This fall, APS Development Assistant Erin Seamans spoke with Yunchen Tian about the Young Philatelic Leaders Fellowship program, a scholarship program run by 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.
Yunchen Tian graduated YPLF in the Class of 2010 on the dealer track. Tian is currently attending Johns Hopkins University, where he is a PhD Candidate in Political Science.
Erin: Why did you choose to apply for YPLF and what did you expect to accomplish?
Tian: At the time, I had been helping a dealer in my area with a dozen-ish shows a year. I was interested in how dealers built their stock to meet the needs of the collecting community. I wanted to learn more about the value that dealers provided to philately, as opposed to collector-to-collector sales. Broadly, I hoped to become more familiar with the economics, or so to speak, of the hobby.
Erin: What did you learn about philately through YPLF? Can you recall a moment or memory from your time as a Fellow that was significant in your learning process?
Tian: One of the more memorable moments of my experience in the YPLF was attending the summer courses at the APS headquarters in Bellefonte. I vividly remember taking Wayne Youngblood’s course in modern forgeries. Rare and expensive stamp forgeries have plagued the hobby since its beginnings, but one rarely hears about modern forgeries of everyday-use definitives, and how often-times these forgeries can be desirable collectables in their own right.
Erin: In what ways have you been involved in the philatelic community since graduating from YPLF?
Tian: Apart from very sporadic participation in some shows, I’m sorry to say that the last ten years or so have mostly been a period of inactivity as I focus on my career and family.
Erin: What did you learn during your time as a Fellow that serves your involvement in the hobby today?
Tian: My internship with the amazing Michael Ball contributed greatly to developing my ability to identify, grade, and appraise the value of stamps and other philatelic material.
Erin: I see that you currently go to school for Political Science. What drew you to learn about this subject?
Tian: As a first generation American myself, I have always had an interest in how states and societies wrestle with the often divisive and sensitive issue of immigration. It drives my current research on the politics of labor migration in Japan.
Erin: How has your time as a Fellow informed your work / schooling?
Tian: Philately, especially when practiced at the advanced level, is often about doing the diligent, detailed research to tell the story of a particular piece or issue, while setting it in a broader context to make it interesting and relevant to those with different niche collecting interests. My current field, academic, works in a similar way: everyone has their own incredibly specific, often-esoteric research topics, and it’s important to identify relatable themes, ideas, and methods which contribute to a broader conversation.
Erin: What are your long-term goals in philately?
Tian: I have been slowly working on fleshing out and accumulating material for a study of the postal history of Native American reservations in the American West. It’s very much a project in the works, and I do not have much time to dedicate to it at the moment.
Erin: What would you say to someone considering joining YPLF?
Tian: Apply! If deepening your engagement with the hobby is what you want, the YPLF is an invaluable opportunity to be exposed to new ideas, meet major names in the hobby from around the world, and get caught up with the state of the art in philately. I am grateful to have been in the inaugural cohort of the YPLF and the experiences that I was afforded during that year are cherished memories.
Erin: Is there anything else you would like to share with our audience of fellows, alumni, donors, and potential applicants?
Tian: It seems that engagement towards youth and younger adults remains a difficult challenge. However, there is nothing inherently ‘out of date’ with the hobby. The YPLF is one example of how challenging the orthodox of philately and finding new ways to engage and expand the community can breathe new life into our community. I hope that the collecting community will find novel ways of catering to evolving hobbyist tastes, and more effectively promote our shared enriching and educational pastime.
If you are between the ages of 16-24 or know someone who enjoys stamps, postal history, art in miniature form, socializing with people and learning about the world of philately? YPLF might be for you or someone you know!
Applications for the YPLF Class of 2023 will be accepted starting January 2022 and due by May 15, 2022. Still thinking about if you or someone you know should apply? Check out these exciting perks of being a Fellow below.