In my previous post I provided an overview of what stamp collecting was about and the plus side of being a stamp collector. That post was primarily an objective look at the hobby and a general look at stamp collecting as a part of my life. This post will provide a closer look at my adventures as a stamp collector.
One doesn't usually think of stamp collecting as an adventure, but when you're a kid anything and everything can be an adventure. This is especially true when you receive a brand new boxed something or other labeled as a "kit" or "set". This mystery package is like a treasure chest waiting to be opened. I was thrilled when I received my first stamp collecting kit in 1960 when I was in the third grade.
My Discoverer Stamp Album kit provided everything I needed to get started as a stamp collector. The adventure began on the floor of my bedroom in the Clairemont Mesa neighborhood where my family lived in San Diego, California. I spent hours poring over that first packet of stamps and mounting them in my new album. I carefully studied the accompanying guide book to learn about the proper way to handle stamps and how to identify where they were from. I learned professional philatelic terms like perforations, watermarks, and plate blocks. Within several days I felt like I was becoming a professional stamp collector.
As with any collecting hobby, my adventure had now become a quest. I made regular visits to the Rasco Five and Dime store at the nearby Quad shopping center. This was the first store where I found a display of stamp collecting supplies. Whenever I was in Rasco's I would look through the packets of stamps to see which ones I would buy when I had enough money, If I had the money I would buy as many packets as I could afford. Little by little I began building a sizable collection.
When the Mission Valley Shopping Center opened in 1961, an amazing new world of stamp collecting was opened to me. The May Company department store had a complete philatelic department with stamps displayed in glass counters like jewelry. There were actual clerks who had expert knowledge in the field of stamp collecting. By this time I was a much more experienced collector, yet I was still a kid in the world of the stamp pros.
I always looked forward to my mother's trips to the Mission Valley Center (the term mall hadn't fallen into general use at that time). She would leave me at the philatelic department where I would stay until she was done with her shopping. Perusing the stamps on display I would make up my wish lists of the stamp sets I would hope to get for Christmas or buy with money I would be getting. The stamp prices here were higher end than those inexpensive packets at Rasco's, but this was real stamp collecting--complete sets, mint (unused) stamps, and harder to find stamps. My collection was becoming bigger and I had graduated to a much nicer hard cover stamp album. The larger selection offered by the May Company was now what I needed.
Wherever I went I was always on the lookout for places that sold stamps. I still recall the surprise of finding a box of assorted stamps at a penny a piece at a tacky souvenir store in Tijuana, Mexico. I bought several on that visit and since we went to the border town with some frequency I would usually return to see what new gems they had in the box.
Later, after we had moved to Northern Indiana in 1963, on one of our juggling performance trips playing county fairs, we stopped in the small town of Rush City, Minnesota. The only store open downtown--there really wasn't much of a town--was an old general store that had probably been there since the early part of the century.
Inside it was musty smelling and dimly lit. The place looked frozen in the past like no one had been there in decades. I don't know if the place was intended to be an antique store, but much of the stock on the shelves could probably be classified as antique. A congenial old man who was probably the owner was the only one there. While my parents looked about, I was drawn to some shelves along one wall and as though by instinct I found a cigar box filled with old stamps. They were four cents each--more expensive than the Tijuana store offered--but they were older stamps that made them more valuable.
I bought about twenty of the stamps that appealed to me the most. I don't know if I got a good deal or not, but I'm pretty sure they were worth more than I paid for them. They went back into my collection which was now fairly substantial--several thousand stamps mounted in six albums with many others tucked away in glassine envelopes stored in file boxes.
I had a very neatly organized collection. And this is how it remains. I stopped actively collecting in high school, but my interest has continued. One day the adventure may resume. But it was a fun adventure while it lasted.