By Michael Baadke
I love going to a stamp show.
There's so much to see and do, and while you can't take it all home with you, it's a lot of fun to look and dream.For a stamp collector, a trip to the stamp show is like a kid visiting the candy store.
The stamp show gives you a chance to see outstanding collections and exhibits, look for stamps and covers that you can add to your own collection, learn more about your hobby by attending open seminars and meetings, and spend some time with people who share the same interests that you enjoy.
To help you enjoy it all, most stamp shows create a free program that lists all the events and participants so it's easy to see what's going on.
I picked up the program shown in Figure 1 last fall when I visited the Chicagopex 98 show in Rosemont, Ill., just outside of Chicago.
Why is it called "Chicagopex"? Many U.S. stamp shows have "pex" at the end of their names: the letters are an abbreviation for "philatelic exhibition."
When I visit a show I like to start by taking a few minutes to get familiar with the show program. Sometimes I have all day to spend at the show, but other times I may only have a few hours.
When time is tight, I use the program to plan out exactly what I want to see.
Let's start with the stamp exhibits. Not all shows have exhibits: those that don't are usually called a bourse (I rhyme it with "course" and no one's corrected me yet).
Even when there are exhibits, the collection of dealers at a show is sometimes referred to as "the bourse."
When there are exhibits at the show, they're usually all listed in the program and identified by frame numbers.
The framed exhibits look like the photograph shown at the top of Figure 2. Below the photograph is an exhibit listing from the Chicagopex 98 program.
Each exhibit has a title that gives some idea of what's being exhibited.
The exhibits are usually specialized collections that someone has spent years putting together and wants to show off to others.
That kind of sharing is really great because it helps other collectors get ideas about how to shape their own collections.
At most shows a panel of judges looks over each exhibit and awards one a grand prize and another a reserve grand (which basically means second place, but it's still a most prestigious award).
Every exhibit is given a gold, vermeil (pronounced "ver-MAY"), silver or bronze award (usually a ribbon), or perhaps a certificate of participation.
Vermeil, by the way, means "gilded silver," so it falls between gold and silver.
Some shows hold a judge's critique. This is an open forum where exhibitors meet with judges to learn what they can do to improve their exhibits (and maybe win a higher award the next time out).
The critique is open to everyone, and it is another good place to learn more about exhibiting and putting together a collection.
Many large stamp shows like Chicagopex are participants in the American Philatelic Society's World Series of Philately exhibition circuit.
The grand-award winner at each WSP show is invited to exhibit at the annual APS Stampshow. Of all the grand-award winners for the year, one is selected Champion of Champions, a remarkable achievement for any collector.
This year, APS Stampshow is being held Aug. 26-29 at the Cleveland Convention Center in Cleveland.
Make sure you visit the exhibits, but don't lose track of time. You'll want to look over the incredible offerings of the many dealers taking part in the show.
Have you ever spent time in a retail stamp store? It's always a pleasure for me to spend some time looking over the treats in a retail shop.
Now imagine 10 or 20 or even 50 or 75 little stamp shops all in one place.
At the stamp show, you can find just about anything you may be looking for, including stamps, covers, books and catalogs, pages from stamp collections and lots of different supplies.
Specialist dealers may offer only stamps from one country or region, while others may have a worldwide selection from which to choose.
Often you'll find a dealer selling postally used stamps for a nickel apiece, while other dealers may offer rarities that sell for thousands of dollars.
When the dealer asks you "What do you collect?" let him know your interests. He'll tell you if he has what you're looking for, or he may point you toward a dealer at the show who will be able to help you out.
Figure 3 shows stamp dealer (and Linn's Duck Stamps columnist) Bob Dumaine as he assists a customer at a show.
Once again the show program helps you out by listing the dealers at the show and their locations in the bourse, and often describing the particular kind of items they handle.
At larger shows you can also sit in on open seminars about many different aspects of collecting. These are also listed in the program.
Experts and other collectors discuss their favorite topics, sometimes showing slides or selections from their own collections.
Some United States national-level shows host first-day ceremonies for new stamps. Collectors who attend the ceremony usually get a free program souvenir with the new stamps affixed and specially canceled.
Figure 4 shows part of a souvenir folder from the first-day ceremony for the 1999 United Nations Endangered Species stamps issued April 22 at the ASDA Postage Stamp Mega-Event show in New York City.
Stamp designer Jimmy Wang was at the event and autographed my folder for me (and happily did so for dozens of other collectors who asked).
Even if there isn't a first-day ceremony, many shows sell souvenir covers with special pictorial cancels that mark the day of the show.
These covers are fun collectibles, and they help the sponsoring local club raise money to pay for the cost of running the show.
Lots of clubs also sponsor youth tables for beginning collectors, offering free or inexpensive stamps for kids and plenty of advice for novices.
Dozens of stamp shows take place every month in cities and towns all over the country (and all around the world, for that matter).
For information on upcoming shows near you, check the Stamp Events calendar in Linn's each week.
Many shows charge no admission fee, and those that do usually set a very reasonable cost.
If you enjoy the hobby of stamp collecting, you're bound to enjoy your visit to the stamp show.
Maybe I'll see you there!