Follow Scandinavian Stamps on Twitter!

Follow Scandinavian Stamps on Twitter!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Stamp Auctions, Nations, and "Image."

Today I'm going to pass up writing "about stamps" and instead embark on a little self-indulgent editorializing... although this definitely will relate to stamps and stamp collecting.

Yesterday I received a small printed "prospectus" in the mail from a large European stamp auction house. As a 40-some year collector, I've seen a few of these. I've also seen the way sellers of stamps present themselves... and what sort of "image" stamp collecting has, in different parts of the world.

As I read through this colorful brochure, I came to really have a moment of insight as to just how different things were-- and are-- for stamp collectors in parts of Europe, as compared to in the US. I don't know a lot about Asia and Australia, but I get the impression their stamp communities are doing fairly well.

I grew up in Europe; in Denmark, to be precise. Collecting stamps was pretty common. Nobody gave you a second glance if you told them you were a stamp collector. Odds were pretty good that when you talked to your neighbor, he or she probably was a stamp collector, too. Young people collected stamps, old people collected stamps, people somewhere-in-the-middle collected stamps. In the days before the Internet, you went to stamp stores... I had a list of about 20-25 of them around Copenhagen, that I'd go to. Some were good for supplies and stock books, some were good for kiloware, some were good for having "specials" on better stamps, now and then. Occasionally, I'd connect with my older cousin (also a stamp collector) and we'd go to a stamp show, or a stamp auction. I went to "stamp club" most weeks-- as I recall, Thursday afternoons were for "juniors." There was a stamp club in most suburbs.

I arrived in the US of A in 1981... to go to college at the University of Texas, in Austin. Naturally, I expected to find stamp collectors, stamp clubs and stamp stores, just like where I'd come from.

It was just part of the culture shock I experienced that there was no such thing. In a metro area of some 700,000, there was one small stamp club... which seemed to be (at least to my college eyes) made up of exclusively old men. It met once a month. My search for stamp dealers revealed just a couple... and one of them was "by appointment only."

So yesterday, I am looking at this brochure from the European auction house... it is now 30 years later. They do business from a large modern building. The "staff photo" reveals not a group of "old men," but a mostly middle-aged crew, about 60% men, 40% women. They certainly didn't appear "old and stuffy."

It made me realize how different the "image" of stamp collecting is, where I grew up vs. where I live now. I never got the impression people in Europe found it either "strange" or "uncool" to collect stamps... which was the subtle feedback I got when I arrived in Texas. It was as if "stamp collecting was for people to nerdy to have friends, and retired (usually military) people." More than once, I heard the words "Stamp collecting? Isn't that for OLD people?"

The negative connotations make me feel sad. I suppose what really makes me feel sad is that we seem to pay more attention to whether or not we are "doing something cool," than whether we're-- basically-- enjoying ourselves.

As I pondered this, I also realized that my collection has been built 95% by stamps purchased outside the US. Not because I have anything against purchasing from US dealers and auctions-- quite the contrary-- but I simply can't find what I am looking for, with any regularity, at all.

It does make me wonder, however, how the so-called "Hobby of Kings" has managed to get such a less than perfect "image," here in the US...

No comments: