Wisconsin Federation of Stamp Clubs (WFSC)
Across the Fence Post Newsletter
1999 Selected Articles

          This page includes selected articles from the 1999 issues of Across the Fence Post.


January issue

My Most Valuable Find

By Mike Lvbarper Badger Stamp Club

Mike Lybarger wrote ATFP's feature article that appeared in the September 1997 issue. He teaches history and political science at Edgewood College in Madison, WI.

At DANEPEX '96, the Badger Stamp Club's annual show, I purchased a box lot from Dennis Lemke, owner of University Avenue Stamps in Middleton, WI. I often buy box lots, but I never found any as valuable as the one I bought from Dennis that day.

Upon arriving home, I proceeded to examine my purchase, which had two layers. The first layer consisted of stamps, both mint and used, loose and in envelopes, off and on paper. I then began to open some of the envelopes. The first one was full of mint stamps of the 1916-24 Harvesting and Parliament Building issues of Hungary. A second was full of mint German inflation issues of 1923. Few, if any, cataloged over 15-cents. Memories came flooding back.

I started my first stamp collection longer ago than I care to remember. I probably became hooked on stamps when one of my friends showed me his collection. Like everyone else, I first looked through family correspondence seeking ways to fill my album - a spiral notebook. One day, while rummaging through the drawers of a tall bookcase-desk in our living room, I found an envelope marked "Treasure Chest of Stamps." As I examined its contents, I was convinced that I had indeed discovered treasure. The envelope contained many mint stamps with and without overprints. The most numerous were the Hungarian over-print and German inflation issues found in my 1996 box lot purchase.

Duplicates of these stamps were traded to my friends and fellow collectors, who were most taken with the highly prized German - inflation issues. The idea that a stamp could be issued in a denomination of 250,000,000 of anything impressed us beyond words. Since none of us had ever heard of a Scott catalog, we could place very high values on our treasures.

The Hungarian overprint stamps were puzzles for a nine- or 10-year-old. I didn't even know what "Magyar" meant. My father told me it meant "Hungary," but he couldn't help me any further. He suggested that I talk with some Hungarian immigrants in town. I did so and learned more than I ever thought I could.

They told me about the monarchy (Figure 1), the revolt after Hungary's defeat in World War I, the proclamation of the republic after the revolt (Figure 2). A second revolt and the Soviet state that followed (Figure 3). A civil war, which prompted their leaving Hungary for the United States. The defeat of the Soviet republic and the return of the monarchy under a regency (Figure 4). The occupation of parts of Hungary by French, Romanian, and Serbian (Figures 5-7) troops. Their stories were so interesting that I started reading history. Later, it was my memory of those stories that helped shape my desire to study history as a career.

While it was possible to learn about the circumstances surrounding the issuance of some of my stamps, it is almost impossible now to describe my friends and our ignorance of even the most elementary facts about stamp collecting. The mint stamps were licked and pasted in our spiral notebook albums. Later (much later) my friends and I found out about hinges. Until then, we cut up the selvage on the German and the Hungarian stamps and used it as hinges. We also used Scotch tape, brown paper tape, school paste, and nearly anything else that would stick.

The second layer of the box lot accounted for the fact that the box was so heavy. Here I found old stamp albums, two of which had special significance. There was an Ivory Stamp Club album, which was distributed during the later 1930s as an Ivory Soap Co. promotion. No, I was not collecting stamps in the 1930s, but some adult gave me a copy of the album in the late 1940s and it was the first album I ever owned. With it came a few small packets of stamps: Hungarian, Russian, and..., Tanna Touva? Not even my fifth-grade geography teacher knew where that was, nor was it shown on the maps in my geography books.

The real treasure in this second layer was a red Modern Postage Stamp Album with a 1946 Scott copyright. I could scarcely believe my eyes. Here was a copy of my first real album! I remember spending the then unheard of sum of $5.95 (which represented several allowances as well as lawn mowings) to buy that album, which also got me a pack of stamp hinges, a magnifier, stamp tongs and a small paperback book titled "How to Collect Stamps." The book taught me about hinges, how to use the magnifier, watermarks, and other useful information.

It now became necessary to transfer my stamps from the spiral notebook and the Ivory Stamp Club album to the real album. Since the stamps were for the most part mounted with paper tape and selvage, it was necessary to soak them before remounting (with hinges this time) in my new album. I still recall spending wintery Sunday afternoons soaking, drying, and mounting stamps while listening to "The Shadow," "Captain Midnight," and other radio shows. In my imagination I traveled to many of the countries whose stamps I handled.

At about the same time, I found other sources for stamps. My father served on a survey ship in the Western Pacific immediately after World War II. He sent me mint stamps from the Solomon Islands, New Caledonia, French Polynesia, and the Fiji Islands. The Solomon and Fiji stamps were the most beautiful I had ever seen. They depicted scenes of everyday life: boats, native houses, fishermen, palm trees, etc. They were beautifully printed. Under my new magnifying glass the ink stood away from the white surface in little ridges of - color. One morning when I was recovering from the mumps, my father took a map and showed me the places his ship had visited and described for me the scenes on my stamps as he had seen them.

I wish I could say that my juvenile collection served as the base for my present collection. But it was not to be. My first collection was destroyed when our house burned. At about the same time, I discovered baseball and girls, so I probably would never have had the time for stamps until I had finished college and graduate school and, with my wife, raised a family.

About 10 years ago, one of my daughter's friends shared his United States collection with me, and I was hooked again. I still collect the world to 1972. I have chosen 1972 because that is the latest used Scott International album I have been able to purchase. I also still collect almost any stamp that interests me. True to my earlier experiences, I especially like Germany, Hungary, Eastern Europe and British possessions in the Pacific. Any stamp with an overprint has my immediate attention.

I read Linn's Stamp News, Global Stamp News, Stamp Collector, the American Philatelist, ATFP, and just about anything else I can find about stamps. I buy box lots, organize them, take what I wish, and resell the rest - if I can bring myself to part with any of the stamps.

And so it is on wintery Saturday and Sunday afternoons and evenings I can be found soaking, sorting and cataloging my stamps just as I did more than 40 years ago. A CD player replaces the radio now, but I look at Hungarian overprints and German inflation issues closely; still looking for superb used examples to add to my collection. Whenever a stamp from post-World War I Hungary, Germany or the Solomon Islands appears, I sit back, smile a bit and think of similar days when I first soaked and mounted those stamps.

I have purchased other box lots that were a good deal more expensive than the one I got from Dennis. But I have never found a more valuable one. What a wonderful hobby we enjoy! •


February issue

Thoughts on the Joys and Agonies of History as Told by Stamps

By Richard D. Ralston. Wisconsin Postal History Society

Richard Ralston is professor and chair of the Department of Afro-American Studies, UW-Madison. He holds a Ph.D. degree in history and anthropology, with published credits of nearly 50 major articles and book chapters. He is also a member of the Wisconsin Humanities Council Speakers Bureau and presented a seminar at STAMPSHOW '97, which was held in Milwaukee.

Part 1 - "Killing" the Dreamer: The King Stamp


For me, stamps represent more than mere postage. While its unit cost changes from time to time, as an historical artifact it is cheap at any cost. I call myself a stamp historian and a student of postal history, which is quite different from collectors who buy or subscribe to uniform runs of first-day covers, value mint condition stamps, and strive to fill spaces in their albums. These folks have stacks upon stacks of albums and paraphernalia - hinges, glassine envelopes, watermark detecting materials, and perforation gauges - and dream of finding one of those rare stamp misprints or goofs.

What kind of collector am I? I don't collect for rarity. I don't collect for errors. I don't even collect for completeness. Only grudgingly did I fork over the 10 bucks necessary for the special Badger-Bruin Rose Bowl cover that every Wisconsin collector should have. I do enjoy poring over those unsorted stamp mixtures every coin and stamp shop has, and at shows, look for me ghoulishly up to my elbows in crash covers. Or enjoying the sight of mail that did not go through with its interesting history revealed by the markings on this "failed mail."

My interest resides in stamps as part of the whole mail-moving enterprise as history that extends from postal workers, sorters, carriers, to "killers" and covers and, of course, to the little engine without which none of the standard challenges of snow and sleet would matter - the stamps. Who or what is depicted on the stamp over time and what that says about what is happening in the rest of the society.

Stamps as teaching tools

By scholarly profession as an Africanist historian with a special interest in the historical relationship between the United States and Africa, I have collected stamps from all over the world. I make frequent use of stamps as subject matter and as historical artifacts in my history courses on Africa, the Caribbean, and the Upper Midwest. For example, it is possible for students to explore the social, economic and natural history of the Caribbean basin through its stamps, depictions of flora and fauna on Trinidadian stamps, the domestic economy of Haitian women, the arrival of the English featured on Barbadian stamps, and the Columbus "discoveries" told through a joint Italian-Spanish stamp issued in the Virgin Islands.

American postal history has reflected many prevailing societal attitudes toward African Americans and other "minorities." It wasn't until 1940 that the U.S. Postal Service issued its first stamp featuring an African-American subject, a stamp commemorating the 75th anniversary of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery (Figure 1). Tuskegee educator Booker T. Washington (after much lobbying by supporters) became the first black individual depicted on a stamp, a 10c issue printed in the same year (Figure 2).

Following Washington's appearance were stamps depicting Iowa-educated agricultural scientist George Washington Carver (1948, Figure 3), and a second Booker T. Washing-ton stamp (marking the centennial of his birth in 1956). Frederick Douglass, the renowned abolitionist writer and orator was pictured on a first-class stamp in 1967 (Figure 4). Two years later, the Postal Service "stamped" St. Louis Blues composer W. C. Handy (1969, Figure 5), and soon Ohio poet Paul Laurence Dunbar (1975, Figure 6). They were practically the sole examples of African Americans on U. S. stamps until the ballyhooed Black Heritage series (1978- ).

Other black-subject stamps did appear from time to time, including key historical depictions such as the stamp marking the centenary of the Emancipation Proclamation (1963).

For my university course that deals with Wisconsin history, I can always find reason to illustrate the ethnic history of the region by displaying stamps as texts. For example, the Scott Joplin stamp (issued in 1983) allows me to speak about Joplin's importance in the history of Missouri and American popular music (Figure 7); and Jean Pointe DuSable, whose migrations up the Mississippi River led to the founding of the settlement that became the city of Chicago, pries open much history of trade, population migration, and community building using his 1987 stamp (Figure 8).

Meantime, the Frederick Douglass stamp, apart from suggesting the history of the abolition movement, allows a probing of the many sides of Wisconsin reform history, inasmuch as Douglass, whose message had been embraced, was once denied housing in Janesville during a visit there in 1899. And Martin Luther King Jr., depicted in the Black Heritage series (1979), allows one to learn about his lecture at UW-Madison in 1962.

I wish there were more of these stamps. Frequently, I have to "improvise" with conventional (and much heavier) book texts that students secretly despise.

The King stamp

Let us follow the trail of national recognition of a black leader - Reverend King - whose birthday is celebrated this month, and the way a postage stamp played a role in both revealing and affecting national attitudes toward Dr. King.

Martin Luther King, Jr. died 31 years ago this year. He would have been 70 years old on January 15. The initial focus included a national holiday to celebrate his birth. Indeed, almost from the time of his assassination in 1968, admirers began to urge national recognition. Shortly after the King assassination, a Florida polling institute conducted an attitude survey and found that 57 percent of whites polled were either "elated or indifferent" about the murder and another 17 percent thought the killer should be congratulated. Moreover, when King's picture was placed on the cover of Time magazine 10 years earlier (1957) as "Man of the Year," the magazine was swamped with 2,500 letters in response, more than half of them furious at the choice.

Altering the American calendar was not going to be easy. The holiday would be too costly, it was too soon. Or as Congressman John Ashbrook (R-OH) put it: "Someone might get the idea that Martin Luther King was someone important." - While some thought of Dr. King as a hot stove - sending out heat to warm the cold around him - others obviously thought of him as a crackling tire, threatening to burn out of control. Moreover, the King Birthday bill and King himself were ridiculed as well as resisted with direct, ad hominem attacks. There were the so-called "Martin Luther Coon" parties held as recently as 1987 and many anti-King jokes in Madison, as well as across the country during the birthday debate. Indeed, a Washington, D.C. disc jockey, known affectionately by his followers as "Greaseman," casually joked during a radio broadcast that "if the assassination of a black leader was cause for one day off, then killing four more would get us the rest of the week off."

In 1986, the King birthday was celebrated as a federal holiday for the first time. The city of Madison renamed Monona Avenue, at the cross-section of which stand three important civic buildings (City Hall, the Municipal Building or old Post Office, and now the new Frank Lloyd Wright Convention Center) Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, although not without protests from territorial purists.

Kisha Moreira of Bronx, NY, not yet born when King was killed, gave a simple reply to the debate swirling in the country but which the Postal Service had managed to overcome. In one of the winning essays in a 1988 National Park Services contest to commemorate the King birthday, she wrote:

His dream is mine. I am convinced that one person can nuke a difference... Nothing is impossible if the dream exists... I practice thinking and believing, for I too am a dreamer.

Surely, the back of the resistance to national recognition for Martin Luther King Jr. was partly broken by the issuance of the King stamp on his birthday at the end of the previous decade. In sort, years before the King holiday was accepted, Americans had already begun placing King's image on their most precious possessions, their mail to the power company and to relatives. The humble stamp was quietly elevating Dr. King to first-class status as it simultaneously sent the first-class mail on its way.

Next time, in honor of Black History Month, I will tell you how one could teach a whole course using only the dates of the month of February and relying largely on stamps to illustrate that history. •


March issue

Thoughts on the Joys and Agonies of History as Told by Stamps

Part 2 - February A Short Story in American and African American History

Part / of this feature appeared in the February issue of Across the Fence Post.

By Richard D. Ralston Wisconsin Postal History Society

February is a fun month. Backed up by official proclamations and greeting card companies, we celebrate a smorgasbord of events: Groundhog Day, which lets us know how warmly to dress for the next six weeks; Valentine's Day, which lets us make up for neglect of loved ones; the birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln fuel patriotic fires; and for those with more obscure knowledge, the birthday of Vanna White. In addition, a postage stamp issued four years ago reminded us that February is the birthday of the comic strip character "Popeye."

February and black history

For African Americans, February occupies a central place in black history and for reasons not generally celebrated by the society at large:

Feb. 1 - The Greensboro student sit-ins that launched the modern civil rights movement began in 1960.

Feb. 2 - Birthday, author Langston Hughes.

Feb. 4 - Birthday, Rosa Parks, heroine of the Montgornery bus boycott.

Feb. 5 - Birthday, Milwaukee home run king Henry Aaron.

Feb. 6 - Birthday, singer Natalie Cole.

Feb. 8 - Marcus Garvey was imprisoned at the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary,

Feb. 12 - Bill Russell, who began the Celtic dynasty, was imprisoned. And, the most durable civil rights protest organization, the NAACP, was founded on this date in 1909.

Feb. 14 -Birthdays, Richard Allen (1760-1831), founder of the AME Church; Frederick Douglass (Figure 1); and dancer Gregory Hines.

Feb. 15 -In 1957, Martin Luther King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference was founded.

Feb. 19 - W.E.B. DuBois organized and launched the first Pan African Congress in Paris on this date in 1919.

Feb. 20 - Birthday, blues singer Nancy Wilson.

Feb. 21 - A man called the "Black Shining Prince," Malcolm Shabazz (Figure 2), was assassinated in 1965.

Feb. 23 -Birthday (1868), W.E.B. DuBois (Figure 3), one of the founders of the NAACP.

Feb. 25 -Birthday, journalist George Schuvler.

Feb. 27 - Birthday, saxophonist Dexter Gordon.

Frederick Douglass also died during his birth month of February. Fittingly he has been depicted on two U.S, stamps.

And so, the events that have taken place it this single month cover African American history, politics, music and dance, biography, journalism, sports, international linkages, and criminal justice experience.

Woodson - the "Father of Black History"

I once tried to organize a college course based on the days of the single month of February. Could I rely on nothing but stamps as visuals'.' To a surprising degree, much of the story could be illustrated through stamps depicting the individuals mentioned.

Other folks or events not captured - many are still alive - may be accessed by going through the door opened by the one historian associated with February, the "Father of Black History," Dr- Carter Gadwin Woodson (Figure 4).

It was in 1926, 73 years ago, that Woodson, son of Virginia slaves, audaciously set out to create out of whole cloth an African American holiday, something that had been denied to the descendants of slaves. The holiday would be observed during the second week of the second month and Woodson called it "Negro History Week." The second week in February held special significance because it contained the birthdays of two giant 19th century contemporaries associated with black and white history: Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.

Woodson earned a Ph.D. at Harvard but had "dropped out" of mainstream academia to devote his life to the scientific study of black experiences in America, Africa and throughout the world. Although he was called the "Father of Black History," ironically, Woodson believed that there was no such thing. In his view, that which was called "Negro history" was only a missing segment of world history. Woodson took concrete steps to reach audiences of every description, whether the intellectuals or common people, in order to correct historical errors of omissions and commission.

He began in 1915 by organizing the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, with local branches throughout the country. The association promoted the study of the history and culture of the African and African- American past at every level, in diverse walks of life.

Second, in 1916, intending to help black scholars to find a medium of publication for their scholarship. Woodson founded the Journal of Negro history, which became one of the most important publications of serious history.

Third, inasmuch as he thought a learned journal and an annual meeting of his scholarly association might not reach the common folk, he established a week's focus on black history. Fifty years later, during the national bicentennial celebrations, Woodson's weeklong black heritage observance was expanded to include the entire month of February.

DuBois and the NAACP

Another black scholar, W.E.B. DuBois, who in 1895 was the first African American to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard, preceded Woodson’s work. In 1909 DuBois played a key role in the founding of the NAACP. The NAACP used the mails both to organize and to sustain branches around the country, including especially selling subscriptions to The Crisis (Figure 5), which DuBois edited. When the magazine offered vivid coverage of the plight of African Americans at home and on the war front the postmaster general declared it so dangerous that he held up copies in the mails and for a time threatened to revoke second-class postage privileges for the journal.

One of the earliest subscribers to The Crisis and the founder of an NAACP branch was William Miller of Madison, in whose house DuBois himself (and Booker T. Washington) resided on a number of visits to Wisconsin.

Paul Robeson

In plotting my imaginary course - a month in the history of African Americans and the nation - I became more aware of folk missing from this small history lesson. It was an easy next step to join the campaign to help the country express overdue pride and acknowledgment for a great citizen, Paul Robeson. The manager of Stamp Development warned me about the slowness of the process: "[e]ach year the Postal Service receives thousands of letters suggesting hundreds of different topics for new stamps.

Since 1957, the Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee has reviewed many worthy subjects and has recommended a limited number based on national interest, historical perspective, and other criteria."

Robeson moved across a wide spectrum of activities and public challenges, achieving world-class regard as a balladeer, actor, humanitarian, and tighter of conscience. His credentials for a U.S. Postal Service stamp are considerable. As an athlete, he ranks with numerous athletes already honored by the Postal Service (Jim Thorpe, Babe Ruth, Jackie

Robinson, Joe Louis, all of whom were his contemporaries). Although he may have thought of himself as more a singer (who can be unmoved by his unforgettable rendition of "Old Man River"'') than an actor, as an actor of Shakespearean and modern texts, he ranks with many already honored by the USPS for such artistic achievements. As a courageous pioneer of human spirit, Roberson ranks with Amelia Earhart, Charles Lindbergh, and Bessie Coleman, all whom have been honored with stamps As a humanitarian and campaigner for human rights, he ranks with Susan B, Anthony, Ralph Bunchr, and Martin Luther King, all previously and deservedly affixed to the envelope of the nation's imagination.


There are numerous other examples that show how we differ about who is a hero. Without Black History Month many black holidays would still be hidden from mainstream Americans. The stamps that recognize African American heroes and holidays provide just small tantalizing windows on the larger ethnic story of American history. But enough of this story has been captured "philatellically" to produce both joy and agony. In other words, making it "tell able" story using stamps and other postal materials is not a bad way to combine two personal interests - stamps and history - and to beat cabin fever.

Too bad February is so short. •


April issue

Ancient Recollections

Part 1 – Savings and Ration Stamps

By Vern Witt Sheboygan Stamp Club

With the expected 1940s Celebrate the Century issue, I asked Vern to tell us about stamp collecting in that decade. His thoughts immediately turned to World War II, and 1 had the article in hand by October 1998. This was well before the issue theme had been announced, proof that the war, indeed, had a tremendous impact on American lives. Part 1 of Vern's recollections reveals that although these items weren't used to carry the mail, the 1940s produced an abundance of collectible stamps. Part 2 focuses on postal history of the era to round out a fine example of a U.S. World War 11 thematic collection.

Vern is a member of the Wisconsin Philatelic Hall of Fame, an accredited WFSC judge, and former two-term president of the WFSC. - ed.

Parents didn't understand their children’s' purchases of bubble gum in the late 1930s, having just emerged from a disastrous depression when money was still scarce. One couldn't eat the gum and when it failed to bubble and the flavor was gone, it was discarded. The gum manufacturers found a way around the problem by including baseball players' pictures in the 3-by-4-inch packets and creating a desire to collect as many picture cards of the children’s' then-heroes as possible.

This was followed shortly by enclosing sets of stamps (from H.E. Harris and others) in the packets. Obtaining a set of the Spanish Goya Nudes stamps introduced me to philately.

In the year 1940, our government (like many other nations) propagandized the citizenry with National Defense stamps purportedly to protect us from the escalating European conflict. These soon gave way to win the War stamp and the famous Overrun Countries issue as demand for higher value postage for packages to servicemen increased. Since the 1938 Presidential series of stamps included values to $5, few other issues were forthcoming. The main thrust was toward airmail stamps and most of these went overseas.

About this time, the government issued defense savings bonds with small albums and stamps to fill them until the albums became worth enough to convert to bonds. After our entry in the hostilities the name was changed to war savings bonds. This was merely an extension of the postal savings stamps that had been issued years previously.

At the beginning of hostilities in World War II it became apparent that our production facilities could not simultaneously support the civilian economy and military demands. Rationing of foods, shoes, gasoline, clothing, tires, and many other items was the means to provide an equitable system of distribution.

This necessitated ration books that included stamps. The books were issued to each individual in a family. A wartime total of four books were forthcoming, each with different stamps. This provided a whole new concept to stamp collecting.

Since civilian motor vehicle production had been suspended, an annual tax stamp was imposed primarily to rise financing for wartime expenses. These stamps were the only stamps ever produced with gum on the front surface (to fasten to the inside of automotive front windows).

May/June issue

Ancient Recollections

Part 2 - Postal History

By Vern Witt, Sheboygan Stamp Club

Wartime was a virtual bonanza for budding philatelists as mail from foreign nations suddenly mush-roomed. Most servicemen were able to frank their mail "FREE," and this introduced a whole new dimension for cancel collectors. To protect troop movement information, most return addresses included only an APO and the port of mail departure such as New York or San Francisco. "APO" (Army Post Office) and a number indicated to postal authorities the destination of each item be it to Africa, Europe, or ships at sea, which were FPO (Fleet Post Offices).

As the Pacific Theater opened, quantities of mail exploded and handling became burdensome. In response, V-mail was developed. The procedure consisted of opening each letter and microfilming its contents thus putting hundreds of letters on each film. In the United States or receiving port of entry, the microfilm was printed on photographic paper, placed in a window envelope and sent on its way.

While some collected various types of free mail, others collected various APOs, and still others acquired the many different V-mail forms. Today, these are postal history collections.

Of special mention are the R.F. (Republique Francaise) overprints - U.S. stamps used by French Armed Forces on mail to the United States only. Political spoils? You guess!

World War II dominated the 1940s and as a result many achievements were overlooked. The U.S. 1940s Celebrate the Century stamp issue recalls some of

these achievements and gives them the recognition that is their due. We're reminded of developments such as

penicillin, big

band music, the jitterbug, broadcast television, and finally the organization of the United Nations (upgrading the old League of Nations) in San Francisco in 1945, and then on to New York where a new building gave the United Nations critical political status to the world.

With the cessation of hostilities, secrecy was no longer primal. This spawned a whole new field of commemorative covers and cancels, which had a sparse beginning in the 1930s. These were primarily ship and base cancels, with some air flight and exploration items, too.

An abundance of 3^ commemoratives were issued in the late 1940s (over 40), with the largest number introduced in 1948. This exposed stamp collecting to the public and promoted our hobby.

Philately grew by leaps and bounds after our servicemen returned with the stamps they acquired overseas. They joined the many stamp clubs and specialty groups

Commemorative and air flight covers.

that had been formed during the Great Depression as an inexpensive recreational activity. Young people beginning collecting had few mentors to guide them and was left to their own devices. As a result, stamps were mounted in 100 stamp albums (from Kresge or Woolworth stores) with wallpaper paste or the newly introduced Scotch tape. Stamp approvals from Mystic, Garcelon, or HonorBilt

(H. E. Harris Co.) were other sources, mainly for worldwide collections.

Well-meaning relatives often contributed stamps cut from envelopes (including several with trimmed off perforations), and correspondence with relatives overseas resulted in many specialty collections. Duplicate stamps were filed away in used envelopes and kept for trading.

Unfortunately, stamp clubs were largely out of the reach of youth unless relatives or acquaintances invited them. The Boy Scout merit badge program, however, resulted in many die-hard philatelists. Local

librarians, benevolent postal clerks, and some teachers also provided encouragement.

Sad to say, TV has decimated youth stamp collecting in recent years and philately seems to be in decline. This puts the onus on current collectors to do everything possible to further the hobby among youth and even retired seniors. Do what you can!

July/August issue No selected article this issue

September issue

CTC Train Almost Blown Away in Wisconsin

By Paul T. Schroeder. Oshkosh Stamp Club

The Celebrate the Century Express train is traveling across some 40 states over a two-year period ending in the year 2000. It is sponsored by the U.S. Postal Service as a traveling exhibit in connection with the 150 stamps being issued in honor of major events and people of the 20th century. The train made back-to-back stops in Wisconsin in only two cities: Green Bay and Oshkosh. It was my fortune to visit the train in Green Bay and to work as a volunteer at the Oshkosh stop.

A staff of 10 people who travel by van and truck between each stop operates the exhibit. They are assisted by local postal employees, and in the case of Oshkosh, some 40 volunteers who helped during the three days.

Amtrack is operating the train with the help of various railroads and several national and local sponsors. In Green Bay, the train was situated next to the Titletown Brewing Co., a local restaurant located in the former Chicago and North Western passenger station. In Oshkosh, local support came from the lakefront Pioneer Inn Resort and Marina. The train was on a rail siding, just off the Wisconsin Central Ltd. Railroad main line. Other local help came from the Georgia Pacific Co. plants. They provided bus transportation for the school-aged students attending.

For train buffs and postal history fans, the train was a perfect event. They enjoyed the modern Amtrak P42 Genesis series diesel locomotive, the historic observation passenger car, the Southern Railroad No. 36 railway post office car, and

the special postmark offered in each city.

The one-of-a-kind paint job on the locomotive had people lining up to take pictures. It featured a bright yellow background, king-size enlargements of the CTC stamps, and old postmarks from cities across the country. The RPO car was built by the Pullman Co. in 1926 and is the sister of the car shown on the 21-cents precanceled coil stamp issued by the USPS in 1986. Some 10,000 hours of restoration work was needed so the car could travel the rails again. The car has that fresh-from-the-factory look to it, but many of us who have been on working RPO cars in their latter days knew most of them had a more grimy and worked-in look.

The train traveling crew has been on the road since the first stop in Tampa, FL, in March 1998. They had learned to adjust to conditions at each location, but Oshkosh presented them with a new problem. Time had been spent on Thursday getting needed tents in place, chairs set up for the opening program, and parking area roped off. All of this effort was taken out and almost blown away when a late-afternoon thunderstorm and higher than anticipated winds blew the tents down, with chairs landing across the street on the banks of the Fox River. With the power out, a volunteer training session was held by candlelight next to large skylit windows at the Pioneer Inn. Over an hour into the presentation, the power was

restored and we got to see the mandatory safety tape and learned that this was to be a fun event for all. Replacement tents were being put up as I found my parking place on Friday morning.

Many of the volunteers helped with traffic flow, getting people into the parking lots, finding the train entrance, and making sure people seldom around trains kept at a safe distance. My duties found me in the USPS sales tent doing philatelic and souvenir postmarking. Modestly priced at $2 was a full-color cacheted envelope showing the train with the local postmark on a CTC stamp. For 45-cents a full-color post card with collectible stickers on the face of it was a hit. For the true train buff, a Lionel

model freight car with special CTC design was sold in limited quantities at each stop.

As much fun as I had postmarking for three days, the real stars of the event were Oshkosh-area retired RPO clerks, who were asked to serve as guides in the RPO car itself. The last RPO, the N.Y. and Wash. RPO, had its last run in 1977, and the last RPOs in Wisconsin ended sooner than that. This means very few current postal employees have memory of the workings of mail distribution in the days of the RPO.

There was a special glow on the faces of these retired employees, having been called back as the experts in their craft no longer needed today. RPO clerks always felt, and rightly so, that they were a special part of the post office, needing additional training, having added duties, and serving under demanding conditions that were different from the clerk at the local post office. When the number of visitors allowed, the clerks showed and explained how mail was processed on the RPO cars. From catching mail on the fly where the train didn't stop, to having to wear side arms as protection for the mail, and to the layover in second-rate hotels before heading back on the next run. As part of the exhibit, special authentic-looking mail was made up and placed in the town slots in the car so visitors could understand how mail was sorted en route.

All returning RPO clerks were presented with a replica of the badges they wore when working. For these men, this was a nostalgia trip most people will never get. These guides were able to put real life into the story and workings of the RPO.

Early talk of a special train had started in the spring of 1998 and some collectors wondered if the USPS could pull it off. An advance party was in Oshkosh scouting locations and seeking local support. Oshkosh Postmaster Greg Robinson wanted a stop in our area and worked to get the needed cooperation from fellow employees and volunteers. He was lucky enough that we had a rail siding that would accommodate the event.

Though we had a wet spring for Oshkosh, the weather held each exhibit day with over 3,500 people making the effort to bring young and old to see the train. I hope the train has equal success as it crosses America for the next months. Many folks will then have helped celebrate the coming of the next century, thanks to the efforts of the USPS. •

October issue


By Donald W. Carter, Waukesha County Philatelic Society

Don Carter, of Muskego, WI, is co-editor of The Sierra Leone Stamp Collector, a bi-monthly e-zine located at: sapphire. surgery. wisc. edulstampsl index. html. He is a member of the West Africa Study Circle and the Scouts on Stamps International, a complement to his vigorous activity with the Boy Scouts. He also collects United States stamps.

Don retired in 1989 after 39 years of teaching high school and college physics, chemistry and biology.


"Sierra Leone," the dealer said and shook his head, "Don't have much call for that country." He proceeded to hand me a long box of stock cards and pointed to a very small section containing eight or 10 cards, each with one or two lone stamps in tatty to fair condition.

Shaking his head, he asked, "Why in the world would you want to collect that country?" I got the impression he thought I was a bit daft and as I walked away I heard him mutter, "Some people will collect anything."

After nearly 10 years of collecting the philatelic materials of Sierra Leone I am used to this kind of response. I sometimes believe that folks think of this tiny country as being from another planet. Why do I collect Sierra Leone? There are a number of reasons.

First and foremost, I was born there and lived there for a number of years as a boy with my parents who were American Wesleyan Methodist missionaries.

We lived on a small mission station in the interior of the country in a town called Pbendembu, a few miles from the large regional town of Makeni.

As a youngster, I was fascinated with the beautiful Rice Field stamps of 1932 that my father had in his office (Figure 1) and the Wilberforce issue of 1933 (Figure2). Finally, the Silver Jubilee issue of 1935 (Figure 3) and the 1938-44 issue (Figure 4) sold me on collecting these charming stamps. It was not until I retired about 10 years ago that I again took up the Sierra Leone stamp hobby.

History of Sierra Leone

"The White Man's Grave," located on the "Fever Coast" of West Africa was probably rediscovered by Portuguese sailors in 1447-60, although there is some evidence that Hanno may have reached its shores as early as 480 B.C. At that time, the country was known as Capez. Pedro da Cintra, a Portuguese mariner, left the first authentic record of discovery in 1462, and it was da Cintra who named the country Sierra Leone. Various explanations have been given for the name but generally it is thought to be "Lion Mountains" or "Mountains of the Lion," referring to the noise resembling a lion's roar caused by electrical storms that occur in the hills behind the peninsula. Some thought the hills resembled a crouching lion.

For many years Sierra Leone was the outpost of traders, riffraff, slavers, renegades, pirates and every manner of unscrupulous person imagined. The demand for slaves in the Americas resulted in Sierra Leone becoming one of the centers of slave shipment through "The Middle Passage," a good reason for the name "Slave Coast."

England finally brought about a stop to most of the slave shipments out of *Sierra Leone. In time, a colony was established for freed slaves in Freetown in 1787. The country became an independent colony in 1799 and eventually Freetown and the peninsula became a crown colony. Later, Britain established protectorate status over the interior. Sierra Leone was a British colony for many years before gaining independence in 1961.

Geography, resources and culture

Sierra Leone is a little smaller than South Carolina and is located in West Africa, approximately 8 degrees north of the equator, on the Atlantic Ocean. It is bordered by Guinea and Liberia and has a coastline of 402 kilometers. The climate is hot, humid and tropical. From May until December, rains drench the country, while from December to April the country suffers from the dry season.

Along the coast is a belt of dense mangrove swamps. Inland lies wooded hill country and upland plateau. To the east are mountains of considerable height. On the coastal peninsula a range of high hills lies above and behind the capitol, Freetown.

Mineral resources consist of diamonds (only exceeded by South Africa), platinum, titanium, bauxite, iron ore, gold and chromate. Crops rose for domestic use and export include timber, rice, palm oil, cassava, bananas, citrus fruits, peanuts, ginger, coffee, cocoa, and palm kernels.

A wide range of biodiversity is represented by its plant life, insects, fish, reptiles, birds and mammals. More than 5 million people, divided into 13 native tribes, live in this country. Religions represented consist of Muslim, Christian and indigenous beliefs.


For a country that has such a rich potential for development of its resources, Sierra Leone has failed miserably. Since gaining independence from Great Britain in 1961, Sierra Leone has suffered through a plunging spiral of economic depression, despotic leadership, internal conflicts and brutal civil strife between various factions. The result is a country that has been torn apart.

Today, this country that some were once predicting would become the golden jewel of West Africa, the Hong Kong of the West Coast, has been declared the poorest country on earth by the United Nations. Greed, bribery, intertribal rivalry and contention, poor leadership, lust for power and nepotism have destroyed the country. Highways are in disrepair, mines are closed, schools are almost nonexistent, telephones don't work, and shortages of essential food, water, medicines, fuel and electricity are every-where present. The country is a disaster but there is hope for a better day ahead.


The first postage stamps were issued in 1859 by the British government during the reign of Queen Victoria: the 6d, dull purple Queen Victoria (Stanley Gibbons 1 - Scott does not list this stamp). Prior to that time, mail was sent via packet ships or naval vessels to England or other destinations where postage costs were collected from the recipient.

During the period 1859-1903, various stamps were issued featuring Victoria (Figure 5). After the death of Victoria, a new series of stamps was issued in 1903 with the face of King Edward VII (Figure 6). During Edward's reign, all Sierra Leone stamps bore his likeness until King George V was placed on the throne. Those stamp issues continued through 1932 (Figures 1 and 7).

In 1933, the Wilberforce set (see Figure 2) was issued to commemorate William Wilberforce, who instigated the first antislavery movement in England. These were the first stamps to depict specific Sierra Leone scenes other than rice fields. Only one of these stamps, Scott 164 portrays the likeness of the king. George V was an avid stamp collector and had much to do with the design of the Wilberforce stamps.

The last George V stamps issued were the Silver Jubilee set of 1935 (Figure 3). These stamps are unique in that a number of anomalies are known to exist, probably caused by foreign matter adhering to the printing plates.

Various issues included within Scott 170-93 represent King George VI’s reign from 1936-52. An outstanding set in this group is the colorful, finely engraved Scott 173-85 (Figure 4).

Finally, in 1952, Elizabeth II became queen. Stamp issues in Sierra Leone during this period range from Scott 194-207. Stamps issued after Scott 207 are those of Sierra Leone as an independent state. •

November issue



By Donald W Carter Waukesha County Philatelic Society

Part 1 of this feature appeared in the October issue of Across the Fence Post.

Freeform stamps

During the early years after independence Sierra Leone experimented with a number of unusual forms and types of postage stamps. In 1964, Sierra Leone issued the first free-form self-adhesive stamps in history. The set honors the 1964-65 New York World's Fair (Figure 1).

This set was rapidly followed by many others of unusual forms and shapes produced through 1971: the Kola Nut series, Lions Head Coin set, and the Sewa Diamond and Jewelry Box are examples of these freeform issues (Figures 2-4). Many of these stamps include commercial advertisements printed on the back (Figure 5).

Stevens and other country-related issues

In 1972, a set of 14 stamps all featuring the identical face of President Siaka Stevens was issued (Figure 6). This had to be one of the largest numbers of stamps in any single issue to feature a living African president. Stevens did not hesitate to have his face displayed on a multitude of other Sierra Leone stamps during his tenure in office. For a number of years after Stevens, Sierra Leone issued several stamp sets featuring subjects and topics related to that country: flowers, butterflies, mammals, birds, reptiles, historic ships, and local events and practices (Figures 7-8).


In 1983, this country finally fell under the spell of Disney with the Space Arc Fantasy issue (Figure 9). Since that time, Sierra Leone has issued more Disney sets. Only one, however, Scott 1194-1205, has anything to do with Sierra Leone.

Face on Mars

In 1990, Sierra Leone issued an infamous set of stamps known as the Face on Mars (Figure 10). This $100 set was promoted as an investment that promised returns of thousands of dollars when the Mars landing took place in 1997. Supposedly, the artifact depicted on the stamp would be discovered, thereby proving that life once existed on the planet. Gullible people purchased hundreds, perhaps thousands, of these sets. Today, they are worth about $30 in mint condition, if you can find someone to buy them.


To the present day, few issues have dealt directly with Sierra Leone. Like most African countries "wallpaper" has become the rage. There are a few exceptions such as the World Cup Soccer issue and those depicting Sierra Leone's flora and fauna.

I enjoy looking for and finding Sierra Leone philatelic material. I own several covers that are addressed to people I know. I once found two half checks signed by an old friend and with stamps attached to the back sides (Figure 11). I also have an 1849 letter sent by ship (packet mail) prior to the advent of Sierra Leone postage stamps (Figure 12).

It is a pleasure to review my collection from time to time and to hunt for rare finds at dealers' tables. The real advantage is that I have very little competition from other collectors who are not as daft as 1 am! •

December issue

Christmas Angels and a few others, too



According to the Book of Genesis, angels have been with us since the beginning of human history when, "at the east of the Garden of Eden, God placed the cherubim and a flaming sword to guard the way to the tree of life."

In Michaelangelo's painting of "The Creation of Adam," God is surrounded by a crowd of wingless angels (Figure 1). Before the creation, angels probably didn't have much to do except hang around and help God. After the creation of humans, God probably gave the angels wings for quick communication with Earth, and because humans would forever need all the quick angelic help they could get.

Angels appear as the main or incidental subject of stamps issued by more than 130 countries. Additionally, angels are the subject of numerous stamped envelopes, postal cards and cancellations.

More than half of the countries that have issued angel stamps have issued them with the Christmas-angel theme. Also, but without actual count, it seems likely that about half of the angels on stamps are those that are concerned with Christmas (and perhaps Easter).

Most nations with a large percentage of Christians in their populations have issued one or more Christmas-angel stamps. Even the United States has issued several of them, although pretending to maintain a complete separation of church and state. Most notable is that many of the Christmas-angel stamps seem to come from colonies, or former colonies, of European powers. Also, it seems that most of these are aimed at the collector rather than meant to carry any great amount of mail.

Numerous angels, Christmas and otherwise, appear on stamps of several post-war "Iron Curtain" countries. Although a strictly nonreligious group of countries, they issued multitudes of art stamps with Jesus, angels, and other holy themes. The stamps, of course, were only copies of famous religious paintings from famous museums and private collections.

Of the three principal angels named in the Bible (Gabriel, Michael, and Raphael), it is Gabriel that is directly associated with Christmas and the birth of Christ. Because of this, he is considered to be the angel who presides over childbirth.

The messenger angel

Gabriel (hero of God) is the messenger angel who appeared before the Virgin Mary to announce that she was pregnant with the Son of God. Gabriel also is the angel who will blow the horn to herald the Second Coming of Jesus. In Jewish belief, he is chief of the angelic guards and the keeper of the celestial treasury. In his role as announcer of tidings, he is the patron saint of messengers, telecommunications personnel, and postal employees.

Gabriel appears on numerous Christmas stamps - almost always flying, and with his horn (Figure 2). On most Gabriel stamps, his identity has to be inferred from the horn - angels are seldom named on stamps.

Angels and song

Christmas Island, a territory of Australia in the Indian Ocean, is a great producer of Christmas stamps (what else"). Although not yet the most prolific, the island has given us a large number of Christmas angels. "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" is a good example of Christmas Island angels (Figure 3).

Formal angels

Christmas-angel stamps aren't all the formal religious types that most devout Christians might expect. Many are, and the Vatican probably is more formal than any other country (Figure 4). Of course, the Vatican is entirely devoted to religion, and has many beautiful angels on many beautiful stamps. For those who prefer the formal angels, more can be found in Austria, Anguilla, Barbuda, and Cyprus.

Utilitarian angels

Some countries use a utilitarian theme for their Christmas angels to separate their governments from any religious preference - but it's difficult to do this with Christmas. This attitude is well demonstrated by Australia. In this case, the pretty angel is carrying what is obviously a decoration for the Christmas tree (Figure 5). More utilitarian angels can be found on stamps of Australia, Brazil, Christmas Island, and the United States.

Cute angels

Other countries might choose the cute compromise. With this technique, the stamp gives a halfway tribute to religion with a benign acknowledgment of Christ. The entire stamp content just lets the observer infer that a Christmas message exists. The stamp then becomes "cute." Dominica is an excellent example of "cute" (Figure 6).

Another example can be seen on the Austrian cancel of a more traditional Christmas stamp (Figure 7). Other cute Christmas angels can be found in Antigua, the Bahamas. Cocos Island, and the United States.

Incidental angels

The remainder of Christmas angels on stamps can be classified as incidental. On these stamps, the angels seem to be filling space around the main subject and contributing little to the stamp's message (Figure 8). More incidental angels can be found in Anguilla, the Bahamas, British Honduras, and Cyprus -

The above examples are but a few of the known Christmas angels for the reader to enjoy. Most of the stamps mentioned here are from the first three letters of our alphabet. An ambitious search past the ABCs will locate many more.

Other principal angels

The two other principal angels of the Bible are Michael and Raphael. They are discussed here just briefly, and only to give the reader a more balanced inventory of biblical angels.

Michael (who is as God l - Michael is the tough angel. In both Christian and Jewish lore, he sometimes assumes the role of warrior-angel. In the Book of Revelations, he led the army of God's angels against the forces of Satan - and he won. In the Dead Sea Scrolls, he is the "Prince of Light." Michael is the protector of Israel and is the chief among all the angels. Michael is the patron angel of the U.S. Marines, paratroopers and policemen (Figure 9). Stamps usually show Michael with weapons and in battle dress, or actively engaged in one of his numerous battles of good against the forces of evil. Raphael (God heals 1 - Raphael is chief of the guardian angels and has the special job of protecting the young, the innocent, and pilgrims and other travelers. Raphael is charged to heal the Earth ... and the Earth furnishes an abode for man, and so he also heals man. Raphael also is the angel of prayer, love, joy, light, and providence. He is the patron angel of the blind, of happy meetings, and of nurses and physicians (Figure 10). Raphael is recognizable on only a few stamps. •


Most of the non-philatelic information here is from the book "in Search of Angels," 158 pp., by David Connolly, Perigee Books, Berkeley Publishing Group, 1993.

Latest update: June 12, 2005

URL:   http://www.WFSCstamps.org/wfsc_atfp_articles_1999.shtml