How to collect and display those oddball items

May 2, 2021, 7 PM

By Janet Klug

You have undoubtedly heard the advice to "collect what you like" many times. It is excellent advice. Collecting what appeals to you ensures you will have a collection that will hold your interest indefinitely.

But if you have eclectic tastes, as I do, you end up with a conglomeration of dribs and drabs of stuff that does not fit into any ordinary album or filing system.

Too often the oddball material you acquire because you love it is relegated to a box stored in the back of a closet.

By storing your eclectic treasures this way, you don't know what you have. You certainly can't enjoy them, and worst of all, you might eventually forget pertinent details necessary to fully appreciate the material.

In short, you completely defeat the purpose of collecting what you like.

Mini-collections and one-of-a-kind items should be given pride of place on your bookshelves along with your regular stamp and cover albums.

This means finding the right sort of home for the material you have collected and then being attentive to putting new acquisitions into the proper places. Lest there still be any doubt, the proper place is not in a box in the back of a closet.

Many of your dribs and drabs can be housed nicely on stock pages, such as those manufactured for Scott, one of which is shown in Figure 1.

They can be purchased in a variety of styles to safely hold very large items or smaller ones.

There are a number of advantages to keeping items on stock pages. You don't need mounts or hinges. You can reuse the pages and rearrange material indefinitely as long as the pages remain in good condition. The pages fit standard three-ring binders that are affordable and can be purchased almost anywhere.

Making annotations on stock pages is not impossible, as is demonstrated with the stock page shown in Figure 1.

I use those ubiquitous little yellow sticky notes to write pertinent details.

The gum on the sticky note is sufficient to keep it from slipping out and becoming lost, but these notes can leave some adhesive residue. You have to be careful about reusing the stock pages. An option would be to use slips of paper with no adhesive.

I have found that the optimum-size sticky note for this purpose is 1½ inches by 2 inches. These can be purchased in packages containing a dozen or more pads.

For an expenditure of about $10 you can acquire several stock pages in various formats, a three-ring binder, and sticky notes that will get some of your prized material out of the boxes and onto your shelves where it can be enjoyed and appreciated.

On the Figure 1 stock page, I mounted assorted specimen stamps (postage stamps, an embossed revenue stamp and a semipostal stamp) and two blocks of four of Hawaiian railroad stamps. You can't get much more eclectic than that.

Another kind of collection I seem to form with some regularity is what I call a "tangential collection." This might be a collecting area I stumbled upon while working on another part of my collection, or it could be a new collecting area thrust upon me by virtue of buying a collection in which some smaller grouping was a part.

For example, several years ago I began collecting censored covers from American military personnel stationed at Pacific island bases during World War II.

In acquiring this material, I occasionally bought small lots that included civil-censored mail from the same time period. At first these were limited to just Pacific island covers, but over time I found I had acquired civil-censored mail from all over the world.

There was no rhyme or reason to the collection, but the markings were interesting and it was a fascinating way to illustrate the concept of a world war.

But what should I do with all this stuff? At first I put it into a box that went into a closet — just exactly what I have been saying not to do.

What good was it doing me there?

If I didn't appreciate the material enough to get it out, then the thought crossed my mind that I should sell it or trade it.

Rather than do that, I bought some flip-up cover albums, such as those shown in Figure 2. I place them so that I can admire and study the covers as the mood strikes.

Another kind of miscellany that needs an appropriate residence is what I call a "story piece."

This might be a one-of-a-kind item, something that has historic significance or an item with a personal connection.

Taking proper care of such collectibles can be more time consuming, but the end result makes your collection truly personal and special.

I have a number of such items in my collection. At one time they were spread all over the place, including in boxes in the closet. Their intrinsic value is not great, but for one reason or another these items represent stories that have emotional value.

One such item is shown in Figure 3. It is a censored cover sent to "P.O. Box 1663, Santa Fe, N.M.," in May 1944.

This cover looks ordinary, but "P.O. Box 1663" was an undercover address for personnel assigned to the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos, N.M. The Manhattan Project developed the first atomic bombs.

The cover itself is a humble item, but it represents a piece of history that changed the world. It is that story that makes the cover important.

I mounted this item on a piece of heavy card stock upon which I printed the story of the Manhattan Project and the significance of "P.O. Box 1663."

On the Internet I found images of Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, director of the Los Alamos research and a picture of the base at Los Alamos, and included these with my write-up.

The page was popped into a top-load page protector and inserted into a three-ring binder with other special items that I like to call "uniquities."

These include material as diverse as a revenue stamped bill of lading for dried coconut from Fiji, a censored letter sent to me by a friend in Poland in 1981 during a period of martial law and a postcard I sent to my parents on my first trip to Australia in 1976 (where I tell about being evacuated from a flooded ground floor hotel room during a cyclone).

Most of the items in my uniquities collection are not valuable, but they are stalwart representatives of things that I like.

Isn't that what collecting is all about?