How exhibitionism stripped me bare

Melbourne 2017 Stamp Exhibition entrance banner

If you’re the kind of reader who usually comes here for the pretty pictures and naughty words, be warned: I am hitting max geek with this one. Street cred be damned.

So a few weekends ago I popped into the Melbourne FIAP Stamp Exhibition, held in my hometown. It led to a rather unexpected journey of personal discovery that may affect the very blog you are reading. More on that later.

I can’t pretend a stamp exhibition is anything but exactly what it sounds like on the lid, but let me talk you through it so that if you ever accidentally find yourself at one, you won’t panic.

Almost the first thing I noticed when I entered: women. Not in the majority, but more than I think I expected. Also more bogans than expected, and even some young people. Well, younger than retirement age, which is always heartening. And not all anoraks, either. I spotted a lip ring and some outré hair colourings and I could tell they knew their stuff. Is the revolution go? Are we retro-cool yet? I wait with bated breath.

First stop: the exhibits. If a collector decides that they want the world to see their collection, and want judges to tell them how good it is, they exhibit. Imagine writing a school project on your favourite thing, and then it gets displayed next to other school projects, but everyone’s a grown-up, and supernerds fly in from other countries to judge whether your school project is the best. That’s exhibiting.

Just because I wouldn’t show my own collection to my dog doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the efforts that other nerds collectors put into theirs. I wandered the rows of exhibition frames and marvelled at what drives a person to study something like Postal History of Turmoil in Manchuria. I mean sure, there’s only so much a modern girl needs to know about Cancellations, Postal Markings and Correspondence of Country Post Offices Moreton Bay 1850-1860, but it pleases my heart to know that someone, somewhere is just REALLY INTO THAT SHIT and this is the forum where they are celebrated.

But there are more accessible gems to be unearthed. I got stupidly excited to spot a letter that was recovered from the Hindenberg, and has the burn marks to prove it.

(You’re probably wondering which exhibit won the most prestigious award, the Grand Prix d’Honneur. It was Prasarporn Eksombatchai’s ‘Siam 1899-1910: The Giesecke and Devrient Printings’. Nice one Prasaporn. I love me some Giesecke and/or Devrient printings. *THROWS NINJA SMOKE BOMB AND LEAVES BEFORE HAVING TO PROVE KNOWLEDGE OF WHAT GEISECKE AND DEVRIENT PRINTINGS ARE*)

Australia Melbourne 2017 Daily Pass prepaid postcard
Nerd note: the entry passes were actually pre-paid postcards, making them official postal stationery, which means that in years to come, some nerd will exhibit this

Next stop: the stands, or as I think of it, shopping. Local and international dealers set up shop in rows of temporary stalls, allowing serious collectors and casual browsers to elbow each other in the ribs to get to whatever it is they’re after. It’s like a farmer’s market for your accountant uncle. There’s a generally friendly vibe. If what you’re after isn’t on view, a polite enquiry can see a box of the good stuff pulled out from under a nearby trestle. Apologetic denials are usually accompanied by suggestions from the dealer or fellow patrons as to which stall might have what you’re after. I didn’t go too nuts, but I picked up a few nuggets that either matched my interests or delighted me in other ways.

Also: Postal administrations. The bigger the expo, the greater the number of official post offices flogging their latest issues. Collectors can buy limited-edition products issued especially for these shows, often available on only one day of the show, so that you need to attend every day to ‘collect the set’. The queues at the Australia Post stand were ridic. People were even lining up for hours before the doors opened to ensure they got their goodies (which this year were variations of the Rare Beauties issue I featured in my last post). Why? Maybe because the ‘full set’ of limited edition Jewel Beetle sheetlets sold at a show in China in 2016 with special cancellations are now fetching upwards of $1000, and a similar set of 8 minisheets with commemorative cancels from New York 2016 are so scarce a market price is difficult to find because so few exist. That’s why.

I’m not into that contrived scarcity nonsense, but Australia Post had another booth where I was definitely planning to queue as long as was necessary: the meet-the-designers table where fans (I guess that’s who we are) could meet designers from the AP studio. I heard from a reader that they were even signing autographs, and I was quivering with excitement at the thought of meeting some of the legends I’ve name-checked on this blog. That was, until I neared the table. And then a funny thing happened.

It suddenly occurred to me: I don’t just name-check legends here. Sometimes I tee off on the designs I don’t like. I don’t shame designers by name, because I always assume that bad designs are the result of too many chefs, meddling from the suits upstairs, and just The Man in general. (GOOD designs, of course, are entirely thanks to the artist. 100%.) Nonetheless… what if I met the designer of a stamp I’d slagged off? I wasn’t planning to declare myself, but if anyone mentioned the blog I’d turn bright pink. They’d know. And I would know that they’d know. And I would turn pinker. And they would hate me.

One of the reasons I started this blog was because I hated so many modern stamp designs from my native land. This was to be a vent in which I could take on the might of the corporate, government-owned Australia Post and its ridiculously overpaid head honchos (who, by the way, still remain despite the fattest cat recently resigning). Yet here I was, looking at the people who work at the coalface, who no doubt try to maintain creative drive amid soulless mission statements and useless notes from the powerful and the clueless. Have I ever taken aim at the AP behemoth but shot one of these good folk through the heart?

Suddenly confronted with the real-life ramifications of my life as an anonymous internet sniper, I felt like the biggest arsehole in the world.

I turned heel and ran. Well, actually, I went and got a coffee.

This is a serious issue, readers. I might have to stop being an utter bitch. Lately there hasn’t been too much bitching, anyway. I tend to mainly highlight the issues I like, and only when I find the time around my terribly important day job. And I must say, I think Aussie Post’s output has vastly improved since I was a fuming little firebrand.

If any of the AP designers are reading this, I’m sorry I couldn’t bring myself to say hello, and I’m sorry if I ever mocked your designs too heartlessly (especially if you were just doing your job under orders). Maybe by the time the next exhibition comes around, I will feel less ashamed.

Here is some other stuff you’ll see at a philatelic exhibition: food, coffee, information stands for various things, meetings for clubs and special interest groups, a kids’ area, and someone remarking “He died last year.”

Highly recommended, as long as you know what you’re getting yourself into.

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8 thoughts on “How exhibitionism stripped me bare

  1. Well that’s pretty much the best show recap ever. Great stuff! And I bet the designers would’ve been thrilled you wrote about them regardless. 🙂

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  2. Well said! I’m not a designer in at philatelic any more, but if I was there in that stand I would sure enough have been wondering all weekend if ‘the punk philatelist’ had visited us, had turned up In disguise, as elusive as ever 😉 And I would have been thrilled to hear your feedback even if it had been ruthless….. Only one way to improve ones output I say😀

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  3. Oooh, this is really interesting. I’m a weirdo because I love reviews. Why love such a strange thing? Why not at least spend more time on the things that get reviewed, than the reviews themselves? I have no idea. I just like reviews, ok? My favourite reviewers are people who genuinely love their subject (film, music, fine-dining, whatever) but will have no problems getting stuck in to a bad example and entertainingly ripping it apart. And people love bad reviews. Really vicious restaurant reviews are the ones that go viral. They’re fun to read. The only thing better is a really good reviewer/reviewed spat. Mark Kermode and Danny Dyer had one of those, it was great.

    However, I, too, like “not being a bitch.” I don’t review anything, but I have been a chef in a fancy restaurant. The team I was part of never had a bad review, though we sometimes had bad feedback, to which I always try to take the attitude “thanks for telling us,” even if it’s not easy to hear. But if someone devoted time to thinking up inventively nasty things about our food because it makes good copy, I don’t know how I’d feel about that. On the one hand, It would be hypocritical for me to say anything other than, “well, I don’t agree that our food is shit, but they’re entitled to their opinion, doing their job, and it *does* make good copy.” On the other hand, not everyone who gets trashed by critics manages to not mind. The reviewed tend to look really bad when taking pot-shots at reviewers, but maybe that just makes it even more unfair – there’s not much they can do to defend themselves.

    I think anyone who does something for a job, or puts their art out into the world, should be open to graciously receiving detailed criticism. Simply saying “this art is rubbish” is not a valuable criticism, but it doesn’t make for a review that anyone wants to read. For that, you’ve got to say *why* you think it’s rubbish, and that makes it valuable, even if the artist isn’t gracious about it, and to be fair, graciousness can be hard to pull off sometimes. Robust criticism is part of an environment that leads to better design/art/food/whatever. I read book reviews to find out how not to write.

    (Hey, Crystal, your commenting is shit because it’s long-winded and hard to follow!) Thanks, I feared as much.

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  4. When I started blogging in another more serious capacity in 2011, I never revealed myself and set false trails so that those I wrote about were pointing an accusing finger at a lot of innocent people.
    The worst thing that can happen a blogger is when people start reading it. I had “seriousness” forced upon me. It happens to all bloggers eventually.
    As to Exhibitions, I find the actual exhibits to be a bit dull. And the whole thing is a bit elitist. Beneath the surface of elderly conservative men bemoaning the fact that the world was better when Lesotho was Basutoland….there is actually a more diverse world of authentic stamp collectors who go to these events as the big event in their/our year.
    The stamp clubs….oops I should say societies cos its posh….are not my cup of tea. I take the Groucho Marx view that I would never join a club that would have me as a member.

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