They measure on average just 3/4 of an inch, but what stories they tell – and so do the people who collect them.
Since 1934, members of the Inland Empire Philatelic Society have been meeting to swap stamp stories and share their collections.
At a recent meeting at Riverview Retirement Community, this weekend’s stamp show was the topic of conversation, but it didn’t take long for board members to pull out binders and folders filled with stamps.
“It started as a project with my son 30 years ago,” Chuck Jones said. “Then he discovered girls, computers and sports and lost interest. I became the warehouse.”
His son’s name is Casey Jones and the collection his father took over has a railroad theme. Stamps from railways adorn personalized Casey Jones envelopes or “covers.”
“Like any hobby, this has its own vocabulary,” Jones said
And like any hobby, stamp collecting can be addictive. Jones pointed to club president JW Palmer. “He has a room dedicated to stamps!”
Palmer shrugged. “My aunt started me on it when I was 6 years old.” Fifty years later his collection is still growing.
He said there are two basic types of collections – simple and thinking. “A thinking collection involves a lot of research.”
David Oldfield’s collection is an example of an exquisitely researched project. For 30 years he’s been collecting Canadian stamps. “I was born in Canada and moved to the U.S.,” he said.
Each page features detailed descriptions of not only the stamps, but often the senders and receivers. Like a treasure hunter on the trail of buried gold, Oldfield mines the Internet for clues to the identities of people who mailed letters decades ago.
He has an envelope addressed to William Howard Taft in New Haven, Conn., and mailed from the Palace Hotel in Quebec. Using the cancellation marking, Oldfield traced Taft’s Canada visit and connections.
Other collections tend toward the amusing. Marilyn Miller’s chickens, for example. Miller is rather new to the hobby. “I started four years ago when I inherited a stamp collection that belonged to my dad.”
Her chicken exhibit features whimsical poultry stamps paired with chicken quotes by famous figures and stamps bearing that person’s likeness. For instance, one side of the page has a Bob Hope stamp followed his quote, “The only thing chicken about Israel is their soup.” A stamp with the likeness of a fluffy yellow chick is affixed to the opposite side of the page.
It’s not the tiny scraps of paper themselves that so fascinates philatelists– it’s the history behind them. Facts flew across the room.
• Latvia printed its stamps on the backs of German maps because of a paper shortage.
• A field post office, or FPO, is set up by the military during time of war or deployment to provide free mail access for the troops.
• Perfins are stamps with perforations in the form of an initial or symbol through its face. The perforations identify the owner of the stamp and were produced by businesses to discourage theft or misuse of their stamps.
• A bourse is a meeting of collectors/dealers where stamps and covers are sold or exchanged.
The cross-collecting appeal of stamps also draws many enthusiasts. Baseball fans may start with cards and branch into baseball stamps. Likewise, those who collect dolls or cars are sometimes tickled to discover a whole new way to expand their hobby.
This weekend’s stamp show will give area philatelists an opportunity to browse through the offerings of seven dealers. With 89 members on its mailing list, the Inland Empire Philatelic Society expects to host quite a crowd. The organization also has found a way to spread the stamp collecting gospel to a new generation.
On the second Saturday of each month, members Maryann and Dennis Christman host a philatelist youth group at Vintage Post Card and Stamps on North Hamilton Street.
Maryann Christman said, “We teach them what a wonderful hobby this is because you learn so much about the world.”
Her husband, Dennis, related the tale of an 8-year-old boy who was interested in an old stamp from Portugal. The stamp featured a knight astride a horse. Christman asked the boy if he could discover who the knight on the horse was. “It was little tiny figure,” Christman recalled. “But the next month he came back with a page full of information. It turns out that knight was the king of Portugal.”
Club president Palmer said philatelists share one common quality: “You just have to be curious.”