Show your collecting pride with an exhibit

May 2, 2021, 3 PM

By Michael Baadke

If you've been collecting stamps for a while, you probably know that it can be fun to show your collection to another stamp collector or to family or friends who express an interest in your hobby. Every stamp collector who loves pulling out his collection and talking about his stamps should seriously consider becoming an exhibitor.

Exhibiting a collection is the highest form of show-and-tell for someone who enjoys the stamp hobby. Developing an exhibit can help you become a more disciplined and informed collector.

Now, don't run away from the idea just because you think you can't put together an exhibit unless you own the greatest stamp rarities in the world. That line of thinking is totally wrong. Exhibiting is something that anyone can do, from the novice to the most advanced collector. Let's look at what exhibits are all about.

The philatelic exhibit is a display created from a collection of stamps or covers (mailed envelopes, postcards and so on), or a combination of these and similar items, such as postmarks or meter stamps. Exhibits are shown publicly at stamp shows all around the world, from the smallest local club gathering to the most prestigious international competitions.

Many exhibitions are competitive; that is, the exhibits at the show are judged. Usually the exhibits receive awards or medals at various levels, and one exhibit may be selected as the best overall for that show.

For national and international competitions there are some pretty strict rules about the format of the exhibit and what kind of material can be shown. Exhibitors who compete at these levels have to know and follow the rules to attain the finest prizes.

The American Philatelic Society publishes the Manual of Philatelic Judging, which outlines specifics rules and guidelines for exhibits shown in APS competitions in the United States. Of course, this is important information for exhibitors as well as judges.

Information about purchasing the Manual of Philatelic Judging, shown here in Figure 1, is available from the American Philatelic Society, Box 8000, State College, PA 16803; or from the APS web site on the Internet at

For a collector just having some fun with his collection or who wants to create an exhibit just to show family and friends, the exhibit can be anything at all that he wants it to be.

In many ways, the exhibit is similar to the pages of a stamp album, except that you decide how things should be ordered. The stamps and covers in an exhibit are arranged on pages, usually 8½ inches by 11 inches or thereabouts, but the exhibitor includes on the pages written explanations and descriptions of the items being shown.

The exhibit should tell a story, like you might tell a friend about your collection if he was sitting in a chair next to you. What is the significance of the stamps and covers you collect? Do they represent the activities of a specific country's postal service in a certain time or place? Can you help the person who looks at your collection learn something more about your collecting area?

It is a good idea to select a specific topic to address with your exhibit. Consider where your collection is the strongest, and try building your exhibit on that.

To get an idea of the diversity of exhibits, look at the partial list in Figure 2 of many exhibits displayed Oct. 6-8 at this year's Philadelphia National Stamp Exhibition. For example, one collector described and showed 300 years (1549-1849) of the development of the mail service in Krakow, Poland. Another built an entire exhibit around just the 1951 first stamp issue of the United Nations.

Obviously you can choose a large topic or a small one. The size of your exhibit can be large or small as well. Most competition exhibits are 16 pages or more, with some covering as many as 200 pages. Many stamp shows display exhibits in 16-page frames, so a four-frame exhibit presents 64 pages.

Before you start building your exhibit, consider going to a stamp show to look at how other collectors put their exhibits together. You may find that the presentations that you see will give you some great ideas about how you would like to handle displaying your own favorite stamp topic.

Each week Linn's Stamp News publishes a list of stamp shows taking place all over the United States and Canada. You can find a show near you by checking the weekly Stamp Events Calendar; in this issue it's on page 40. Shows that have exhibits are marked in the listings with a black box symbol.

Most exhibits begin with a title page that acts as an introduction and lets the viewer know why the exhibit was created. The title page should tell specifically what is being exhibited and provide an outline of the exhibit. It can also point out the most significant items in the exhibit. That way, the person looking at the display can start out with a good idea of what he will see and how it will be presented.

Figure 3 shows the title page from Ken Martin's exhibit "Blood, the Gift of Life." This exhibit has won several awards in national competitions. It is displayed on 79 pages. Martin's title page includes two interesting items from his collection showing subjects related to his exhibition topic of blood donation: a postmarked stamp and an unused postal card. His title page also specifically describes how the philatelic items in the exhibit help tell the story of blood donation.

After your exhibit is outlined in the title page, the rest of the exhibit should present your collected material in a logical sequence that both informs the viewer and holds his interest.

Does it sound like a lot of planning has to go into the exhibit? It often takes exhibitors a long time to decide exactly how to arrange each page. Collectors prepare preliminary pages, make notes and outlines, consider how the exhibit will flow from one page to the next, and so on.

The exhibitor uses materials similar to those found in high-quality stamp albums: acid-free papers and safe philatelic mounts, all of which are available from stamp-hobby supply dealers.

The information on each exhibit page can be neatly hand-lettered, typed, or computer-printed. Every page of the exhibit should show philatelic items, such as stamps or covers, postmarks and the like. The best exhibits include original research and have a concise narrative.

As shown in Figure 4, judges look over the exhibits in competition and use many criteria to make their decisions, based on the guidelines in the APS judging manual. After the awards have been decided, the judges often hold a critique session, where exhibitors may ask the judges about their observations.

The critique is open to anyone who would like to attend, and is a very useful tool for any exhibitor, for it provides great insight into how judges view the exhibits and the type of details they look for.

More than 30 annual stamp shows around the country are known as APS Champion of Champions qualifying competitions. The grand-award winners of these particular shows participate in the once-a-year World Series of Philately, and the best national exhibit of the year is chosen from among those qualifiers.

The next World Series of Philately will take place Aug. 23-26, 2001, at the APS Stampshow near Chicago, Ill. More information about exhibiting at APS qualifying shows is available on the APS web site.

For these national shows, exhibitors pay frame fees to help cover the expenses of producing the show. All of the fee and deadline information can be found in the show's exhibition prospectus, a printed list of guidelines that includes the application to exhibit. The prospectus is usually available from the show chairman several months before the show takes place.

Whether you decide to create an exhibition just for your own pleasure or if you plan to be declared the APS Champion of Champions some day, there is no doubt that as you create your exhibit you will learn more about the subject you've chosen to collect. Every stamp exhibitor has to start somewhere, and the sooner you start, the more time you'll have to develop the skills to become a champion.

There are many great resources to help the prospective exhibitor, and among these is membership in the American Association of Philatelic Exhibitors. Members receive a quarterly journal filled with very helpful suggestions from many exhibitors who share their experiences.

The journal's current editor, John M. Hotchner, is an award-winning exhibitor, an APS-accredited judge (and former APS president) and the weekly U.S. Notes columnist for Linn's Stamp News.

For information about AAPE membership, send an addressed, stamped envelope with your request to AAPE treasurer Paul Tyler, 1023 Rocky Point Court NE, Albuquerque, NM 87123.