Stamped Out!  But, oh, what memories.

Normally, I would not be blogging about an article I’ve written that was published elsewhere which could just as well have been, well, a blog.  But, here I am doing just that, in reaction to the reaction to my op-ed published in The New York Times on Oct. 1:

You will note that it has nothing to do with Trump, North Korea, gun violence or natural disasters. For that reason alone, I thought it would resonate with readers—and it did—because, as I told my editor: A weary nation cries out for relief. “There are a lot of things in the news these days that make me want to cry,” one reader wrote to me. “This op-ed actually drew tears. I found it to be one of the saddest things I’ve read in a long time, and it made me feel incredibly old.”

My peg was simple enough:  In a very modest attempt to begin cleaning out the detritus of a life, I gave away my stamp collection. To a good cause, I might add, a veterans group that sends stamps to VA hospitals and residences around the country.  In one sense, the piece was about what we keep and what we leave behind.

In a larger sense, the op-ed was about how society, communication and the pace of life have changed, and about what we have lost in the rush to rush, to always be “on” and ready to click on the send button rather than to pause and reflect and then express our thoughts in more than 140 characters or with a Facebook emoji.

One of my colleagues said the column brought to mind a conversation she’d had 20 years ago with her longtime local mail carrier. “He told me that when he began his career with the post office, he felt that he was doing a service crucial to people’s lives, bringing the most important information they needed. Every April, he said, the high school seniors would be waiting for him at their mail boxes and when the fat envelope arrived, some would hug and kiss him as if he were the one who had made their dream come true. But no more. The importance is gone.”

Another correspondent tried to sell what he thought was his “million-dollar stamp collection” to a dealer, who expressed almost no interest. The writer managed to unload his collection a few years later to “an unsuspecting soul.” Still, he continues to “mourn the loss.”

Mary Snyder also had given up her “childish fascination with beautiful stamps” but now insists on sending snail mail, “topping it off with special stamps” she hopes will ignite or reignite the recipient’s interest in “mail magic.”  She speaks of “Snail Mail Art” as a new fad. Perhaps.

A woman in Baltimore described herself as a stamp enthusiast but not a collector. She makes a point of sending “physical mail to friends and relatives with interesting stamps for postage.”  From yet another reader: “Do you think our young people today could be patient enough to wait for new issues and save them in books?”  Sadly, the question seems almost rhetorical.

Steven Shavell, a Harvard Law School professor in his early 70s, wrote that although he’d lost interest in stamps, he still has and treasures his collection, “maybe because it brings back pleasant memories of youth. In any event…my children couldn’t care less about my collection and will probably discard it when I expire.” Another man, 62, recalled his youthful stamp collecting days and still has his “Worldwide Stamp Album.” He can “open to one of my favorite pages and be transported back in time; what was once a window on the world is now a window on my life. I won’t get rid of my stamps, and I don’t care if they have little market value. Rather, I’m happy to know, now, that there’s no financial incentive to sell them—excellent!”

All these heartfelt, wistful responses, and in today’s mail came this, a 9-by-12-inch white envelope emblazoned with various denominations of commemorative stamps, including a plate block of four 4-cent stamps marking the centennial of the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates. Inside, I found a note from the sender, Raymond C. Yee, of Hoffman Estates, Illinois. “Dear Mr. Meyer – Thank you for your letter to the NY Times.  I know exactly how you feel.  Ray.” No, thank you, Ray.

Well, time for some full disclosure:  After writing the op-ed, I discovered another stamp album that wasn’t in the box of albums I’d donated and not one I had personally curated. On a basement book shelf and protected by plain brown wrapping paper, it once belonged to Junior Plummer, 5011 North 30th St., Omaha, Nebraska, according to what I found handwritten inside the cover.

Published in 1933, the album contains many blank pages but quite a few with stamps from the 1860’s to the 1930’s. They are from all over the world, including colonies that are now countries and countries that no longer exist.  It is a window on 70 years of history, geography and rulers of nations whose images are boldly printed. The album weighs a ton. Whatever its monetary value, or more likely, it’s lack thereof, I think I’ll keep it—at least for now.


  1. Jeff Stage on October 5, 2017 at 3:57 pm

    Dear Mr. Meyer,

    I wasn’t going to comment on your NY Times piece, but when I learned you had written a follow-up blog, I felt I would. I am glad you wrote this second piece to hopefully enlighten more people about the hobby of stamp collecting.

    I am in my early 60s and have collected most of life. It’s been a journey of chaotic fun – from building a youth collection of worldwide stamps, then focusing on the U.S. and Canada, discovering first-day covers, other covers, postal history, more U.S. and Canada, and now returning to a (limited) pursuit of worldwide collecting.

    I tell people I have bookended my career with two of the most perfect jobs I could ever have. I was a sportswriter at the beginning for my hometown newspaper and now I am en editorial associate with the American Philatelic Society. (I had to move 200 miles at age 60 to take this job so I hope you can see how special it is.)

    I learn something new about the world, the country, history, people, and culture every time I write or edit a story for the APS; and it’s all connected to philately.

    Your original piece did offer a somewhat realistic view of the hobby, but at the same time was pretty much a downer that ignored some alternative facts, not to mention the joy that philately brings to so many.

    I am sure that others mentioned this, but a shrinking membership in the APS does not necessarily mean the number of collectors is dropping at the same ratio. It’s just that times have changed and it is possible many collectors – perhaps many of them young – just don’t feel the need to belong to organized philately. With so many opportunities via the Internet, they just prefer to go it alone. Hopefully, these folks will eventually find their way to clubs and societies, where their hobby will only be enhanced.

    The idea that your collection or others from so many years ago would not draw a big sales price is no surprise. Such a collection likely contained mostly common stamps. If the stamps were common 100 years ago, they are still common. Simply, a true collection needs to be cultivated, watered, added to, etc. in order to grow. That can’t happen when old collections just lie around in closets and attics.

    On top of that, a collection of any sort really should not be considered an investment. It’s simply a pastime and a hobby that one spends time and money on purely for the enjoyment, whether it is intellectual or social rewards, or a simple sense of pursuit and accomplishment.

    I apologize for writing so long. I could blather on and on, but will let you go. It is nice to know that now, with a newly discovered old album filled with treasures, perhaps you will even consider returning to your old hobby.

  2. Dan Cohen on October 11, 2017 at 5:04 pm

    As a stamp dealer, your original article to me seemed way off the mark. I have been selling for about 20 years and the market conditions now are probably stronger than they have ever been. I sell almost anything (even FDC’s that your dealer in your story said he could not use). The hobby has changed, but the interest in stamps has not. It is more internet base. People today do not join clubs or organizations, they go at it alone because there are so many resources available. The hobby is definitely strong in my opinion.

  3. Joel Coffidis on April 14, 2020 at 12:48 pm

    Dear Mr. Meyer, I came across your original column, “Stamped Out,” The New York Times, Sept. 29, 2017, when I was looking up stories about stamp collecting.

    When I was 10- to 13 years old in the mid-1970s, I was an avid stamp collector. That collection sits in a storage unit near by condo in Silver Spring, MD. I never look at it.

    Fast forward to now, when many of us are home-quarantined due to the Covid-19 crisis. For whatever reason, I started looking at stamps on eBay. I’m not sure what triggered this, but it happened.

    With all the time at home, I’ve enjoyed looking at some packets of stamps that are 60 to 100 years old (or older). I’m not sure how long this interest will last, but in the meantime I’m enjoying the 50 stamps from Greece that cost 99 cents, or the worldwide selection of 500 that cost $5. One side benefit of the general demise of stamp collecting is that prices are cheap (less expensive than the ’70s when you consider inflation.)

    So, I did the opposite of what you did in your column. I’ve returned to the hobby, and right now it is a good way to deal with the stress of this pandemic.

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