Exhibiting is a good way to learn, have fun

Apr 5, 2004, 12 PM

By Janet Klug

If you have ever gone to a stamp show, perhaps you've spent some time looking at exhibits. Other collectors like you prepared these exhibits. If they can do it, so can you.

There are many reasons why a collector decides to exhibit parts of a collection.

Some like the challenge. Others use it to exercise their creativity. The competitive aspects attract some. Some exhibit to enhance their collections, expand their knowledge and to meet new people and exchange ideas.

Most exhibitors will say it is a combination of many of these reasons. But mainly, and most importantly, it is because it is fun to exhibit.

Exhibiting has changed a lot in recent years. It is now perfectly acceptable to exhibit non philatelic (nonstamp) items alongside the philatelic items, if it will enhance the story you are attempting to tell.

One-frame exhibits have become exceedingly popular for both experienced collectors and beginners who are just trying to learn the basics. It may be a great way for you to begin. You only need 16 pages to start.

Exhibiting can seem a daunting task if you have never done it before, but it needn't be. By breaking the entire project into smaller steps, the exhibit suddenly seems manageable and, more importantly, doable. Yes, you can make an exhibit. Trust me.

Step 1. Select a topic. What would you like to exhibit? Chose a subject that you will enjoy immersing yourself in and that offers available and affordable material.

Exhibiting the Hawaiian Missionary stamps or the United States Pan American Exposition commemoratives of 1901 with inverted centers would be a project doomed to failure unless you have the requisite deep pockets to purchase the material and the patience to wait for it to come on the marketplace.

Your choice of subject will largely be determined by what interests you most. Perhaps it is the stamps of one country. Perhaps it is a topical approach, such as trees on stamps. Maybe you are attracted to first-day covers or mail that traveled by stagecoach. Pick a subject you really like. You will be engaged with it for quite some time.

Step 2. Think of and write down a plan. An exhibit is essentially a picture story told with stamps and covers. Every good story is thoughtfully planned with a beginning that sets the stage for what you are showing, a middle that develops the subject thoroughly but succinctly, and an effective ending that ties up the loose ends. To get there, you need a plan.

The most important part of creating an exhibit is writing the plan. You will save a lot of missteps if you set out the development of your story and commit it to paper.

How will your exhibit begin? A title page is essential. It serves as an introduction to the exhibit. It also sets the boundaries and tells viewers exactly what you hope to achieve. The title page for the exhibit "Queen Salote Definitives of Tonga 1919-1953" is shown in Figure 1.

What are the key points you will try to demonstrate within the exhibit? Each of these needs to be organized in a way that is logical and easy to follow. Make certain when writing your plan that there are no gaps in your story.

For example, a hometown postal history bogs down if there is an inexplicable gap of 10 years between one section and another.

The best model for creating a good plan is the table of contents of a nonfiction book. Look at many of them. You will usually find that each chapter has a main heading, and each chapter might be broken down into several sub-headings. That is how you want to plan your exhibit.

Step 3. Organize your material. Once you have a plan, you can begin assembling the material you will use in the exhibit in a way that follows your plan.

There are lots of methods of doing this. I use stock pages or stock books, one page for each page within the exhibit. Subscribers to Linn'scan buy 16-page stockbooks at a discount by using the Amos Advantage program. Details of the program are usually found in an advertisement on the next-to-last page of each issue of Linn's.

These stockbooks are great, because the standard exhibition frame holds 16 pages. Stockbooks or stock pages allow you to rearrange the material very quickly, insert a slip of paper with your proposed written commentary, and reuse them once you have the exhibit completed.

Some people buy inexpensive top-loading page protectors available at any office supply store. Use one protector for each exhibit page and insert the appropriate material. When it comes time to mount the exhibit, everything will be in one place.

Once you begin organizing the material, you almost certainly find you are missing something needed to tell a part of the story. That means you will have to either go on a treasure hunt to find what you need or readjust the story. Finding the material is usually better than changing the story.

Step 4. Write the text. Your exhibit is a picture story. The material in it is the star of the show. The supporting cast is the text.

Think of the text as captions. Use it wisely to explain those things that are not obvious and to move your story through your plan. Edit judiciously. To quote Strunk and White's Elements of Style, "omit unnecessary words."

An exhibit page with a good balance of material and text is shown in Figure 2.

A lot of first-time exhibitors fail to use page headings. Page headings can really help keep the viewer centered and following the story line. Go back to your plan and see the chapters and headings you have created. If they form a good plan, they are probably good page headings.

Step 5. Create your pages. Beginning exhibitors seem to get bogged down with minor details. What kind of paper? What font to use? Clear mounts, black mounts or hinges?

Don't let this happen to you. Remember that the material is the star. The paper, the text, the mounts are all supporting players that should work together to make the star shine.

If you are using a computer, select fonts that are easy to read and in a size that aging eyes will find readable.

Paper should be white or pale in color so that it does not overpower the material you mount on it. Figures 2 and 3 show white pages.

Be sure when purchasing paper that you buy archival quality paper that is acid free. If it doesn't say that on the package, don't buy it.

Use a paper stock heavy enough to support the material you mount. My preference is 65-pound index stock, but others use thinner or thicker stock. If you are using a computer, whatever you chose needs to be able to go through your printer.

You don't have to use a computer. A few hearty souls still do handwritten or typewritten exhibits, but computers make preparing the pages of your exhibit a lot easier. If you make a mistake, you can fix it quickly without having to do everything all over again.

Before printing or typing your pages, move the material around on a blank page to get the placement exactly as you want it. Try varying the arrangements from page to page, and strive for good visual balance. This takes practice and lots of trial and error.

Step 6. Mount your material. Once you have printed the pages, all that is left is to put the material on the pages. Using mounts or hinges is a personal choice, but mounts offer more protection for your stamps. Clear or black? The choice is yours, but most exhibitors prefer clear.

Once the material is on the pages, put each page into a protective sleeve.

Spread the pages on your bed, on the floor or on the dining room table in four rows of four, just as they will be in the frames. Then make any adjustments you think necessary. Have a friend look the pages over. Sometimes you get too close to the work you are doing and miss obvious mistakes.

Step 7. Go exhibit. Select a show from Linn's Stamp Events Calendar. Write for an exhibitor's prospectus. When it arrives, read the instructions carefully and then submit the application to exhibit.

If possible, attend the show. Speak with the other exhibitors and judges. Attend the critique (larger shows usually have them) and ask for suggestions on how to improve your exhibit. The judges are ordinary collectors with a lot of stamp knowledge. They are there to judge and to help you make a better exhibit.

Remember, exhibiting is a learning process. Have fun with it. Who knows? Even if your effort does not win a top award, you will have had fun creating your exhibit and you will have succeeded in getting going.

The American Association of Philatelic Exhibitors is an excellent resource for beginners through advanced exhibitors. Write to the American Association of Philatelic Exhibitors, 13955 30th Ave., Golden, CO 80401.