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Building a bridge with postage stamps

Article and photos by Joe Gschwendtner

Photo postage stamps

This envelope combines history, art and currency to tell a story of the past and deliver correspondence in the present.

Years ago, I was a stamp collector; still am, I guess. A philatelist if I wished to impress someone. The hobby has done many things for me. It has taken me around the world geographically, taught me history of the United States and helped me appreciate my country and the ordinary people who became superstars when we led the world. Why not bring them and events alive again for your grandchildren?

Realizing years ago that skyrocketing postage rates and “forever” stamps were fouling our philatelic heritage, I came up with an idea: dressing up the mail, my way. It’s simple, really.

Buy quality old stamps discounted below face value, make a collage out of them to build to the postage rate (.55 cents today for a domestic letter and .35 cents for a postcard) and create art in the upper right-hand corner of the envelope or postcard. More on the acquisition process later…

In addition to doing this with bills and personal letters, since the first of my grandchildren was born in 2006, I’ve directed a staccato stream of postcards whenever the spirit moved me. Early on, this behavior served two purposes: keeping gramps (and his wisdom?) in front of the grandchildren and tantalizing them with places stateside and foreign I’d been privileged to visit. On postcards, I’d also tell stories on the back about the stamp(s) used in the upper right-hand corner, about truly significant events or people in our grand history.

Photo Old Postage Stamps

Decades of mailing postcards from travel destinations has led to a collection of memories and a piece of history.

Whether mom and dad read all this to them or not, each grandson’s card (in all three households) have been saved. Why? Because there was something special in receiving mail in the first place with spectacular pictures and perhaps more importantly, from a man the grandchildren did not know really deeply. My grandson sent me a picture of all the postcards he’s received lined up end-to-end on the floor of his home. Bushels.

My time will come. After I am gone, should the boys choose, they can pick the cards up again and learn about the life and beliefs of their grandfather, no longer available to tell stories and how it was in his days. In my heart, I know this will almost certainly happen with some, if not all of them. Can there be a greater gift to pass on to the generations following you?

The acquisition: Each year in May, I go to the Rocky Mountain Stamp Show. There, attended by a multitude of dealers, I can get serious deals on old U.S. mint postage. Sometimes, I can get as much as 30-40% off. Why? Once upon a time after World War II, people started not just collecting stamps, but in many instances hoarding them, expecting to “make a killing” as time went on. It didn’t happen, and as these collector/hoarders are dying off and selling their collections, dealers wind up with massive amounts of low value stamps that must be liquidated.

Come this May, I will be there again, looking for history markers to send to my grandsons. A labor of love. A message from the past. And communication from a generation long gone to one which will change their world just as we did ours.



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