Refresher Course

New millennium resolutions, one year early

By Michael Baadke

As a writer and editor I try to use words properly, so I won't call this new year the start of a new millennium.

Figure 1. The United States Postal Service will issue a number of different stamps with space themes in 2000, including these five 33¢ issues honoring Edwin Powell Hubble. Click on image to enlarge.
 
Figure 2. The 7¢ Charles Thompson postal card of 1975 is one of a series of Patriot issues. In the stamp hobby, a specialty collection can begin with material as recent as this. Click on image to enlarge.
 
Figure 3. When mail arrives franked with a commemorative stamp, even noncollectors take note. It's a simple way to help spread interest in stamps and stamp collecting. Click on image to enlarge.

We've just wrapped up year 1999 after all — there's one more to go before 2000 years have been completed and we start a third millennium.

Technically, though, a millennium can be any 1000-year span, so for those who are celebrating the 2000th anniversary of the beginning of year 1 B.C., well . . . have a good time.

There's no denying that the excitement of this particular new year is that we're changing from a year that begins with a "1" — which is all any of us have ever known — to a year that begins with a "2."

It's a lot like being in the family station wagon along with everyone else in the world and watching all the numbers on the odometer roll over at the same time.

Regardless, this is the beginning of a new year, and for many that means making up lists of new year's resolutions.

The stamp collectors of the world are an interesting group of people drawn from all walks of life.

No matter what you collect or how you go about enjoying the stamp hobby, you could resolve to do a number of things to help make your collecting more enjoyable and maybe help the stamp hobby as a whole.

Here are a couple of possibilities. I'm not much for keeping resolutions, so I didn't want to make this too tough.

Four resolutions should do it, and they get easier as you go along.

Maybe in this short list you'll find a way to make stamp collecting something you'll enjoy even more in the new millennium.

Whenever it gets here.

Organize what you're doing. One thing many stamp collectors have in common is that they can't really bear to get rid of anything.

I know this because I am one of you.

It gets harder and harder to keep an organized collection when you're not exactly sure what it is that you're collecting and where it is.

The first step toward organizing your collecting habits is to define what you want your collection to be.

Skilled collectors can maintain more than one collection at a time, though I've always suspected those are the collectors who don't have to hold down a full-time job.

Here are a few steps to getting organized:

Choose a specialty you will enjoy collecting and concentrate on that.

You might want to build a specialized collection on the only certified mail stamp the United States ever issued (a 15¢ stamp from 1955), or you might want to collect every one of the bazillion or so stamps that Russia and the Soviet Union issued since the beginning of time.

The size of your collection probably doesn't matter as much as knowing what you don't collect.

If you're in the habit of buying stamps just because you like them, you may want to think about why you like them and try to figure out if there's some way to make a collection out of it all.

Otherwise, you're just going to wind up with a hodgepodge of loose stamps that don't seem to fit in anywhere.

Now there is a viable option: organize all those spectacular acquisitions in some manner — by country, by year, by topic — whatever.

Arrange them into a stock book or make up some album pages and title your collection "Stamps I Really Like For No Particular Reason."

At least you'll be able to enjoy them and show them off to others from time to time.

It beats sticking them away in drawers or boxes where you won't see them until the next millennium.

Consider getting rid of the stamps you don't need. Sell them at your stamp club auction, find a dealer who would like to buy them, or give them to some kids who might want to start collecting (and help them with answers to questions they might have).

If you really don't know what to do with your extra stamps, consider donating them to the Junior Philatelists of America, a group of younger collectors who will see to it that the stamps are put to good use.

You can send stamps to the JPA Central Office, Box 850, Boalsburg, PA 16827.

No matter which option you choose, you'll profit, either monetarily (so you can buy more of the stamps you actually do collect), or by feeling good about helping a youngster enjoy the stamp hobby.

Start a new collection. Now, doesn't that sound like a contradiction?

Just when you figured out exactly what you want to collect and what to do with the stamps you don't need, you should start a new collection?

If you have some time to devote to it and if you have an interest you'd like to follow, starting a new collection is probably one of the best ways to inject new life into your hobby.

Perhaps you've been collecting the same country since you were six and now that several decades have come and gone you're simply getting a little tired of it.

You should try something new.

You don't even have to get rid of your old collection. Put it away for a while as you start up your new collecting adventure.

How about a nice topical collection on space exploration?

The United States Postal Service will be issuing several space-themed stamps in 2000, such as the five 33¢ Hubble stamps shown in Figure 1.

You might consider collecting another country, or perhaps try your hand at a new specialty.

For example, the United States issued 12 different Patriot postal cards between 1971 (the 6¢ Paul Revere, Scott UX58) and 1985 (the 14¢ George Wythe, Scott UX108).

One that's a little hard to find postally used within the proper rate period is the 7¢ Charles Thompson card, Scott UX68, issued Sept. 14, 1975 (and shown in Figure 2).

The 7¢ postcard rate was only in effect for about 3½ months at the end of 1975, so finding an example of this card used in that period can be a challenge.

Matching postal reply cards are out there as well, as are a few minor varieties to boot.

There are many places to start looking for new collecting possibilities, but I recommend slowly paging through your favorite stamp catalog to see what you might find.

Visit a stamp show. I'm sometimes surprised by the number of collectors who have never visited a stamp show — not ever.

A stamp show is like a shopping mall created especially for the stamp collector.

You can walk right in, you don't have to buy anything (although it can be hard to resist), and most of the time you aren't even charged admission.

Often there are stamp exhibits on display, which gives you a great way to see how other people collect stamps, and it may give you a few ideas to make your own collection a little more interesting.

Stamp shows all across the United States are listed every week in Linn's Stamp News, or you can check out the Stamp Events Calendar online.

If you have been to a stamp show before, think about going again. If you have a friend with an interest in stamps, invite him to join you.

Use commemorative stamps on your mail. Now here's a resolution that's easy to follow. But why should you?

Lots of folks collect definitive stamps with gusto, and well they should, for there are plenty of them to go around.

Definitive stamps, you probably know, are those stamps that the postal authorities make the greatest number of, such as the United States 33¢ Flag Over City stamp.

In most U.S. post offices, if you simply ask at the counter for stamps, that's probably what you'll get.

I think it benefits the hobby for collectors to ask for commemorative stamps and to use them on their mail all the time.

When you send mail using commemorative stamps, you have a much greater chance of your stamp catching someone's eye as your letter or electric bill or auction bid goes from your post office through a half-dozen hands until it reaches its destination.

A small collection of commemorative stamps recently used on mail is shown in Figure 3. At top left in the illustration is a Breast Cancer Research semipostal stamp (United States Scott B1) some thoughtful individual used for postage.

A flag stamp isn't likely to get as noticed as that colorful semipostal will. Now, I like the American flag, but there won't be any shortage of Flag stamps on mail, even if you start using something else.

How do you do it?

The next time you're at the post office, don't just ask for stamps. Ask for commemorative stamps.

Like this: "I'd like 20 commemorative stamps, please."

You can even check Linn's U.S. Stamp Program, pick out a specific issue that you think you'll like, and ask for it by name.

If the clerk doesn't carry that stamp, ask him what he does have.

If he only has Flag stamps, check with another clerk and see what stamps he has. Be a polite nuisance.

Another option is to order the postage stamps you want to use on mail from USPS Stamp Fulfillment Services in Kansas City.

You can order stamps for your collection at the same time.

For a free catalog of U.S. stamps, call 800-782-6724, or write to USA Philatelic Catalog, Stamp Fulfillment Services, Box 419424, Kansas City, MO 64141-6424.

Yes, you might have to lick your new commemorative stamps, although many are self-adhesive.

I'm sure you remember how to lick stamps.

Yes, you might have to tear them apart. Be careful so you don't damage the perforations of the stamps.

After all that work, though, you can feel really good about yourself because you're doing something to promote stamps and stamp collecting.

Who knows? Maybe the man or woman who finally opens your envelope to process your bill payment will be intrigued enough by the stamp on the envelope to want to learn more about stamp collecting.

It could happen, but you have to help. If the stamp collectors don't use commemorative stamps, who will?

And start doing it before the next millennium gets here, OK?