Fun, knowledge can be yours at a stamp show

May 3, 2021, 5 PM

By Charles Snee

The June 11 Refresher Course provided some useful tips for preparing to attend a stamp show. But the real fun and excitement awaits you at the show, so this week's column provides advice for what to do once you get to there.

Once a show opens, you should head straight for the registration table. Here you can pick up a show program. Figure 1 shows the Napex table. The 2001 Napex show program is pictured in Figure 2. The program provides detailed information about the show schedule, special events (society meetings, seminars and the like), exhibit titles and dealers attending the show.The accompanying pictures were taken by me at the recent Napex show, held June 1-3 in McLean, Va., and serve as a useful backdrop for the discussion presented here. The show ran from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. By the time I arrived at 9:40 a.m. Friday, a long line of eager collectors had formed.

By the way, an event that has both exhibits and dealers offering stamps and related items for sale is called a show. If there are retail dealers, but no exhibits, the event is called a bourse.

While at the registration desk, take a few moments to note your attendance by leaving your name and address. You aren't required to do this, but getting on the show mailing list can keep you informed about next year's show and related stamp events in your area.

The registration desk offers show souvenir cards, cacheted covers (illustrated with a decorative design) bearing the show cancellation and other items. Such items are usually inexpensive, and they make nice keepsakes, for you or a fellow collector.

The Napex show, one of the largest on the East Coast, requires a great deal of floor space. Most of this space is taken up by the dealers. And this is how it should be. After all, the dealers are the main draw for most collectors, as can be seen in the bourse picture shown in Figure 3. Most dealers at Napex had banquet table displays with several comfortable chairs parked in front.

Upon leaving the registration desk, you can use the handy floor map in your show program to find the dealers selling stamps and covers in your areas of interest.

Veterans of many shows know that you have to start rooting around early, as better material tends to get snapped up quickly. But this doesn't mean you can't find treasures lurking in a stock book or a $1 cover box — every show has them, and the thrill of the hunt is part of the fun of attending a stamp show.

Let the dealers in on your collecting interests when you stop by their booths. If you don't find something at the show, a dealer may offer to contact you when he acquires something that might be a good fit in your collection. Better still, a dealer might steer you to another table where the search might be more fruitful. In my experience, most dealers attending a show do not have much recent material. By recent I mean stamps issued within the past 12 months or so.

If you collect United States new issues, though, you'll be in luck at many shows because the U.S. Postal Service often operates a postal substation. Here you can buy the latest U.S. new issues, along with other selected USPS merchandise, such as the annual commemorative year sets. Brightly lit display cases often are used to lure prospective buyers.

Figure 4 shows two collectors chatting with a cheery postal clerk at the Napex substation. In most cases, the postal clerks come well prepared, and they are eager to satisfy collectors' desires. They often will let a collector search through available stock to find the best centered examples. The clerks at the Napex substation were no exception.

For additional enjoyment, you often are permitted to cancel your own souvenir covers yourself. At Napex, there were two ink pads and a show cancel handstamp available at the USPS substation. I saw many collectors servicing their covers.

Aside from the dealers, the other main attractions at a stamp show are the exhibits. Exhibiting allows a collector to share his specialized knowledge of a particular area with the hobby community. These special displays are mounted in large, glass-covered cases called frames. Each frame holds 16 standard 8½-inch-by-11-inch pages.

Most exhibits require several frames or more. Some use only one frame. Exhibitors pay a fee, based on the number of frames they need. The exhibits compete for medals (gold, vermeil, silver and so on) that are awarded by a panel of accredited judges, called a jury.

Most of the frames contain traditional exhibits of stamps or postal history. There also are so-called display-class exhibits that may contain pictures or other items that are not stamps but that relate to the exhibit's theme. I find looking over the show exhibits to be very therapeutic and educational. I always take away a few tidbits of new knowledge. I'm sure the Napex visitor shown in Figure 5 did too.

The Napex show offered 266 frames of exhibits. Using the exhibit listing (in frame number sequence) in my handy show program, I highlighted several exhibits that looked interesting. Among them were Greg Pirozzi's "The Holy See and Communications During World War II: A Survey," Guy Purington's "The United States Rural Free Delivery System," Bill McMurray's "U.S. Flag and Transportation Coil Issues of 1981," and Ken Gilbart's "U.S. Classic Issues 1847-68."

I was particularly drawn to Gilbart's exhibit because he states in his synopsis that his exhibit is a teaching exhibit that "demonstrates the diversity and challenge of this period, especially in the type and shades of various denominations." Gilbart's presentation was fascinating, and I came away from it with a renewed appreciation for the nuances and subtleties of classic 19th-century U.S. stamps and their postal history.

Stamp shows that are successful are always mindful that the stamp hobby is a wonderful outreach tool, especially for curious youngsters. So many shows offer a youth table to introduce children to the joys of stamp collecting. The youth table at Napex, pictured in Figure 6, was chock-a-block full of buckets of stamps, covers and other freebies to entice the kids. Show volunteers took kids who visited under their wing, introducing them to the hobby in a warm, friendly manner.

Steve Shebetich, a Napex youth table volunteer, told me that establishing a rapport with the kids was important. "We all wear large, colorful hats, similar to the one worn by Dr. Seuss' Cat in the Hat, so the children won't feel intimidated or shy," Shebetich said. The result, shown in Figure 6, looks encouraging, wouldn't you agree?

Stamp shows, of course, are a great place to meet fellow collectors, whether to catch up with old acquaintances or establish new friendships. The fraternal bonds that unite collectors are perhaps strongest among those who are members of specialized societies.

Happily, many stamp shows play host to one or more societies. Each society typically has a booth at the show. What's more, each society often conducts a seminar related to its area of interest. These are open to anyone who cares to attend.

The following five societies held meetings at Napex: Military Postal History Society (Inquiries: Robert Kinsley, 5410 Fern Loop, West Richland, WA 99353); Society of Indo-China Philatelists (Ron Bentley, 2600 N. 24th St., Arlington, VA 22207); Mobile Post Office Society (Doug Clark, Box 427, Marstons Mills, MA 02648); U.S. Cancellation Club (Roger Rhoads, 3 Ruthana Way, Hockessin, DE 19707); Italy and Colonies Study Circle (L.R. Harlow, 7 Duncome House, 8 Manor Road, Teddington, Middlesex TW11 8BG, United Kingdom).

One final note. Many stamp shows also sponsor an auction, yet another way you can acquire stamps and covers for your collection. So do you have the next stamp show in your area penciled in on your calendar? If not, check the Stamp Events Calendar on the Linn's web site.

As you can see, a stamp show offers fun and enjoyment for collectors of all ages. I'll be looking for you.