For many of us, life has changed quickly from its usual patterns, in more ways than I could possibly name. I won’t tell you all what you already know about the difficulties we are facing, nor will I attempt to comment on the long-term effects we may face as a hobby, let alone as a world community. These questions are beyond my scope — and I suspect that you are not looking to The American Philatelist for the solutions to non-philatelic problems.
Yet I do know of one thing that I can attest to, from my own experience and from that of my friends in the philatelic community — our collections can be a welcome reprieve from other worries. They offer opportunities to focus inward, and allow us to stretch our minds towards philatelic puzzles and details, aesthetically-pleasing projects, and research, instead of the 24-hour news cycle. I’ve spoken to more than one collector who has taken self-quarantine seriously and spent significant time getting lost in their boxes of local covers.
And so, those of us who are stamp collectors are not entirely without recourse. Even though a long and dull winter has turned longer and duller in the spring, we find that there is much to be done in our collections.
One obvious task is to take care of putting away new issues and newly required material. Often, this task gets preempted by other things, but now is a great time to get it done.
Another is to complete an inventory of what you have — and I invite you to read more on this topic in Richard Colberg’s article “Appraising a Stamp Collection (Especially in times of crisis)” from this very issue. Not only is an inventory essential for insurance purposes — and a nice long project that you may have been saving for a rainy day — but when you take the time to sift through your entire collection, you will notice which parts are growing and the most interesting to you now, and which parts are being neglected. For the neglected parts, you may wish to focus on which items need to be discarded and sold, which need to be donated, and which need to be kept and developed. The more comprehensive your inventory — auction catalogs, article clippings, ephemera, and all — the more you may discover you had, either forgotten in a closet or high up on a shelf, hidden from your passing glance.
Apart from your macro-inventory of all the volumes or stock books or references, there is also room for a micro-inventory, or, in other words, a want-list of those things you really would like, or gaps in your collection you would like to fill.
In addition to organizing, making inventories, and sorting items into “keep” and “discard” piles (which may sound more like chores than useful distractions), there is one other very helpful and interesting thing that you can do: write about what you have. You may do that writing in the form of making an exhibit, or you can write an article, whether for your local club newsletter or for The American Philatelist, or any other publication. While print publishing is most familiar to many of us, I should mention that many societies and individuals have options for publishing online, including the APS. Stamps.org produces many articles on stamp collecting and the editorial team welcomes writers to share their shorter, visual articles about philately. I’m often reading calls for fresh material in club journals and bulletins; new authors writing about their favorite topic, philatelic item, or aspect of postal history are not just welcomed, but celebrated. Write about a new discovery, how a particular cover fits into postal history or regular history, or perhaps the interesting history of a cancellation or the use of an issue — there are so many topics. All of these topics can find a home somewhere in print or online. Most significantly, your unique perspective matters, and can bring fresh air into discussions that have been ongoing for decades.
Writing about your favorite stamp or postal history subject has a side benefit as well: it increases the visibility of your area and may actually increase the interest in your type of material. But the main reason we write, and read the writings of others, is intellectual curiosity. As collectors, we are always interested in how others approach their collections and through writing — by collectors of all ages and levels of experience — we open our minds to learn from each other, even if our collections and experiences are vastly different.
We may be restricted in movement because of the pandemic, but our minds are not restricted and our interests in philately need not be restricted either. We can use this time of restricted social in-person communication to take advantage of the fact that our hobby, even when solitary, can produce great benefits to ourselves and to others. So, take some time to look into your own material. You will be surprised and delighted at what you find.
Editor's Note: The article "Our “Usual” is Gone — Bring Collecting into your New Routine" was published in the May 2020 issue of The American Philatelist, available exclusively to members of the American Philatelic Society. Click here to view the full issue.