Collecting stamps

(Submitted by Peter Elias.)

Try as I might, I cannot remember when or why my father and I began collecting stamps. What I do remember is that he corresponded regularly with friends in England, Holland, Vienna, Switzerland, and France, and that envelopes with colorful tamps were a regular event.

Initially we had a small loose leaf album with blank pages, and we simply put stamps in them without attempts at organization. At some point, he got a ‘Master Global’ album that came as a large binder with pages divided by countries and arranged in chronological order, for which we got regular monthly supplements. The investment grew and the binder became two binders, then three, and four. As we became more serious, we got a several volume catalogue to look stamps up and determine their value, which we penciled in under the stamp and tallied by country and in total. We also branched out into some small specialty collections of plate blocks, first day of issues, Austrian stamps, and Swiss stamps. <

Initially stamps came very gradually and mostly from his correspondence. Later they came in small bunches when his friends sent us envelopes chock-full of stamps. Sometimes we bought little plasticine envelopes of random stamps, usually at Gimbels. We also went to stamp shows and traded stamps.

Once or twice a week during later elementary school and junior high school he and I would sit at the dining room table with the new stamps to be entered into the collection. (This continued at lower frequency through high school, and on vacations during college and medical school.) It was a calm and orderly process. We would examine the stamp, identify the country from which it came, find its location in the album (sometimes a challenge), look up its value in our several volume catalog, attach a small hinge on the back, and put it in the album. If this stamp had a person, mountain, animal or plant, or celebrated some historic event, one of us would get out the encyclopedia and we would read about it.

These evenings together did wonders for my interest in geography, history, and culture. I suspect I owe my undeservedly high scores on achievement tests and MCATs in large measure to this. It certainly helps me with crossword puzzles, literary references in books and movies, with trivia. It also created a lifelong habit of looking things up at every opportunity. I still have the albums, along with an intimidating number of stamps to be examined and filed, but I have not been able to bring myself to start without him to share.