We're just a few days away from the beginning of National Stamp Collecting Month, an annual event that began in 1981 as a joint venture of the Council of Philatelic Organizations and the United States Postal Service.
For the first National Stamp Collecting Month, then-postmaster general William F. Bolger published a statement in the Postal Bulletin, a publication for USPS employees that is issued once every two weeks.
Bolger called stamp collecting "the world's most popular hobby," and urged "employees and customers alike to discover the joy of stamp collecting — the hobby of a lifetime."
The Postal Service has continued to promote National Stamp Collecting Month, however, by issuing special pictorial stamps intended to stimulate public interest in the stamp hobby.
The 1998 NSCM stamp issue, called Space Discovery, is shown in Figure 1 as a full pane of 20 stamps. It is scheduled for issuance Oct. 1 at Kennedy Space Center, Fla.
The design of the five-stamp set shows a science fiction scene depicting a futuristic colony upon a distant planet.
Space Discovery is not the first NSCM stamp issue with a space theme. In 1991 the Postal Service created a booklet with 10 different stamps: nine showing planets from our solar system and one stamp depicting Earth's moon.
In recent years the Postal Service has also created a special machine cancel with a theme to match the NSCM stamps. The 1991 postmark featured the starship USS Enterprise from the popular science fiction television show and motion picture series Star Trek.
The 1991 NSCM cancel is shown in Figure 2.
The Postal Service has not yet announced if a special cancel for the Space Discovery stamps will be issued.
Along with the stamps and cancels created by the Postal Service, local post offices often get into the act with events that celebrate the theme of the NSCM stamps.
Many NSCM activities are designed to appeal to youngsters, with the hope of encouraging them to develop an interest in the stamp hobby.
At the National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C., NSCM activities will include a special time for youngsters to create a stamp album with activity pages.
The event is scheduled to take place Oct. 17, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., at the museum, located in the lower level of the former Washington City Post Office Building on Capitol Hill, next to Union Station, at the corner of First Street and Massachusetts Ave., N.E.
The museum, part of the Smithsonian Institution, is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. but is closed on Dec. 25. Admission is free.
If you haven't seen the nation's collection of stamps and related postal history items at the National Postal Museum, you're in for a treat. Your first visit to the National Postal Museum would be a great way for you to celebrate National Stamp Collecting Month.
The Postal Service tries to extend its outreach to youngsters throughout the year, not just during National Stamp Collecting Month.
Its Stampers youth program offers stamps, trading cards and related collectibles through a catalog sent to young collectors' homes.
Stampers also provides activities for youngsters at selected national stamp exhibitions and stamp first-day ceremonies each year.
The Postal Service has also supplied teachers around the country with interactive teaching kits relating to the Celebrate the Century stamp series that began this year.
You can find out more about either of these programs by calling USPS Stamp Fulfillment Services at 800-782-6724.
The United States isn't the only country to get involved with stamp collecting by celebrating at a specific time. In Germany, "Tag der Briefmarke" means "Stamp Day," and it is celebrated every two years with a special semipostal stamp.
The 1997 German Stamp Day issue is shown in Figure 3. Germany Scott B819 has a face value of 440pfennigs+220pf. That means the stamp costs 660pf but has a postage value of only 440pf. The remaining 220pf collected is contributed to a foundation promoting the stamp hobby in Germany.
National Stamp Collecting Month has also been celebrated in the Philippines. Figure 4 is one stamp from a set of five (Scott 2375-79) issued in November 1995.
Various U.S. organizations within the stamp hobby regularly reach out to young collectors, including the American Philatelic Society (APS, Box 8000, State College, PA 16803), the International Society of Worldwide Stamp Collectors (ISWSC, Route 1, Box 69A, Caddo Mills, TX 75135), the American Stamp Dealers Association (ASDA, 3 School St., Suite 205, Glen Cove, NY 11542), and many others on both the national and local level.
One group exists specifically for the benefit of young collectors: the Junior Philatelists of America.
This very active group is run by young collectors with a little help from adults. Kids can learn about different aspects of stamp collecting from the society journal, the Philatelic Observer, published six times yearly. The JPA also offers study groups, educational projects, pen pal services and much more.
If you know of a youngster interested in stamps, giving an inexpensive gift membership in the JPA would be a terrific way you could celebrate National Stamp Collecting Month.
For information, visit the JPA Internet site on the World Wide Web at: www.jpastamps.org or write to Junior Philatelists of America, Box 850, Boalsburg, PA 16827-0850.