EDITOR’S NOTE: This story on stamp collecting is the second in a three-part series. On Sunday, we looked at cards. The series concludes Tuesday with a story on coin collecting.
Stamp collectors come in all different types, but one thing they have in common, according to John Nunes, is an interest in history.
“There’s a story behind every stamp, so if you’re any kind of student of history, those little images will be of interest to you,” said Nunes, president of the Federation of New York Philatelic Societies. “I’ve always loved collecting, and there are a myriad of ways you can build and design your collection. It’s a great hobby.”
For Nunes, it has developed into a business. He runs a show the third Sunday of every month at the Ramada Inn in Latham and is currently preparing for the Albany StampExpo 400 Quadricentennial Philatelic Exhibition set for Sept. 25-27 at the Empire State Plaza. More than 100 dealers from the U.S., Canada and Great Britain will be in attendance, and nearly 200 frames of competitive exhibits will be on display.
“It’s being hosted by a group commissioned by [former] Governor [George] Pataki and endorsed by both his successors,” Nunes said of the Albany exhibition. “It will be the biggest show of the decade.”
Boy Scout project
His interest in stamps began at the age of 10 in an endeavor to earn his first Boy Scout merit badge. He has remained a collector since then, although raising a family and a long career as a nuclear ceramist at Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory would often put his hobby on the back burner.
“But when I retired a few years ago, I really got back into it, and then it kind of blossomed into a business,” said Nunes, a Rochester native who went to Alfred University before getting his doctorate in nuclear ceramics at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. “It’s been a lot of fun.”
Now a Glenville resident, he has totally immersed himself into his hobby. Along with being president of the state society, he is treasurer of the Schenectady Stamp Club and the Uncle Sam Stamp Club in Troy, and serves on the board of the Fort Orange Stamp Club in Albany.
“It is declining as a hobby for people, but in the Capital Region we do seem to be in a hotbed of philately,” he said, pointing out that there are also active stamp clubs in Round Lake and Glens Falls. “We have five stamp clubs in the area and probably around 60 serious collectors who will join a society and take part in all the programs. Then we have the closet collectors; people who don’t belong to clubs, but will just go to the post office and buy stamps and then buy and sell them on the Internet.”
Much more to do
Those people, according to Nunes, are missing a lot.
“Our clubs put on some great programs with great speakers and the closet collectors out there don’t get to take advantage of that,” he said. “You can learn a lot from listening to other people, and it’s just fun to sit around and see what other people have and what they’re doing with their collection.”
Typically, most philatelics don’t have broad and all-encompassing collections. Rather, they are specialists. They might collect only presidential or railroad-related stamps, or stamps from a certain time period. Nunes’ specialty has actually taken him away from the traditional postage stamp.
“My interests have changed over the years, and lately I’ve been covering a lot of postal history collecting envelopes with stamps on them,” he said, referring to cinderellas, a stamp-like label that is not a postage stamp. “It’s fun to look at the history of a time period, say during a world war, and see how the mail was handled and censored and the rates that were applied. There are so many aspects to stamp collecting you can take it anywhere you want to. You can collect postmarks, and I know people who collect cancellations from towns within Saratoga County. It’s endless, and there’s always more to learn.”
Reaching the young
Nunes is hopeful that Albany StampExpo 400 will inspire new people to become collectors and join a local club, particularly young people.
“There isn’t that much today to draw young people into the hobby,” he said. “Hopefully, we can get them interested a little bit when they’re young, and then when they get older they can come back to it. It can be expensive, but for elderly people with a large degree of disposable income, it’s a great hobby.”
But, if you don’t have that much disposable income, you can still enjoy collecting.
“It’s fun just to set them out and look at them and see what you have,” said Nunes. “There’s also always the thrill of the hunt, but you don’t want to go into it thinking you’re going to find that one stamp that’s worth a million dollars,” he said. “There is that one in a million chance, but most of the material on the market today has passed through several hands. You’re not going to make a lot of money.”