More mail is delivered to people today than any point in history. But forget the joy of bounding to your mailbox to a cascade of envelopes. This mail is all uniformly digital.
The crisp white envelopes cradling delicate messages do not exist on the Internet, and a curt subject line replaces the beautiful scrawl addressing the recipient. Perhaps most tragically, no e-mail requires stamps, which have a story of their own.
Most Americans barely notice the tiny little postage in the top right corner anymore. Self-adhesive stamps no longer require us to lick the bittersweet adhesive, a taste now quite unfamiliar.
“There may be a time when stamps don’t exist,” conceded Sequoia Stamp Club President Jim Giacomazzi. “It’s discouraging, but you can’t stop progress.”
But this thought doesn’t stop Giacomazzi and his fellow 116 members from sharing their collections with one another. They’re not an advocacy group standing at street corners protesting the possible death of an art form. They’re friends preserving a pastime that may soon become an obscure hobby of the past.
Giacomazzi said stamp clubs around the area have been closing, including the 46-year-old Sunnyvale Stamp Society that met twice a month. The club was co-sponsored by the city, but in a time of tightening budgets, the city could no longer pay for their share. Now the members periodically meet as a group of friends.
“We couldn’t keep young people coming,” said the former Sunnyvale Club’s secretary Lois Bertelson. Kids aren’t interested in stamps with computers and other games.”
The Sequoia Stamp Club, in contrast, has been lucky enough to enjoy a steady membership since 1947.
Stamps Are for "Old People"
“[Collecting stamps] is traditionally an older person activity,” Giacomazzi explained. “So you have to bring in young people to keep it going.”
But with their cellular phones constantly buzzing and school activities filling up their already tight schedules, teens rarely find a solitary moment to tend to their stamps.
Rather than fighting for time in hectic teens’ schedules, the Stamp Club created a youth organization, Stamps R Us, that makes stamp collecting easy for the average busy student.
This youthful membership helps to dispel the image of “a stuffy old man in his study” collecting stamps, Giacomazzi said.
Members in Stamps R Us range from 6 to 17 years old, all with their own set of activities. Darlene Hickok, the Stamps R Us Chair, said it’s a “learn by mail” club. Ironically, the Stamp Club mails the 35 members various stamps and the hinge tongs to place them in their books.
“Parents really appreciate this so their kids can do it on their own time and they don’t have to drive them to a meeting place,” Hickok said. The club used to meet at until in-person meetings became too difficult.
Hickok and other Stamp Club committee members send out two big mailings a year and four smaller ones.
Sisters Dina and Sebrianne Ferguson of Redwood City entered their stamp collections in the Santa Clara County Fair and both won awards. Dina, 13, won a Star Blue ribbon for her Australia collection and another for her topical collections of flowers, kings and queens and Africa. Sebrianne, 12, won the Best of Show ribbon for her class and the Best of Section 4-H award for her U.S. collection and also a Star Blue ribbon.
But just as any other club, members are not solely devoted to this one activity. The Ferguson sisters also dance ballet and tap point. Stamp collecting is not an all-consuming pastime, just one of many interests that people tend to have, said Giacomazzi, who also enjoys tennis.
The girls as well as collectors four times their age will all gather at December’s PenPex annual stamp show at the . The December 3-4 event will bring more stamp collectors of all ages and occupations to partake in hands on activities, sort stamps and observe other collectors’ collections.
With Each Stamp, A History Is Told
Just as art collectors may enjoy oil pastels for their aesthetic value or collect artwork from a certain time period for their historical value, stamp collectors also enjoy the same details in their stamps. The 1” x 1” square has squeezed everything from politics to geography to history into its tiny surface area.
Giacomazzi was a social studies teacher at , so collecting stamps with a past was a natural attraction for the history buff. His voice bubbled with glee as he described his collection of U-stamps that have “done their jobs,” delivering precious mail to some deserving recipient.
He recalls his Japanese friend’s father’s collection that contained re-location camp letters. Each stamp told a unique story of tragedy and hardship in one of America’s darkest periods.
At Tuesday’s Sequoia Stamp Club meeting, a collector presented his Swiss collection that told the story of a a very diverse country.
But collectors regard stamps as a very light and casual hobby as well. Some collect international stamps from the countries they’ve visited. Others like butterfly stamps because of the color and beauty of the winged insect. Some prefer freshly minted stamps that have never been housed in an album, while others love the trail that stamps have left behind. Topical stamps, Machins (stamps with Queen Elizabeth II’s profile), perforated stamps, airmail stamps: they’re all possibilities.
The Art of Collecting
Most stamp collectors start young, Giacomazzi said. After opening their mailboxes, their inquisitive nature seeks patterns, color schemes, or history threads within these images.
Giacomazzi started his collection at the age of 8 and the Ferguson girls also started at a similarly young age.
“You start young and you’re just looking for something to do,” Giacomazzi said of his hobby.
But as kids begin to progress through their education, homework, friends and other extracurriculars become priorities. Giacomazzi said it wasn’t till his kids were grown that he returned to the hobby.
And the beauty of collecting?
“There’s no wrong way to collect stamps,” Hickok said. “It’s very satisfying.”
The pages of a collector’s stamp book are as forgiving as a blank white canvas, perhaps even more. There are no mistakes to be made since collectors can remove the stamps and simply re-adhere them.
So before you head to the nearest automated stamp machine, peruse the offerings at your nearest . You never know what history lesson you may get.