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Making Time For Philately
By John L. Leszak

So many people have told me over the years that they could improve their collections if only they had more money to spend on stamps or covers. I always like to interject that money is never the key to philatelic success. I've known dozens of collectors who injected filthy amounts of money into their collections, but they were neither happy nor were their collections improved. Spending money is an impulsive reflex action; anyone can do it these days. Even if a person doesn't have money in the bank, there's always those convenient credit cards that will permit an instant purchase. Yet, when the credit card bill arrives, the luster of the purchase quickly fades.

Years ago, I knew a collector of U.S. plate blocks who always wanted to "improve" his collection. His solution was to buy new stock pages every several years. His contemporaries would chide him and say that he could really improve his collection if he only spent the money on better plate blocks instead of new stock pages. He would scold them in return by saying that the labor of transferring each block over to a new page was a priceless activity that gave him great joy. He had reached a point in which he decided that his use of time was more important to his collection that the acquisition of new material.

As a dealer, I have witnessed numerous collectors who bought with a frenzy and never enjoyed the material. On many occasions, I've evaluated the estates of deceased collectors and discovered that their purchases were still in the bags from the time of purchase. They never had the luxury of time to take the items out of the purchase bag, mount or sleeve them, and enjoy them.

I spoke to a collector a few weeks ago who lamented that he could no longer find any items for his exhibit. I asked him if he had visited any shows lately, bid in auction or sent any letters to dealers. He answered "no" to all three inquiries. I asked how it was possible for new items to come into his collection if he hadn't invested any sweat equity for acquisition. He answered rather sincerely, "John, I just don't have the time."

On the flip side, I chatted with another collector who was euphoric about his recent philatelic acquisitions. He had visited a stamp show in December and left word with eight dealers about his collecting interests. Six of the dealers have subsequently written to him about exciting items that they've unearthed for him. He wrote them back, and requested that they send him material on a specific time line, so that he can fit all the new material into his budget. He's delighted that he now has new material coming in until November of this year. He was amazed that the dealers would be so receptive to his needs. I told him that in a tight economy, many dealers are making an extra valiant effort to satisfy the needs of their customers. I also mused that if he had visited a major show with dozens of dealers, he might have his philatelic time and money budgeted for the next three years!

I still have many customers who truly embrace the notion of devoting time and not necessarily money, into their collections. I chatted for a few minutes with a man who hasn't made any purchases for a few years, but his philatelic enthusiasm is contagious. He told me that he was soaking several thousand stamps and planned to give them to a local stamp club for distribution to youth who attend the next stamp show.

Sometimes, people need to re-evaluate the true purpose of collecting. If they view philately purely from the perspective of making money, they are apt to experience moments of stress and anxiety. However, if they embrace philately as a refuge from the rigors of the world, then they've truly found the meaning of a hobby.

Years ago, I met a man who only collected U.S. Scott #310 (50-cent Jefferson of 1902-03). One day he shared his collection with me and I was amazed at the incredible volume of material he had amassed. He had nine stock books filled with individual stamps that included shade varieties, precancels and perfins. He also had two enormous albums that featured this stamp used on cover with assorted rates and destinations. Amazingly, he never bought a stamp via auction, yet many of his items would be deemed as superb auction quality. He literally spent 40 years visiting stamp shows and stores across the country, and his wonderful collection was assembled one item at a time! Although he has had numerous offers from other philatelists or his dynamic collection of #310, he has turned them all down. He believes that the collection is part of his life, and to sell his collection of #310s would be like selling a kidney.

I know another man who collects used stamps and probably budgets less than $50 per year for his philatelic purchases. Yet, he is one of the most active, knowledgeable and enthusiastic collectors I've met. He like to buy large hoards of common foreign stamps. Then he soaks them, catalogues them and soaks them. He enjoys trading stamps with other collectors and the time he spends with his philatelic endeavors sustains him. His investment of time has often rewarded him with philatelic treasures. He savors each stamp and thoroughly researches every stamp that he's never encountered before.

A few years ago, he purchased a hoard of South American revenue stamps for $20 from a postcard dealer. The lot turned into a months of R&R (in this case, Research & Relaxation). After spending weeks and months researching these stamps, he discovered that he had a valuable holding of some very scarce stamps. He contacted a few auctioneers who were eager to take the stamps on consignment. Ultimately, that $20 purchase and countless hours of sweat equity yielded him a tidy profit. He used the money to buy his wife some new material for quilting. Everyone came out a winner.

If this man had not diligently researched the lot of revenues, they might have bounced around for use as filler material in philatelic lots for decades!

When people say that they don't have time for philately, I like to point out that philately can be conducted during other activity. Some of the most enthusiastic philatelists I know confide that they work on their stamp collections while watching television. I know a collector who works as a security guard. He essentially sits at a desk in an office building, and guards the lobby from unwanted visitors. However, since his office building is in an isolated business park, he's never had a visitor or an intruder in the last eight years that he's worked there.

For many years, he brought paperback books to read while at work. He often lamented that he no longer had time for his stamp collection because his job was so consuming. I suggested that he take a philatelic project with him to work in lieu of the books. One day, he brought a small candy box filled with stamps to work and was amazed that he sorted them out in less than three hours. The next day, he brought a larger box and occupied his time with philatelic business work for the entire eight-hour shift. Nowadays, he's even gone so far as to soak stamps while at work! Now that he has found all this time to devote to his collection, he has a constant need for new material. His new-found time frame for philately not only helps his philatelic pursuits, but he's also brought joy to several dealers who are delighted to keep him occupied with new material. A few years ago, I chatted with a man who told me that he always worked on stamps when his mother-in-law came to visit. I saw this man last month and he was buying up a storm at a local stamp show. I asked him if his mother-in-law was coming for a visit, and he replied, "No, she moved in. Now I spend all my free time in my stamp room!"

I discovered long ago that if I have a desk devoted to stamps, I always have a work-in-progress. I don't have to worry about packing everything up and putting it away until the next opportunity to work on the stamps. As a result, I might work one day for five hours on stamps. Then, next day, I can devote 20 minutes here, and another 10 or 15 minutes later in the evening. Although I truly love working with covers, there's something soothing about sorting stamps. So my philatelic workload always includes a stamp project.

Philatelic time doesn't always have to involve sorting stamps. Part of the mystic experience of philately is reading or talking about stamps. The knowledge gleaned from reading philatelic publications and the fellowship derived from talking about stamps with others is priceless. My wife Paula is always sympathetic when I receive a call from a philatelic friend who just wants to talk about stamps. She realizes that "stamp talk" is always a delightful experience.

For those who devote time to their collections, philately is a rewarding experiencing. To those whose lives are hectic, I suggest that you make time in your busy schedules for philatelic endeavors. You'll find that a little bit of philatelic activity will go a long way to sooth the the harshness of the world outside the philatelic bubble.

© John L. Leszak. All rights reserved. Published on The Virtual Stamp Club by permission.

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