One of the questions I am most commonly asked by nonphilatelic media is “When was stamp collecting’s golden age?”
The inquirer is likely to get one of several answers, depending on what I am writing, researching or thinking about at the time the question is asked.
The obvious, safe answer is: the 1930s.
During the Great Depression, stamp collecting could be an inexpensive pastime, and it had the added benefit of being educational. A beginner album and a packet of stamps cost a dime — or could be obtained with S&H Green Stamps or Ivory soap wrappers.
In the darkest days of the Depression, philately basked in the reflected glory of its most exalted practitioners. Both presidents in this decade were serious stamp collectors: Franklin D. Roosevelt gets all the attention, but Herbert Hoover was also an American Philatelic Society and American Air Mail Society member.
The kings of England, Egypt and Romania were well-known collectors, as were industrialists Josiah K. Lilly and Arthur Hind.
However, I think at least two other decades are candidates for the golden age title.
By the 1880s, the boys who began collecting stamps shortly after they were first issued in 1840 had become middle-aged and middle-class men.
The hobby, having grown up alongside the first collectors, took on many of the features we would recognize today.
Local clubs flourished, and the American Philatelic Association and the Smithsonian Institution’s stamp collection both began in 1886.
The first public stamp exhibition was held at New York’s Eden Musee in 1889. The culmination of this golden age was the 1895 consolidation of several New York stamp clubs into the Collectors Club of New York.
Then, in the 1960s, topical stamp collecting gained prominence.
Space was definitely king. Several early catalogs of space stamps were printed, the American Topical Association released its first space-related handbook, and albums for space-themed stamps appeared.
In November 1962, 20,000 collectors packed New York City’s 14th National Postage Stamp Show to view Friendship 7 and Telstar 1, the world’s first commercial communications satellite.
Two years later, the ATA convened at NAPEX 1964 in the Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C. The show’s banquet seated 325 collectors, while the 1966 SIPEX international stamp show drew more than 17,200 attendees.
Few shows today could field crowds of that size.
What do you think was stamp collecting’s golden age?
Let me know at SmithsonianNationalPostalMuseum on Facebook, or @PostalMuseum on Twitter.
Daniel Piazza is a Smithsonian curator of philately.
The National Postal Museum is devoted to presenting the colorful and engaging history of the nation’s mail service and showcasing one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of stamps and philatelic material in the world. It is located at 2 Massachusetts Avenue N.E., Washington, D.C., across from Union Station. For more information, visit the museum web site at www.postalmuseum.si.edu.
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Watch as Linn’s Stamp News associate editor Michael Baadke talks about a record fifth win for wildlife artist Joseph Hautman in the federal duck stamp art contest, and see the painting that will appear on next year’s federal duck stamp
Watch as Scott catalog senior editor Marty Frankevicz questions Bolivia’s choice for the design of a 2013 stamp honoring the country’s efforts to protect its migrants in foreign lands.
Watch as Linn’s Stamp News managing editor Chad Snee discusses the discovery of the upright Jenny Invert pane received in an order from Stamp Fulfillment Services in Kansas City, Mo., and also reports on the Confederate Stamp Alliance.
Watch as Linn’s senior editor Denise McCarty discusses the situation with Canada’s recalled Hoodoo stamp, as well as stamps from the United States and other countries that also depict these rock formations.
It is always a treat to get to see stamp dealers’ own collections.
In the recently concluded Linn’s United States Stamp Popularity Poll, the Circus Posters set of eight stamps was chosen as the overall favorite issue of 2014.
Dispersal of the splendid Daniel B. Curtis collection continued March 25, with Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries gaveling items from United States back-of-the-book and possessions.
The 175th anniversary of the first postage stamp, Great Britain's Penny Black, is May 6, but the stamp was placed on sale May 1, 1840, for mailers to use beginning on May 6, the designated issue date.