A Collector's Memoir
By John M. Hotchner
A funny thing happened when I changed jobs and suddenly was no longer on the Paris-Vienna-London-Riga-Dhaka, etc. treadmill. I have to do my stamp washing at home.
It used to be that on these trips I'd spend happy evenings until the wee hours watching TV (yes, even the most Third of Third World countries gets CNN International or BBC World News!) with an ice bucket full of mission mix in my lap. Now, it's the downstairs sink, with reminders from my Better Half not to put wet newspapers directly on the carpet, and observations about the possible effects of putting all that "gummy water" down the drains.
Domestic tranquility and philately seem at times to have a hard time co-existing. At first, my strongest arguing point was that the hobby kept me home, and out of pool halls. That lasted until I found a local stamp club that met the first and third Fridays. And then another that met Wednesday nights. And these led to trading sessions other evenings, and show and bourse visits on weekends.
So the hobby became, for arguments' sake, a good "safe" educational tool for our kids. They did enjoy it, and they also, they tell me today, got to know some of the interesting and colorful personalities who tend to populate stamp and cover collecting. Whether that was enough to turn them off to the hobby, or they simply graduated to other interests, the hobby never "took." The time came when none of them were interested, and they went away to university one by one.
As they left, my collection or should I say "collections" also grew, and invaded storage areas, book cases, closets, and the tops of anything left bare for more than a week. This was not an endearing development in my wife's eyes. For this reason I switched my tack. The pitch was altered to how I was building a collection of value that would insure our old age. That nugget lasted until we needed to pay for weddings, and we jointly discovered that I couldn't bring myself to sell any of the collections I'd had so much fun building. I still say that one day I will. But don't try to pin me down as to exactly when...
Somewhere along the line I began to write for the philatelic press, and to do some editing. That did in fact bring in some loose change; and getting involved in philatelic exhibiting and judging eventually resulted in occasional expense-paid trips overseas to "do" an international show. These developments did help to bolster my protestations that, yes, the hobby is a worthwhile endeavor.
To me, what makes it worthwhile is the building of a collection, the enjoyment of leaving the day's cares behind while I "work" on my stamps, the philatelic friendships made and developed over the years, the acquisition of a wonderful item for a specialized collection, and the correspondence with readers of my articles and magazines. I am, and feel, blessed.
But it is awfully difficult to convey those positive feelings to a spouse who sees philately as something of a competitor. After nearly 40 years of marriage, my wife is reconciled (most of the time) to my philatelic pursuits, but shares really in only one aspect: the friendships.
We now face the prospect of retirement, and that brings with it a move, and downsizing of the mass of material I've stockpiled over the years, including my library, my writing and subject files, stamp and cover projects I expected to get to "some day," and duplicates saved to trade or sell, again, some day.
What makes it easier is we've started planning early, and my "stuff," though spread out, is organized, and needs only a fairly easy "Keep it Dump it Move it onward" decision. In fact it's kind of exciting to have the prospect of getting even more organized, and finding things that I knew I had somewhere, but for practical purposes had lost track of. After 58 years in the hobby, I've accumulated enough projects for the future to last me at least another 50 years and I hope to have my marbles and my health for at least another 30!
I also believe that the relaxation I've enjoyed thanks to the hobby has helped to keep me young in body and soul. In fact some of the most vibrant people I know are collectors of various things, who have made it to their advanced years with grace, wisdom, and pep; knowing that whatever life throws at them, they will never lack for a reason to get up each morning.
But back to retirement for a moment. We will be moving to a completely new location perhaps in a year or two; perhaps in three to five. But I am feeling some excitement to join a new club, find new trading partners, see a whole new set of dealers, and to be near one of my sons. He is a collector by nature; but a collector of sports memorabilia, including especially baseball, football, basketball, and hockey cards. Perhaps I will re-engage with my childhood hobby of collecting New York Yankees cards, if I can get him to re-engage with his childhood hobby of philately.
And maybe the real challenge is to get one or more of my three grandchildren interested. I honor the memory of my father, who managed to get me deeply enough into the hobby that I didn't quit as a teenager even when I discovered women. I wish I had paid attention to how he did it. It just seemed to be in my blood. I loved washing, sorting, identifying, completing an album page and I still do.
Should you wish to comment on this editorial, or have questions or ideas you would like to have explored in a future column, please write to John Hotchner, VSC Contributor, P.O. Box 1125, Falls Church, VA 22041-0125, or email, putting "VSC" in the subject line, at firstname.lastname@example.org
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