I’m at the 2013 Ann Arbor Stamp Show, and the show’s chair, Mike Homel, is giving me a tour of the bourse, where more than two dozen dealers perch behind tables crowded with tubs of stamps, postcards, and other philatelic paraphernalia. At one point, a man approaches me and asks in a low voice, “Do you want to see a real stamp?”
I follow him to a dealer table, where he shows me a solitary stamp housed in a clear plastic sleeve: an original “Inverted Jenny.” It’s one of only 100 in existence, a rare and valuable goof-up by the United States Postal Service in which the image of a Curtiss Jenny biplane was printed upside down.
The owner of the Inverted Jenny was one of several friendly dealers and collectors whom I met that day. They spoke about stamps with a contagious enthusiasm. I wasn’t a collector, and yet I still felt awe while gazing at the Inverted Jenny, issued in 1918 with a face value of 24 cents and currently estimated to be worth more than $100,000. Most stamps go for much, much less, of course, and the stamp lovers I met weren’t gushing about the monetary value of their collections but about the priceless value of knowledge attained. Homel, for example, learned how the British Empire shrank by researching and collecting stamps commemorating Queen Elizabeth’s visits to Commonwealth nations. For him and others, stamp collecting is a way of discovering the world, a cerebral scavenger hunt with wide-ranging historical, geographical, and topical interests.
The Ann Arbor Stamp Show annually draws between twenty-five and thirty-five dealers who sell a variety of U.S. and international stamps and postcards. There is a good mix of stamps for beginning collectors, as well as resources providing information on identifying, soaking, and mounting stamps. Members of the Ann Arbor Stamp Club, which sponsors the show, are on hand to answer questions. The show also offers appraisal and consignment services, and dealers buy both individual stamps and whole collections.
The American Topical Association hosts a table with membership information, books, and checklists for collecting by subject or concept. There is, it would seem, a stamp for everything, with subjects ranging from the celestial (comets) and sublime (Buddha) to the mundane (cement factories) and minuscule (microbiology), with subjects both modern (climate change) and timeless (cockroaches). At the 2013 show, ATA executive director Vera Felts informed me that the organization has members from all over the world. Traditionally, topical enthusiasts were older males who collected stamps by country of their origin, but with more than 16,000 stamps issued annually worldwide, there are plenty of subjects to attract women and younger generations. Vera said she was currently collecting stamps from Thailand and those with gastronomical subjects, including gingerbread men and national dishes.
With exhibitions and a youth section, the Ann Arbor Stamp Show features activities for new and experienced collectors, as well as anyone who’s interested in the vast opportunities for exploring the world through postage stamps. This year’s show is November 1 and 2.
Note: The 2015 Stamp Show dates are Oct. 31 and Nov. 1.