The relatively new point system in the competitive world of philatelic exhibiting in North America as defined by the APS Manual of Philatelic Judging and Exhibiting, Seventh Edition (revision dated October 2019), allows 10 points (or 10 percent of the point total) for personal study and research. How does one rake in those 10 points? We will try to explore that question.
Research is defined as the activities the exhibitor has used to present new facts related to the items in the exhibit.
Personal study is defined in the exhibiting manual as the activities the exhibitor has conducted to understand the exhibit subject and the items used in the exhibit. The evidence of the exhibitor’s comprehensive study is the analysis of items provided, or aspects of the subject beyond mere description: by using census figures, reaching new conclusions, or relaying new findings.
Early and late dates of use, plate flaws, plating, and print sequences are all examples of philatelic knowledge gained by personal study, just to name a few. The exhibitor can also demonstrate expertise on the subject matter by the depth of the information provided in the narrative.
In areas where there has been considerable research by others (secondary research), it is better for the exhibitor to show evidence of extensive personal study in place of original research.
In practice, judges evaluate original and secondary research together, but they should reward significant original research when the exhibitor plainly states it. It helps to delineate the exhibitor’s research or discoveries by tasteful indicators in the exhibit, such as the obvious phrases “Personal Research” or “Discovery Copy” in very small type next to the item; or, I suggest the use of a small icon such as a tasteful small magnifying glass icon or an open book icon.
Defining excellent study and research in an exhibit
The exhibitor’s analysis of items should demonstrate knowledge of their significance to the exhibit. Conclusions provide information in the exhibit. Where appropriate, the exhibitor should present logical deductions and inferences about the illuminating information in the exhibit. The exhibitor preferably indicates where they have done personal research and/or where they made new discoveries.
Research in the simplest terms is searching for knowledge and searching for philatelic truth. In a formal sense it is a systematic study of a problem attacked by a deliberately chosen strategy that includes:
- Choosing an approach
- Preparing a blueprint (design)
- Acting upon it in terms of designing research hypotheses
- Choosing methods and techniques
- Selecting or developing data collection tools
- Processing the data
Hopefully the conclusions aid the exhibit’s story line and add a level of knowledge.
As an example, here’s how I approached the research process of my own exhibit about Dining Cars (Figure 1).
First, I identified all known postcard publishers of dining car postcards. Secondly, I researched all U.S. and Canadian railroads that utilized dining cars. Using the insignias of both the printers and the RR’s, I was able to reflect this research in the exhibit.
This exhibit has won the Best Research Award at a World Series of Philately shows.
Another definition of research is provided by well-known research authority John W. Creswell, who states that “research is a process of steps used to collect and analyze information to increase our understanding of a topic or issue.” It consists of three steps: pose a question, collect data to answer the question, and present an answer to the question. I suggest this is a fine working definition for philatelic exhibiting in almost all cases.
The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines research in more detail as “studious inquiry or examination or investigation or experimentation aimed at the discovery and interpretation of facts, revision of accepted theories or laws in the light of new facts, or practical application of such new or revised theories or laws.” This is not a bad definition to comprehend and employ.
So, we have worked our way though the serious definitions and now we can turn to fun concepts for our exhibiting.
The key reason to expend sound research efforts on your exhibit is truly a profound and satisfying one. It does not cost you, the exhibitor, much money, if any, to do the fun work of providing information in the exhibit.
One common complaint from some quarters of exhibiting is that money talks! Well, that is somewhat true but anyone of any means today can do effective quality research and with a strong effort can gather in all the key facts, data and information to achieve the full 10 points on the Exhibit Evaluation Form from the jury.
The fun work of philatelic research has its rewards on the pages of the exhibits in the frames we see and admire at stamp shows. The judges really appreciate well-highlighted research in any exhibit.
I saw a wonderful exhibit in November at Aerophilately 2022 Show at the American Philatelic Center pertaining to the Rattlesnake Island Airmail Local Post of Ohio. It included significant research and key points of information in an accurate manner, and most likely gathered 9 or 10 points on research from the esteemed jury. This nice exhibit on a local post reflecting terrific research received a gold medal, and my best bet is it came close to a large gold medal.
Winning a large gold can be done without spending a small fortune. Including significant research certainly aids that process. It just takes a dedicated effort to gather and reflect the same in an apropos manner on the exhibit’s pages. It is fun and exhilarating to the exhibitor to find a new fact heretofore unknown to the philatelic community.
Figure 2. One of two known 6½-cent rated U.S. covers known to date. The research was conducted by an extensive ongoing census of the 6¼-cent rated covers via a new website.
In the stampless cover shown (Figure 2), the docketing is 1835 from Mississippi to another little town in the same state. The research I have devoted to this cover has been a joy, specifically trying to figure out the reason for the 6½-cent rate shown in the upper right of the cover. The research was conducted by an extensive ongoing census of the 6¼-cent rated covers via a newly created website.
I expect to include this cover in my domestic rate exhibit (eight frames) as I think I have proven without much doubt that this 6½-cent rate is one of only two known to date. I am attempting to prove it is the only one known, but there is one mentioned from Lancaster, Ohio. So, one has to be thorough, thoughtful and comprehensive in their personal study (research), but the results can be wonderfully rewarding on many levels.
Here is a listing of sources that might be of interest to the exhibitor: books, periodicals, monographs, auction catalogs, stamp catalogs, bibliographies, indexes to periodicals, digital and internet websites, archival files, Global Philatelic Library, APRL, Timeline of Philatelic Literature 1830 to 1975 by Don Heller, conference papers, maps, newspapers, governmental publications, timetables, Wikipedia, Google, and, of course, numerous philatelic libraries that are available for your research efforts.
Lastly, philatelic societies can provide a wealth of information. These include the United States Philatelic Classics Society, the Carriers & Locals Society, the American Airmail Society, the United States Stamp Society, the Machine Cancel Society, the American Topical Association, the Writer’s Unit No. 30, the Collector’s Clubs of N.Y. and Chicago, the American Association of Philatelic Exhibitors, and many state postal history societies.
Information and data are out there to be gleaned and incorporated into our exhibits and writing. The search for wonderful stamps and covers is a big part of our hobby. The search for outstanding research results can be just as much fun.
CANEJ Manual on Exhibiting, online version (https://stamps.org/Portals/0/Judging-Manual.pdf)
Bill Schultz, retired chief philatelic judge, resides in West Chester, Pennsylvania. He has been an active collector for more than 70 years and an exhibitor for more than 60 years. He enjoys the philatelic hobby and all it has to offer.