Stamp collecting bounces back from recession
Stamp collector and dealer Ed Swist started collecting 12 years ago and now heads up the Milford Stamp Club. (BARBARA TAORMINA PHOTO)
Local club members and individual stamp fans sat at tables set up in the American Legion building, where dealers with stacks of albums and boxes helped them find stamps to add to personal collections that many have been keeping for decades. Stamp collecting, as a hobby and business, has regained ground since the worst days of the recession and seems to be back on an even keel.
"It's maintaining itself," said Robert Dion, president of the Manchester Stamp Club, adding that holding steady is good news given the sometimes fickle attitude of the economy. "We have our regular customers and the early stuff from the (1920s) and (1930s) is increasing in value."
Dion said that dealers still make enough good sales - which means stamps in the $100 range are still selling - and there are also very good sales that reach around $500.
Still, that doesn't mean that Dion and other seasoned collectors don't think back fondly to the days when stamp and coin shops were a familiar fixture in many communities, and post offices often had a special window reserved just for collectors.
But the biggest concern among the stamp collecting community is the same concern that's settling around all sorts of collectors of coins, antique bottles, postcards and other pieces of the past.
"Today is the age of the computer game," said Dion. "It's almost impossible to get a kid to sit down and do stamps."
Richard Blazon, a Concord stamp dealer, also worries about the future of the hobby. Blazon was drawn into the stamp world after seeing a set of four stamps from Portugal issued to commemorate the birth of Vasco De Gama.
"He was a world explorer, Portugal's Christopher Columbus," said Blazon, who casually added that since starting with the De Gama stamps he has amassed a collection of every stamp Portugal has issued from 1970 through the mid 1990s. "The challenge with stamps is to bring in the next generation," said Blazon who, like Dion, sees the video game industry as an obstacle. "You have to get kids away from using their two thumbs, and get them to look at a little piece of paper that doesn't do anything."
Although stamps don't have any sound effects or smooth moves, they do work hard for a relatively small price.
"Every major event in history is commemorated on a stamp," said Dan Day, a dealer and president of the Merrimack County Stamp Collectors. "And it's not only history, stamps are about geography and art."
And aroma, noted a member of the Merrimack County Stamp Collectors, who mentioned a Swiss stamp that smells like chocolate.
"It's printed with chocolate-scented ink," explained Day.
The Swiss aren't the only ones who have issued scented postage. Bhutan launched the trend back in the 1970s with a series of rose-scented stamps. Brazil tried a coffee-scented stamp in 2001, and six years ago China released a sweet-and-sour pork stamp to help celebrate the Year of the Pig.
Day said that stamp collectors follow their own interests as they build their collections.
Arthur Feder, a collector from Nashua, was at the Manchester show looking for stamps that depict butterflies.
"I collect flora and fauna stamps," he explained.
Ed Swist, a collector, dealer and organizer for the Milford Stamp Club, said he started collecting 12 years ago with a small group of Walt Disney Stamps. But then Swist, who was working at a computer center, came across two 55-gallon containers loaded with stamps from the 1970s. That experience sealed his fate as an avid stamp collector.
"People collect whatever they are interested in," said Swist. "A lot of people will collect the stamps from the year they were born."
As for the hobby, Swist said that while stamp collecting draws an older crowd, there are still plenty of people who love stamps.
"The Milford club was petering out and we almost closed up shop," said Swist, who added that as a last-ditch effort to generate interest, a letter was sent out asking collectors what would bring them out to meetings. "Everyone said they wanted more speakers," said Swist who was more than happy to oblige.
Tonight at Milford's Wadleigh Library, Blazon will be speaking about postal stationery, and the elaborate graphic designs that once decorated the U.S. Post Office's cards and envelopes. The talk begins at 7 p.m.
For Day, the clubs, talks and events like the show in Hooksett are all part of the pleasure of stamp collecting.
"I like to be with people who collect and to learn about their collections," he said. "It's good to get together with people who like the same things you like."
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