A Change of Venue May Enhance Philatelic Tasks
Finding a comfort zone for philatelic activity is a necessity. I frequently hear lamentations from collectors who tell me how close they came to completing a philatelic project but had to pack it up in haste. Why? Because the area that they occupied for philatelic activity had been usurped for another family activity. The most frequent lament is the loss of a dining room table work space when out of town company arrives for Thanksgiving dinner. Collectors have also told me that they lost a philatelic work space because of music recitals, tea parties, prayer meetings and interior house painting. Once a philatelic "work in progress" is boxed up and put away, it often takes twice the effort to unpack it and revitalize the energy for working on it.
I often suggest to my philatelic friends that they maintain a central area where they can keep the "motherload" of their philatelic material. From this central location they can peel off little projects that can fit into a briefcase or even a lunch box. While it's convenient to have catalogs and other accessories close at hand, it's often not practical. I spoke with a discouraged customer a few years ago who complained that he only had a few hours every Saturday to work on his collection. He essentially used the time that his wife spent with her mother for lunch. However, it took him almost 40 minutes to pull everything out of the closet and an equal time to pack everything and put it away. That left approximately 40 minutes for him to work on his stamps. I suggested that he break his work into segments. It seemed like an impossible task of "Beat the Clock" for him to sort stamps and then identify them. He found himself leafing through six different catalogs and ultimately only getting a few dozen stamps identified before his wife returned.
I suggested a streamlined method for his philatelic endeavors. First, I told him to get some stocks cards on which to organize his loose stamps by country. Once the stamps were sorted by country, he only needed to consult the catalog for the country on the respective stock card. Then, when he identified the stamps on the stock cards he could take another occasion to mount that particular country into the proper album. A few months later he called to rejoice and proclaimed my suggestion was working because he no longer had to haul every philatelic object out of closet to make a dent in his collecting endeavors.
Sometimes I find that a change of venue often enhances philatelic tasks. For instance, I prefer to sort covers in hotel rooms when I'm staying over for out-of-town shows. I find king-size beds ideal for cover sorting and pace myself with just enough work so that I don't doze off and wake up in a sea of covers. I prefer to sleeve covers at home while watching a movie with my family. This method has worked out splendidly for years. Some people need popcorn to nibble while watching a movie, my family prefers sleeving. I like to tease my children when they go out to a movie theater if they'd like to take a sleeving projects along. When it comes to working on stamps, I prefer an eastern sunlight exposure from roughly October until March, then I like to move my stamp work to a southern sunlight exposure. Years, ago, when I set up my first office, I found that I couldn't work as productively on stamps during the summer months. When I moved to a corner office with windows on the sides, my productively increased. My employees at the time stated that I was always "chasing sunbeams" in order to have the best lit environment for working on stamps. I can work on covers nearly anywhere, but stamps require that seasonal change of sunlight venue.
Years ago, I discovered a sleepy little library that's practically vacant during school hours. I like to go there sometimes to work on postal stationery. The tables are long and narrow and I have ample space to sort things out. The librarians have accepted my philatelic eccentricities and have actually sent a few estate leads my way. They don't mind if I putter in a quiet corner for a couple of hours and seem to share my joy in knowing that I've brought a task to completion.
Other dealers often ask me when I have the time to file covers by categories and I amusingly tell them, "I file while en route to the show." They look at me rather sternly and start to lecture me about traffic safety. However, I always chime in that someone else is driving while I'm filing. I can file about 400 covers per hour while sitting in a moving vehicle. It's not as efficient as having an open room, but it makes the great use of otherwise unproductive time. During an 8-hour drive, I can essentially work on 3 new boxes of material.
One of my dealer friends has found that he can sort postcards while visiting his mother in a nursing home. She often nods off while he's visiting, so he brings along little projects while she's taking a brief nap. He's happy to see her and get a lot of work completed.
Another dealer friend has a summer home on a lake. He finds that sitting on the porch of his summer home is the perfect venue for sorting and pricing worldwide covers. Those who know about his summer home realize that it's best to browse his inventory from May until October because that's when it is overflowing with new items. He closes the summer home up by November 1st and doesn't work on a single cover until the following May. During the months that he's away from his summer home venue, he likes to work on stamps and finds that a double window in his apartment offers him the perfect environment for such a task.
One of my customers lost the turf rights to his stamp room when his daughter got divorced and moved back home. For several months, he was frustrated that he couldn't find a time and place to work on his stamps. I suggested that he pack some into a portfolio and try the library. He opted instead for a Greek restaurant that's quiet from 2 pm until 4 pm. Now he takes an extra-long lunch every day and gets more philatelic work completed than when he had an entire room devoted to philately.
About 20 years ago, I met a couple that bought an old farm estate that included one barn where the lower floor converted into a huge one-room living quarters. They thought that it would be an excellent venue for him to dabble with his stamps and for her to play with her sewing projects. Thus, they set up a common area in the barn and went about working on their respective hobbies. After a few months, they found that they were at each others' throats. Neither could work on a respective project in peace and tranquility. They decided to turn the barn room into their bedroom and they took two separate rooms in the house for their hobbies. Thus they labored in peace and uninterrupted tranquility and got more work done. However, once they started a family, the stamp room and sewing room were relegated to children's rooms. Only now are they starting to tinker with their hobbies once again and I kid them about how and where they will get their work done. He has decided to visit stamp shows and stay an extra night so that he can work on stamps before returning home.
Many dealers (myself included) have brought shock and amazement to the housekeeping staffs at numerous hotels. Many housekeeping personal are accustomed to cleaning up after all sorts of parties and other escapades. However, it boggles their minds when they encounter a room that has been recently vacated by a philatelist. I once shared a room with two other dealers and we each broke down several cover collections. When we were done, we left behind a small mountain of empty glassines and about 200 hundred empty shoe boxes. I called down to the desk and requested a dozen large trash bags, but all they managed to send up to the room was a half dozen bags that fit a small waste paper basket. In the morning, I intercepted a lady from housekeeping and warned her about the small mountain of clutter. She said, "Don't worry, I cleaned up after a convention of cross-dressers, nothing fazes me." However, when she reached the room she looked at the mountain of empty shoe boxes that once held covers and exclaimed, "Have you guys got some kind of shoe fetish?"
My dealer friends and I all agreed that sorting the covers away from our usual venues had saved much time and aggravation. It was better to all kick in $10 per man and give it to the hotel housekeeper than to haul the material back to our respective places of business and create a mess at our respective home bases.
How about you? Do you like to change your philatelic work venue occasionally? Do you find some locations at home are better suited for certain philatelic tasks than others? Do you keep a year-round philatelic "work-in-progress" or do you pack all your stuff up when company comes to visit? As always, your comments and observations are invited. Post them here in The VSC message board.
© John L. Leszak. All rights reserved. Published on The Virtual Stamp Club by permission.
John L. Leszak is the editor of Mekeel's & Stamps Magazine. He began his editing career with Stamps Magazine in 1994 and became the editor of M&S when STAMPS merged with Mekeel's. An avid philatelist since 1963, Mr. Leszak has also been a full time dealer since 1975. He is a 25+ year member of the American Philatelic Society, a member of the American Stamp Dealers Association, a Life Member of the American First Day Cover Society and a 25+ year member of the Universal Ship Cancellation Society. His first book of collected philatelic essays and observations is due to be released in May 2006.