The Little Stamp Collection That Could

As I recover from surgery, I’ve shifted my hobbies to things I can do on the couch that don’t require a lot of thought. It’s why you haven’t heard from me in a while.

Much of that included organizing a spectacularly disorganized stamp collection I had inherited and forgotten.  (Another part of it involved rewatching all four seasons of Farscape, which is as good as I remember, except for season four, which is every bit as bad as I remember.)

Collection Origins

Although I only saw my grandpa twice a year, he always engaged all of the grandchildren when they visited: took us on trips, played card and board games, etc. When I was a teen, he got me into stamp collecting. And by “got me into” I mean informed me I was stamp collecting, which consisted mostly of him giving me lots of stamps. So, really, I just owned part of Grandpa’s stamp collection.

When he passed, I got all of his stamps, which just might have included stamps he was just planning to put on mail. It’s hard to tell.  But I had long since lost interest in stamps, so everything went into my parents’ basement and stayed for the next 20 years, which really wasn’t much of a change from probably being stored in grandpa’s basement for a few decades.

Recently

My grandma, now 97, moved into a nursing home last month, and her possessions were divided up among family members as she has no place to put nor need for them. I received a beautiful turn-of-the-century clock, which is my first real antique.

Except for the stamps.

By this point I had totally forgotten them. Now, remembering, I considered that as a historian I might better appreciate them (I had no interest in history as a kid, probably due to primary education’s general disinterest in teaching it). So I dug them out of the basement specifically with the idea of sorting them while recovering from surgery.

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And a certain level of hilarity ensues.

Grandpa’s Concept of Organization

The stamps themselves are not funny. Grandpa’s organization of them, however, is.

Grandpa was a government bureaucrat. I don’t really know what he did, but it let him meet a variety of famous people, including Charles Lindbergh. This kind of implies he was good at it. And maybe his organization made perfect sense to him, but it’s baffling to me.

I call it a “stamp collection” in the most literal sense: a collection of stamps.  While it does include a few binders, most of it is composed of individual stamps stuffed into envelopes, and I don’t mean stamp collection glassine envelopes. Just regular envelopes. Dozens and dozens of them. Among the things found:

  • Envelopes helpfully labeled things like “1979.”
  • Envelopes less helpfully labeled “4 cents.”
  • Unlabeled envelopes with no obvious theme.
  • Envelopes labeled “Save for Harold” and “Harold has.”  Harold was his name, although it’s less clear why he needed to note that he did, in fact, have the stamps that he had.
  • Envelopes labeled “Save for Peter” or “Peter has.” I have no idea who Peter is and hope he didn’t have his heart set on these stamps.
  • Two envelopes marked “1974” then a checked checkbox, then my name, all handwritten but in different pens, indicating the entire notation wasn’t made at once.  1974 is my birth year, but what’s up with the checkbox? Was there some sort of bet I wasn’t going to show up until 1975?
  • One envelope marked “quite special.” The stamps inside were not special.
  • A couple of envelopes labeled STACH and a year.  No clue.
  • Random stamps stuffed into a cigar box.
  • A confused jumble of Founding Fathers
  • Several commemorative sets, some duplicated, and one of which he has five of.
  • More postage due stamps than anyone has any reason to possess, short of having cheap friends.
  • A complete lack of the 1960s.
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