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.
blogIn this column in the Aug. 24 issue of Linn’s, I referred to the American Philatelic Research Library in Bellefonte, Pa., as a “gift to stamp collectors.” The BNAPS library and the APRL are two of many libraries available to stamp collectors, and some philatelic libraries are available online. Read More ›
blogIt’s often been said that one of the salutary benefits of collecting stamps is the friendships made along one’s philatelic journey. If I were asked to place a value on the bonds thus forged with collectors in locales near and far, I would be rich beyond measure. A few of these hobby friends I have never met in person. Read More ›
blogToday, Nov. 11, 2015, is Veterans Day. Over the years, a number of United States stamps honoring those who have served in our nation’s armed forces have been issued. Read More ›
blogMy previous blog post focused on a mystery: the apparent indentations of paper clips on United States Purple Heart forever stamps that were used to mail payments to the circulation department of my employer, Amos Media in Sidney, Ohio. Read More ›
Watch as Linn’s Stamp News senior editor Denise McCarty discusses Great Britain’s final stamp issue for 2015, a Star Wars prestige booklet, and reveals what is included in its stamp program for 2016.
Watch as Linn’s Stamp News managing editor Chad Snee discusses a registered 1967 cover from Qatar that recently sold for almost $1,200 and the latest discovery of an Upright Jenny Invert pane.
Watch as Linn’s Stamp News editorial director Donna Houseman announces that Linn’s has been named official daily publisher of World Stamp Show-NY 2016 and provides an update on the reorganization of the Scott catalogs.
Watch as Linn’s Stamp News senior editor Marty Frankevicz reports on the suspension of Canada Post’s cluster box conversion plan after the election of a new prime minister.
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.