By Janet Klug
Spring is just around the corner, or at least that is my wishful thinking. It is a good time to begin venturing outdoors again.
One of my very favorite springtime things to do is jump in the car and go for a ride. You don't have to go far to find something interesting that will eventually remind you of your stamp collection.
A few weeks ago, my husband and I were out for a drive. We were not more than 15 miles from our home when we became hopelessly lost driving on a road that was not on any of the maps we had with us. We passed through a ghost town, whose abandoned buildings showed evidence of once being a general store, a church and a post office.
A post office — there is a challenge. First I had to find out what the town's name was to see if I could find a cover sent from the ghost town post office. I am working my way through this now, but so far without success.
In the 19th century, small towns sprang up at crossroads and along stagecoach routes. In my home state of Ohio, the building of canals and, later, railroads created new towns and villages to serve travelers and handle freight.
Some of those places still exist. Some might even still have post offices. It is fun to explore and see what you can find. Best of all, it is usually an affordable pursuit.
My local post office is Pleasant Plain, Ohio, in Warren County. It is a rural area, perhaps not quite in the middle of nowhere, but certainly close to it.
The earliest Pleasant Plain postmark I have been able to find is on the 1878 cover shown in Figure 1.
Peter C. Spurling was postmaster, and the post office had been in operation for 27 years at that time. Pleasant Plain was — and still is — on a rail line. Although trains still barrel through Pleasant Plain, they no longer stop at the old depot, which now houses a tractor parts supply distributor.
Sometimes your search for philatelic collectibles is aided tremendously by stopping in at little country shops that tout antiques for sale.
They often have boxes of old correspondence or picture postcards from local sources. It is always worth a look, and you never know what you will find.
Some folks have great luck at yard sales. I readily admit I have never gone to a yard sale, but that doesn't mean I won't sometime in the future if the mood strikes me. Treasures are waiting to be found. You might as well be the one who finds them.
Stopping at small town mom-and-pop stores and rural post offices is a great way to meet the locals and ask about the history.
People love it when you take an interest in their hometown, and you will get some great stories that way.
Take your camera along and record what you see. Take pictures of the post offices you visit. Get a local postmark. They can be hard to find these days, but you can always ask the postal clerk for a handcancel with the post office's name, instead of having your letter or card bundled in with the mail that will get a sprayed-on cancel at the central processing facility.
Linn's associate editor Jay Bigalke did just that recently, producing the postcard shown in Figure 2.
The postcard bears a double-ring Nov. 10, 2007, St. Paris, Ohio, circular postmark. St. Paris is a village in Champaign County with a population of about 2,000 and its own post office.
Bigalke's tongue-in-cheek cachet on this postcard shows a view of the Eiffel Tower from a slightly larger town with a similar name.
Researching small towns, villages and ghost towns is easier than it once was because of the resources available on the Internet.
The United States Postal Service's web site has a compendium of postmasters and dates they served. Check it out at www.usps.com/postmasterfinder.
Local, county and state historical societies are good resources for researchers. If you come in with some materials to show them, you might find someone who is nearly as excited about your research as you are.
The fastest way to get excited about the stamps and postal history of your hometown might be to take the broad view and start by acquiring all of the stamps that have been issued that pertain to your home state.
Shown in Figure 3 are a U.S. 7¢ Alaska Statehood airmail stamp (Scott C53), a 37¢ Greetings from Florida stamp (3704), a 4¢ Kansas Statehood stamp (1183) and a 3¢ Texas Statehood stamp (938).
The price was right on these used stamps. They cost me nothing. I soaked them from my own incoming mail or found them in the swap box at my local stamp club. Collectors on a shoestring budget can form a great local collection while spending next to nothing.
Even if you aren't from North Carolina or have no interest in that state, you can find a good model for what can be done by visiting the web site of the American Philatelic Society at www.stamps.org/AmeriStamp/AlbumPages.pdf.
Here you can download a 16-page stamp album for stamps relating to North Carolina.
This colorful presentation will teach you and your whole family about North Carolina. This is the first in a series of state stamp albums that the APS is planning, and you can't beat the price. It is free.
State postal history societies are a good source of information and camaraderie. The web site of the Smithsonian's National Postal Museum has a compendium of resources at www.postalmuseum.si.edu/statepostalhistory/index.html.
Become curious about the history and interesting aspects of your own neighborhood. Think about how the local area can be reflected in stamps and covers that you collect.
You will appreciate both your neighborhood and your collection even more than you do now.