as a Fellow has informed your work as a Program Analyst.
I think my time as a Fellow informs my current work . . . not necessarily on the philately side . . . Working at the Inspector General, we've done a couple of reports on stamps that focus on current aspects of the postal service, because it's a massive agency. And we try to provide them comprehensive feedback, right . . . So I think with my work here at the I.G., the impact of my Fellowship really was how innovative APS was as an atmosphere when I was a Fellow. Martin Kent Miller, the former AP editor, asked me to work on a project evaluating the APS website . . . what things we could do differently and how we could organize information in a better way . . . And what ways to make information easier to find so that when someone is on the APS website, they don't do what I did, well before I even really knew what the APS was, and say "Ah okay that's not for me." So I really like the way that the APS spurred innovative atmosphere . . . they still have a really innovative work ethic and approach to the way that people study stamps and the way that they do events and the ways that they engage members and also youth in philately. So that kind of innovative spirit really drives a lot of the work that I try to do here at the I.G. Because innovation is really the key to any success in the future and I personally want to make sure that I'm keeping that mindset in my work.
That sounds great. I mean I've heard you say this a couple times through the interview . . . about innovation . . . and having ideas and being able to bring them to people who will take them and either look at them right there or challenge it. I feel like you've learned that from your mentor and you're talking about it at the APS and how you're doing it right now. So being a very creative spirit is important to you.
What would you say to someone considering joining YPLF?
Well honestly, if you love stamps or you love the post office and postal history, you're going to have an amazing time. Like I said, I had no idea of what a stamp show even was before I joined the YPLF. And to go to that first show in Richmond and see everything happening on the floor, everyone sharing their collections with you at the YPLF booth . . . Youth in philately discover what exactly the world is and what exactly we can contribute to it. I think for any YPLF Fellow . . . they will have an amazing time, they will meet amazing people who want to share everything about the postal world and stamp world with you. So to someone considering joining YPLF, I say go ahead, do it! You're not going to regret it, it's going to be a good time.
That kind of innovative spirit really drives a lot of the work that I try to do here at the Inspector General . . . Innovation is really the key to success in the future and I personally want to make sure that I'm keeping that mindset in my work.
I will be happy to share that. And I love that you have this acronym for the Inspector General, I just noticed that when you kept saying I.G.
Yeah I guess I forget that is not a common acronym. Honestly, before I joined the Inspector General and before I started searching for a job at the I.G. I didn't really know the part the Inspector General played in the postal community. So I'm totally right there on the same road. I didn't know until I became a part of that world.
I'm also curious: Where is the farthest stamp show that you have traveled to? Because you say you live in D.C. . . .
I think the farthest stamp show I've been to as a YPLF Fellow was Birmingham, Alabama. I think it was the last APS winter show, if I'm remembering correctly. Also, I have driven four hours to Roanoke, Virginia for a stamp show and I've driven up to Bellefonte for a stamp show. But I don't think those would beat Birmingham though.
I think that sounds like the furthest. Do you think you'll ever go out to the west coast?
I absolutely want to do want to go to the west coast for a stamp show, but of course I have limited resources as a public servant.
What do you collect?
Everything I guess, I don't really have a good answer to that question. I collect things that I think people outside the philatelic world would be interested in, because really, for me, philatelic items and stamps and cachets and everything in the philatelic world are a way for me to bridge people's understanding of the postal service and of the stamp world. And I really want to help many non-philatelists understand what this world is about. Even if they only understand it for a few seconds and don't ever join the APS, I'd like them to understand why I'm interested in this stuff. So I have on my coffee table in my apartment . . . I have the AP and the USA Philatelic catalog from the Postal Service always sitting on my coffee table. I've got cachets that my friend Dani - who I met through the YPLF program who was on an artist track - I have caches designed by her that I try to place strategically around the apartment to get people to ask about them. But I really haven't found a specialization yet, that's something I'm still searching for, that I know I will find at some point.
That’s really cool though that you're putting all these little crumbs out for people to find and learn more. So I think that is absolutely wonderful that you're really trying to bring this hobby to life for anyone that you come in contact with.
So my last question: is there anything else you would like to share with our audience of fellows, alumni, donors, and potential applicants?
I want to say thank you to everyone who is involved with the program, who volunteer their time, who volunteer the monetary resources, and who keep it alive. Going into college, I didn't really think that I would be working for the Postal Service or anywhere near philately, or that I would have had the experiences that I've had. But thanks to the YPLF program . . . that really led me to being interested in the postal world and working for the I.G. So I'm really grateful for anyone who continues to run the program, continues to get people involved. Thank you, everyone, who refers people to the program and keeps it alive, because it really is a gem in the APS. And I'm happy to see it keep going forth.
I will definitely make sure that everyone hears that. It was an absolute pleasure talking with you and hearing about your experiences.
Thank you so much for having me.
Are you wondering if you or someone you know should apply for the Young Philatelic Leaders Fellowship Program? Check out the exciting perks of being a Fellow!
- Receive a one-year APS membership
- Choose an area of interest: Author, Curator, Dealer, Designer, Exhibitor & Analyst
- Learn from an adult mentor
- Attend the Great American Stamp Show and Spring Meeting
- Attend Summer Seminar on Philately at the American Philatelic Center
- Interact with stamp collectors from around the United States