Michaël Smorowski is a French stamp collector and blogger, focused on exploring classic French stamps and postal history. APS interviewed Michaël to learn more about his background in the hobby and future plans for his blog.
Read the interview below:
Q: Give a brief bio and background of how you began to collect stamps?
A: I am a retired French naval officer and I live in France on the French Riviera. I’m a collector of French stamps of the classic period and a postal history enthusiast. I started collecting stamps in 1978 like many young boys of that time and I specialized in a specific field about ten years ago.
Q: Who inspired you to collect stamps?
A: It was my Polish origins (my family emigrated to France in the early 1920s) that inspired me. My grandparents maintained correspondence with distant cousins and the letters they received from Poland were always franked with magnificent stamps (photo 1) which, as far as I can remember, attracted all my attention. After receiving an album at Christmas, I started a stamp collection by also extending it to French stamps without really knowing where it was going to lead me.
Q: Do you collect only French stamps?
A: I started collecting Polish and French stamps. My profession as a sailor allowed me to travel around the world and discover other horizons, which prompted me to extend my collection to other countries. This collection was growing at breakneck speed and without a specific goal, so it was beginning to take up considerable space. I therefore decided to specialize in a country, France and a period, that of the first French stamps that we call classic, targeting it on those issued from 1849 (date of creation of the 1st French stamp) to 1876 just before the entry of France into the UPU (Universal Postal Union), so the stamps Sc. #1 to Sc. #63. (photo 2)
This may seem like a limited choice but it remains an endless quest for treasures. For each stamp, there are a multitude of different hues, varieties and above all cancellations that tell such an interesting story. This doesn’t mean that I am not interested in stamps from other countries or from other eras, I don’t collect them but being in a philatelic club, I see a lot of them. I also take pictures of these stamps and share them on my twitter account (@defenderium). Each stamp has a story to tell and I like to share it when I can. In my philatelic club with my friends, I often have interesting discussions in areas that go beyond the strict framework of my collection.
Q: What are your favorite stamps that you have collected?
A: I'm always captivated by stamps bearing the effigy of Napoleon III or Cérès (photo 3). This period of French history is very exciting. I have a few mint and canceled ones with postmarks recounting such an interesting period of history. These postmarks led me into the field of postal history where postmarks tell a story that takes you back in time. The covers also take up a large part of my collection, they led me to participate in philatelic exhibitions. Participation in exhibitions has the advantage of encouraging us to document ourselves, to be rigorous in our expertise and to seek the right information and rare pieces. "Rare" doesn’t automatically mean expensive, often covers with little interest can turn out to be fantastic treasures.
Q: What inspired you to create your blog?
I first created a Twitter account in September 2017 with which I wanted to express my passion for philately. Through this account I was able to meet people who had the same hobby as me and that encouraged me to create a site (French Classic Philately
) with which I could share more information on philately since it allowed me to get out of the constrained framework of Twitter where posts are limited to 280 characters. It is also a good exercise because you have to define your subject, do research and check what you write. In any case, you progress in your field by writing articles. Moreover, the leitmotif of this blog is to share information, knowledge on classic French philately (photo 4). I wanted my blog and twitter account to be in English to reach the maximum number of people, even though it’s possible to translate them into any language thanks to the integrated translation tools. My articles aren't just written to be read, I'm also happy when they spark discussion or debate. Either way, it's very rewarding.
Q: Would you ever consider becoming professionally involved in philately?
A: For the moment my interest in philately isn’t professional but I admit that I would be interested in writing articles or, why not a book, on a purely philatelic theme or postal history. My goal isn’t to become a professional but it is true that it’s the dream of many people to have a job that is also a passion. We will see what the future holds for me.
Q: Are you planning to expand to other social media platforms outside of Twitter?
I have an Instagram account (club_philatelique_toulonnais) for my philately club (city of Toulon) which is used to publish some posts related to philately to reach possible people interested in stamps and who wouldn’t dare or think come to a club and meet other people who share the same hobby. Philately may seem like a solitary hobby, but it’s also an activity through which you can meet wonderful people. LONDON 2022
type exhibitions are also a way to meet the people you can talk to on social networks. For example, I have already met some people in Monaco (MONACOPHIL
) and I’m thinking of attending other exhibitions around the world to meet friends with whom I exchange on social networks.
Q: What are your plans for the future of the blog?
A: I have a ton of article ideas in my head. I opened a section in my blog that I intend to expand where we dive into the origins of the post, long before the creation of the first stamp (1840). One can easily find letters from the 17th and 18th centuries or dating from the French revolution (1789). The oldest letters must be deciphered because the writing was very different, this deciphering activity is called paleography (photo 4). During this process, we are a bit like Jean-François Champollion, the famous philologist, deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs.
In my collection entitled "Postal History of Pas-de-Calais from origins to 1876" which is launched in the process of philatelic exhibitions and which will soon reach the national level, I have letters which date from the 17th century with postmarks and that had to be deciphered. This collection is interesting because there is also transatlantic mail via the UK from the USA (photo 5), French colonies, South America, Africa, etc. which entered the European continent through Calais or Boulogne-sur-Mer. This subject is fascinating and leads to the study of numerous postal conventions. I find it fascinating to turn to this past that you can touch with your fingertips with letters. With tools available to everyone, such as the Internet, social networks, archives that can be consulted online, this passion turned towards the past is paradoxically completely modern.
Q: Anything else you would like to add?
A: I would like to say that philately is a magnificent, exciting passion and that it allows you to touch on other fields such as history, geography, genealogy and sociology. Social networks are interesting for widening the circle of your friends but they aren't an end in itself, they’re simply tools to reach out to others. If you aren’t yet in a club, sign up, meet people, visit exhibitions, your pleasure as a philatelist will only be increased tenfold. And finally, all collections are equal, it is the pleasure it gives you that makes a collection more or less valuable, not its intrinsic value!