Refresher Course

Chase away winter blues by attending a postage stamp show

By Janet Klug

As I look out my window and see morning frost coating the grass, it makes me realize that winter has finally arrived.

Figure 1. Collectors visit a dealer's booth in a stamp show bourse.
Figure 2. Collectors study the exhibits at a national stamp show.

Winter is a great time to be a stamp collector. There are no outdoor distractions such as grass mowing and hedge trimming to keep us from our preferred hobby.

Winter is a great time to read the backlog of stamp publications that may have accumulated during the warmer months. It is a fine time to page through your album to give your stamps an airing, appreciate their beauty and check for damage. You never know when insects could decide to munch on a few pages of a tasty stamp album.

Some albums have stamps that face one another. That can lead to transfer of colors or bent corners if care is not taken to avoid these problems.

One of the best things you can do for yourself and your collection is to attend a stamp show. Travel to a local bourse or exhibition, or go farther afield to a warmer climate and enjoy the camaraderie of fellow collectors.

When is the last time you went to a stamp show?

There are three different types of stamp events that will be held this winter in the United States. Fortunately, they occur throughout the country, so you should be able to find at least one that will suit your purpose and your budget.

The most frequently occurring show is a local bourse. A bourse is a commercial event where stamp dealers set up booths to sell stamps and covers to collectors. Bourses can be operated by stamp clubs or by dealers. There can be a very few dealers or many at a bourse. It is a fine place to meet with dealers, purchase nice things for your collection and talk with other collectors.

Figure 1 shows a stamp dealer's booth in the bourse at a stamp show.

Local or regional stamp shows also have dealers' booths where you can buy stamps from a variety of sellers. Additionally, local and regional stamp shows may have exhibits created by other collectors. Meetings of specialty societies might take place at a stamp show, or you might find seminars where knowledgeable collectors speak about their collections.

All of these activities are worth a trip individually, but added together they provide a compelling menu of delights to appeal to every collector.

National stamp shows are those accredited by the American Philatelic Society. Certain criteria must be maintained to keep the national accreditation. National shows are generally referred to as WSP shows. The acronym stands for World Series of Philately, which means that the exhibit earning the grand award in open competition at the show may compete at APS Stampshow, held each August, for the Champion of Champions title.

With that in mind, when attending a national WSP show, be assured you will see a bevy of beautiful exhibits — if you can take some time away from visiting with the dealers who have set up shop.

Figure 2 shows collectors browsing the exhibits at a stamp show.

Most national shows will have a full schedule of speakers, seminars and meetings. Since these shows generally run two or three days, a repeat visit ensures that you will have enough time to peruse most of the dealers, see a few exhibits and attend a lecture or two.

There are several excellent national WSP shows held in the Sun Belt during the bleak Northern winter days.

Sandical, held annually in San Diego, Calif., is Jan. 20-22, 2012; the APS winter show, called Ameristamp Expo, will be in Atlanta, Ga. Jan. 27-29; the Sarasota National Stamp Exhibition in Florida takes place Feb. 3-5; Aripex in Mesa, Ariz., is Feb 24-26; and the St. Louis Stamp Expo is March 16-18.

Add to this dozens of local, regional and national stamp shows all over the country and you can see that there probably is a stamp event somewhere near you.

Check out the listings for stamp events in the Show Calendar in each issue of Linn's. The calendar appears on page 48 in this issue.

You can also find stamp events listed on the APS web site at www.stamps.org/show-calendar.

Attending a stamp event can be daunting if you have never been to one before. Some of the larger stamp shows have 50 or more dealers in attendance. Even a small bourse can be overwhelming if all 10 dealers present have stock you want to view.

The key to getting the most from your visit to a stamp show is to plan your visit. Some bourses and shows have web sites where you can download the list of dealers and their specialties, the schedule of seminars and meetings if the show has them, and the list of exhibits if applicable. Reviewing this information ahead of your visit helps you plan your time so you don't miss the dealers you want to see, or the other events or exhibits you want to enjoy.

If this information is not available on a web site, most stamp shows will have a program you can pick up when you enter. Spend your first few minutes at the show reviewing the listings in the program. Circle the dealers you want to check out as well as any programs you wish to attend. If there are exhibits, pick out a few that you want to see and circle those as well. Then create your schedule.

You may wish to spend the first two hours with the dealers, then attend a seminar. After lunch you might spend an hour looking at the exhibits and finish the day with the dealers. Taking a few minutes to plan your day means you will not miss anything you really wanted to do.

Part of your show planning should include a budget for acquisitions found at the show. You will see lots of stamps and covers, and it is easy to lose track of how much you are spending. Have a set limit in place before you get to the show so that when you hit that limit you will stop buying and move off to do other things that do not have a price attached.

Double the fun you have at a stamp show by bringing a friend or family member along with you. Many stamp shows have areas for youngsters to learn about stamps and take home goodies of their own. Friends or other family members might be surprised to see what a vibrant, compelling hobby stamp collecting is, and you could recruit a new collector with whom you can share the fun of stamp collecting.