Collecting stamps

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 stamps were a regular event…

Initially we had a small loose leaf album with blank pages into which we simply put stamps without attempts at order. At some point, we got a small album with separate sections for each country. When this was no longer enough, he came home from Gimbels one day with the Cadillac: a ‘Master Global’ album that came as a large binder with pages divided by countries and arranged in chronological order, and for which we could get regular monthly supplements. The collection grew and the binder became two binders, then three, then four...and ultimately eight. As we became more serious, we got a several volume catalogue to look stamps up and determine their value, which we penciled in under each stamp, with careful tallies by page, country and in total. We also branched out into some small specialty collections, with their own albums: plate blocks, first day issues, Austrian stamps, and Swiss stamps.

In the early days, stamps came very slowly and sporadically, and mostly from his correspondence. Later they came at a faster rate in small but still unpredictable bunches as his friends sent us envelopes chock-full of stamps. Later we bought little plasticine envelopes of random stamps, usually at Gimbels. We also went to stamp shows and traded stamps.

Though the process changed over time, there was a sameness to the core that is comforting to remember, even now. Once or twice a week, during later elementary school and junior high school, he and I would sit at the dining room table with new stamps to be entered into the collection. (This continued at lower frequency through high school, and on vacations during college and even medical school.) It was a calm and orderly process. We would examine each 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 to the back, and affix it in its appointed place 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.

Those 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, and with trivia contests. It also created a lifelong habit of looking things up at every opportunity, for which I am immensely grateful. I still have the albums, along with an intimidating number of stamps to be examined and filed, but my Dad is gone and I have not been able to bring myself to start without him to share in the effort, and the rewards. 



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