Joining my father’s passion for computers with my own passion for philately
This article by APS member Douglas Friedman is the second in a three-part series adapted from his column "My Hobby Became a Life Saver!" This week, Friedman leaves his childhood behind and reflects on how creating a computerized stamp catalog helped him grow closer with his father in early adulthood.
Just before he passed away, my grandfather, Joseph Friedman, told me how much he appreciated that I’d taken over the ongoing updates of the stamp albums he started some 60 years before. He told me that he was leaving his entire collection to me in his will – but there was one caveat, which he did not put in writing but told me instead.
“If you ever get rid of the collection, I’ll come back to haunt you.”
With those words reverberating in my head (as they do to this day), I kept the albums going dutifully with new issues for many years, including an unbroken string of United States stamps going back to the 1920s with many earlier issues, complete sets of stamps from Israel and the United Nations, and (with the exception of that one high-value set I wrote about last week) a complete set of Vatican issues. Even in the years when I didn’t have time to place new issues in my albums, I still purchased them at the U.S. Post Office and from five different countries by mail.
I’m now retired and able to spend time again with my lifelong hobby and how it brought me so close to my beloved Grandpa Joe. But thinking back, I can also share one shining moment when stamps brought me closer to my dad as well.
My father (Howard “Bud” Friedman) was a wiz with computers going back to the 1950s when IBM computers were the size of a house and data was input with punch cards and saved on whirling reels of electronic tape (today our cell phones are hundreds of thousands of times more powerful). With his help, in 1982 we created one of the first computer programs to catalog postage stamps and their values which could be used by collectors. It was such a novel thing that The American Philatelist, the monthly journal of the American Philatelic Society, published an article I wrote about the process, which I’d like to share parts of here.
The philatelist author (left) and his computer-wiz father, Howard "Bud" Friedman in 1983, posing with a Radio Shack TRS-80.
Remember that at the time, home computers were still new and not widely used; what may sound like prehistory now was in fact a prescient view to the future. I will leave out the technical details about how to set up that inventory on your Radio Shack TRS-80… My guess is the only one still in existence may be in the Smithsonian.
The September 1982 issue of The American Philatelist, in which the author's article appeared.
Here are a few excerpts from that article from more than 40 years ago:
For years my dad has been trying to get me to join the Computer Age: to spend time with him programming his Radio Shack TRS-80 computer. At the same time, I have been yearning to spend more time talking stamps with my grandfather, who in his 89th year has compiled quite an impressive collection from a number of countries. A few months ago, I discovered the link that would combine the two and please my entire family – I computerized my stamp collection.
A letter from AP Editor Richard L. Sine to the author from 1981.
Before you think it all sounds too complicated, let me explain that all I did was put my stamp inventory into the computer and come out with a precise description of my entire collection in a neat, orderly, computerized print-out.
Having this computerized print-out serves three basic purposes for me; there are no doubt many more good reasons to computerize, but here are my three.
The first reason is for insurance purposes. By having a continually up to date accounting of my philatelic holdings I can also keep an up-to-date accounting of its value.
The second reason was to find holes in my collection that needed filling. Any collector worth his salt is going backwards in his collection, filling those hard-to-get holes as quickly as he is able.
Another letter from Sine, confirming the format of the article, which was printed alongside another similar piece by APS member Howard Long in the September 1982 issue.
The third advantage I found from computerizing is this: I have a great deal of duplicates, and when it comes to trading, selling or just knowing what I have in excess, I can list every single stamp, every pair and every plate block I own separately.
When displaying the inventory of my collection on paper, I have my choice of what order I want to list the stamps. Although the most common way to list would be by numerical Scott order, I have at times listed my collection from the most valuable item on down. You can use your creativity here, listing items in most any order you like, from singles to souvenir sheets, or from light stamps to dark ones.
At all times the computer will keep an updated running value on the entire collection that can be displayed whenever requested.
Computerizing my stamp collection has been a lot of fun for me and I have learned a great deal more about my stamps, having looked closely at each and every one as it was entered into my computer inventory.
Another article on the Friedmans' computer cataloging exploits, this time in the Northrop News.
It makes sense as we move into this age of the home computer to use it for the betterment of our stamp collections. It has given me a renewed enthusiasm for the hobby, as well as broadening my horizons to include an understanding of how computers function.
Computers may be the best thing to hit stamp collecting since the postage stamp.
Looking back now, I don’t recall ever thinking that it would be possible to include pictures of stamps in an inventory, not to mention hooking into a database that would update the value of my stamps automatically. Looking forward now, perhaps AI will allow us to update our philatelic inventories without needing to use a keyboard at all.
Next week, join Friedman for the final part of this series as he reveals how a lifelong love of stamp collecting became a tool to help save lives.
If you'd like to read more about the beginnings of computerized stamp catalogs, you can find a digital copy of the September 1982 AP via the APRL's Robert A. Mason Digital Library here. The Digital Library is free to access for members and non-members; to log in, follow the directions below.