Stamp trading provides never-ending fascination
Westside Stamp Club members have fun while adding to their collections
Famous stamps in history include ones on mail that escaped the fire on the doomed airship Hindenberg" and were subsequently delivered; a few sheets of stamps misprinted in 1918 showing an upside-down JN-4 airplane; and ones on mail carried by Amelia Earhart on her first solo flight across the Atlantic in 1932 and on "Titanic" stationary posted on the ship before an iceberg struck and sunk it in 1912.
While stamps as rare and expensive as these may never find their way into local collectors' hands, that doesn't stop enthusiastic philatelists (stamp collectors) from trying to find new ones to add to their collections.
On the first Monday of every month, the Westside Stamp Club, which is composed of about 18 members, meets at the Tigard Senior Center to talk stamps, share stamps and go through boxes of stamps looking for the perfect additions to their collections.
The club was started by Don Mitchell in the early 1990s, and member Bill Seymour buys stamp lots on eBay from $25 to $40 and brings them to meetings for members to go through and purchase at the bargain price of one nickel each.
"We buy, sell and trade with each other," said club President Steve Turner of Monitor on Oct. 7. He also goes to Vancouver, Wash., once or twice a year for a big stamp sale to purchase stamp lots for the club.
"The lots are generally gone through, and you have to know what you want to buy," he said. "I bring along a catalog. Everyone has their own specialty."
His specialties include Japanese stamps and those used in the French colonies from the late 1800s up to 1975.
Turner, who worked for the Wilsonville Public Library for many years as its director and stills volunteers there as library director emeritus, said, "I read about the club on the Internet, and Wilsonville doesn't have one, so I started coming. This is a good bunch of people.
"Bill (Seymour) knows which ones are forgeries. He spent half an hour looking through a box before buying it for $100. These stamp sales are first-come, first-served. We do a lot of trading."
Bob Crooks of Hillsboro admits that collectors can be a bit fickle: "One week we like something, and the next week we don't," he said. "I got out my stamp books after I retired. My dad got me going on stamps in the late '50s, and now I have a pretty good collection.
"Stamps provide a real history lesson for kids. If you go through a stamp book and learn about each one, you will know as much about history as anyone."
Crooks collects only U.S. stamps, adding, "There are too many countries today! How can you keep track?"
He looks for pre-canceled stamps, noting that the early stamps were created by intricate workmanship and engraved. "I don't collect stamps made after the 1980s," he said. "They're a joke. And the self-sticking ones - how do you lift them off?"
Bill Seymour of The Dalles is the acknowledged expert of the group and the vice president of the Oregon Stamp Society.
"I started collecting when I was 7 or 8 years old," he said. "I put it aside when I was in high school and college and then picked it up again in my late 30s or early 40s. I'm a computer geek and look up stamp stuff online and do research and contact people."
His bible is the 2009 Scott Catalog, which is one of the most recognized tomes in the U.S. and encompasses six volumes.
Seymour, who collects stamps up to 1940, said, "Google is my friend.
The club members were excited that day because a woman who had been a collector had donated a big bag of stamps. Normally, members can take two or three months to go through collections looking for ones to purchase, according to Turner.
"Then we re-sell them," he said. "We take in very slightly more than we spend. If we have excess funds, we buy more stamps."
The Westside Stamp Club charges a very nominal annual fee of $5, while the Oregon Stamp Society charges members $24 per year.
Luckily, there is not much competition among the Westside Stamp Club members, "because we all pretty much collect different things," said Paul Stromberg of Wilsonville. "I've never seen any fights break out."
Seymour added, "It's a more cooperative venture. Often people move from one category to another."
And he pointed out an interesting fact: The U.S. honors every stamp printed, so theoretically, someone could use stamps from the Civil War to mail a letter, although the value of the stamps to collectors would be far higher than their postage value.
Some club members base their collections around themes, such as horses, hands, butterflies or flowers.
While club members were talking and sifting through boxes of stamps, Turner called out, "Anybody want to go through a bunch of Japanese stamps?"
Diane Barry of Tualatin has been in the club since it started, and has been collecting since she was in junior high school when she was inspired by a teacher to collect stamps, a hobby she passed on to her own kids.
Barry collects roses "since I live in the city of roses, and Portland has the international rose test garden," she said.
Going through a huge mound of stamps picking out some to purchase, she neatly put the ones she wanted into piles of five to make it easy to calculate what she owed at a nickel each.
"Otherwise, every time I'm counting, someone interrupts me, and I have to start over," she said.
But once Barry thought she was done, "I got three more just to have an even amount."
Sally Jones of Summerfield has been collecting stamps since she was a kid, noting, "I collect too many stamp themes - bugs, fish, butterflies, birds, Latin America. I also collect stamps with hands on them. You have to zero in on something, and I haven't achieved that yet. But I wouldn't want to come home with 300 more."
She also pointed out that when sorting cancelled stamps for 'topical' collections, the specimens usually are far from pristine usually.
One of those piles still needed soaking to remove the old envelope paper, she said. But care is still important - to a point. I'm not very speedy with tongs - it takes practice."
Andrew Held of Newberg, who specializes in stamps from Austria and other central European countries, said he has only been collecting for three years, "but it seems like forever!"
Turner noted that the club-owned stamps are sorted by country "so if someone comes in and asks for a country, we have it right there."
The club meets in the Tigard Senior Center, 8815 S.W. O'Mara St., Tigard, from 1 to 2:30 p.m. and interested people are always welcome.
For more information, people may call the Tigard Senior Center at 503-620-4613 or Turner on Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays at the Wilsonville Public Library at 503-682-2744, Ext. 1461.