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The Stamp Collection

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I took my stamp collection to a wizened man in my city, who dealt in collectibles – postage stamps, coins, silver.  I was moving across country, and since I would pay movers by the pound, I was de-accessioning pounds of precious possessions.

He saw lots of people like me.

When I was nine years old, in fourth grade, I was gifted an album for collecting stamps, and a glassine envelope filled with stamps from around the world.  The only other use I know for glassine envelopes was when they entered evidence as single-use heroin packages for a trial in which I was a juror, but that is another story.

Each Saturday I went to Woolworth’s and studied the countries and stamps from those countries available for purchase in perfect glassine envelopes.  My mother gave me her stamp collection, a book  which dated to about 1930, and so I had two albums of neatly affixed stamps on little double-glued hinges, which covered about forty years of changing geography and politics.

Stamp collecting was a terrific way to learn about different countries.  I was unfamiliar with most countries, but would look them up on the globe, also learning, for example, that Deutschland was Germany.  The stamps from 1930’s Germany bore pictures of Hitler.  Stamps from the 1950’s British Commonwealth, including some from the present day, bear pictures of Queen Elizabeth.  Mozambique, I still remember, had beautiful oversized stamps of colorful birds, insects, animals.

Looking through these collections of stamps, some 100 years’ old, made me proud of those careful girls, my mother and then me, who spent decades of Saturdays with magnifying glasses and reference guides and the surety we were assembling not only our personal histories but the histories of the decades.

“Very nice, very nice,” the collectibles dealer remarked as he flipped through the pages.  “There is no market.  No market at all for these,” he said, handing them back to me.  “All my buyers are dying, nobody cares about stamps anymore.” 

Email and self-adhesive “forever” stamps have taken the place of onion-skin blue envelopes, lightweight for international delivery, sporting stamps from countries around the globe.  People are more likely to visit Mozambique today than collect its stamps.

The recycling bin received 100 years of stamps.  No use passing them on, like a pan to hold embers, or a chamber pot. They served their purpose, twice–  delivering mail, delivering satisfaction.  

“The Snow Queen” was my very favorite Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, which I remember from an old book of his stories, colored illustrations protected by tissue paper inserts.  It has, of course, transmogrified into “Frozen,” and I can, with nine-year-old girls everywhere, tell myself “Let it Go.”

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