Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Philosophy of a Stamp Tramp

I was visiting around Bloglandia last weekend, and came across a post written by a new (to me) blogger. Stephanie is an artist, and in this post, she discussed little collages she was making from torn up postage stamps.... Torn. Up. Stamps. Whhaaaaaat?!!

As a lapsed stamp collector, this idea shocked me to my core. I think I actually felt pain. I'm a bit of a control freak and I need my small treasures to remain intact. But, Stephanie's post made me think and I pulled out my stamp books to look at them again.

I put my stamp collection away in 1988; I was newly married and I liked to spend my time with my Marble Man, not pretty little bits of paper. As I pulled my books and boxes out, I found loads of unsorted stamps - some soaked off their envelopes and ready for installation, others still attached.... little Windows To The World.

The frontis page of my father's album

Memories of quiet childhood afternoons came flooding back: sitting at a table, holding a stamp and searching through my book to find its proper place, the little catch of excitement when I realized I had "something special" this time.... Each stamp has a story to tell, some reason for being. My child's brain would wonder (and wander) about the country that printed such a tiny piece of art. Some of the beauty belied a tragic or violent history,


others celebrated their nation's accomplishments,

and still others rejoiced in the natural bounty available in their corner of the universe.

Nature stamps, Guyana

My first exposure to this gentle hobby was during a Thanksgiving trip to my uncle's house in Rochester, NY.

Uncle T and me last summer

I was about 10 years old and, late one night, I padded downstairs in my jammies to find my uncle poring over piles of postage stamps and a book with regimented rows of colored squares.

He generously answered all my questions and showed me how to mount the stamps and care for them. (Patience with small children is one of his many virtues.) For Christmas that year he sent me a starter book of my own as well as a large pile of duplicate stamps from his collection. And I was off...

Very early US stamp, around 1908?

I would study each stamp,

Austria, Early 1900's

learn its country of origin, and then look it up in the encyclopedia set my parents had. As I learned, I dreamed of visiting some of the places with the most beautiful postage stamps.

Czechoslovakia, mid-1970's

I learned about my own country's history - from the 1930's through the 1950's we produced some amazing commemorative stamps marking important steps for our fledgling land.

US commemoratives

I had a ritual when I visited our local post office. I would ask the teller what stamps were new, and she'd pull out sheets and sheets and sheets. So many to choose from. Then I'd pick just one and buy a block of four, or even a plate block (a group of four with the registration number in the selvage). I'd take my new purchase home and put it in a glassine envelope to protect it. Mint Condition. Such a luscious phrase. I have all those still - I look at them and remember each trip I made to buy them.

just a few blocks! There are more...

Imagine, because of our digital age, someday people won't remember the beauty of stamps. Emails have taken the place of thoughtfully written letters - it's so much faster to click on a new message on the computer. I remember the little lurch of my heart when the postman delivered a loved one's letter. Now either the mailbox is stuffed with unwanted junk mail, or I open it and moths fly out.

In this time of cheap long distance minutes we enjoy the immediacy of a phone call. I can remember my parents telling me the phone is only used for emergencies or birthdays - want to tell Grandmother in Florida something? Write her a letter - stamps are cheap.

After looking at my own stamp collection, I realize that there are thousands of other collections out there; the history and culture of postage stamps is well-preserved. So, if a talented person wants to take some, rip 'em up, and make something remarkable from them, well, more power to her.

I culled a healthy selection of my own duplicate collection and sent them off to Stephanie for her to use as she wishes.

Lucky little stamps!
So, anyone else out there share my passion for stamp collecting? What are your stories? What got you started?


Stephanie said...

There MUST be more collections out there but they are a tightly kept secret. I used to frequent several people with huge collections, sorted by color, by theme, by country and would carefully pick through them for my art. I used to make beaded stamp jewelry... I kept them in tact :)

they seem to have all but disappeared, I searched all over my area and on the web and could not find beautiful stamps.

so happy to virtually peruse your collection and anxiously awaiting to for my surprise delivery!!


LW said...

I enjoyed this post and learning how stamps came into your life.
What a wonderful gift your uncle gave to you.
I too remember as a child going to buy the new stamps for my mom.
She was not a collector but she loved the look of new stamps on the envelopes
of the letters she wrote to family members who lived far away.

I now wished I bought two sheets one for her and one for me.


Anonymous said...

thanks for reminding me how much enjoyment i got out of my childhood stamp collection. living in japan we were able to collect all sorts of beautiful stamps as well as ones from other parts of SE asia when my dad traveled there. we didn't have tv growing up so books, stamps, crafts and the like occupied our free time.
they are miniature works of art mingled with history and i wish i still had them today to go and look at again.

i guess now we just collect emails and FB friends since personal correspondence has pretty much gone out the window!

Gabriela said...

Hello Kate,

I understand how you feel, I also used to be a collector a long time ago...

I love recycling, and I can see that using the stamps on the envelopes that we get in the mail and add them to projects could be fun!

~ Gabriela ~

lori vliegen said...

your stamp collection is beautiful kate! and, oh the memories that go along with it....thanks for sharing them! while i don't have an extensive collection like yours, by reading your story, you've confirmed what i already knew all along....we are very much alike!!

have you ever been to the national postal museum at the smithsonian? about 15 years ago, i was privileged to have some of my calligraphy on display there. there was a contest called "the graceful envelope"....contestants were to design and envelope based on any stamp, address it to the smithsonian and actually mail it! can you imagine dropping a piece of your original artwork in the mailbox and hoping that it arrives in tact?! anyway, mine was one of a small group chosen and my dutch boy took our family to d.c. so we could see it! if you ever have a chance to go....you would love it! so much history, and stamps all over the place! okay, i'm going to give someone else some room to leave a comment now (sorry so long!)! hugs, :)

Snap said...

My stamp collection is the closet gathering dust. I think I started it when my Mother was working for a company that made leather holsters (actually -- anything leather) and orders came in from around the world. She'd bring the stamps home. They had to go someplace -- all those gorgeous little pictures. That's how it started. You've made me want to get the stamps out and look. I have used a few in my journal and on collage ... just a few! :D

Loved this post and meeting your Uncle.

rochambeau said...

Oh how wonderful Kate! That you have a sacred stamp collection! You are lucky!


Mixed Drink Recipes said...

My dad has always been a stamp collector. I know he'd be envious of your collcetion!

Fete et Fleur said...

I just recently purchased some French vintage postage stamps. Wonderful post,


Andrea - Faded Plains said...

Ohhh...I love old stamps too...especially the ones from Europe.

Christine said...

Wow~what a beautiful collection you've amassed. I've never collected stamps but can appreciate the allure and beauty of something so small~they remind me of miniature posters and prints.I like the idea of each stamp having a story and a country of origin..thanks for sharing!

paula l. mandel said...

kate: i love the way the stamp collecting affected you as a contemplative, mediative form of study of peoples and eras. come to think of it i think there's an old collection or two around here somewhere... Love you!

Isabel said...

You are really a Stamp Tramp...lol...I love it, and confess that even though I don't actively collect stamps I am an inveterate snail mail fanatic.

I love everything about writing and getting letters in the mail and I never never open an envelope without first looking at the stamp and yes I confess...cutting the ones that touch me from the envelope and keeping them in my SAB box (Stamps Addict Box) ;)

I think that living away from my country made me even more aware of those that come from there...often reminding me of my history and culture.

Loved this post my dear kate!