ATA study units represent variety of topics

Jun 25, 2001, 1 PM

By Denise McCarty

The Refresher Course in the March 26 Linn's, was titled "Pick your favorite topic and start collecting." However, sometimes selecting a topic can be a daunting task — there are so many subjects to choose from.

The ATA was founded Sept. 12, 1949, by Jerome Husak, a young collector who was searching for information on topical collecting. Less than a year later, on April 19, 1950, the Casey Jones Railroad Unit for collectors of trains and railroad on stamps, became the ATA's first study unit. The Biology Unit, the Americana Unit and the Medical Subjects Unit soon followed. All four study units are still active today.The American Topical Association and its more than 50 study units can provide a starting point. While the ATA serves as a general organization for all topical or thematic collecting, each unit covers a specific topic or subject area. Most units publish a journal, and some have web pages that tell more about the topic. Reading these journals and looking at the web pages may provide inspiration to start a new topical collection.

The Casey Jones Railroad Unit's Internet web site at gives the following description of the group: "With nearly 500 members throughout the world, the Casey Jones Railroad Unit is the first (1950) of the American Topical Association study units, and, today, one of the largest.

"The Casey Jones Railroad Unit publishes a bimonthly [six times per year] bulletin,The Dispatcher, which is devoted entirely to philatelic railroadiana, written and compiled by leading authorities in this specialized field. The new-issues listing in each issue keeps collectors abreast of the news and catalog status of nearly everything on rails."

Among the new issues listed in the March-April issue of The Dispatcher is the stamp shown in Figure 1. Congo released this 1-franc stamp Jan. 15, 2001, as part of a set featuring railways of the world. The stamp pictures the Texas Special locomotive 7330 of the Missouri, Kansas, Texas Line. Congo issued another railway set Jan. 15 highlighting great train voyages of the world.

The Biology Unit, the second oldest ATA study unit, was founded May 22, 1951. The unit celebrates its 50th anniversary with the April issue of its quarterly journalBiophilately. Figure 2 shows a first-day cover for a set of three stamps released Dec. 4, 2000, by the Principality of Liechtenstein. These stamps are listed in the fungi section of the April issue of Biophilately.

The April issue of the journal also includes listings of new stamps in the categories of botany, mammals, ornithology (birds), ichthyology (fish), marine invertebrates, herpetology (reptiles and amphibians) and entomology (insects).

The Americana Unit also will turn 50 in 2001. The unit's web site gives the following short history: "The Americana Unit was founded in 1951 by a group of members of the American Topical Association who were interested in the study of those stamps from around the world that depict some aspect of 'Americana' — United States presidents, the U.S. flag, the Liberty Bell, the Statue of Liberty, or any philatelic recognition of the history, culture or ideals of the United States of America. Since that time, the scope of Americana philately has grown to include the conquest of space and the bicentennial of the American Revolution."

The unit publishes its journal Americana Philatelic News four times a year. In the January-March issue, unit president David A. Kent points out that many of the recent stamps that celebrate the end of the 20th century and the millennium can fit into Americana collections.

Sometimes, the Americana theme of a stamp isn't readily apparent. Kent writes about a recent Israeli stamp, pictured here as Figure 3: "And, finally, probably the most tenuous Americana connection lately belongs to a stamp issued by Israel last September which promotes 2000 as the 'Year of Dental Health.'

"The design, a cartoon of a couple of kids playing with an apple and toothbrush, is the work of California-born artist Ela Whitten, who studied at the Parsons School of Design in New York and now lives and works in Tel-Aviv."

Members of the Medical Subject Unit collect stamps and related items on various medical topics, such as dentistry, nursing, pharmacy, physicians, the Red Cross and veterinary medicine. The unit's journal is called Scalpel & Tongs.

The box below lists all of the study units of the American Topical Association and the person to contact for more information. To find out more about these groups, contact the ATA at the address listed in the box below or visit the ATA's web site at: The listing of study units found on the site also includes the names of the unit's journals, as well as e-mail addresses and web sites if applicable.

Collectors searching for a new topic to collect also may want to try the ATA's checklist service. A checklist is simply a listing of stamps. A topical checklist is an inventory of stamps based on a topic, or theme, rather than on the country of issue.

For example, the January-February issue of the ATA's journal Topical Time includes a checklist of notable people of the millennium. The list is described as identifying "personalities who have been commemorated on postage stamps issued since Jan. 1, 2000."

This list is arranged alphabetically, starting with the second president of the United States, John Adams. The list gives Adams' years of birth and death (1735-1826), what he is known for (president), the country that honored him (Marshall Islands) and the issue date of the stamp (April 18, 2000).

The Marshall Islands issued a set of stamps on that day showing all the U.S. presidents from George Washington to Bill Clinton. Figure 4 shows the pane of six se-tenant stamps honoring the first six presidents, including Adams and his son John Quincy Adams.

While the aforementioned list was published in Topical Time, the ATA has access to more than 400 other lists that are not included in the journal. These lists are available to ATA members through the checklist service. The cost is 15¢ per page, plus a large addressed, stamped envelope. The longest checklist is 33 pages of mushroom stamps. Among the other subjects with ATA checklists are teddy bears, Interpol, the Salvation Army, Albert Schweitzer and walking races.