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The Philatelic Passion Play

by Lloyd A. de Vries

I was one of five first-time members of the American Philatelic Society's Board of Directors in 1997. The others were Ann Triggle, Jeanette Adams, Wayne Youngblood and Secretary Janet Klug.

We all had e-mail; not everyone on the Board did, and of those who did, not everyone used it much. The five of us came onto the Board just after the disappointment of Pacific 97, the U.S. International stamp exhibition for that decade, and many philatelists were blaming the APS — even though the APS was not in charge of the show.

From there, fanned by a newspaper publisher who knew bad news and scandal boosts subscriptions, it became a general whinefest about everything wrong with Organized Philately, and how the APS wasn't doing enough about the perceived problems.

We newcomers to the Board were flabbergasted at the intensity of the complainers. We'd send e-mail to the other members of the Gang of Five (as we called ourselves), with messages like, "What is WITH these people?" and "Don't they know it's a hobby and it's supposed to be fun?!"

A few years later, while still serving on the Board, the APS engaged an advertising/public relations firm to boost both philately and the society. The theme the agency came up with was, "We share your passion." The PR people had already had a taste of how intense and, well, passionate stamp collectors can be.

About that time, there was discussion of changing one of the logos the APS uses, the so-called "Lady Philately." It's actually late-19th century clipart (simple stock drawing intended for commercial use) of a woman at her dressing table, and doesn't really have anything to do with stamp collecting. Omigosh, what an uproar that caused! The logo wasn't changed.

Witnessing the periodic blowups in old The Virtual Stamp Club message board, non-collector webmaster Steve Ross would e-mail me, "What is it with you stamp collectors?" But then he'd admit he's seen similar behavior in other hobby forums; I've heard from another VSC member that it's rampant in gardening groups.

As a high school student, I once watched two parents at a band boosters meeting, a doctor and a lawyer, scream at each other over something fairly minor. (In my newspaper report the next day, I simply said, "After a spirited discussion....")

All this came to mind last weekend as we had a blowup in the Board of Directors of the American First Day Cover Society that resulted in the resignation of two directors (voluntarily, I hasten to add). What it was about doesn't really matter. The point is that again, we saw extreme intensity among stamp collectors.

People in general feel disenfranchised, un-empowered, out of control. It's not just the economy, but that's part of it. There's a widening gap between the rich and powerful and the rest of us.

But it's more than economic: We aren't as much in control of our lives. Government agencies and businesses are collecting data about all facets of what we do and who we are, some of which inevitably leaks to crooks. We can't stop it. Pensions are cut for workers who retired years ago, and there's no recourse. Environmental problems have been put on the back burner.

Another manifestation of our collective frustration is the diminishing courtesy on the roads. Other drivers don't allow you to merge onto the highway, tailgate (when was the last time you saw someone given a ticket for tailgating), and zip in and out of traffic, cutting off other motorists. We're anonymous in our little rolling eco-units, and can act out our aggressions.

Back to stamp collecting, it's getting hard to find candidates for society elections. The APS had 5 candidates for four Director-at-Large seats in the recent election this past spring. In the past, it had had 10. I personally asked two dozen people to run for the AFDCS Board; we eventually came up with seven candidates.

The tendency these days is to blame someone whenever things go wrong, or, more to the point, aren't going the way we think is right. It wasn't circumstances that led to this problem, someone must be responsible and must be punished! "Off with his head!"

It isn't that simple. Sometimes bad things do happen to good people, and good organizations. Stamp collecting is going through major changes these days — as it did many times before, but we didn't notice or don't remember. Stamp stores, approvals, school stamp clubs all are mostly gone. Some of the mainstays of our hobby will fall by the wayside — as has happened in the past — and some will transition into something 20th century stamp collectors wouldn't recognize.

A little more civility would be nice, and a little patience, too. Many of today's philatelic problems can be worked out, or adjusting to the changes can be made easier, if collectors will just give that particular part of philately a chance to work it out.

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