In August, the American Philatelic Society, American Topical Association, and the American First Day Cover Society joined to hold the Great American Stamp Show at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center. Unlike stamp shows of years past, having the show, let alone organizing it, proved to be an incredible challenge. By the time the show closed on Sunday afternoon, attendees and dealers celebrated the show’s success. I want to share how we got there and where we’re going from here to understand the show’s importance.
An Ambitious Start
The conversation began at the last international show, NY 2016 - World Stamp Show, on the need to create a bridge between the 2016 show and the next international show, Boston 2026 World Expo. It made perfect sense; 10 years between large international shows leads to loss of knowledge and experience. With that, the APS Board of Directors approved a show in Chicago for 2021 to serve as a mid-term mini-international show, inviting international exhibitors, collectors, and dealers to convene in the United States.
In selecting the location, we chose the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center, the site of the APS StampShow that followed the 2006 international show in Washington, DC. The other critical factor in selecting dates and locations was to coincide with the American Numismatic Association’s World Fair of Money. For us, it set the stage to bring together philatelists and numismatists on a world stage. If successful, the plan would offer a blueprint for future collectible shows.
The Era of Joint Shows
Not long after we announced Chicago 2021, the APS and the American Topical Association entered into a partnership agreement to jointly host StampShow and National Topical Stamp Show, beginning with Columbus 2018. It was an experiment to see if a joint show was good for both organizations, collectors, and dealers. By the end of the show, the answer was a resounding, “Yes!” Now the APS and ATA have agreements to host shows through 2024 jointly, a tradition I hope is here to stay. By the close of the Columbus show, the American First Day Cover Society agreed to join the partnership beginning with Hartford 2020. These partnerships bring a great deal to each annual show – enthusiasm, energy, and a reminder that it’s a really big show (feel free to do your best Ed Sullivan imitation on that last point).
Conversations happen at society booths and book signings
Launching the Effort
With the behind-the-scenes work already underway, we began working on promoting and bringing together the world stage. In 2019, we announced a Chicago 2021 Committee to help bring international exhibitors and dealers to the United States for the show. We launched a fundraising effort to help support a bigger show and accommodate more exhibit frames and events. In total, we raised over $100,000 to support the initiative and showcase new features not normally seen at a show. We planned a presence at the international exhibition of London 2020 to promote Chicago 2021 and Boston 2026 and make the United States a destination for international philately in the next decade. As the saying goes, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”
The Pandemic of a Lifetime
In March 2020, the spread of the global pandemic forced closures of businesses and people to shelter in place. Following the Garfield-Perry March Party, major stamp shows were largely canceled for the next 16 months. London 2020 was postponed and rescheduled for 2022 amid international travel bans. Later that year, we had to make the tough decision to cancel our annual convention, scheduled for Hartford. The only other time the APS canceled its yearly convention was 1943, at the height of World War II. Through the fall, the toll of the pandemic grew, and more shows were postponed or canceled. Given the uncertainty of pending vaccines, we delayed a decision about the 2021 show until March. One thing was sure: we could no longer hope for that mini-international show we’d envisioned in 2016.
In March, we established firm benchmarks for proceeding with the show, requiring a certain number of dealers, exhibitors, and participating societies to make the show possible. Even hitting those benchmarks, we projected a loss for the show. As long as we could offset the losses within the Chicago 2021 fund, we believed the show was necessary for the hobby. By May, we had met all our targets, and the organization was well underway.
The cachetmakers bourse gives cachet designers of all ages and experience levels a chance to sell their designs
Even with the uncertainty of whether we could hold a show in Chicago in August, the three sponsoring organizations began meeting to plan for the event. Starting in December 2020, our Director of Membership and Shows, Wendy Masorti, and I met with Dawn Hamman, President of the American Topical Association; John Hamman, outgoing ATA Shows Chair; Bill DeWitt, who was learning the ropes to take over as ATA Shows Chair; Jennifer Miller, ATA Executive Director; Foster Miller, AFDCS Shows Chair; and David Lorms, AFDCS Executive Director. We met bimonthly, discussing needs for the show, strategically planning, and monitoring restrictions and operations of the convention center and the State of Illinois.
For some, these behind-the-scenes details may not seem exciting, but hopefully they give a sense of the efforts put forth by all three organizations to deliver for the hobby. Given the ever-changing developments from winter to spring, these meetings were critical to being “ready to roll” when we decided on the show. By May, the response from the community was overwhelmingly positive, and we pushed ahead with the show.
Full operations of the convention center centered on vaccination rates in Illinois, which called for aggressive targets to get to Phase 5. Fortunately, Illinois met the targets, and the convention center opened just a month before the start of the Great American Stamp Show. Even after we confirmed the show would happen, we were threading the needle to Day One.
That said, we’ve never organized a show on this tight of a timetable with a degree of difficulty added by COVID. We were, to put it bluntly, building the plane on the runway. Even the rising threat of the Delta variant in July and August created challenges for holding a successful and safe show for everyone involved. In the end, we provided as many health and safety guidelines as possible. At the same time, we had faith our members would participate responsibly and safely in the show. What we know is that days after the World Fair of Money, the ANA reported that several dealers reported testing positive for COVID as a warning to those who attended the show. Thankfully, as of this writing, we’ve received no reports of illness from dealers or attendees. That’s a positive indicator that our members and our health and safety guidelines worked effectively to prevent any serious issues.
Several judges review exhibits before the medal ceremonies on Saturday
Special Recognition and Thanks
It takes a village to run a stamp show. We are indeed grateful for the support and partnership of our friends at the American Topical Association and American First Day Cover Society. Special thanks to John and Dawn Hamman, Jennifer and Martin Miller, and Bill DeWitt at the ATA for all of their fantastic contributions before, during, and after the event. A special thank you to Foster Miller of the AFDCS, who spent countless hours getting up to speed and coordinating all AFDCS activities. Thanks also to David Lorms and Lloyd DeVries for bringing the AFDCS in for a successful first year in the partnership. We’ve also provided a list of all the volunteers who gave their time to help their fellow APS members enjoy this show.
Thank you to the dealers who put their faith in us and agreed to participate in the show. Our hope is that this was a good and profitable experience for every one of you. Thank you to the exhibitors, judges, and societies who give us many worthwhile things to do while we’re at the show.
Thank you to those of you who attended the show. After a long layoff of stamp shows, we wanted you to have a reason to celebrate and a chance to see old friends again.
We are nothing without our team here at the APS and I would like to thank our staff for all of their support in getting us through this incredible challenge. I’d like to thank Wendy Masorti, our Director of Shows and Membership, and Sarah Myers, our Shows Assistant, for going above and beyond. Neither had ever worked on a stamp show, and they handled every crisis and challenge like seasoned veterans. A big thank you to Ken Martin, now our Director of Expertizing, for his wisdom, knowledge, and willingness to help Wendy and Sarah with even the most minor crisis. Finally, thank you to Dana Guyer, Executive Director of the American Stamp Dealers Association, for helping rally the dealers to participate in the show.
We remain grateful to the U.S. Postal Service for their ongoing sponsorship of our annual show and the significant presence they bring to the show every year. The support of the USPS makes this show possible, and having them as an engaged partner helps attendees find those little treasures they can’t get at their local post office.
So what about the show? On the next pages, I share a look at some highlights that happened during the Great American Stamp Show. Our team did post a daily video on the APS YouTube page; if you’d like to see more for yourself, please check it out at aps.buzz/Youtube.
Day One of the Great American Stamp Show
Before the doors even opened, eager collectors gathered to be first in to find their favorite dealer. When the doors opened, hundreds of collectors were rushing to find a seat and start shopping. It’s an impressive sight, watching collectors navigate the floor looking for their top choice dealer and trying to get a chair. It was reminiscent of Black Friday, except everyone was happy to see each other and there were no fights.
There were three separate first day ceremonies scheduled for Thursday. The first was the U.S. Postal Service and the Backyard Games Forever® stamps, sold in a pane of 16 stamps, highlighting eight unique designs honoring badminton, bocce, cornhole, croquet, flying disc, horseshoes, tetherball, and pick-up baseball. Columnist Jeff Stage covers the ceremony in “New U.S. Issues,” page 972.
Next, a joint issue of souvenir sheets by Faroe Islands, Greenland, and Denmark honoring noted engraver, C.Z. Slania, born 100 years ago. The stamps were the work of master engraver Martin Mörck, taken from a picture of Slania by Wayne Chen. Unfortunately, both Mörck and Faroe Islands Postal Administration could not attend the show after some last-minute travel challenges. Fortunately, the stamps and folios were shipped in advance so that the event could go forward and collectors could purchase them onsite. The ceremony proceeded with Armagan Ozdinc, an APS member who helped organize the event. Joining Ozdinc were Alan Warren, who serves in too many positions to list, and Jay Bigalke, Editor-in-Chief of Linn’s Stamp News and Scott catalog, with Linn’s sponsoring the event.
Finally, the United Nations Postal Administration issued a definitive stamp honoring Mother Teresa. The stamp was originally slated for release in September, but when we announced the show, the UNPA changed the date to issue the stamps in advance of her August 26th birthday. This time, I joined Jay Bigalke and Armagan Ozdinc, along with Chris Lazaroff, first day collector extraordinaire, for the unveiling of the stamp. The UNPA will issue its Celebrations stamps at UNEXPO 2021 in Bellefonte later this month. We’re excited to work with the UNPA twice in the same year!
Adding to the day of firsts, the Boston 2026 World Expo Committee unveiled its first label promoting the upcoming international show. I joined Boston 2026 President Nancy Clark, Boston 2026 USPS Liaison Chris Lazaroff, and Boston 2026 Label, Cachet and Postmark Designer Chris Calle for the event. The label reproduces a portion of Herman Moll’s 1729 map showing the earliest recorded postal road between New England and its neighboring colonies.
Each of the events brought great attendance and was a treasure trove for collectors. At this point, I’m not sure my autograph is worth much on a first day program, but it was a great way to meet so many APS members in one place.
By the end of the day, the energy was still strong. Several dealers told me they met ANA members attending the World Fair of Money who came to our show to check things out – some even made some large purchases.
Michael Ball of A to Z Stamps shared, “We had our best single sales day ever yesterday at the APS Great American Stamp Show in Chicago. All 15 chairs were full at all times.”
For those who have attended the Great American Stamp Show in the past, you know Friday is about two things: buying stamps and society meetings. The morning rush, though smaller than Thursday’s, was no less impressive. Sales remained strong through the morning and things calmed down in the afternoon as some attendees wandered off to General Membership meetings and seminars. Dealers reported strong sales and the smiles of countless collectors showing off new acquisitions were the highlight of the day.
Checking back in with Michael Ball, he reported, “We had our second best day ever yesterday [Friday] and only a few hundred behind Thursday’s smashing success.”
|A. Stephen Patrick
On Saturday morning, the APS helds its annual General Membership Meeting where we honored our 25- and 50-year members and Carter Award winners, while the officers of the Society reported to the APS membership on progress for the year. Before my presentation, I introduced the APS staff attending the show and invited them to join me on stage. They received a standing ovation recognizing the incredible work they’ve done during the pandemic. I know the team appreciated the recognition and I am grateful for the support of our membership.
On Saturday evening, we host the annual Celebration Banquet to recognize some of the greatest contributors to the hobby and announce the winners of the major exhibiting awards. The winners of the APS and APRL Awards were listed in the August issue (see stamps.org/awards for more information about 2021 APS award winners). Most notably, we welcomed Alfredo Frohlich, Darrell Ertzberger, and Ron Lesher to the Luff Circle. The ATA honored past president Dale Smith with the Distinguished Philatelist award. As ATA President, Dale led the effort to bring the ATA together with the APS for a joint annual show. He has made some great contributions to the hobby and been a tireless advocate for the good of the hobby.
Congratulations to the many winners of exhibiting and literature exhibit awards at GASS 2021. The APS website has a complete list of exhibit palmares awarded at the show at https://aps.buzz/2021PalmaresAwards. I will simply mention two of note: Mark Thompson took home the Most Popular Champion of Champions for his exhibit, “Women of the Black Heritage Series from the Fields of Slavery to the Halls of Congress.” And the hobby’s top exhibiting prize, the Benjamin and Naomi Wishnietsky Multiframe Champion of Champions, went to Daniel Ryterband for his exhibit, “A Country Divided: Effects of the American Civil War on the Mails.” Ryterband’s exhibit won the Grand at the Civil War Postal Exhibition and Symposium held in Bellefonte in October 2019.
The last day of the show is usually quieter than the hectic three days that precede it. Collectors were more leisurely, often spending more time socializing than anything else. Dealers closed sales from those “wait and see” customers over the weekend. Society booths were active, recruiting new members among the attendees who were “stamped out.” When the show closed, clean-up began in earnest. The work, while over for attendees, had just started for the APS staff, packing all the material among the takedown by convention center employees. When we all wandered off the floor at 9 pm, we prepped for the long journey back to Bellefonte.
The dealers bourse saw great traffic, including some ANA members
We count attendance by total registrations for the show. We had just over 2,500 registered attendees for the 2021 Great American Stamp Show. By comparison, we had roughly 2,200 for our last show in Omaha in 2019. Our Stamps by the Bucket and Covers by Container booths had the best sales ever at a show. Membership recruitment showed the best results since our 2015 show in Grand Rapids. Considering all of the challenges and concerns with COVID, the show fared pretty well.
One missing element of the 2021 show was the Young Philatelic Leadership Fellows. Due to ongoing concerns with COVID, we opted to hold off on bringing our Fellows to the show. Over the years, members enjoyed stopping by the booth to visit the Fellows and make purchases from the sale of donated material.
The show circuit is alive and well. For the APS, we have been working with the United National Philatelists Inc. to get ready for UNEXPO 2021, held here at the headquarters on October 29 and 30, 2021. We’ve also begun work on the next Great American Stamp Show to be held August 25-28, 2022, at the SAFE Credit Union Convention Center in Sacramento, CA. Unlike this year, we’ll be working through details this fall and preparing to roll out announcements after the first of next year. So save the dates and plan to be there!