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Monday, January 13, 2014

Memories: Childhood Stamp Collecting

The end of the year has always been the time of the year when I end up "taking inventory" of life, and where I am, and what I hope to do in the year ahead. I don't really do formal "New Year's resolutions" as I have a nasty habit of never making these goals.

One of the common Danish stamps from my childhood. It is even
(faintly) postmarked RUNGSTED KYST where we lived.
Putting away the Christmas decorations brought up some childhood memories, reminding me of my beginnings as a stamps collector. My parents had traveled extensively before they returned to Denmark to start a family, and they had made friends all over the world. And part of "keeping in touch" with this global group of friends involved the annual ritual sending of Christmas cards.

As a result, December was the time of the year when lots of mail would arrive from all over the world, in envelopes carrying stamps from many exotic places. And I got to keep all the stamps from the Christmas cards, which was very exciting.

Meanwhile, my dad would also bring home large numbers of stamps from the office. His company traded extensively with other companies and clients all over the globe, and there was usually an extra load of mail during December. That mail was particularly interesting because some companies and people would send gifts of various kinds, and those gifts would arrive in boxes actually franked with postage stamps from their countries of origin. This was the mid- to late 1960s, so stamps were still widely used on parcels. I didn't have a real concept of "high values" as a 7-year old-- I was just aware that the stamps were significantly "different" from the ones my dad brought home during the rest of the year

The 8 øre stamp from the 1875 "Bicolour" set was one of
the first "really old" stamps in my childhood collection.
Although I don't remember the exact way I "got started," I do remember my first stamp "album," which was a 16-page stock book with "picture cover" that was a collage of stamps from around the world. In fact, I still have it somewhere. I also remember getting old newspapers and "pressing" stamps in our phone books after soaking them off paper. I was impatient, so sometimes a stamp had to be soaked 2-3 times before it finally let go of all the glue and no longer stuck itself back to the newspaper.

Stamp collecting was pretty simple back then. My friends and I simply collected "stamps." That said, it was not long before we discovered that most of our stamps were from Denmark-- since that's where we lived-- so "collecting Denmark" seemed to make more sense than "collecting the whole world."

I remember buying my second stock book with my own lawn mowing money, because I wanted my Danish stamps to be in a book by themselves. I'd heard that that was what "serious" collectors did, and I wanted people to see that I was "serious" about stamps.

Stamp collecting-- back then-- was also a pretty common hobby for kids (and adults), although it seems that in my native Denmark there were far more stamp collectors than anywhere else I have lived, subsequently. At least 7-8 people in my grade school class of some 25 had stamp collections, and to the best of my knowledge, at least half of them went on to be collectors, as adults. There were also several stamp collectors in my extended family, and nobody thought that "collecting stamps" was even the slightest bit "odd," as something to do. It wasn't until I moved to Texas as a 20-year old to go to college that I first ran into people who'd look at me "strangely" and say things like "How weird. I thought that was just something cranky old retired guys do."

The fact that being a stamp collector has sometimes gotten me perceived as a bit of a "strange nerd" has never put me off the hobby... and now that I have been collecting for over 45 years, I still actively promote philately as something interesting to do, in your spare time.

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