US Stamps

By Charles Snee

A philatelic friendship shared through a Yellowstone Park souvenir from the 1930s

November 17, 2015 11:00 AM

  • Ray Ward, a friend of the author, received this souvenir from Yellowstone Park in the early 1930s. The sender was his boyhood teacher, Thelma Olson, who taught Ray in a one-room schoolhouse in south/central Minnesota.
  • One of the four stock photographs contained in the miniature Yellowstone Park mail bag pictures the famous Old Faithful geyser erupting.

It’s often been said that one of the salutary benefits of collecting stamps is the friendships made along one’s philatelic journey.

If I were asked to place a value on the bonds thus forged with collectors in locales near and far, I would be rich beyond measure.

A few of these hobby friends I have never met in person. Yet we correspond regularly, and we gently reveal ourselves to one another — through letters and email, and via pictures, both print and digital.

One such friend of mine is Ray Ward, a retired United States Army chief warrant officer and proud veteran.

For a number of years now, Ray has been sending me interesting covers, because he knows of my interested in modern U.S. postal history — specifically covers franked with dollar-denominated stamps.

He also enjoys reading Dollar-Sign Stamps, a monthly column I write for Linn’s.

Earlier this month, a parcel from Ray arrived. Inside, among the covers he sent, was the 1930s-era Yellowstone Park souvenir pictured above.

It is a miniature canvass U.S. Mail letter bag, complete with a leather top and drawstring (tucked inside).

Attached to the bag is a small mailing tag franked with a 1930 1½¢ Warren G. Harding stamp (Scott 684) that paid the required third-class postage necessary to mail the trinket to Ray, who lived in Minnesota at the time.

A mailman is pictured on the other side of the tag (not shown), along with this cheery greeting: “May this Little Bag with a View or Two, Bring Greetings From Yellowstone Park To You.”

Inside the bag are four stock photographs of various Yellowstone landmarks, including the Old Faithful geyser (shown above), the Old Faithful Inn, and the Great Falls of Yellowstone. The fourth picture shows a man feeding a bear.

Such trinkets allowed the sender to share the wonders of our nation’s landmarks to family and friends back home, at a time when there were far fewer restrictions on what could be sent through the mail.

“I am unsure just how old it is,” Ray informed me in his letter, “but I was in grade school in the early 1930s and Miss Thelma F. Olson was my teacher.”

Miss Olson also was the sender of the Yellowstone Park mail bag that Ray kept all these years, as a keepsake of the early education that he received from Miss Olson in a one-room schoolhouse that served eight grades.

Ray’s school, “in south/central Minnesota,” was without electricity or running water, and “in the winter session, one of the students’ parents would come early and the start the fire in the stove.”

“Miss Olson would fill the water pail from the outside well and we all used the same dipper to get a drink.

“There were a pair of two-hollers [outhouses] out back for our use.”

Ray and his two younger siblings completed all eight grades in that one-room school in Minnesota.

Another axiom of our hobby is this: The stories behind the collectible objects — the stamps and postal history — are often more fascinating (and heartwarming) than the objects themselves.

A tip of the hat to my friend Ray Ward for giving me a glimpse of a time gone by, through a treasured memento from his teacher.

Until next time, happy collecting. Cheers!