Last month, we set out to put together another research issue. Like the research issue published in February 2021 (and unlike our other themed issues), the only real tie or through-line between the articles in this issue is that the authors shared their research approaches, their philosophies, and the steps they took, far and wide across the philatelic and non-philatelic field, to find the information they needed.
With that in mind, this issue goes in some interesting directions. I will share a few thoughts I had while choosing and editing articles for this issue.
First we have Bob Crossman’s introduction to the Butterfield’s Overland Mail Co. stagecoach trail. By now Bob has written three titles on this subject, including the latest, Butterfield’s Overland Mail Co. as REPORTED in Arkansas Newspapers of 1858-1861, a thick book with transcriptions of newspaper reports mentioning the company. But here Bob takes us to the beginning of his story, before three books and countless hours of research – when a few chance encounters and another collector’s encouragement – John Birkinbine – sent him on a journey to learn more about a historical mail route that ran past his home. Humble beginnings – but many impressive collections have been born this way. From a research perspective, Bob’s books tell the full story. What spoke to me was that Bob explored his community and therefore found answers from unlikely sources. It’s a great reminder that as much as we grow to rely on digitized resources, stepping away from computer screen can yield fascinating results.
The next article is by Michael Bloom, who is the current president of the International Society of Guatemala Collectors (ISGC). Michael offered a presentation at the Great American Stamp Show that I was lucky to attend, where he discussed the society’s project of creating a single digital “handbook” of all of the society’s philatelic literature, most of which had gone decades without updates (and are hard to find copies of). The online resource would not only make available again this old but vital information, but also open the door to crowd-sourced updates and additions. Michael’s philosophy was, “If we can do it, why not you?”
I will likely never be in a position, myself, to do this kind of project. However, it hits all of my favorite questions, including: How can we make philatelic resources more accessible? What happens when out-of-print resources are no longer available? Are there ways to share expertise that we could try?
The scope of the project is huge. Michael offers in this article a guide to how ISGC did it, including some of the decision-making process, in the hopes that others try, as well. I would be very interested to hear from other societies that are doing similar projects, perhaps at different scales, or from societies that decide to undertake a project like this in the future.
In a similar vein, Tony Crumbley wrote the next article, a postal history primer that uses North Carolina’s history as an example. Tony is a founding member of the North Carolina Postal History Society, which is extremely active itself crowd-sourcing and compiling resources to make widely available. Their online catalog of N.C. postmarks is expansive – and, freely available and regularly updated. Tony walks through, with examples, the research work done over the decades by the members of the society. Just as importantly, Tony shows what is possible if you decide to become a postal history collector.
To pivot just a little to a different collecting philosophy, Michele Bresso represents the American Topical Association in her article about the nuances of research for a topical collection. With her own typewriter philately collection as an example, Michele shows how expanding your view – past the trees to the whole forest – can lead to a collection that is intellectually stimulating and rich.
The next article digs into another specific field: exhibiting. Author Bill Schultz is very well known for his exhibiting expertise – beyond his own award-winning exhibits, he also has taught courses for APS Summer Seminar to push exhibitors to the next level. One of the vital areas to gain points in competitive exhibiting is “personal study and research.” As Bill points out, a common complaint in exhibiting is that “money talks!” But, “it does not cost you much money to do the fun work… of effective quality research.”
Finally, don’t skip over the book reviews. Peter Martin joined us as a guest reviewer to discuss the four-volume Stamp Taxes in Nevada by Michael Mahler. A huge research effort on Mahler’s part, Martin classifies his work as a return to the “spirit of seeking knowledge” that was so common in the golden era of philatelic research.
And on a similar note
My next story is timely, relating to research, the importance of local and global connections, and resources shared between philatelists and non-collectors.
In the September British Empire issue, Carol Bommarito shared the earliest known use of adhesive stamps on a cover from Australia (specifically New South Wales) to the United States. The cover itself is beautiful and Carol traces its journey from Paterson, New South Wales to Sydney, to London, New York, then Tapleyville, Massachusetts, and finally forward to Roxbury, Massachusetts. The cover’s contents however were the star of the show for Carol – a letter with a lengthy description of everyday life in the colony of New South Wales. We published a partial transcription and Carol offered to send the full transcription to anyone who wanted it.
After the issue was published, Carol called me to let me know that the article created “quite a flurry in the area of its origin,” facilitated by Australian APS members who passed the article to non-collectors who would be interested. Not only did the Paterson Historical Society in New South Wales reach out to Carol, wishing to add the transcript to their website, but distant descendants of the letter-writer found details of their long-gone family members. The historical society’s website is here: https://www.patersonhistory.org.au/resources.htm#lawrie.
The 1850 New South Wales cover from Carol Bommarito's September 2022 article.
Carol forwarded some of the many words of gratitude she received as a result of the letter. I’ll share two excerpts here:
“May I say, if I have not done so before, you have brought to light a treasure, for the family, the district, and indeed Australia.”
“On behalf of Paterson Historical Society, we are excited and grateful you have given the Society permission to use your transcription and research. It is a marvellous record … The 1850 cover was a great ‘find’ and it is exciting to see it getting a new life. I wonder if James, when scratching away with pen and ink in 1850, ever dreamed his letter would surface in 2022?”
Carol said in her article that “there is nothing more exciting to the collector of postal history than finding wonderful contents.” The contents of this cover had far-reaching impacts beyond our hobby, insular as it might seem. For those of you who collect postal history, how many times have you found something remarkable inside the cover? How often do you look into the life of the sender or recipient, only to find fascinating historical connections – or living descendants?
Many people who collect postal history find themselves acting as amateur genealogists, hunting through ship manifests, census data, and more to dig up the identities of those named on their covers. Carol’s article spurred some to do that work as well – two related letters are published in this issue’s “Letters to the Editor” column.
Other things to keep in mind
It would be irresponsible of me to speak on research without bringing up the Philatelic Literature Review, our sister publication from the American Philatelic Research Library. I am so excited about our latest issue, Quarter 4, which features:
A reflection by Peter Schwartz about the process of researching his 2021 book Inventions of Prevention. Peter got deep into patents for inventions that would prevent the reuse of stamps.
The story, told by Abhishek Bhuwalka, of a knock-down, dirty dogfight between the infamous Samuel Singer and Charles Phillips of Stanley Gibbons, from yesteryear when it was socially acceptable to write a whole pamphlet claiming that another philatelist slandered you.
A few words about the world’s sixth philatelic periodical, by Brian Birch. As far as we know, there were only two issues published, from which we can infer that it is harder to publish a philatelic journal than its creator thought it would be. No comment from this editor.
A guide to Bermuda’s essential philatelic literature by David Robinson, following his article in The AP, “Why Collect Bermuda?” from September 2022.
And, an exploration of the New York Ukrainian Museum, which has a philatelic collection, by A.M. LaVey. LaVey’s consistent thesis is that many museums and archives have unpublicized philatelic connections – all you have to do is look.
And much more.
I will also note that I am very excited for the Quarter 1 PLR issue as well – we have some fascinating articles planned. There’s no better time to subscribe (it’s only $21 for the year for U.S. or digital subscribers). Plus, as you’ll read in Scott Tiffney’s column “APRL Notes,” we have a special deal going on for new and renewing subscribers – a $10 coupon for used books in the library. Check it all out at stamps.org/library.
Please keep your feedback coming and share your views. Remember: if you wish to see an always-improving American Philatelist, you – our readers and APS members – must become a part of this exciting journey. Reach out with your questions, concerns, and suggestions. Write a letter to the editor (LetterToTheEditor@stamps.org.) More importantly, volunteer to participate. This is your American Philatelist. My email is email@example.com. Letters by regular mail are always welcome and will be responded to in kind.