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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Memories: Finding Direction for my Collections

My father started me on stamp collecting, when I was maybe six years old and we were living in Denmark, where I was born and grew up. His original "purpose" in doing so was to teach me geography and world culture, through the images on stamps.

France Scott 1174, from 1967
For 3-4 years, my stamp collecting was strongly "guided" by my dad-- who pretty much told me "what" and "how" to collect. His interests were France, tropical islands and art... and that was reflected in the way he firmly guided me towards French stamps (and France was issuing quite a few large sized "art on stamps" at the time), as well as French dependencies like French Polynesia.

Of course, the only sources of these stamps were the incoming office mail at my dad's office, and going to a stamp dealer.

Meanwhile, lots of stamps from Denmark-- and neighboring Sweden-- poured in on envelopes in the daily mail. Naturally, I'd clip those and also get the ones that came from my dad's office.

However, my dad didn't really encourage me to collect Danish (or Swedish) stamps. In his opinion, they were "dull" and "ugly" and not worthy of collecting. At the same time, he was also dead set against my desire to collect stamps from Poland-- which I thought were very interesting and had lots of colorful pictures of animals and art.

"Nonsense!" said my dad, "those are 'gimmick stamps' created purely to take advantage of stamp collectors!" He was-- at least partially-- right, of course.

At the tender age of ten, I had amassed a pretty large hoard of Danish and Swedish stamps-- and most of my junior philatelist friends collected Denmark and Sweden. I was the only one who "collected" French art stamps, to be sure.

To this day, I remember the specific Danish stamp that led to my officially becoming a "Denmark collector" and to my father ending most of his interest in my stamp collecting endeavors.

Denmark AFA 485, from 1969
I was clipping the stamps from a stack of envelopes my dad had brought home from the office, when he passed and commented "I don't know why you even bother with that ugly junk. You can't even tell what it is!"

He was referring the to pictured 80 øre stamp from Denmark, issued in 1969. It was very common, at the time, as postage for oversized envelopes.

I don't remember the details of the rest of the conversation, just that I ended up telling my dad that I was "more interested in Danish stamps" than in "his" French ones. And with those words, I officially became a collector of Danish stamps-- even though I had already been "saving them" for four years.

Many years later, I came to understand that my dad's views on stamp collection-- and specifically on the issue of "French vs. Danish stamps" had little to do with stamp collecting, and a lot to do with the fact that he loved "all things French," while finding his native Danish culture small, narrow-minded and insular.

I still have my original collection of French stamps, started with my dad in a red "Abria" album. From time to time I pull out the album, and invariably find my way to the pages with the stamps issued between 1963 and 1970-- the period I have the strongest memory of. Now and then I do come across a French stamp I don't have in the collection (I stopped getting new pages in 1980) and add it to the appropriate space for it.

My Denmark collection, on the other hand, is large and varied and specialized and thriving... and has actually grown into a number of specialized "sub collections." Even though I haven't actually lived in Denmark since 1981, I never lost interest in collecting Danish stamps.

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