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Tired of the New Issue Rat Race? Enjoy A Topical

By John M. Hotchner

Several years ago, I got tired of the same old philatelic pursuits, and decided I needed to find something new to get my philatelic blood pumping again. I reached this conclusion as I was daydreaming one summer day, while doing the weekly manicuring of the grass; a job of which I am not fond, but one which saves me $35 every time I do it. I look at this as earned money I can use for my stamp collection. No logical flaw there, right?

The next thought was, "What new pursuit?" There isn't anything I don't already collect or accumulate in U.S. material. So what could be new? Suddenly it hit me, like a lawn-bag full of grass: I needed a topical! And for a topic, why not what I was holding onto for dear life: The Power Mower?

Ah, inspiration comes in strange ways. I could hardly wait to finish the yard so I could get to my U.S. Specialized and look at the backgrounds of the last twenty years of stamp designs to find all the lawn mowers that must be there.

Imagine how heartbroken I was when, magnifier nearly worn out (and me, too), four hours later I had yet to find my first lawn mower of any kind, let alone a power mower! Sweaty but unbowed, I decided right there and then that I would have to make do with what could be found in or on other philatelic material.

That was six years ago, and there is still no stamp in my collection — U.S. or foreign — that features a lawn mower; or hides one in the background, either. But there is lots of other material. And I've had a ball finding it.

For a sample, take a look at my four exhibit pages, shown on this Web page (click pictures for a larger view). And now, let me sing the glories of topical collecting for a moment; especially that branch called thematic collecting.

Topical collecting, in general, means that one hunts for everything that portrays the topic. If there is a set of Upper Gazominplat that shows the same brand of lawn mower on 64 stamps and four souvenir sheets (two perf and two imperf), the topical collector will probably ache to own the entire shootin' match.

Not so the thematic collector! This breed will generally be happy with one example, and will try to fit that into a story he or she constructs about the development of the lawn mower, its predecessors, its technical advances, the types that developed from different applications of the technology, its appearances in art, substitutes for it, accidents and lawn mowers, et cetera, et cetera. Your reach is limited only by your imagination.

The topical collector often sticks to stamps and closely related items like souvenir sheets. But the thematic collector usually searches much further afield, and I recommend that pursuit, because it doubles (maybe even triples) your fun.

The dedicated searcher can find meter strips (pages 3 and 4), related cancellations (page 2), advertising covers (page 3), and a fascinating array of other material showing a broad range of different types of stamps.

In addition to learning about philately in a different manner, I also had to learn about lawn mowers and the work they do, so that I could make more philatelic connections in order to expand my collection. For instance, did you know that there are now over ten states that ban grass clippings from garbage? And there will be more. Grass contributes to filling up landfills too quickly! So, one planned page in my expanded collection will feature the flags of those states.

Another page will utilize the 6¢ Anti-Pollution block of 1970 (Sc. 1410-3). It's a fact that a dirty lawn mower emits in 30 minutes what takes a new car 172 hours of driving to emit! Another favorite fact is that annual mower sales have gone from about 50,000 in the '30s to 6.8 million in 1990 (including 1.1 million riding mowers). I have not figured out a way to illustrate that!

But enough of lawn mowers. The point is that you can regenerate your interest in stamp collecting. And what you need is not necessarily the big bucks (though if you choose to collect as a topical/thematic Queen Isabella of Spain on stamps, the $4 Columbian will run you a pretty penny). You really need creativity, a sense of humor, a willingness to dig for facts and material, and the time to devote to the chase.

In essence, you can forget about the frustrations of trying to keep up with U.S. new issues, and substitute the fun of determining for yourself just what you want to include.

A resource if you want to get into this seriously is the American Topical Association (which also covers thematic collecting). Among their services is an Interesting bimonthly magazine with tips from, and the experience of, those who have gone before. But a fantastic benefit is the checklist service.

For nearly any topic (except lawn mowers and other esoterica, like say, doughnut holes), ATA members can request and receive (at cost) a list of what stamps carry the image of your preferred collecting area.

For more information about ATA and a membership application, click on the links above.

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 jmhstamp@verizon.net What's the most interest topical or thematic collection you've ever seen? Join us in the message board and tell us about it.

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