General Pursuits

400 Posts… Wow!

Not here, but on my “other” stamp blog — A Stamp A Day. It just snuck up on me. I published an article a few minutes ago about Trinidad & Tobago, illustrating the ½ penny green Britannia (my copy might be Scott #1, released in 1913, but it’s probably a later issue as the postmark is dated in 1924), and noticed the post count. The amazing thing is that I started the blog just over one year ago — July 1, 2016. I never thought I would be able to maintain daily entries for more than a few months; the blog’s name kept me going — even when it was the last thing I wanted to do on certain days, even when work or the weather or unreliable Internet all seemed to transpire against me. Four hundred posts. Wow, indeed!

By contrast, I started this blog — Philatelic Pursuits — on May 25, 2015. This will be my 97th entry. I’ll have to think of something special for #100, just as I’ll need to pick a significant stamp for ASAD’s 500th post. I can’t let that one sneak past me like this one nearly did….

General Pursuits

Why Do We Collect?

The August issue of The American Philatelist arrived a few days ago and I’ve slowly been perusing it during rare periods of free-time (this time of year has always been a busy period for me but this year I am nearly overwhelmed!). American Philatelic Society president Mick Zais has a particularly interesting column this month in which he examines some of the reasons that people collect and poses the question, “Is there a collecting gene?”

An auction house once stated that collecting is, in fact, a basic human instinct; a survival advantage amplified by eons of natural selection. Those of our ancient ancestors who managed to accumulate scarce objects may have been more prone to survive long enough to bear offspring. Even today, wealth correlates to longer life expectancy — and could any form of wealth be more basic than scarce, tangible objects?

According to The Guardian a few years ago, “One psychoanalytical explanation for collecting is that unloved children learn to seek comfort in accumulating belongings; another is that collecting is motivated by existential anxieties — the collection, an extension of our identity, lives on, even though we do not. More recently, evolutionary theorists suggested that a collection was a way for a man to attract potential mates by signalling his ability to accumulate resources.”

Another site lists the following as the most common reasons people collect things:

  • Knowledge and learning
  • Relaxation and stress reduction
  • Personal pleasure (including appreciation of beauty, and pride of ownership)
  • Social interaction with fellow collectors and others (i.e. the sharing of pleasure and knowledge)
  • Competitive challenge
  • Recognition by fellow collectors and perhaps even non-collectors
  • Altruism (since many great collections are ultimately donated to museums and learning institutions)
  • The desire to control, possess and bring order to a small (or even a massive) part of the world
  • Nostalgia and/or a connection to history
  • Accumulation and diversification of wealth (which can ultimately provide a measure of security and freedom)

There’s even a “Psychology of Collecting” article on Wikipedia which says that, “When people think of collecting, they may imagine expensive works of art or historical artifacts that are later sold to a museum or listed on eBay. The truth is, for many people who amass collections, the value of their collections are not monetary but emotional — and often, not for sale. Collections allow people to relive their childhoods, to connect themselves to a period in history or to a time they feel strongly about. Their collections may help them to ease insecurity and anxiety about losing a part of themselves, and to keep the past present. Some collect for the thrill of the hunt. Collecting is much like a quest, a lifelong pursuit which can never be complete. Collecting may provide psychological security by filling a part of the self one feels is missing or is void of meaning. When one collects, one experiments with arranging, organizing, and presenting a part of the world which may serve to provide a safety zone, a place of refuge where fears are calmed and insecurity is managed. Motives are not mutually exclusive; rather, different motives combine in each collector for a multitude of reasons.”

The Wikipedia article mentions that while “there are unemotional commerce-motivated collectors, those that hunt for collectibles only to turn them around soon after and sell them. . . .collecting is still mostly associated with positive emotions. There is the happiness from adding a new find to the collection, the excitement of the hunt, the social camaraderie when sharing their collection with other collectors.”

According to a 2007 article in The National Psychologist, “Sigmund Freud didn’t see collecting as stemming from these kinds of motivations. He postulated that collecting ties back to the time of toilet training, of course. Freud suggested that the loss of control and what went down the toilet was a traumatic occurrence and that, therefore, the collector is trying to gain back not only control but “possessions” that were lost so many years ago. Well that’s Freud.”

I believe that I collect stamps primarily for the knowledge that I gain from these little bits of paper. I have learned a great deal about history and geography which I frequently use in my job as an English teacher in Thailand, as well as about other topics that may seem useless but enhance my enjoyment of the hobby (printing methods, paper, etc.). Researching the subjects of my stamps often lead me to unexpected discoveries. I also collect for the relaxation it offers, the “thrill of the hunt,” and goal of completion (“A Stamp From Everywhere”, thank you very much).

I’m not certain if any collector can narrow down the reasons they collect to just one. Can you?

General Pursuits

Philatelic Phun with Photoshop

Well, not really…

I never have fun when using Photoshop and there are only about two functions that I can perform using the unwieldy program (and not always with the same degree of success).  “Fun with Paint” isn’t quite as good a title, however…

If I attempt to design something, I use a combination of Microsoft’s Paint (and not that new 3D version they tried to force upon me a few Windows 10 auto-updates ago) and an open-source program called PhotoScape which is great for things like placing (and resizing) transparent background images upon other images and manipulating lettering amongst other functions.

This weekend, I decided that it was time to change the small logo at the top of my “other” stamp blog, A Stamp A Day. After all, I hadn’t done anything to the design of the blog since I started it over a year ago (I am VERY happy with the theme — a free WordPress theme called Spun).A Stamp A Day

That logo was just a simple “edit” of a stamp issued by France in 1963 for an upcoming philatelic exhibition (Scott #1078):

France #1078 (1963)
France #1078 (1963)

But this didn’t even include the name of the blog, something that kind of bothered me but also allowed me to use the image from time to time here on Philatelic Pursuits and as an avatar on various stamp forums that I’m a member of.

I’d planned to make a new one for quite some time but it’s just hard to find the free time (another detractor is that I didn’t save a copy of the “unlettered” version so I’d have to start from scratch). This weekend, I finally had plenty of downtime and made several versions:


After I made those, I thought, “Let’s do some more!” Once I get started on something, it’s hard for me to stop.

My second try with “editing” a stamp was an attempt using Monaco #C16 issued in 1947, my favorite stamp-collecting themed stamp (I also collect FDR topicals):

Monaco #C16 (1947)
Monaco #C16 (1947)

My first tries at obscuring the cross-hatching in the upper-left and below the country tablet were fairly awful:

I then decided on a “wipe” approach to the upper-left cross-hatching (mainly because any lettering I placed over the cross-hatching was completely unreadable):

Hey! This is fun! Let’s see what the United States #1474 from 1972 looks like:

United States #1474 (1972)
United States #1474 (1972)

German Democratic Republic #91 issued in 1951 for Stamp Day:

For my final stabs at stamp “editing” this weekend were to work on two booklet panes issued in 1986 with a stamp collecting theme: Sweden #1588a and United States #2201a:

Sweden #1588a (1986)
Sweden #1588a (1986)
United States #2201a (1986)
United States #2201a (1986)


I even added a couple of items to the selvage of the Swedish stamp (at the top is the Phuket provincial seal) and at the bottom is a stylized entwined U.S. and Thai flag design. I had some problems removing elements and some of the quadrilles on the U.S. issue in particular are out of alignment. I will go back and fix these at some point, but my “free time” on a Sunday morning had come to end….

Admittedly, what I’ve done is quite basic. But the point is: If I can do this, then anybody can.

My biggest problem now is deciding which of these that I like the best. Which one shall have the upper left corner of the “A Stamp A Day” blog for the next year? I applied the Monaco stamp yesterday but it appears too large so I’ll resize that. I may end up setting it so that a different image appears on each separate click.

In preparing this article, I thought I’d also share a few stamp “designs” I made earlier this year. They may see eventual “release” through my Muang Phuket Local Post; I haven’t printed any of my creations for that project in almost two years (the last being a souvenir sheet for ASEAN Day on August 8, 2015). I have found somebody who can print these labels on dry gum paper and apply perforations so I may do that at some point in the future. The personalized image at the head of this article was created entirely in Photoshop (one of my few “successes”, I suppose but I’m still not entirely happy about it); I’d planned to make covers for my 50th birthday at the end of 2015 but never finished it.

General Pursuits

The State of the Blog

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I am spending this February tropical day (a bit overcast with a cooling breeze, 23° C at 12:15 in the afternoon) in Phuket, Thailand, trying to think of ways to resurrect Philatelic Pursuits as a frequently-updated blog.

My philatelic blogging focus since the beginning of July 2016 has been A Stamp A Day (ASAD). I have been successful at posting at least once entry each and every day of the past six months. The articles have become much longer over time and I am now including maps, flags, coats of arms, and occasional other images.

The research for each ASAD article takes quite a bit of time (more so for certain more complicated entities than others), although my primary source is always Wikipedia with a lot of cut-and-pasting. Much of the time, it takes multiple Wikipedia articles to combine into one entry. I try to supplement the postal and philatelic histories from a variety of other sources.

All of this work is done in my limited free time outside of my full-time job as the deputy head teacher for a large language school (we contract teachers out to most of Phuket’s government-operated educational facilities). It can often be difficult getting online and uploading images (all of my scans are done at 1200 dpi) as the Internet at my location in Thailand is often dismally slow (and seems to have been throttled-down significantly by the government since the beginning of this year). Time-outs and dropped connection are the order of the day.

My other blogs — The POSTCARD TRAVELLER (formerly, “Please, Mr. Postman!”) and Asian Meanderings — have fallen by the wayside as well. It’s not that I don’t have a strong desire to maintain each of these sites, it’s just that I’m committed to A Stamp A Day and the process often leaves me exhausted.

That said, I do not want these blogs to die off completely. The articles I’ve been posting on ASAD have essentially replaced the “Stamp Issuers” series I began here on Philatelic Pursuits. I have thought about reprinting the ASAD articles here, reformatted and including more scans from my collection. That’s a lot of work made much more difficult due to the lack of reliable Internet speeds. If you are interested in a particular entity, I refer you to the Index page on ASAD (I try to update it once or twice every few weeks).

Other ideas include “How To’s” (I’ve wanted to write one about my inventory process for quite some time) and “Collection Galleries” for certain entities which I have nearly complete collections of. I’ve only recently delved into topical collecting (none of which yet have very many stamps) and I would like to feature some of my favorite themes.

At any rate, I hope to make a “return” to this blog sometime very soon. If I can manage two or three entries here each month, I will be happy.

Any suggestions for what YOU would like me to include on Philatelic Pursuits are most welcome!

General Pursuits

Phila-Bytes #3 [9-23 September 2016]

One of the best things about this wonderful hobby of philately is that I am constantly learning new things — not only about the stamps themselves but about the subjects portrayed upon them, the entities that issued them, and so on. In the course of my daily research for A Stamp A Day, I come across a great number of previously unknown (to me) webpages and blogs, some philatelic in nature, many about history or culture. It can indeed be a bit frustrating as I simply do not have enough time to read everything that I stumble across.

Take blogs, for example.  Just in the past two weeks, I have found (and subscribed) to the following: Barbados Stamps, Executed Today, EWorld Stamps: Worldwide Stamp Collection, My Native Belarus, My Philatelic Passion, and Stamps of Armenia. All are worthy of further perusal. I hope I can find the time someday soon.

One great resource of information on older stamp issues are auction catalogues and I really appreciate firms that archive .pdf versions of their previous catalogues on their website. One such auction house is that of Robert A. Siegel whose catalogue often include introductory essays on the stamps included in a particular auction. Auctions for the 1893 Columbians and Hawaii Missionaries immediately spring to mind. While looking around the site recently, I came across a number of shorter (one- to four-page) summaries of numerous U.S. issues including an excellent timeline of the American postal system from 1632-1792.

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One thing that really fascinates me is the beginnings and evolution of stamp collecting itself. While I have never seen a comprehensive work on the subject, I have come across bits and pieces in the philatelic literature of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and brief mentions on various websites. I just found a nice site with articles on early collecting in the United States. It’s called Stamping American Memory: Collectors, Citizens, Commemoratives, and the Post — and is a scholarly study of philately in the U.S. I’m looking forward to reading all of the pages.

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A recent article in Linn’s Stamp News reminded me of the Philatelic Truck that traveled around the United States between May 1939 and December 1941, promoting stamp collecting to the youth of America. Because I was never really interested in poster stamps, Cinderella stamps, or local post stamps during much of my philatelic life, I never obtained a copy of the souvenir sheet printed by the Bureau of Engraving & Printing given to visitors to the truck. My collecting interests have, of course, changed over the years and now I am very interested in buying one of these (and will be placing a bid on eBay shortly). It was in my quest to find out more that I came across the Stamping America’s Memory site mentioned above. There is also a book about the truck, the tour and the sheet written by John H. Bruns, a former director of the National Postal Museum, that I’d also like to track down.

Farley and philatelic truck at White House. Washington, D.C., May 9. The Post Office's new philatelic stamp truck which began a tour of the United States today following ceremonies at the White House was given a final inspection by the Post Master General James A. Farely before it started out from the White House. The truck, containing stamp frames of all U.S. stamp issues, a miniature stamp press and souvenir engravings showing the White House, will visit cities and towns in every state of the Union.

There are a number of significant anniversaries coming up in the next few months, including the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the 25th anniversary of the dissolution of the Soviet Union. No doubt these will be commemorated philatelicly (but I have yet to see any announcements). Much sooner than those, actually released today (September 9) for the nation’s Stamp Day, is a four-stamp mini-sheet marking the 25th anniversary of Croatian independence which will occur on October 8. One million of the 11 kuna stamp have been printed, bearing a hologram using a special technique to produce a “real 3D” effect — supposedly the first stamps to bear such an image.

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Another recent issue commemorating an anniversary is that of Poland marking the 75th anniversary of the first airdrop by the Cichociemni, elite special-operations paratroops of the Polish Army in exile that were created in Great Britain during World War II to operate in occupied Poland. Designed by Ewa Szydłowsk, the 3.70 złoty stamps were released on September 1 in sheets of 35.

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Much closer to home is a set of three stamps and a mini-sheet to be released by Malaysia on October 21, commemorating the 200th anniversary of the Penang Free School. I have fond memories of strolling the campus of PFS while on several visits to George Town several years ago. While I did absolutely nothing philatelic (not even the purchase of a postcard) during these trips, I will definitely purchase this set and accompanying first day covers.

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It’s not often that Royal Mail disappoints me with a stamp design for a subject that I’m interested in, but what’s with the graphic novel approach on the recent Great Fire of London set? The really ugly set of four was released on September 2 to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the fire.

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As a teacher, I avidly collect stamps portraying aspects of my profession particularly those picturing students and/or teachers. I am thrilled with the release earlier this week (September 6) of a set of four plus mini-sheet by Hong Kong Post titled “A Tribute to Teachers.” This is just in time for the annual celebration of Teacher’s Day (September 10) in the Chinese Special Administrative Region. The stamps depict chalkboard drawings, something I used to create on an almost daily basis (most Thai classrooms are now equipped with whiteboards which don’t provide quite the same effect). There is a nice range of products (postcards, maximum cards, presentation pack, regular and color cancellations, etc.) available for this issue.

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Finally, one of my favorite stamp blogs — Big Blue 1840-1940, which covers the classic period of stamp issues as collected in the Scott International Part 1 albums or on Steiner album pages — earlier this week contemplated the question “Which Stamp Album is Best for WW Collectors?.” Blogger Jim, by the way, is almost finished with his survey of the “T” countries with an article at the end of August about the Turks and Caicos Islands. He started the blog about five-and-a-half years ago.

General Pursuits

Phila-Bytes #2 [25 August–8 September 2016

It’s been a very fast two weeks which means it’s time for the second installment of “Phila-Bytes” – a compendium of interesting things I’ve stumbled upon in the stamp web.  This will be a fairly short edition as I’ve been very busy with work!

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First up, I should mention that today is the centennial of the U.S. National Parks Service.  I am preparing an article about the NPS for my other stamp blog, A Stamp A Day (insert shameless plug here).  I was somewhat surprised that Wikipedia doesn’t have a dedicated page for the 1934 National Parks Issue but there is plenty on the Internet about the recently-released set of 16 stamps including a page on the NPS site itself.  I have yet to obtain copies of these but will do so as soon as our monsoon season ends.  While I was hoping that my personal favorite — Chaco Canyon — would be included, it was still nice to see two other parks from my former home of New Mexico honored.

NationalParks2016-Singles-BGv1

This is, in fact, a year where there are many interesting issues I can add to my various topical collections. I’ve long been a voracious reader of crime fiction and have a number of stamps commemorating  the legacy of Sherlock Holmes as written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  It’s refreshing, however, that a different favorite mystery writer is receiving the philatelic treatment this year.  I came across the news on the Commonwealth Stamps Blog that a set of six will be released on 15 September by the United Kingdom to “to commemorate the Centenary of the first murder mystery written by Agatha Christie (The Mysterious Affair At Styles featuring Hercule Poirot).  It’s a rather striking set and one now firmly included on my want list.

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I’m also a lifelong fan of rock music in (almost) all of its forms.  While Bruce Springsteen has been my favorite performer for almost as long as I can remember (which is a long time, actually), I’ve also enjoyed forays into progressive rock such as Pink Floyd (honored by a Royal Mail set earlier this year), Peter Gabriel-led Genesis, and both eras of Marillion (I prefer Steve Hogarth’s version of the band over that of Fish,  despite him being the singer for the first four years that I listened to them).  I’ve had a love-hate relationship with Yes throughout the years.  I remember buying the LP for Yessongs when I was attending college in central Kansas but I refused to buy the then-current 90125 for years as the hit single was overplayed and I found it really annoying!  It wasn’t until 1994 that I saw them perform live and became began buying their back-catalogue.

Sometimes the best thing about the albums were the covers created by Roger Dean, defining the visual image of the band, much the same way that Hipnogsis represented Pink Floyd.  Thus, I was quite pleased to find that a set of his artwork would be released on stamps by the Isle of Man.  They were issued on 19 August and I like the fact that the attention to detail extended to the fonts used as well.  However, much like the writer of Commonwealth Stamps Blog, I was underwhelmed by the final product.  These images just don’t translate well to the stamp format.  Truth be known, they don’t look that great CD-sized either.  Roger Dean’s work is best seen on the full 12-inch LP with gatefold sleeves.  Oddly enough, I don’t think the same for the Pink Floyd album covers (or previous issues showing The Beatles covers).  Perhaps if I was a bigger Yes fan, I’d think differently.  The set also includes one brand-new piece of artwork inspired by the Isle of Man as well as artwork for albums by The Blind Owl and Uriah Heap.

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The biggest news this week was perhaps the selling at auction of two of the rarest stamps in the world – the 1p and 2p “Post Office” Mauritius stamps of 1847. I mentioned in “Phila-Bytes” #1 that the copper plate used to print these stamps will be auctioned later in the year. The most-newsworthy aspect seems to be the fact that an unknown Czech investor was the winning bidder for an undisclosed sum thought to be in excess of US $4.1 million.  It’s unknown whether these are on-cover examples or singles.  The news article can be found here.

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That’s all for this time.  I’ll see you again in about two weeks…