Dare you enter… The Portal?

Update: This post was written ahead of Stampex 2021, which is now over. But I’ll leave it here just to show you what you missed. PP

Right now I’m in the thick of things at my un-philatelic and unforgiving day job. (Hope you’ve enjoyed the break from my opinions.) But I’ve blocked out the end of this week for something a little special.

Virtual Stampex 2021 runs for 72 hours from 8am London time on the 25th March. (International times are shown below to help you figure out what that means for you.) It’s an online philatelic exhibition hosted by the UK Philatelic Traders’ Society. It’s totally free. And I’ll be there!

Philatelic exhibitions can sound daunting if you’re new to collecting. Are you allowed to just show up or do you have to be invited? Some of the terminology can sound alien. In real life, you might be frightened off coming along because, well… what exactly are you meant to do there?

James from the excellent online philatelic site The Digital Philatelist hit on a pretty neat explainer when I was chatting to him recently – and it has a nice pop culture twist. Exhibitions are the Comic-Cons of the stamp world. If you were considering attending a real-world exhibition, I would say: just walk in. You’ll be fine, and you’ll figure it out.

Virtual Stampex is a good way to get a bit of a sense of what an Exhibition is. The first Virtual Stampex in October 2020 did a pretty handy job of recreating a real-life show. You could browse through the virtual hall of dealers’ booths, stopping to find out if each dealer might have material you might like to buy. Or you could get info on a variety of stamp clubs or commercial operators. For inspiration, you could browse exhibits compiled by other collectors – some of them were in active competition (that’s right, did you know stamp collecting can be a sport? Exhibitions are like our Olympics!), and some were classics that were made available just to view. There were online talks by experts in a particular field, or societies dedicated to specific corners of the hobby. There was even an auction. You could also have material appraised by a dealer (though realistically, there’s a limit to how accurate that can be without everyone being in the same room).

Every booth had a chat room, and these proved to be fun places to hang out, if you found the right ones. My own booth at Stampex 2020 gave me a great opportunity to chat with readers of this blog and gently introduce curious newcomers to the Punk Philatelist Manifesto. But I also learned that manning a one-person booth single-handedly at a 72-hour worldwide online exhibition was physically impossible! This lesson was simultaneously learned by others, including Graham Beck from Exploring Stamps, whose booth chatroom became the place to be, particularly for younger or newer collectors. I don’t think Graham has caught up on his lost sleep yet.

Other lessons were gleaned by the PTS from attendees’ feedback, so this year’s event promises to be bigger and better. Along with similar features to last year, this year’s Virtual Stampex includes an official Collectors’ Lounge where you can meet old friends or make new ones – no need to scurry from booth chatroom to booth chatroom trying to work out where your mates are.

This year also sees the arrival of…


The Portal is a booth co-hosted by Graham from Exploring Stamps, James from Digital Philatelist, and me. Across our various timezones, we would hope that at least one of us would be in attendance most times, and sometimes you might even catch two. This is us. Come and say hi!

(Thanks to Stampex for managing to find an avatar without a business suit on, just for us. Is that Richard Federer?)

So why ‘The Portal’? Well, between the three of us, our home base is online, and a lot of our online friends aren’t involved with what’s called Organised Philately. Many of our readers (or viewers) have found their own way into the hobby, often attracted by its growing presence on social media. We’re less likely to be in a stamp club, and more likely to fly solo in the privacy of our own loungerooms. We’re more likely to source our collecting goodies on Etsy or Ebay than from a traditional dealer. And for many, I suspect the idea of displaying our collection in an official exhibit to be judged by a panel of strangers sounds positively ridiculous. (For the record, not me. I’m taking my first baby steps in that direction.)

And yet, there is much to be learned and much to be enjoyed in the world of Old School Philately, and Old School Philately bloody loves an exhibition! So our booth will be a safe space for first-timers. We can point you around, explain a bit about what’s going on, find out what you’re into and hopefully hook you up with like-minded people. Let our booth be your portal to a new dimension!

But the Portal works both ways. I know lots of traditional collectors read this blog. Many are open to new directions in philately, but online and in real life I’ve encountered occasional scepticism towards the suggestion that ‘online philately’ is of much value. Some even question its very existence! I’m hopeful that old-skool collectors who are willing to walk through the portal in the other direction can learn about how their enjoyment of the hobby can be enhanced by engagement with the internet broadly, and social media in particular. Everyone has things to teach, and everyone has things to learn.

Virtual Stampex, is free, but you do need to register. Head to the Stampex website to sign up and whet your appetite. We’ll see you there!

Virtual Stampex times in your hood

London: Opens 25 March, 8:00am. Closes 28 March, 7:59am.
New York: Opens 25th March, 4am. Closes 28th March, 3:59am.
Los Angeles: Opens 25th March, 1am. Closes 28th March, 12:59am.
Hong Kong: Opens 25th March, 4pm. Closes 28th March, 3:59pm.
Sydney: Opens 25 March, 6pm. Closes 28th March, 5:59pm.

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