Lawrence Fisher has been an APS member since 2022, recently returned to stamp collecting after over a decade of hiatus. He is also the owner of the Stories Behind the Stamps blog and YouTube channel. APS reached out to Lawrence to learn more about his background in the hobby and his plans for the future.
Read the interview below:
Tell us more about yourself and your background:
So a little about myself, I am 62 years young and work as a systems analyst and senior programmer in a large company. I am not sure if the senior refers to my age or not, but oh well definitions are definitions. I am an Israeli but I was born in Bulawayo, Rhodesia, sometime in mid last century, but my accent hasn’t left me.
What inspired you to collect stamps?
I have been collecting since I was 5 years old, getting the bug from my father, I suppose most people are like that. I remember that I loved going with him to lectures and hear people talk about their collections and was amazed at the amount of knowledge that people had on specific topics that they were collecting. So I collected countries, mainly Israel and Rhodesia. Of course my pocket money couldn’t buy me much but I often saved up to buy myself a better item. I soon found out that my father was a collector who simply loved collecting but had no interest beyond that. My interest was a bit different and I wanted to know more about the people and the design of the stamps. So my father put me in touch with relevant people and if I was a dog, my tail would wag.
Now I have a toddler, not yet 5, who means the world to me and I have gotten her involved in postcrossing. When we get postcards, we sit together and learn the geography of the card and the stamps on it, such as where the country of issue is and such. She often surprises me when she says, “daddy we already have that stamp”.
What motivated you to come back to stamp collecting?
So anyway, becoming a teenager and then going into the army, collecting became a bore. Then one day I saw a stamp that piqued my interest and the fire has been burning since 1983. I saw a stamp with a dagger inside the heart of Israel. I had never seen such a graphic anti-Israel item and I fell in love with it. The idea of a stamp as propaganda was a delightful idea. Of course every stamp can be looked at as propaganda, sometimes good propaganda such as South Africa issuing a stamp to show that they are excellent at Rugby for example, or scenes to try and get you to come visit a country, but to see propaganda against another country, well I loved the idea. I built a huge collection of these propoganda stamps. I had no idea that there were so many items in this theme.
How did you join the APS?
In those days getting an item for your collection was difficult, we didn’t have emails and so we sent letters in order to trade or buy the items that we needed. I found out that someone, Dr Steve Carroll, had written a catalog and I purchased that, but I was not sure how to get a list of dealers who can assist. Then someone suggested joining the APS and I enrolled and became a member.
What APS services did you use the most?
I loved getting the American Philatelist every month and read the whole journal. I realized that some services were unavailable to me, such as sales, but I found the journal useful as it had a list of dealers. To be honest, I rarely found an article that was of interest to me, because I was a bit close-minded in my own collecting sphere. It never occurred to me that if I can’t find anything, then the problem is with me and that I should write something, but I never got around to doing it. I must admit that when I saw Ken Lawrence’s articles, those were always the first I read, maybe because of his surname? Just kidding, of course, or am I? I loved his exhibit on "The Scourge of the Nazis" which I wouldn’t have known about unless I had the journal.
The problem with the printed journal is that buying it was a huge expense and I could no longer justify it, so I got less interested and decided to stop my subscription. Since rejoining, I have written an article for the magazine and am waiting for it to be published.
Even as a non-member some APS services were still available to me, such as expertizing and the APRL and I used them often. I still do, but I pay extra, of course. I am now a member and have returned and we have Gary Loew to thank, but I will get to that later.
How did you begin exhibiting?
In 1990, I started exhibiting, first nationally and then internationally. My exhibit is called, “The Jewish Homeland, our struggle for survival” and in NY 2016, I got an FIP Gold and a Special Prize. I got a similar result in HunFilex 2022. So for me today, there is a huge difference between my collection and my exhibit. I still collect my propaganda field, and yes there are still stamps being issued, but my main focus is my exhibit. It is an expense and I have to sell some of my items to get better ones, actually many items to buy one better item.
Here is actually when the fun started. At work, I told them that I was taking a few days off to go to the Verona 2019 European Championship in Thematic Philately. They shrugged their shoulders and said go, if that is what you want. On Monday morning, I came in with a smile from ear to ear having won the Champion of Champions category and then someone said to me, “But stamps are not interesting anymore, who collects them today”. I went red, white, blue, then red again, counted to ten in Hebrew, Binary, Spanish, English and rubbish, and said “the masses who were at the exhibition” and showed him the pictures of the line outside waiting to go in, while it was raining. I told him that with stamps you learn about history, culture, general knowledge and many other things. For example, you can learn that Burma is now called Myanmar and that there are disputed territories all over the world, and even disputed capitals, such as Berlin and the Postkrieg or Postal War that surrounded this dispute. Then I said, “I will write a blog for you”.
What inspired you to create your blog and rejoin stamp collecting?
I decided to create a blog where I tell the story behind a stamp, or a philatelic item. As an example, I used the 1923 inflation period stamps to show the history of that time period, specificallyow the hyperinflation was the result of the Versailles Treaty and aided the rise of Adolf Hitler. I got more and more readers and the more readers and “thank you”'s I received, the more incentive I received to carry on with writing. Then Gary said that he liked my style of writing and suggested that I should rejoin the APS. Seeing as how the online subscription is a reasonable price, I rejoined.
One of the ideas behind creating the blog was also to add additional information to the opinions provided by the judges of exhibits. If you take an item like a crash cover from 1948, some judges will say that is nothing special, believe it or not, but sometimes they are right. If thousands of letters were salvaged it doesn’t make the item rare. But judges don’t know which are the rare items and which are not, since they often have less than half an hour to spend on an 8 frame exhibit. Through my blog I have a way to show the important pieces and educate others, always through a story. You should check out my story on the 1970 Swissair Bomb.
What about your YouTube channel?
Houston, we have a problem. How can I draw more people in to hear my stories? I love telling stories, I do have a book on Amazon called “Kill Me Now”. Today it seems that the best medium is through video, YouTube as an example, and so less than a year ago I started my own channel, “Stories Behind the Stamps”. Here I try and show people the history and what led up to things, such as why a German stamp was blackened out in 1965 or why was Hitler’s face defaced on stamps in 1945 and the like.
Making the videos is a lot of fun, but they are time consuming! The one time I had a haircut and then taped an entire session. When I started editing, I realized that all the hair was on my shirt, oopsie. I redid the entire clip.
My focus with the videos is not for stamp collectors but for the general public. Because there is a lot of history involved, people want to learn, but I try to keep my videos as short as possible, preferably under 10 minutes, but definitely under 15 minutes because not only may my viewers get bored but I may get bored as well. My attention span is as limited as a kid I guess.
To make the videos, I try to find some information in the online library because I have had problems with the backlog of the APRL in the past. It has happened that I have received my answer before my email was answered, but won’t dwell there. If I lived in the US, I don’t think you would be able to drag me out of the library.
What are your future plans?
I am going to continue the videos, as much as I can, if there is anyone out there who feels like buying me coffee, there is a link here, my preference is espresso, but I don’t mind a cappuccino.