General Pursuits

“Exploring Stamps” on YouTube


Until recently, I was only a casual YouTube watcher generally seeking out the occasional country, historical, or wildlife documentary, kiddie videos to entertain my younger students, and old live music clips or full concerts. I’d dabbled in searching for stamp-related videos from time to time but wasn’t often impressed with what I found. Earlier this year, I discovered “vlogs” — video blogs — and became hooked on several involving expat life in Japan and here in Phuket, Thailand, as well as several concerning food (Hellthy Junk Food and The Burger Show chief amongst these). Still, I couldn’t find anything similar related to philately.

Maybe I just didn’t search hard enough.

It took reading a recent article on another blog, The Punk Philatelist, to become aware of Exploring Stamps. I spent a couple of hours this Sunday watching episode after episode (most are around five minutes long), starting from the very first and continuing through the start of Season 2. As often happens, I feel I’m a bit late to the party as a Google search turned up a number of discussions on stamp collecting message boards as well as an earlier blog article. Apparently, the series was even featured in The American Philatelist earlier this year.

The basic premise is very similar to what I’ve been doing with my A Stamp A Day blog for the past two years: the host, Graham, uses his tongs to fish out a random stamp from a large cardboard box and then learns what he can about the stamp itself as well as the subject matter portrayed thereon. Where my articles tend to the lengthy and try to give all the information I can find, Graham condenses his findings into a highly entertaining few minutes that keeps you watching. Along the way, he touches on many different aspects of the hobby as well as geography, history, and so much more.

The production quality of the videos is top-notch. His use of simple graphics, different camera angles, props, and even green-screen effects make each episode a joy to watch. The videos are educational enough that I learn something new from almost every episode. He speaks very clearly as well in language that would be understandable to school children. I’ve long desired to incorporate stamps into my lessons here in Thailand; Graham has given me a roadmap to follow.

Graham has Twitter and Instagram accounts in addition to his YouTube Channel on which he gives hints to upcoming Exploring Stamps episodes. While he doesn’t have a regular blog, he does have a landing page on WordPress which provides links to each of Exploring Stamps’ other social media outlets, including an interesting site and app called Snupps which Graham explained in an early video.

Now, to continue watching….

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General Pursuits

Stamp Art?

Photo by Mark Jochim on May 23, 2018
Photo by Mark Jochim on May 23, 2018

I have been extremely busy at work since the new school year began in mid-May (yes, we start as schools back in the U.S. are just letting out for the long summer holiday) and haven’t had much free time to work on most of my blogs. The workload shows no signs of lessening in the near future but I am trying to prepare a New Issues update with recent USPS design and issue announcements.

In the meantime, I offer this piece of “stamp art” on display in the Phuket, Thailand, shopping mall where I work. Now, Thailand at this time of year — the monsoon season — isn’t exactly the most stamp-friendly of environments. A collector really needs to be on a constant alert that his or her mint stamps are protected from the extremely high moisture content in the air as the humidity fluctuates from intense dryness to sweating walls. I’ve taken to (trying not to) order many stamps at all between around mid-April until October when the rains (usually) let up. I’ve had more than one packet sent from overseas that, upon opening, was full of mint stamps glued together.

France - Scott #C28 (1949) used (1)
France – Scott #C28 (1949) used (1)

At any rate, stamp collecting in a popular hobby in the Kingdom and occasionally comes out into the open with random images such as the one above suddenly appearing in odd places. The one above, portraying a French airmail stamp from 1949, is on the fourth floor of the Central Festival shopping mall in the center of Phuket island, past the cinemas (and preceded by a long line of “coming attractions” posters. It’s across from the “poor man’s” food court used mainly by mall employees. I don’t often venture to this area of the mall — my office and classroom are in the basement near the parking garage — but I accidentally came across some newly-installed ATM’s on the third floor (the ones by the banks on the second floor are always crowded and frequently run out of cash!) and, after happily withdrawing from one, I took an escalator upstairs only to see this stamp on the wall as I ascended. Hopefully, they will add more as time goes on….

France - Scott #C28 (1949) mint, never hinged
France – Scott #C28 (1949) mint, never hinged

I actually own three copies of France Scott #C28, one mint and the others used. Of course, neither has a giant bald eagle flying out of the right side of the stamp. Designed and beautifully engraved by Pierre Gandon, the 100-franc brown carmine airmail stamp portrays the Alexander III Bridge and Petit Palais in Paris. It was issued on June 13, 1949, to mark the International Telegraph and Telephone Conference in Paris, held from May to July of that year. With some 85,152,500 copies of the stamp printed, it’s not nearly as rare as some of the other French airmail stamps issued around that time at around US $7.50 for unused and $5.50 for used copies. I’m still holding out for Scott #C26 — 500-franc bright red with an aerial view of Marseilles (US $58 for a mint copy but a much more doable $6 used) — and Scott #C27 — 1000-franc sepia and black on bluish paper portraying an aerial view of Paris ($150 mint, $28 used).

Perhaps the biggest question is, Why did the management of Central Group pick this particular stamp to grace their wall? I can think of one other piece of local “stamp art” — in the historic Old Town, as a matter of fact — and that one features a French stamp as well, if memory serves. I’ll have to seek it out again the next time I’m in that area, this time camera in hand. If I see any others, I will feature them here on Philatelic Pursuits….as time allows.

General Pursuits, Stamped Holidays, Thailand Philately

October Is National Stamp Collecting Month

NOTE: This article also appears, virtually the same, on Asian Meanderings — my main blog about my life in Thailand.

Since 1981, the month of October has been celebrated as National Stamp Collecting Month in the United States and Canada. November is National Stamp Collecting Month in the Philippines.

I began collecting stamps around the age of nine years old; counting a few breaks for other pursuits (girls, music, travel to name but three), I estimate that I have been involved in the hobby for a little more than 30 years. I promote it whenever and wherever I can these days, having begun collecting again following my move to Thailand more than a decade ago.

November is National Stamp Collecting Month in The Philippines
November is National Stamp Collecting Month in The Philippines

At the beginning of July 2016, I started a blog called A Stamp A Day on which I feature a different stamp (usually from a different place) each and every day. Different countries and territories have been included in a more or less alphabetical order and historic anniversaries and birthdays have been marked on occasion with an appropriate stamp. The write-ups (background histories on the issuing entities and details about the stamps) are often quite lengthy!

ASAD” is my second stamp blog; Philatelic Pursuits is still active with a post or two each month. I also have a blog dedicated to postcards that I receive through Postcrossing, trades, or traveling friends and family members. I feel that the hobbies of philately (stamps) and deltiology (postcards) compliment each other. I recently changed the name of my postcard blog (for the third time) and it is now called Postcards to Phuket.

I live in Phuket, an island province in the south of Thailand. It wasn’t long after I’d arrived here that I discovered the Phuket Philatelic Museum in the administrative capital of Phuket Town. My first visit was in the midst of celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the reign of His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej. I’d already been struck at how Thai people worshiped the king as a deity and had been swept up in royal fever. Seeing the beautiful stamps issued in his honor spurred me to return to the hobby.

While never much of a museum (a few dusty displays of telegraph equipment and several frames of stamp “reproductions” at the present), the Phuket Philatelic Museum contained a large shop which was filled with Thai stamps dating back to the early 1970s (all sold for face value), first day covers for the previous year’s releases, albums and supplies in a dedicated room.

About three years ago, the shop was moved to a counter in the museum lobby to make room for Thailand’s first drive-thru post office. Many of the supplies such as albums and ornate stamp pages plus older stamps were gone but at least I could still purchase the new-release stamps and first day covers (going back a year or so) as well as the annual yearbooks. The main clerk spoke good English and was extremely helpful. She was reassigned about a year ago, replaced by a woman who speaks very little English but is quite cheerful and always let me go through the stock books.

I recently visited the Phuket Philatelic Museum for the first time in quite a while and was told that they weren’t selling stamps anymore. There were a few first day covers remaining (most of which I already had). The clerk told me she didn’t know if they would receive any stamps in the future. She seemed quite upset about it. I’m actually worried that the museum itself might close down as I believe the sales counter was the only income source. There’s a meeting room that I believe used to be used by a local stamp club but I could never get any information about meetings, etc. I’ve had ideas in the past to organize a Postcrossing meeting there amongst members who live on the island or to form my own stamp club, but I just haven’t had the time.

I am now unable to purchase any Thai stamps locally; one visit to a nearby post office left me wondering if the two clerks on duty even knew what a stamp was!) I will have to rely on mail order until I find someplace else. It’s a shame as there have been some very interesting stamps issued by Thailand recently. I am looking forward to finding out what Thailand Post has planned to mark the one-year anniversary of King Bhumibol’s death; there’s already been an extensive series of banknotes and coins announced by the Royal Thai Mint.

The whole of October leading up to His Majesty’s cremation at the end of the month will be a period of intensified mourning in Thailand. The initial period lasted from his death on October 13, 2016, to the beginning of December (his birthday) when his son formally accepted the succession and became King Rama X.

While a number of people have remained wearing black for the entire year (including all teachers such as myself), it will once again be expected in public starting (I believe) today. Since midnight last night, all Thai television stations are broadcasting in black and white only; most of my Thai friends have changed their Facebook profile and cover photos to greyscale today. The public are requested not to engage in any festivities during the month of October and many entertainment and sporting events will be canceled.  There will be many other signs of mourning and I will put together another article in the near future detailing some of those.

I plan to do my part by combining my celebration of National Stamp Collecting Month with a memorial to the late king. I’ve decided to feature only Thai stamps on A Stamp A Day during the month of October, mainly those portraying King Bhumibol. I plan to keep the commentary to a minimum so that I’ll have the time (and energy!) to write a few how-to-collect articles for Philatelic Pursuits and add a few things to Postcards to Phuket as well.

Happy Stamp Collecting Month(s)!

Thailand #1118 (1985)
General Pursuits, Space on Stamps, Topical Pursuits

Eclipse!

I’m just beginning work on tomorrow’s article for A Stamp A Day (and you can probably guess the stamp I’m going to feature). I am quite excited about the “Eclipse Across America” as the media is billing it as many of my friends and my immediate family live very near the 70-mile wide path of totality that will sweep coast to coast. I really wish I’d followed-through with my original plans to pay the States a visit in order to view this grand celestial event. The thought of Kansas in August, however, kept those plans from ever becoming too serious (well, that and the general lack of cash for Thailand to USA air tickets at this point in time).

In doing research for this ASAD article, I found that there have been a great number of stamps released in the past fifty years or so marking solar eclipses. Of these, I have exactly two — one is tomorrow’s featured stamp from the U.S.A. (which received a Scott catalogue number just in time: #5211) and the one that I wrote about for ASAD just over a year ago for Thailand’s National Science Day, Scott #1118). While a few are quite boring in design, the majority of the solar eclipse stamps I found on eBay were quite striking. I also discovered a vast array of interesting covers commemorating the observances in addition to the regular first day covers. What an interesting topic to collect! Adding such items to my collection would (somewhat) compensate for never having seen a total solar eclipse in person myself. I’m already planning a trip back to the States for the next one in 2024, a scant seven years away. I don’t want to make the same mistake twice (and doubt if I will last long enough to see the next total solar eclipse due for Thailand — in 2070!).

Thailand #1118 (1985)
Thailand #1118 (1985)

If you are in the States tomorrow, please don’t hesitate to get out there and look skyward. Even if you are in a location that will receive only a partial eclipse. Make some covers — there are bound to be a number of special postmarks in towns and cities along the path of totality and elsewhere! I will be seeking these out to add to my new thematic collection. I am already mentally planning the album pages. Now, to listen to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon to get even more in the mood…

Happy Eclipse Day!

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?