Hotchner: Who Started You In Stamps?

Who Started You on Your Philatelic Path?
by John M. Hotchner

escortedkids2A friend reminiscing as he leaves the hobby due to serious medical issues recently wrote about his start as a stamp collector 65 years ago: “When I was eleven, my Dad left us, and we were transported from a major city to a relatively remote rural farming community, where my maternal grandparents took in my mother, younger brother and me.

“To say that going from the city to the farm was under-stimulating in many ways would be an understatement, but I had the great good fortune of seeing an ad I think from Kenmore, or H.E. Harris for a whole envelope of postage stamps from around the world.…for a dime. Off went my dime, and I waited impatiently for the stamps.

hotchner“Our tiny place had a general store, and in the store a small post office. We were P.O. Box 15. I haunted the post office daily, and the postmaster caught on. After my stamps came, I sent off other dimes and quarters (my weekly allowance) for more…and more…and, well, I guess I never quit until today.

“The postmaster introduced me to Mr. Stone, a World War II refugee from England, who had settled for some unknown reason in our town. When Mr. Stone discovered my interest in stamps, he invited me to his home. It was a marvel of strange baking smells, and he and his daughter introduced me to scones and tarts and the art of drinking ‘real’ English tea.

“He would bring out boxes of stamps, and as we sat at the dining room table, he would pick up his funny little tweezers (tongs, of course), and comment on every stamp: where it came from, the history at the time in that particular country, who the people were on the stamps, etc. And then, wonder of wonders, he would start a pile of stamps for me there on the table and if I could identify the country, the stamp was mine! I had died and gone to philatelic heaven!

“And that was how it started for me. Stamps were my window to the world, and I eventually got to see in person many of the sights that had only been on stamps for me until then. I would go on for many decades, collecting, accumulating, sorting, saving, and even writing about stamps.

“I wish I could thank Mr. Stone for what he did for me in my restricted life. But maybe he knew anyway.

“Don’t know the purpose of this little tale, but feeling nostalgic about it today, and just wanted someone else to know how I got my start in stamps.”

With the electronics of today, kids no matter how rural their location, need never be “under-stimulated”, and therein lies the problem we have in bringing new collectors to the hobby. There are simply too many alternative activities for young people to get involved in. They don’t engage with stamp collecting because there is no void to fill any more. And beyond that, if introduced to stamps, many kids find it boring because there is little immediate pay off. They find the electronics more stimulating.

Yet, some do have a brush with the hobby—usually because of a connection to another collector—and it takes hold. And there are younger collectors—just not in the numbers we used to see.

I suspect that the ways that people come to the hobby these days are more varied as at least half the collectors I meet seem to have ‘joined up’ as adults even though they had no experience with the hobby as children.

We have spoken here before about the need to pass the hobby from one generation to the next by mentoring, and my friend’s experience is a good example of that. But I believe we need to learn from other models too. And for that reason, I would like to invite the readers of U.S. Stamp News to tell me about how YOU got started in the hobby. My hope is that you will share experiences that might help us today to bring new people into the hobby.

The reason is not, as some would have us believe, solely that we need to assure there will be collectors to buy our stamps when we ‘age out’. Rather, it is that stamp collecting is a wonderful hobby with many benefits for the collector in terms of relaxation, enjoyment, learning, fulfilling the need most of us have for organization, and so much more. In other words, I view it as a kindness to a fellow human being to get them involved in the hobby. I don’t care if they choose to collect something that I collect, or sail off into the sunset with something entirely different, so long as they are bitten by the bug, and discover the wonders of the hobby.

Increasingly, I think it is people approaching retirement age that are our best cohort for recruiting. This does not mean that youth should be ignored. There are already a wide range of youth outreach programs, including some innovative efforts through the electronic media of which they are so fond. But we have done less in the realm of outreach to adults who suddenly find themselves with time on their hands once their working life has come to an end.

And there is even less outreach to young professionals who might be convinced to dabble in the hobby even before retirement as a means of reducing the stresses of career-building and family-raising.

I want to know what worked to bring you into the hobby. What were your first experiences with stamps? How and by whom were you introduced? What were your first perceptions of the hobby? What got you to stick with it? What do you see as its benefits, or drawbacks?

There is no suggested length for your thoughts. Leave your omments right here.

2 thoughts on “Hotchner: Who Started You In Stamps?

  1. I inherited my stamp and post card collection. My grandfather collected stamps and my mother saved stamps. I am sure I do not need to tell you the difference. Part of the collection is family history. Post cards and letters going back to late 1890’s mostly Austria and Germany. My mother did not do anything with the collection, just stuck it away in the attic so I am faced with a task to sort it all out and put together a decent collection I can build on and then sell off any duplicates. I am so happy I have a good base to build on and would not have picked up the hobby otherwise. That said I have a huge learning curb ahead of me. There is no way for someone like me to build a complete collection or become an expert due to financial and time restrictions so I will fill in the stuff I inherited and then build by topic.
    I think you do need to get current in your thinking if you want to see the hobby continued in future generations. You are up against huge marketing campaigns to entice the young generation into buying whatever they are selling. I read an article where you were mentioned and I am quite surprised any society should decide what stamps should be issued. Anyone that knows how marketing works knows you need a foot in the door before you can start selling something. In that article they stated you did not approve of Harry Potter stamps. Harry Potter was released with the opening of the Universal studios attraction which now makes it part of US history. This is not different than the Disney stamps and the brothers Grimm.
    You stated yourself that today’s youth are big on video games. If you can get them to buy sci fi stamps or fantasy stamps or any other subject they are interested in when they are young that could turn into a larger interest in other stamps down the road. Stamps are so varied these days topical collection is a good foot in the door. Stamps that give immediate visual satisfaction to the buyer. I am more likely to buy stamps which have pleasing artwork or photography that show off the subject well. I will also pay more for a stamp if part of the purchase goes to a good cause. Everything must evolve with the times.
    Fortunatly and unfortunatly USPS as well. Email has replaced a lot of snail mail but more shopping on line has created a large need for parcel delivery. To ship packages on line is the best and most inexpensive way to go; however, I agree, it is too bad most mail no longer carry stamps. When something arrives that has actual stamps I get excited if they are ones I do not have and not just another liberty bell.(lol)

  2. Ps. If you want to entice the young, put up a commercial for endangered species stamps during wild kratts ( pbs cartoon about animals)

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