Refresher Course

Helping Scouts obtain stamp collecting merit badge

By Joseph H. Bloom

Many readers of Linn's Stamp News no doubt are aware of the popular topical subject of Scouts on stamps, but how many are aware of the interest of Boy Scouts in stamp collecting?

The Boy Scout stamp collecting merit badge

To become an Eagle Scout, the highest rank offered by the Boy Scouts of America, a young man must earn 21 merit badges: 12 required and nine optional.

Among the more than 100 choices of optional badges is a merit badge for stamp collecting.

To be approved to receive any given merit badge, a Scout must demonstrate his proficiency (against a prescribed list of requirements) to the satisfaction of an expert volunteer who serves as a merit badge counselor.

For more than 20 years, I have had the privilege of serving as a duly appointed counselor for the stamp collecting merit badge.

The requirements for earning the stamp collecting merit badge, shown in the accompanying box, are both comprehensive and rigorous. The Scout candidate must master a considerable amount of knowledge and hands-on skill, covering many aspects of the hobby.

To assist aspiring candidates, the Boy Scouts of America publishes a stamp collecting merit badge pamphlet, which runs some 40 pages long, and which can be purchased for $2.40 by an interested party at a Scout shop.

Of all the requirements, the ones that seem to cause the greatest difficulty are portions of No. 3, showing one example of 10 types of stamps or covers.

Not many boys who have come to me have ever seen an overprinted, surcharged or semipostal stamp, probably because among U.S. issues overprints are rare, and surcharged and semipostal stamps are nonexistent.

To deal with the issue of overprints, I show — and explain the why and wherefore behind — the U.S. Kansas-Nebraska issues of 1929 (Scott 658-79) or the Philippines 1944-45 Victory and Commonwealth overprints (Scott 463-92).

I like to see a candidate be able to use a magnifying glass, a perforation gauge, and watermark fluid in connection with requirements No. 5, demonstrating three tools.

I try to encourage use of the magnifying glass by challenging my candidate to find the secret date on stamps from the Canada 1935 King George V dated die series, Scott 217-27.

To test a boy's proficiency in the use of a perforation gauge, I typically ask him to differentiate among three similar-face-appearance U.S. Washington heads; for example, the 1¢ green (Scott 405 vs. 424 vs. 542).

The Australian 1-penny green trio of Scott 64, 67 and 114 serve as a good test of working knowledge of watermark detection.

Not surprisingly, the majority of collections brought to me in fulfillment of requirement No. 8 are either United States (usually mint singles, but not infrequently plate blocks or first-day covers, or some combination thereof) or general worldwide.

Sad to report, current interest in the stamp collecting merit badge appears to be low. In my last five years as a counselor, I have seen only a handful of applications annually, and this in an area of generally well-educated, affluent households.

Part of the declining interest may reflect a decline in interest in stamp collecting among young people in general.

But as long as there is a single boy out there in my area who is interested in earning his stamp collecting merit badge, I will continue to serve as a counselor, for there is great reward from working one-on-one with a potential lifelong stamp collecting enthusiast.

Joseph Bloom, a free-lance medical writer and assistant Scoutmaster, collects postally used stamps of the United States, Canada, Great Britain and Australia.

Requirements for stamp collecting merit badge

1. Do the following:

a. Discuss how you can better understand people, places, institutions, history and geography as a result of stamp collecting.

b. Briefly describe some aspects of the history, growth and development of the United States postal system. How is it different from postal systems in other countries?

2. Define topical stamp collecting. What are some other types of stamp collections?

3. Show at least one example of each of the following:

a. Perforated and imperforate stamps.

b. Mint and used stamps.

c. Sheet, booklet and coil stamps.

d. Numbers on plate blocks, booklet or coil, or marginal markings.

e. Overprint and surcharge.

f. Metered mail.

g. Definitive, commemorative, semipostal and airmail stamps.

h. Cancellation and postmark.

i. First-day cover.

j. Postal stationery (aerogram, stamped envelope and postal card).

4. Do the following:

a. Demonstrate the use of one standard catalog for several different issues. Explain why catalog value can vary from the corresponding purchase price.

b. Explain the meaning of condition as used to describe a stamp. Show examples that illustrate the different factors that affect a stamp's value.

5. Demonstrate the use of at least three of the following stamp collector's tools:

a. Stamp tongs.

b. Water and tray.

c. Magnifier(s).

d. Hinges.

e. Perforation gauge.

f. Envelopes and sleeves.

g. Watermark fluid.

6. Do the following:

a. Show a stamp album and how to mount stamps with or without hinges. Show at least one page that displays several stamps.

b. Discuss at least three ways you can help to preserve stamps, covers and albums in first-class condition.

7. Do at least two of the following:

a. Design a stamp, cancellation or cachet.

b. Visit a post office, stamp club or stamp show with an experienced collector. Describe what you saw and/or did.

c. Write a review of an interesting article from a stamp newspaper, magazine or book.

d. Research and report on a famous stamp-related personality or the history behind a particular stamp.

e. Describe the steps taken to produce a stamp. Include the methods of printing, types of paper, perforation styles and how they are gummed.

f. Prepare a two- to three-page display involving stamps. Using ingenuity, as well as clippings, drawings, etc., tell a story about the stamps. How do they relate to history, geography or a favorite topic of yours?

8. Mount and show, in a purchased or homemade album, one of the following:

a. A collection of 250 or more different stamps from at least 15 countries.

b. A collection of a stamp from each of 50 countries, mounted on maps to show the location of each.

c. A collection of 150 or more different stamps from either one country or a group of closely related countries.

d. A collection of 75 or more different stamps on a single topic. (Some interesting topics are Scouts, birds, insects, the Olympics, sports, flowers, animals, ships, Christmas, trains, famous people, space, medicine, etc.)

e. A collection of postal items discovered in your mail by monitoring it over a period of 30 days. Include at least five different types listed in requirement 3, above.