When 8-year-old Amanda Morgenstern visited her great-grandmother in Southern Illinois, rather than going to a mall or a movie theater as some families did, she and Great-Grandma headed for the kitchen.
They sat down at the table, pulled out a stack of old Fleishmann’s margarine tubs (carefully washed and saved), placed some paper towels beside them, and added a stack of stamped envelopes from the previous weeks’ mail.
“She’d put water in the tubs, and we’d soak the stamps off three or four envelopes at a time,” Amanda remembers. “We laid them on the paper towels to dry and pasted them in a book.” The two sat side by side in the kitchen organizing stamps—and Amanda discovered a passion that inspires the line, color, and feeling of the work she creates today as a professional artist.
Bathtubs and Nickels
Around 97 percent of those who collect stamps today began, like Amanda, somewhere between the ages of 7 and 14, according to a survey by the American Philatelic Society, says Wade Saadi, president of the group. But what first ignites the passion for stamps and sends collectors hurtling through life on a hunt for colored bits of paper is a happy mystery—as is the “why.”
Some experts suggest that people collect simply to immerse themselves in the beauty of stamps, while others collect to expand social networks and make friends. Others seem to collect because, in the middle of a stressful life in a chaotic world, it gives them a sense that at least one part of their lives is organized and under control. Still, others collect for a sense of accomplishment, as an investment, or as a way to connect with history.
In Amanda’s case, it was the visual appeal of the stamps that first caught her attention as she worked with her great-grandmother. But it wasn’t until Amanda had soaked the stamps off 3,000 envelopes in the family bathtub one day that her family realized how serious she was. That little incident led her father to take her to a meeting of the Southern Illinois Stamp Club. Amanda was in heaven. She saw stamps featuring images by Degas, Renoir, Picasso, and other great artists. “I suddenly realized I was in a whole new world,” she says.
She began attending meetings of a local club and getting to know experienced collectors. “Our club had some magnificent characters in it,” says Amanda. “They were always educating me—whether it was about stamp facts or the history represented on the stamps. And they had boxes, called ‘nickel boxes.’ I could sit there at meetings with them, dig through their boxes, and buy a stamp for a nickel!” She laughs. “It was a fabulous way to build a collection, and a fabulous way to build relationships.”
Lick ’Em and Stick ’Em!
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Want to give stamp collecting a whirl or get back into it?
• Check out the new stamps from the U.S. Postal Service at your local post office or online at shop.usps.com. There, you’ll also find practical answers to most questions—including how to tell what a stamp is worth.
• Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum at postalmuseum.si.edu offers all you need to get started, including a video on the history of stamps.
• Visit the American Philatelic Society Web site at stamps.org for clubs and shows across the nation.