by Marcia Z. Siegal
“When my brother was 9 years old and I was 7, my parents bought him a junior stamp album and some stamps for Christmas. They did not want me to feel bad so they gave me a junior-junior album. My brother lost interest after about a year as he was more attracted to girls and pumping iron, so I inherited his collection. I have stayed with it throughout my entire life,” said Alan Warren, a local retired industrial chemist.
Sometimes called the “hobby of kings,” because of the royals known to have pursued this pastime, stamp collecting — formally known as philately — remains one of the world’s most popular hobbies. It’s easy to see why, Warren said.
“Stamp collecting is a wonderful educational tool. You can learn about history, geography, famous people and places. You can collect on whatever subjects you choose. Stamp collecting is a hobby for all ages, but it can be particularly nice for an older person because it does not have to involve expensive materials, and it’s easy to get started.”
Lafayette Hill resident, Harvey Fleegler, a retired teacher, athletic coach and former president of the Germantown-Chestnut Hill Stamp Club, is another local enthusiast. He became fascinated as a youngster by the stamps displayed at the post office in his Germantown neighborhood.
Some people collect stamps by particular country or time periods, others by topics such as animals or flowers, historical events or type of stamp, such as airmail or perforated varieties, said Fleegler, who is now mentoring a grandson on the subject. Many stamps are considered miniature works of art, and some collectors concentrate on those that appeal to them aesthetically. “The important thing is to collect what you love because it can be overwhelming,” said the Lafayette Hiller.
Fleegler started off with commemoratives — stamps that honor or memorialize particular events, anniversaries or people and which are issued for a limited time. “Commemoratives are still my true love,” he said. His collection highlights his passion for history, especially American history.
Among his prize possessions are the Presidential Issue, known as the Prexies, which came out in 1938 and featured all 29 U.S. Presidents through Calvin Coolidge, stamps commemorating the Civil War and the Great Depression, and a series on black history in America. On a lighter note, departing from his usual collections, he just acquired the last stamp of the Harry Potter series.
“If you want to collect modern stamps, you can begin by saving stamps from your own mail and asking friends and relatives to do the same for you,” Warren advised, “or you can start a collection by going to online auctions, like eBay, or from dealers. You can also subscribe to stamp collector newspapers and magazines and buy from dealers through the mail. It is easy to assemble a library of books related to the hobby to learn more about the subject.”
You may choose to enjoy stamp collecting entirely on your own or seek out some of the more social aspects of the hobby. “The stamp collecting fraternity is a very friendly group,” said Warren, former secretary of the Greater Philadelphia Stamp & Collectors Club.
“There are several clubs in the Philadelphia area where you can join and learn more about stamp collecting. Most clubs meet once or twice a month and have invited speakers, auctions, show-and-tell sessions and other projects like exhibiting.”
The annual Philadelphia National Stamp Exhibition, to be held Friday, April 4, through Sunday, April 6, will provide a showcase for experienced stamp collectors and for those seeking an introduction to philately.
According to Warren, whose Greater Philadelphia Stamp & Collectors Club is actively participating, there will be more than 2,000 album pages exhibited in competition for prizes. Exhibitors include local collectors as well as many from around the country. An estimated 40 dealers will have booths offering stamps and covers for beginners, intermediate and advanced collectors.
In addition, there will be a booth where people can bring collections they may have inherited and get an idea of how to dispose of them — sell to a dealer on the floor, sell at auction or donate to a worthy cause. The exhibition will be held at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center, 100 Station Ave. in Oaks, Pa.
Information about stamp collecting, including local clubs, is available through the American Philatelic Society. Visit www.stamps.org or call 814-933-3803.
* Reprinted, with permission, from Milestones, the monthly publication of the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging, winner of the 2013 National Mature Media Award.