US Stamps

Will there be too few World Series of Philately shows?

Jul 14, 2023, 9 AM
The author showed his Lehrte, Germany, rural mail exhibit at the 2023 Ibra exhibition in Essen, Germany. Photo by Catherine Gilbert.

Guest Commentary by Ken Gilbert

I read with interest Jay Bigalke’s Philatelic Foreword column about the future of American Philatelic Society World Series of Philately shows in the July 17 issue of Linn’s Stamp News. The headline read, “Are there too many WSP stamp shows nationwide?”

I fear that very soon the opposite question might be asked. In addition to the shows Bigalke mentioned, Ropex in Rochester, N.Y., is also gone, and Pipex in Oregon has venue issues. Other shows face tough challenges.

As exhibits chair for Colopex in Columbus, Ohio (along with a number of other hats), I’ve seen that our two biggest challenges have been volunteers and venue.

I took over as exhibits chair in 2017, just two years after I had started to exhibit because one of the “old guard” had to relinquish his role due to health. I had no idea what I was doing — as was made painfully public in an issue of the Philatelic Exhibitor some months later.

That experience led to the first lesson: Shows should always have an active backup for each role. You never know when it might be needed.

One year, my car was rear-ended two days before Colopex opened. We don’t have backups perfectly set up yet, but we are working on it. We do think our show has improved.

The second and perhaps more important challenge is venue. It is very difficult to get a satisfactory venue, especially for a June show (such as Colopex), due to weddings and graduations. Even when we’ve had a venue, sometimes we suddenly don’t.

Our last venue had four different general managers in about six months, and the reservations we had made to secure the venue were lost in the shuffle.

Venues also do not always take a local stamp club seriously as a renter. I’ve often wondered if the APS could be helpful with this because the national offices of the hotel chains might take things more seriously if they knew a stamp show was not simply a local event but had the imprimatur of the APS, a national organization.

Are stamp shows even important? I think they are. A show is a place to get together with one’s fellow collectors. It’s a place where dealers congregate, allowing one to find material that is hard to find elsewhere.

While eBay and other online commerce sites can also allow the collector to find difficult or esoteric material, the recent rise in mail theft, especially of material from overseas vendors, and the loss of Delcampe for many collectors in the United States are making this more problematic. It is also difficult for small vendors to do business on these platforms due to some of the changes in tax laws and their enforcement.

At a show there’s the added benefit of building personal relationships with the dealers (which often leads to them finding items for your collection) and actually getting to see the material in person.

A show is also a place to exhibit. You can get personal advice at the frames from the jurors. Sometimes you meet folks who can really help in your knowledge of your topic. As an example, I exhibited my Lehrte, Germany, rural mail exhibit at the 2023 Ibra exhibition in Essen, Germany.

When I got to the frames the first day to see that my exhibit was correctly set up, there was a collector there who was from Lehrte. We had a great exchange of information, including our email addresses.

Stamp collecting can be a solitary endeavor, but it also can be a way to make great new friends that can last a lifetime. Some of my philatelic friends go back to my student days at Ohio State University, where two members of the chemistry department introduced me to the stamp world in Columbus.

There are countries in which there are only a few shows. Sadly it’s hard as a result to learn how to exhibit and to judge exhibits because there aren’t enough shows to learn how to do either well. We are in danger of that happening here.

To change this trend, one of the things the American Association of Philatelic Exhibitors did was create the Sapphire award, which is given for showing a multiframe exhibit at 20 different World Series of Philately shows. I am a recent Sapphire awardee, and it was fun to pursue this award.

However, a number of the shows that qualified me for this award have either ceased to exist or are under suspension. It might not be possible in the very near future to earn this award.

We also need to make shows more fun to attend. One idea that the Worthington (Ohio) Stamp Show recently pioneered is called the “Free f’r All.” Participants show one frame, not judged, of anything they might collect and wish to share. There is an evening party on the show floor after the show closes for the night. It’s been a blast, and in a couple of cases has led to those exhibits being submitted to World Series of Philately shows. Colopex has also done a Free f’r All.

At Ibra 2023, the German-American Salon, a joint venture of the Germany Philatelic Society and the Bund Deutscher Philatelisten (the German equivalent to the APS), had a “Klein aber Fein” (“small but fine”) show using the German standard 12-page frames.

We had exhibits on zeppelins, U.S. Civil War patriotic covers, red pandas and soccer, to name a few. Some of those exhibits introduced European showgoers to the U.S. display class, which is a newer concept in Europe. There was a youth area with a child’s swimming pool full of stamps. We need to think outside the envelope to give shows a good future.

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