Editor’s note: many of the embedded links in this article won’t work anymore. I guess they just couldn’t handle the pressure of my rage. PP
Have you seen that scene in The Simpsons where the family discovers that Bart has a stamp collection? I can’t find the video online, so here’s the scene as found on Wikiquote.
(If you can find a link to an embeddable video, Punk will love you forever.)
This is what it’s like hanging out with certain of my uber-cool hipster friends. In their hands, the hobby that brings me friends around the world, money on the side and virtual immunity from dementia becomes fodder for mockery.
Yet when my friends aren’t working in their made-up jobs for startups that will collapse next week, they’re all about Vintage. They shave their armpits using heritage methods, then ride their fixie bikes to overpriced stationery shops, where they dissolve into paroxysms over wrapping paper and Ex Libris cards bearing images of French airmail envelopes from the 1920s.
Do you know the sort of shop I mean? Gorgeously decorated diaries and calendars and writing paper with matching envelopes and pens, more than one could ever need in a lifetime, and yet, somehow, never enough for a day’s shopping. And apparently stamps are just fine with my friends if they come in the form of anything-but-stamps from a vintage stationery shop.
Like the wrapping paper bearing historically significant Australian letters, available at Zetta Florence in Fitzroy, the beating heart of hipster culture in my hometown of Melbourne, Australia.
Are actual shops a bit too vintage for you? No problem. Hipsters who jump online at their favourite pop-up café (free wifi!) are confronted by so many options, they blurt their cold drip coffee all over their lumberjack beards. How about a vintage leather journal from GatzBcn on Etsy, or a vintage airmail iPhone case? (Available everywhere, but I’ll give Etsy’s SealedWithaCase a plug for the appalling pun.)
What about an Old Fashioned Love Letters and Roses tablet sleeve from user WolfBait on Bitdazzle? Or a tote bag from Seven Colonial? Or a digital collage sheet for your scrapbook from CharmedMemoryCollage on Etsy?
(Seriously? Grown women keep scrapbooks, and I’M the nerd?)
But you get the picture. “Oh look,” my friends coo. “Didn’t they just know how to write a letter in the olden days? This was just an ordinary letter, but it’s so beautiful! Look at the handwriting! Even the address sounds so romantic! That stamp is so Deco!”
They’re correct, of course. Old envelopes are entrancing. What could be more perfect than owning stationery with beautiful old mail on it?
How about, you know, OWNING THE ACTUAL BEAUTIFUL OLD MAIL?
My friends think my ‘stamp collecting’ involves me soaking stamps off letters and placing them lovingly in a pretty album decorated with crayon drawings of flowers like I’m six years old.
They don’t understand philately. It transcends ‘collecting stamps’, and delves into the how and why and when of human communication. The stuff my friends love on the expensive hipster stationery is what I love about items of commercial mail. They’re evocative. They tell stories of how people lived in the past – everything from the majestic to the mundane, as you soon learn if you’re lucky enough to find one with its letter still enclosed. And they can be beautiful to look at, which is always a nice bonus.
When I hold a letter from the 1920s in my hand, I get shivers to know that this was the very same missive that may have brought tidings of love, or tragic news, or maybe just a water bill, to someone back in the day. It’s not a picture of a thing on a tote bag. It’s the thing. The very same artefact once held and opened by those long-forgotten hands. It is a talisman, transporting me back in time.
The Punk Philatelist wants hipsters and everyone else to learn the joy of appreciating these little gems. My misunderstood people are not nerds. We’re lovers, with brains and hearts and empathy and imagination, and a hunger to know those who went before us in a more intimate way, by studying the very communication they shared, and the stories they told on their mail.
If you’re the kind of person who goes ga-ga over an iPhone cover designed in the style of a 1930s French airmail, you’re probably one of us just waiting to be discovered. Don’t deny it. Embrace it. Don’t be shy. Be proud.
Philately is for punks.
I would like to add that I love all of the products featured above and I encourage you to buy them.
© Philatelic product images remain the copyright of issuing postal administrations and successor authorities. Merchandise images remain the copyright of respective creators and/or rights holders.