Tiny, colorful clues — to past and future

A kiddie pool full of stamps serves to help get a younger generation hooked on the hobby. (Linda Baumeister/Review)
A kiddie pool full of stamps serves to help get a younger generation hooked on the hobby. (Linda Baumeister/Review)
Maplewood Stamp Club members pass around stamps at the meeting Sept. 24. (Linda Baumeister/Review)
Maplewood Stamp Club members pass around stamps at the meeting Sept. 24. (Linda Baumeister/Review)
Club members peruse the stamps, postcards, and more spread out on tables in anticipation of the evening’s auction. (Linda Baumeister/Review)
Club members peruse the stamps, postcards, and more spread out on tables in anticipation of the evening’s auction. (Linda Baumeister/Review)
Stamps covering a wide variety of subjects and countries intrigue stamp collectors. (Linda Baumeister/Review)
Stamps covering a wide variety of subjects and countries intrigue stamp collectors. (Linda Baumeister/Review)

That box of stamps from your grandfather — the colorful international ones you collected as a child — ever wondered what they might be worth?

At the "Stamps in Your Attic" event, part of the larger Metropex Stamp Show slated for the Roseville OVAL Oct. 16 and 17, you have the chance to find out.

Event organizer Pete Boulay, a member of the Maplewood Stamp Club, the area historical society and a state climatologist, notes that a professional appraiser will be at the event to look over people's stamps.

Further, the event draws together hundreds of people from the region to talk stamps, and sell and trade them. Dealers are on hand to sell stamps and also purchase collections.

A special area for kids offers a selection of free stamps and empty albums — for a glimpse of the scale of the giveaway, Boulay's own offerings come in a kiddie wading pool — to help get the younger generation hooked on the hobby.

What are they worth?

That's usually the question from outsiders, given the many book, TV show and movie plots that hinged on the discovery or sale of an astronomically priced stamp.

"A great many people used to buy full sheets of stamps from the post office, hoping they would go up in value. Their thinking was that they could always use them for postage," Boulay says. "They were correct about that."

These days, most stamps from the mid- and late 20th century are keeping about 60 to 80 percent of their value, he says. "I just mailed out a package today that had stamps that were 20 years old on it."

But that's just part of the equation.

"There are stamps worth money," Boulay notes. "And there are some odd things that can be worth money. They don't make old stamp hinges anymore — the mounting papers that could be removed without damaging the stamps. If you have packs of hinges that are over 30 years old, they are worth at least $10 a pack for something that was bought for 39 cents."

Boulay has been a stamp collector since he was 9, at about the time it took a 13-cent stamp to mail a letter or thank-you note to his grandparents.

Back then, he put all his early networking skills to use, obtaining German stamps from neighbor Anne Fosburgh (also a historical society member) when she received letters and packages from German relatives.

And once he entered high school at Hill Murray, he had the school secretary saving interesting-looking stamps for him. "I've always been something of a stamp scavenger," he reflects.

A window to the world from Wisconsin

Joyce Lindholm of White Bear Township grew up on a farm in western Wisconsin, "down near Plum City, 75 miles southeast of here."

The wonder of getting and posting her own three-cent letters — and, in those days, sending away for an envelope of assorted domestic and international stamps — caught the youngster's imagination. "They were pretty, and to receive them in the mail was just so exciting."

Lindholm found a fellow stamp aficionado in her husband's uncle, and when he passed his collection on to her in the early 1980s, "I jumped in with both feet."

By the time she retired as an inventory manager for the state department of human resources, Lindholm's love for stamps was so well-known her staffers pitched in to get her a U.S. #1 stamp — a 5-cent Benjamin Franklin issued in 1847.

The real prize for Lindholm is the interesting, enjoyable folks she's met. "Stamp collectors are really wonderful people," she says, though as one of just a few women active in the Maplewood club, she'd love to see more women involved.

"It's just a wonderful hobby, and you meet so many interesting people."

History in miniature

Bert Harris, member and former president of the Maplewood club, says his father was a stamp collector, and one day when Bert was just 6, was watching the boy struggle to color in tiny scraps of paper with crayons.

"He said 'What the hell are you doing?' I said, 'I'm playing stamp collector,'" Harris chuckles.

"He said, 'Well, how about I give you some of the real thing?'" and went upstairs to get some of his own collection for the boy.

Harris, of Burnsville, comes by his enthusiasm by heritage. After World War II, when Germany and Berlin itself were split into east and west portions with the east controlled by the Soviets and the west by the Allies, his great-aunt found herself on the eastern side of Berlin.

At the time, civilians could pass back and forth to shop or for appointments, but someone carrying baggage might have raised suspicion.

So, as the woman looked around for something of value to keep — something that might also serve as currency outside the country — she saw the family's stamp collection.

"She got a bunch of stamps and stuffed them in her brassiere and left with the clothes on her back," Harris says. "When she arrived in the U.S. my grandfather, her brother, had them appraised and wrote her a check for the full value. And eventually I got them."

With the German connection — both the great-aunt's collection and the letters Harris' family had been receiving from that branch of the family — he says he can trace a history of the country starting in the mid-1800s, when separate nation-states were being unified into Germany.

From there came the acquisition of territorial colonies and the buildup to World War I, traceable by territory names and stamps from occupied territories. After the war, economic disaster — particularly hyperinflation — is tracked in stamps' spiraling prices. "It would take a wheelbarrow of money to buy a loaf of bread, and that's very plain in the stamps," Harris says.

And, chillingly, in the mid-1930s lead-up to World War II, stamps that still had Chancellor Von Hindenburg's profile on them had their watermarks change, from a generic mesh pattern to a swastika. Was it a form of subliminal advertising to the populace and the world? "That's exactly what it was," Harris says.

Harris has a few stamps he considers valuable but most are common or imbued with sentimental value.

"That's the great thing about stamp collecting — economically speaking, you can collect at any level you want," he says.

Starting with Scouts

All involved agree what the hobby needs is an infusion of youth. Several members bemoan the loss of a teen who came to the Maplewood club meetings for several years but now is apparently at college.

The group's Facebook account can be rather sobering, as the feed lists obituary after obituary of former members.

But Jerry Kolton of Andover, another member of the Maplewood club, is trying to turn things around.

Kolton had something of a captive audience during the 35 years he taught eighth-grade science, and in addition to his proudest accomplishment — "I still have my hair — it didn't get burned off" — he could interest youngsters in collecting stamps or his other hobby, coins, and get them started.

At least in the early years.

"Then came Pokemon cards, and then came the Internet and cell phones," Harris recalls.

It dawned on him he needed a more organized approach, and when he heard the Boy Scouts offer a merit badge in stamp collecting, he signed on to mentor Scouts in collecting. He's seen several through to signing off on their badges at Honor Courts, but he faces an uphill battle.

"There's something like 180 merit badges offered in Scouting, and I just saw a 2012 figure of how they were ranked in the number of Scouts who earned them. Stamp collecting is like 175," he reports grimly. "Down at the bottom of the barrel with bugling."

That's why he recently contacted Roseville-area Scout leaders personally to invite Scouts to attend the Metropex show in uniform, as dealers are aware of the merit badge and often give out free stamps.

"The last time we had a show, only one kid came in uniform, and one of the things he walked out with was a six-inch-thick stamp album a dealer gave him. The little guy made out like a bandit."

Siblings are also invited to take advantage of the free stamp area.

And, if they run into Kolton at the show, they'll have all the knowledge and enthusiasm they need to start. "I have 'em just dig in and I love it when they ask questions — 'Where's this from? How come it has that on it?' One kid got a billion-pengo stamp from Hungary and was just thrilled. Of course, it was a billion because of the inflation, but he didn't care; he had a stamp worth a billion of something and he thought he was rich!"

And though he rushed to break up a brief scuffle between two Scouts who both wanted the Hitler stamp at one of his merit-badge meetings, the zeal indicates to Kolton there are kids out there who, like him, want to "hold history in your hand."

"It's like teaching — you just plant the seed. And then you find that kid where you see the light bulb go on. That makes it all worthwhile."

Holly Wenzel can be reached at review@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7817.

‘Stamps in Your Attic’ — and more

The Metropex Stamp Show will be held at the Roseville OVAL, 2661 Civic Center Drive, northwest of Lexington Avenue and County Road C, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, Oct 16 and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 17.

The event offers:

• “Stamps in Your Attic,” a chance to have stamps evaluated and priced by a professional appraiser

• a special kids’ area with free stamps and albums

• the chance to find out more about stamps and collecting from the hobbyists attending the show

For more information look for maplewoodstampclub on Facebook.

Maplewood group

The Maplewood Stamp Club was founded in 1964 by former Maplewood mayor Forrest Schmid and city recreation department staffer Ruby Mullet.

The group averages 40-50 members per meeting, draws from as far away as Andover and Burnsville, and is one of the most active in the metro area.

The group gathers at First Lutheran Church, 4000 Linden St., White Bear Lake, at 7 p.m. the fourth Thursday of each month.


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