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Embarking for New Destinations

by Lloyd A. de Vries

A funny thing happened in my recent so-far-short foray in philatelic commerce as a career: I was assigned to write a daily blog, more or less about stamp collecting — and I found I liked it! More importantly, several people told me they liked reading the essays, too.

After producing first day covers for the past 30 years, nearly as long as a philatelic columnist and stamp society official, and a decade as a part-time bourse dealer, I've formed a few conclusions and observations about our hobby. As a lifelong writer, I like to express my thoughts in writing.

This blog won't be daily; I'm going to try for weekly. Most of the time, it will be related to philately, but I can't guarantee that will always be the case. I doubt it will ever delve into mainstream (non-philatelic) politics, and possibly not even philatelic politics, but, again, no guarantees.

If you don't want to read my thoughts, well, you're free not to read them. If you don't like what I've written, I'll refund every penny you paid for it!

Recently, through a fluke, I had the opportunity to visit the Minnesota Stamp Expo for the first time. I'd never been to the state before, and never been to a World Series of Philately show outside the Northeast before, other than StampShow and Americover.

Those two shows are the annual conventions and shows of, respectively, the American Philatelic Society and American First Day Cover Society, and they move around to different parts of the country each year. They are produced by people who probably don't live in the areas where the shows are being staged, so they're not neessarily representative of those areas. (I hasten to add that's not a knock on either show.)

Other than StampShow and Americover, the WSP show furthest west I'd ever visited was ROPEX several years ago, and that was several venues ago. Otherwise, I visit the American Stamp Dealers Association shows in New York City, NOJEX in Northern New Jersey and NAPEX in the Washington area. I also try to attend the APS winter show, AmeriStamp Expo, but that's not a WSP show, and, like StampShow, is a convention center show.

Minnesota Stamp Expo was none of the above. It was held in the gymnasium/theater of the Crystal, Minn., community center, with dealers from as far away as Washington state. As I suspected when I originally booked it for myself, I knew only a handful of dealers there.

I knew I would know at least one person at the show, Todd Ronnei, its exhibits chair, former staffer of The Virtual Stamp Club's former message board, and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the AFDCS. I also expected to finally meet Randy Smith, whom I know as the show awards chairs of the AFDCS and American Topical Association, but who doesn't travel to stamp shows much. He chaired Minnesota Stamp Expo and also found time to take photographs and buy from dealers.

Chances were good that I would know a few of the exhibit judges, and I was right. But I was surprised by how many collectors at the show I knew or recognized from other stamp shows. Some, like Ron Lesher, were exhibitors, who sometimes travel around the country with their exhibits. (Of course, Ron is helped by the fact that he has placed his five children strategically around the country, near various WSP shows.)

Others, though, just visit stamp shows, particularly if they're in the Midwest. I've known for awhile that people in the Northeast are spoiled: If an event isn't within five miles, it's too far away. I remember Washingtonians whining about not having their own baseball team in the late 1970s/early 1980s, while the Baltimore Orioles were playing good baseball just 45 minutes north. (I know well how long it took because I drove from Washington to Baltimore to cover practically every home game.) So there were a fair number of people from Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa at Minnesota Stamp Expo.

There was no "pipe-and-drape," the aluminum poles and yellowish cloth that shows in the Northeast tend to use to separate dealer booths from the ones behind them. I didn't miss it for the most part.

Traffic at the show was pretty steady on Friday, steady Saturday until mid-afternoon, although there were always customers in the room. I wasn't there on Sunday.

There was no banquet, just a brief awards ceremony in a nearby meeting room Saturday right after the show closed. Then those attending the show were free to dine wherever and with whomever they wanted. I like most show banquets, but they do tend to run long sometimes, and they can be expensive; the show venue wants to make money with its catering services. Besides, the list of stamp collectors with whom I will dine has gotten much shorter in recent months.

I had a "cachetmakers bourse" table on Saturday — really, a regular dealer table. Electricity was free and freely available (you have to have had a booth of some sort at hotel and convention center shows to understand how unusual that is) and the lighting was good. The aisles were wide enough to allow free movement between facing dealers, but not so wide as to give the impression that no one was at the show.

Although there was a show hotel, it was not that close, and I was told the show committee wasn't getting any commission for using it, so I booked my own based on price. Big Mistake! The Days Inn in Brooklyn Center is probably the worst hotel I have stayed in ever as a stamp collector. The only good things about it were the price, the bed seemed clean (although housekeeping didn't make it up on my last night there), and there was a Denny's across the parking lot. Good thing, too, because the "free breakfast" included with the room was pretty poor (no milk the first morning, then only one unspecified type in a pitcher), and after seeing how rundown everything else was, I decided a $13 breakfast at Denny's was a safer choice.

But that wasn't the show committee's fault, but mine. I had a good time, and I hope I'll get another opportunity to visit Minnesota Stamp Expo.

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