ANOTHER DAY IN THE COUNTRY:   The art of stamp collecting

© Another Day in the Country

I’ve only known two people in my life who were stamp collectors — I’m talking seriously organized collectors with books, everything labeled and in their proper section. One was Dr. Christian, a retired president of the college where I taught. He had velum-leaved volumes of stamps, a collection, as I recall, handed down from his father, which he poured over — adding, subtracting, trading, even examining with a magnifying glass.

“This is where I got part of my education,” he would say, patting the books, “an important part!”

The other collector of note was my friend George Baehm, who didn’t just collect stamps but the postmarks that went with them. When my sister and I were working for a philanthropic group, we got acquainted with George — a member of the organization.

Since we regularly got mail from all around the world, we saved the stamps for George. The first time I handed some to him which I’d carefully clipped from the envelop in order to save space in my drawer, his face fell.

“Next time, just give me the whole letter,” he said, “what I really want is the postmark!”

George and his wife, Tena, would send us little gifts in the mail — still do, so that we could mail the stamps on the outside (with their carefully saved postmarks) back to him for his collection. That gives you an example of his avid collecting! Because of George’s interest in stamps, I naturally started paying closer attention to stamps, too.

Dr. Shaw, my old professor friend who moved to California in his later years to be near to us, was an unorganized stamp collector. He just kept things that fascinated him — things of beauty, things of curiosity, things in general. When Jess and I helped him clear out his house in Michigan for his California move, we found boxes and boxes of things marked “Miscellaneous Things.” One of his things was stamps.

Squirreled away in his desk drawers he had about every denomination of stamp ever printed from one-centers on up. He had a little stack of penny postcards with a rubber band around them. He had foreign stamps that he’d collected on his travels — along with foreign coins, of course.

For nine years I corresponded with Doc, and it was his habit to send stamps — his way of encouraging me to write back. Any new stamp that came out, if it was at all intriguing, Doc would send my way. The “Love” stamps really resonated with his romantic, Victorian style, so I still have the earliest ones in the back of my desk drawer.

Brushes with collectors like this spurred on my natural interest in stamps. Being an artist, it was the artwork that drew me to stamps. Even though sometimes I’ve suggested that the Postal Service could save money by firing all the artists that work for them, I must admit that I look forward to the stamps they create.

I regularly ask Kathy, our postmaster, “Got any new stamps?” She caught on quickly, because now she tries to tempt me into buying even more stamps. “Look at these,” she’ll say, “I thought you’d like them so I got a couple of extra books.” It works.

My recent favorites were the Chinese New Year stamps, all red and gold and firecrackers popping. I wish I could get more of them because they are so much fun to affix to a letter, adding that little extra spark of greeting to a ho-hum envelop.

I still have old favorites in my desk drawer, too. It takes a real special occasion for me to part with any of my oldies like the twenty-five cent Indian headdress stamps that came out around 1990. I still have one stamp from each tribe featured. Now, it takes two to mail a letter.

A stamp is a powerful little square of paper with mucilage on the back. It can speak to your creativity, give us a clue about your interests, and even send a secret message. While I love the stamps, what really makes me smile though, is the letter inside. May you still receive one of these little treasures on another day in the country — before we all become a thing of the past, collectibles.

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