Wednesday, October 15, 2008

My Dad and Stamps: A Rose By Any Other Name

One of the most popular inquires we receive at KNS (next to requesting the free starter-kit) is what do you call someone who collects stamps?

If this were an SNL sketch a few of the answers would be "nerd," "geek", "a member of the non-dating community", etc., etc., but truth be told children in the United States do not collect stamps as much as adults. It is the mirror opposite throughout the world where governments help promote stamp collecting and stamp supplies can actually be found in regular department stores.

While submitting these inquires the answers the emailers also provided are curious insights into their knowledge or lack thereof: "stampers", "stampsters", "stamp hobbyists", "stamp collectors", and on and on. Some folks do not really care what it is called as long as they can enjoy its entertainment value and learn a valuable historical fact along the way.

My late father was a collector for nearly 50 years and held strong opinions about the King of Hobbies in the mid-70's which is when he first noticed stamp collecting was starting to decline in America. He noticed there was less about it on the children shows. He noticed stamps were beginning to be mocked on the game shows. It was becoming more a commercial specialty rather than a commercial staple in department stores. It was become more an intellectual pursuit rather than a passionate past time.

I remember attending stamp conventions at the United Nations with my father and listening to guys who looked like insurance agents declared they were "philatelists" and were going to rescue stamp collecting from the hands of schoolchildren and well-intentioned parents. I remember my father having some choice words for these "negative nitwits" as he called them. It was moments like these that shaped my father's opinion that stamp collecting was going underground and becoming for insular and exclusive after being overtaken by more popular forces in society such as rock n roll, movies and board games.

He used to say, "if I ever find out who ruined stamps, I will fire him, after I punch him out." I always laughed because it was obvious the companies involved never invested much in marketing or advertising. They depended on the word-of-mouth and the natural cultural inclinations to support a hobby "everyone just loved." Basically they depended on habit and faith and pocketed the ad money.

But I appreciated my dad's vigor and passion for the hobby he felt was dying from within and fast becoming an egghead luxury like water polo or shooting silly birds with bazookas. I wish he was still around to see how the Hobby of Kings has made a respectable comeback with the aid of technology and another generation wanting their children to learn real knowledge for a better day beyond the limited notions of violent video games and moronic music.

Philatelist, hobbyist, stamp collector, a rose by any other name is the craft we share with our children and the world shares with us. Who could ask for more.

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