By Matthew Healey, New York Correspondent
The unexpected shutout of the United States and Great Britain from philately’s worldwide organizing body has caused rancor in top philatelic circles, both in the U.S. and Europe.
The International Federation of Philately (Federation Internationale de Philatelie, or FIP), which is essentially the United Nations of stamp collecting, has more than 90 member countries, each represented by its national philatelic organization. The United States, for example, is represented by the American Philatelic Society.
The 90-year-old federation is based in Switzerland, and is in fact affiliated with the United Nations through its observer status at the Universal Postal Union.
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The FIP’s main activity is to determine the rules and standards for international exhibiting, ensure that judges evaluate exhibits consistently, and to lend its imprimatur to major worldwide exhibitions such as World Stamp Show–NY 2016 held May 28-June 4 in New York City, and Philataipei 2016 held Oct. 21-26 in Taipei,Taiwan.
However, critics of the organization have complained that it does little to promote philately beyond the elite world of international exhibiting.
Many would like to see a world philatelic body that could better articulate a vision for the future of the hobby and do more to support affordable exhibiting and encourage young collectors.
The FIP’s seven-member board of directors, advised by 10 commissions on specific philatelic subjects, meets a couple times a year for discussions, typically in conjunction with one of the major shows.
Each continental grouping — Europe, the Americas, and Asia-Africa-Oceania — elects two FIP board members, with the seventh being the president, currently Tay Peng Hian of Singapore.
During this year’s elections to the board, which took place Oct. 26 in Taipei, Reinaldo Macedo of Brazil and Aldo Samame of Peru were elected for the Americas, while Bernard Jimenez of France and Yigal Nathaniel of Israel were chosen to represent Europe.
The candidate from the United States, former APS President Stephen Reinhard, unexpectedly lost, as did Britain’s Chris King.
Before the vote, the departing U.S. board member, Peter McCann, had assured everyone that Tay supported Reinhard, which would have effectively kept the U.S. seat on the board.
At the last minute, however, Tay indicated to his allies among the Asian and Latin American contingents that they should vote for Samame instead.
In an angry letter distributed online to members of the philatelic community, James Mazepa, chairman of the APS international committee, distinguished philatelist, and experienced international judge, denounced Tay’s maneuverings.
“The result of all this collusion is that the United States and Great Britain, the two largest philatelic communities in the world in regard to exhibitors and judges, do not have a position or say on the F.I.P. Board,” Mazepa wrote.
Mazepa dismissed as “bogus” the stated reason for Tay’s withdrawal of support from Reinhard: that judges at World Stamp Show-NY 2016 were somehow mistreated because water and coffee were not provided in their lounge.
In Mazepa’s view, Tay’s power play was an effort to continue doling out and receiving “favors,” such as reimbursement for travel to international shows.
“Tay did not want Steve and Chris King from the U.K. on the F.I.P. Board because he knew they would challenge him and so limit his power and ability to grant favors. We now have an F.I.P. Board comprised of those who will not seriously challenge Mr. Tay,” Mazepa continued.
To drive home his displeasure, Mazepa also called for the United States to withdraw its participation from next year’s international exhibition in Brazil and encouraged the APS to explore the formation of a new international body to rival the FIP.
Tay did not respond to a request from Linn’s for comment.
Although Mazepa was not speaking officially for the APS, his comments appeared to resonate with many in the United States and Europe.
Another APS board member, Rich Drews, circulated a letter from the president of the Portuguese Philatelic Federation expressing support for the idea of an alternate world body.
Chris King, who said he lost his election by just three votes, criticized “the whole F.I.P. culture” in a message to the Chicago Philatelic Society on Facebook.
He called the result “the trading of favours behind closed doors,” rather than a presentation of any vision for the future of philately.
King laid out what he called a “manifesto,” calling for more transparency, a “clear sense of direction,” and more democratic efforts to promote philately worldwide by encouraging contact among collectors and supporting “philatelic events of all kinds.”
Speaking by phone from his home in Florida, McCann said that despite having been double-crossed by Tay he harbors no ill will, and pointed out that Tay’s presidency will expire in 2018 and he cannot run again.
The APS board is tentatively scheduled to meet Dec. 6, although Executive Director Scott English informed Linn’s Nov. 22 that nothing was yet on the agenda regarding participation in Brasilia 2017, which takes place Oct. 24-29, 2017, or the other issues raised by Mazepa.
There are no plans to host another FIP-endorsed stamp exhibition in the United States until the Boston 2026 show, in 10 years’ time. English did, however, offer the news that the APS is mulling a major, non-FIP show in the United States in 2021.