Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Put Your Stamp On It

I am a philatelist.

Philatelist: n. a person who practices philately; stamp collector.
Philately: n. the collection and study of postage stamps, postmarks, stamped envelopes, etc., usually as a hobby.

I'm not a great one. My father-in-law is. He has an incredible stamp collection. I became interested when I was a kid. I would get letters from my aunts or my grandparents and I would always stare at the little square of artwork in the corner. My mom would let me cut them off the envelopes sometimes. In 7th grade, my best friend moved to Germany for a year. There was no email. There was only mail. We sent each other pages and pages and pages of letters. I loved getting hers. They were airmail envelopes with interesting German stamps on them. I saved every letter.

For Christmas that year, my friend in Germany sent me a stamp collector's book. It was large and long and burgundy with gold trim. Every page had little rows of onion-skin pockets to slide stamps into. And between each page was a thin page of onion-skin, to preserve the stamps in the rows of pockets. It was so elegant to me. I always handled it with the greatest of care. I was a rather rash and impulsive person, even then, and I would have to move more slowly and breathe more slowly just to handle that book. My friend had even put some stamps in the book for me, to get me started. I still have the book, and all of the stamps she sent me, as well as numerous others that my mother let me cut off of envelopes after.

My "stamp collecting," if you want to call it that, isn't a money-making hobby, as some people may practice. It's not about the age of the stamp, necessarily, although old stamps are terrific. It's not about the worth of the stamp, i.e. a rare stamp with no postmark. For me, it's only about beauty, meaning, and time. That's what I love about them. I don't care if they have a postmark. Most times, I like them more when they have a postmark. It places the stamp in history. It tells where it was and when it was used. It lends the stamp a story beyond the stamp itself. It gives the stamp a human element.

A stamp is a tiny artwork that connects two people. Both the sender and the recipient see the stamp. The sender chose the stamp, bought the stamp. The recipient is the reason the stamp was bought. The sender writes the words that the stamp delivers. The recipient reads the words that the stamp delivers. The stamp is the great connector of people, words, places and time. It's a little, sticky miracle.

My stamp interest has waxed and waned over the years. It goes up and down. I forgot about it for years. In 2005, I visited Virginia, one of the greatest places in the U.S. in my opinion. A lovely place, with so much history. It oozes out of the countryside. I visited Appomattox, where the final battle of the Civil War took place. In a little gift shop there, I purchased some Civil War bullets found at the site...and a confederate stamp. I couldn't believe that I had a stamp in my hands that was 150 years old.

In 2007, I was dating my soon-to-be husband, and he told me that his dad liked stamps, and collected American stamps. I went to the little box where I kept tiny items that I love, and I pulled out my confederate stamp. I gave it to his father.

The stamp is always more than it appears to be: it is a gift. It is the great connector.

And now, very recently, I signed up with the site USA Philatelic/Beyond the Perf. They send me email updates about stamps and stamp releases. Sneak-peeks of the 2012 releases. I signed up for the USA Philatelic catalog and they sent it to me, free, in the mail. I perused and perused, and found some really exciting stamps.

When I forget my stamp-love, I am guilty of being one of those people who goes to the post office and says "I would like to buy a book of stamps." The post office clerk then slaps down a book of the Liberty Bell Forever stamps, and I buy them and walk away. But they don't make my heart swoon, those stamps. Looking at the Philatelic catalog, I remembered that the stamp you send says something about YOU.

A few days ago, I was going through my drawer of stamps and realized that most of mine are out of date. I have quite a few 37 cent snowman stamps. I have a few 41 cent stamps, etc. I had three panes of 28 cent postcard stamps, but now they're 29 cents. The only current stamps I had were Christmas stamps from last year. I decided it was time that I bought some new stamps.

I went to usps.com, to their online store and I purchased the following exciting stamps:

American Scientists (Forever)--Pane of 20

These stamps are lovely. I adore the fact that there is a woman physicist among them.

Pioneers of American Industrial Desgin (Forever)--Pane of 12

These are modern and bright. A perfect stamp for your mod friends.

Jazz (Forever)--Block of 10

What is more American than Jazz? A lovely piece of artwork. It looks like it sounds.

Herbs (.29 postcard stamp)--Pane of 20

Sweet herbs for your sweet little postcard. Imagine that you're Elizabeth Bennett.

Angel with Lute (.44 stamp)--Pane of 20

A lovely stamp for your Christmas cards.

Latin Music Legends (Forever)--Strip of 5

These I will send to my sister, who is a salsa dancer extraordinaire and loves Latin music.

Edward Hopper (Forever)--Block of 10

I would've loved his painting of the Nighthawks, but this lovely sailboat channels New England and a scene I can imagine Sylvia Plath seeing in the summers of her youth.

Tiffany Lamp (.01 stamp)--Pane of 20

A darling little "make-up" postage stamp for all those 28 cent postcard stamps I still have.

Chippendale Chair (.04 stamp)--Pane of 20

Another lovely design for a "make-up" postage stamp.

Today, I looked at the 2012 stamp releases on the USA Philatelic website, and there are some real knock-outs. I practically leapt out of my chair and shrieked when I saw that they will be releasing a "20th Century Poets" pane of stamps! Oh my goodness, oh my goodness! Sylvia Plath! A stamp with Sylvia Plath! Oh, she is my Elvis, my Beatles. And not only her, but Elizabeth Bishop and Theodore Roethke and E.E. Cummings and William Carlos Williams! Oh, I can't wait, I can't wait. The second they are released, I shall buy panes and panes of them, in droves. They are Forever stamps, so they will never expire. Oh, to put the faces of American poets on my letters to my poet friends in Virginia! Oh, to put the faces of poets on my letters to anyone! To the bank or the student loan or the gas company! Poets on stamps!

The stamp is a poem.

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