Well, if you’d asked me a few months back what was needed to give stamp collecting a kick up the backside, my first answer would probably not have been “a global supervirus pandemic.”
But it sure feels like that’s what has happened. The enforced worldwide recreation break has existing collectors burying their heads into their albums, lapsed collectors dusting cobwebs off old shoeboxes, and curious novices taking their first tentative steps into a mysterious world.
New philatelic blogs and Instagram feeds are starting up, and online viewers are devouring YouTube clips. Philatelic magazines have even been offering free access to an edition or two.
Even the mainstream media have noticed. Stamp dealers report rising sales. Kids are writing letters. Even before the COVID-19 crisis kicked in, both the BBC and the Observer were reporting the growing popularity of stamp collecting among younger collectors.
US stamp sales have boomed, too, but not for good reason. For the struggling USPS, the COVID-19 lockdown is disastrous. Some Americans have heeded calls to buy stamps to help prop up the service. The bloviating bladder of swamp gas in the White House is actively blocking assistance due to a personal grudge. He thinks the USPS loses money in its deal with Amazon, which is run by political foe Jeff Bezos. He’s wrong about that, of course. Do I even need to say that, or is it just assumed these days? He should stick to what he knows: sputtering out potentially fatal quackery and watching his TV ratings more closely than the death toll brought on by those toilet paper smears he passes off as policy.
COVID-19’s victims undoubtedly include fellow collectors and their loved ones, and those who are left bereaved in its wake. In particular, COVID-19’s high mortality rate among older males has the potential to devastate the collector community. Please continue to play it safe.
But on the bright side, if I may call it that, I’ve never been philatelically busier, and that’s just checking the pings on my social media apps. So many fantastic initiatives have been taken by philatelic entities, I simply can’t keep up.
One of the surprising pleasures of this whole experience has been putting faces to names. An early initiative from Graham Beck of the Exploring Stamps YouTube channel involved a bunch of online philatelic celebrities stepping out from behind their online handles to talk about their plans for isolation. (I was one of them, so yes, ‘celebrity’ IS the appropriate word, thank you.) It was great to see the faces behind the tweets, and it was heartening to see the diversity of ages, genders and nationalities involved.
Then the American Philatelic Society launched its daily Stamp Chats. They’re interactive video meetings in which speakers from around the world present an informal talk, while collectors tune in and ask questions. The chats are posted on YouTube for those who can’t join in live. (Click here for the schedule and for links to past chats.) It’s wonderful to meet people from around the world who share the same fear that a member of their household is about to walk through the background fresh out of the shower.
(Side note 1: The American Philatelic Society is currently offering a special deal for younger collectors: $25 membership if you’re under 30! Here’s Erin with more!)
(Side note 2: India’s Philamart launched a similar series of expert ‘Philaminars’ which can also be viewed online… but they’re all slideshow. No faces.)
A chat entitled ‘The Future of Philately Is Here’ was presented for the APS by James Gavin from the Rhodesian Study Circle. Over the last few years, James has helped to breathe new life into a creaky old specialist stamp club, particularly via a vibrant online presence.
James spelled out the differences between the two tribes that have come to be known as ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’ collectors. This conversation has been bubbling away in philately for a while now. Traditional collectors are the stamp-club joiners, the exhibitors, the ones who seek to form The Complete Collection Of. Modern collectors are the Instagrammers, the Facebook groupers, those who Buy It Because I Think It Looks Cool.
The binary undoubtedly exists. From my vantage point somewhere in the middle, I think each tribe could do a better job of explaining itself to the other. Hopefully they can draw together until the union of the two sets produces a large intersection in the Venn diagram of philately.
At this point in writing this piece, I went looking for a stamp of a Venn diagram, or even Mr Venn himself, but had no luck. So come on down, USA 1975 Collective Bargaining! You’re the closest I can find.
In the interests of impartiality, here now is the same idea presented in the language of the modern collector. As the first item on the agenda of the philatelic peace conference, stamp artisans will be paired off with Large Vermeil winners and we’ll see who can successfully explain the Epic Handshake Meme the fastest.
…Now, where was I? Ah yes. I recommend watching James Gavin’s chat. (Watch the whole thing, but his ‘traditional vs modern’ section starts at about 9:30. Also, watch all the other chats too so they’re not annoyed at me.)
Speaking from experience, James also offered philatelic organisations some surefire dos and don’ts of running a website. A few examples: sure, that guy who just died gave so much to the club, but resist the urge to make him the first thing visitors see on your homepage. And if you expect to recruit members on the internet, have an online membership process… don’t make them print out a form and send it in.
I was reminded of James’s thoughts this week when I received an email promoting a forthcoming auction. The catalogue can be accessed online by downloading no less than three separate PDFs, depending on whether you want the photographs, the descriptions or the bidding sheet. Convenient!
Over at Stampboards.com, some regulars expressed skepticism at the reports of young people getting into stamp collecting. And who could blame them? If they mingle in traditional circles, there’s a good chance they’d see very few people under 50. Amid tales of falling attendance at stamp clubs, even I was taken aback when Stampboards admin and prominent Australian stamp dealer, Glen Stephens, reported being busier than ever, particularly with new business from younger clients, many of them female.
So it’s on, folks. Stamp collecting is back. We’re a movement! I’m even preparing my own Stamp Chat for the American Philatelic Society, assuming they’ll have me. I plan to share my enthusiasm for the philatelic area that stokes my coals. What is it? You’ll just have to wait and see. Or comb the blog and work it out.
(This does, of course, mean that you’ll find out what I look like, if you haven’t already caught my sneaky appearances on the Exploring Stamps YouTube channel or as a tiny talking head in James’s speech. Be warned, I don’t look much like any of the Punk avatars over the years, but if you follow this blog, you knew that already.)
If you’re new or returning to stamp collecting, there has never been a better time to join us. A welcoming and enthusiastic worldwide family is waiting to show you the ropes. If you should stumble into a cranky little corner of the hobby, be it a church hall or a bulletin board, where your first experience feels cold or alienating, please don’t be disheartened. Come and find the cool kids. We’ll look after you.
To the right (on a desktop) or at the bottom (if you’re mobile) of this article is a list of other philatelic blogs and sites worth checking out. Get amongst them. I mean, what else are you doing now? And feel free to drop a line below if you know of any philatelic lockdown initiatives that I haven’t mentioned above.
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