Discovering the History in U.S. Stamps
By John M. Hotchner
Stamps as history a theme that runs through every discussion of the benefits of stamp collecting is most often a level-four consideration, if that, when collectors are acquiring material for their albums. First is the stamp subject itself, then the appeal of the art, and rounding out the big three is the affordability of the stamps.
Double this as a problem if the person is a historical figure, having lived and worked in a time when no one now living has a personal recollection. It is right to honor such people and events as important parts of our heritage, but more than a face and a face value is needed to put them in their context for the modern viewer, let alone for the collector a hundred years from now.
Given that my first recommendation has little chance of realization, another recommendation I want to make is that we supplement our albums, or replace them altogether, with pages created to present the context for our stamps. Here is where Google and Wikipedia shine. It is not hard to find on the Internet enough information to do a couple of paragraphs on each stamp issued. Doing that little bit of "research" on the content of "mystery" stamps will lead you to appreciate why the subjects were chosen. It really is not that much work to do one or two issues per month. And you might find you enjoy it enough to go backwards to older stamps.
A variant of this is I think one of the answers to how to get kids interested in stamp collecting. I'm experimenting with my own grandchildren by asking those old enough to deal with finding information on the Internet and that would be, surprisingly to some, about seven years of age. It is amazing what young children are able to do on the computer. Mine are quite capable of making a simple album page with information about the stamp subject, and I feel sure that an immediate reward of $3 a page, combined with the long term addiction I expect to the knowledge that they gain from the research, will predispose them to stamp collecting as they grow older.
True enough, the results are perhaps not as smooth as I would make them, but there is a certain charm to how kids interpret facts and these pages are wonderful reflections of them at their age. They get copies of the pages, too, and I provide the stamps to fill the space(s) for each page.
I assign the stamps to be worked on, to make sure that they are both of interest to the child, and not so complicated as to be too great a challenge for their age and understanding. We talk about what or who is being honored, and I give them a few lines of inquiry. Then it is up to them. They end up with a few bucks, the beginnings of an album, knowledge, shared time with grandpa, and an appreciation for stamps. And they have produced something to be proud of. I'm hopeful that the total package will be a harder one to give up than being given a packet of stamps, a pack of hinges, an album and a pair of stamp tongs.
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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