My Life Dictated By Postage Stamps
I was a just a young boy, likely around 10 or 11 years old, when my grandfather gave me his stamp collection. Why he gave it to me I would never come to fully understand, as he had a youngest unmarried son, my uncle, that was just out of school. Looking back, giving it to my uncle at that time would have made much more sense and I've always asked myself, why me? I wasn't the oldest grandchild, nor probably the brightest, but it could have had something to do with the fact that I was already involved in the 1960's booming mail-order business, where I was curiously on a trial basis with postage stamps. He might have seen it as the perfect thing to keep a growing kid like me out of trouble. It also might have been that my grandfather sized me up as being a somewhat meticulous child... today I believe they call it anal retentiveness. Looking back, I'd like to say he was a rather insightful individual, but in all actuality, he just made a lucky assessment.
Just prior to me being given grandfather's collection (accumulation), I had discovered the coolest thing. Requesting things through the mail without having to pay for them (initially at least). That was soooo cool! You could order everything from postage stamps and gardening seeds, toy soldiers, and X-ray glasses. It was when nuclear submarines and live monkeys became available through the mail that my parents began to closely screen all outgoing mail. And in all reality that was a good thing because I'm almost certain that if a live pet monkey showed up on our doorstep with COD charges, that would have been the end of me.
I mostly stuck with the mail order items that were free, as in no COD and on a trial basis except that there was something I found very intriguing about that "Venus Fly Trap" plant that caused me to order those seeds in the mail. I must have been one of the early ones to find myself on a "mailing list" because soon thereafter, I was inundated with a mailbox full of ads about making money selling seeds. So I began with with the free shipments of garden seeds - a collection of both vegetable and flowering seeds.
These seeds were packaged for resale where I could sell them to friends and family. I then went door-to-door and tried my luck as a seeds salesman. I quickly learned, after selling the obligatory first dozen packs of flower seeds to mostly a few aunts and uncles, gardening in suburbia was just not going to be a trend-setting proposition. Not many people seemed interested in growing sweet corn or watermelons in-between their above-ground pools and patios. I inevitably failed as a salesment and out of curiosity, I turned my eye on postage stamps. I could get bargain deals (low value stamps) for a cheap price. I could also recieve packets of stamps for my viewing pleasure, keep the ones I liked, and send payment and the unlucky stamps back to the Mystic Stamp Company. Maybe I could trade them at school?
Upon receiving packets of stamps via mail, I would thumb through them with regularity. I always found them colorful and intriguing but I was never quite sure what one did with stamps. There were those stamps that I found most appealing like butterfly stamps, triangle stamps, stamps featuring animals, and so forth, and I would play with them and arrange them in order of interest. I would occasionally take them to school and show them off to my classmates but nobody really took any interest. It was afterall my junior high school years and there were other things becoming more pressing, like girls. Eventually, I received from my Aunt Marcella, a small beginners Stamp album for my birthday. My grandfather must have taken notice.
Every time I received a new packet of stamps from the Mystic Stamp Company, I would rush to my room to open it and examine my new treasures carefully - again and again - the way a young lad would, with a mixture of awe and reverance and pleasure. It wasn't until my grandfather gave me his accumulation that got me really got excited. He had been collecting (accumulating) stamps for years but never really cataloged many of them. Most of them were just loose stamps that completely filled two cigar boxes and a couple dozen or so envelopes stuffed by country. Because my grandparents were immigrants from Eastern Europe, he had a circle of friends in Chicago that would give him their envelopes mailed from the homeland - Mgyar (Hungary), Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Bosnia and Germany - were just a few of the countries that sourced his accumulation. He had spent some years just sorting all his stamps by country and would put them in envelopes, but not many stamps found their way into his old album. Once I became armed with many, many stamps, stamp hinges, stamp tongs, and some miscellaneous stamp collecting pharapanalia, which included a magnifying glass, I became a philatelist.
The incredible thing about stamps is the way in which they broadened my horizons. As a young boy, I mostly enjoyed the colors, the variety, and the artistic nature of it all. Over time, my fantacy with stamps coalesced into intrigue. I gained a better understanding of the history involved with each stamp and the countries that issued stamps. Whenever a stamp arroused my curiosity, I would delve into where it came from and the story behind the stamp. Stamps took me on an interesting journey - from the Pitcarin Islands (remember Mutiny on the Bounty?) to Russia, China and the far east. From African nations to South America. I discovered off-beaten paths and exotic places like Borneo, Armenia, Da Homey, New Guinea, and the French Colonies. I also learned about famous personalities like Copernicus, Karl Marx, Lucy Stone and George Eastman.
I learned more about the Lewis & Clark Expedition- that famous first North American continental crossing to reach the Pacific Ocean - than I did in school. I also learned about the many complexities of pre and post WWII Europe. Whenever I had time growing up, I would spend a few hours sorting through my stamps and studying their history. It was tedious back in those days as the school library was the only place to go for information... if I could even find any information at all as many times I found a dead end. But that never deterred me to learn more as there were many more stamps to direct my attention to. I eventually saved up enough money, and with a little help from my mother, purchased the classic Harris "Standard World Stamp Album" - a two album set which would help me bide my time cataloging my stamps while I continued through high school. When I graduated, I put my stamps aside as my odyssey would continue, only this time in person. I travelled from Illinois to Florida and set up a place to short-stay. I then reached out farther and landed in Key West. A little over a year later I returned back home. After a short time working, I saved up enough money to buy a motorcycle, and this time I headed west. I was abruptly halted and taken back by the Colorado Rocky Mountains. It wasn't exactly the trail that Lewis and Clark blazed, but then they didn't have a motorcycle and Freeways either. When the money ran out, I found myself back home but by now my desire to travel had become a true affliction. The cure was simple... in order to fulfill my destiny, I did the only thing I could do without having any money... I joined the Navy and my travels continued far and wide. Through my working years I would occasionally spend time with my collection, re-acquainting myself with my early passion into philately. I would sometimes collect really cool stamps along the way while still sorting through and cataloging grandfathers accumulation, although it would not be until my later years when I would become re-focused on the very thing that incited me to begin my journey in life. I always knew that someday I would need them again, but for a different reason. Today, I enjoy spending time sorting and identifying stamps with a icy cocktail and some good music... Classic Rock of course. Philately is not only my hobby, it is my therapy.
Recently, I purchased some new albums and stocked up on some new supplies. I have begun the long, slow process of segregating and re-cataloging my U.S. stamps into their new home - a new album - leaving my world stamps to be by themselves in their own world album. Today, it is much easier to research and identify most all stamps due to the convenience of the internet and advancement of online stamp groups and identifiers. While there is so much information available today, occasionally I can get hung up on a difficult stamp (the China empire gives me most of my challenges) but I usually persist and eventually reach a conclusion. I'm probably more excited about stamps than I ever was mainly now because I possess more and better knowledge of the hobby. After all, it is the world's greatest hobby. Stamps tell us so many amazing stories. They entertain and educate us and allow us to travel the world and learn about other cultures and world history. And best of all, they teach us about our own great countries, wherever one may be from. And as a plus for me, I guess it wouldn't be any stretch of imagination to say that through my travels, I inevitably found my wife because of those stamps that inspired me to travel.
If you've got the time, there are millions of stamps just waiting for someone to love them again... only nowdays you don't need to lick them - admiration is all they need... while enjoying glass of wine from Moldova of course!