¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Philatelic associations worked to define the practice of philately and helped to legitimize stamp collecting as an activity. The formation of philatelic associations mirrored some of the processes undertaken by newly-forming professional associations that demanded its members uphold certain standards and practices. These societies, as almost exclusively all white, all male, and all admitted through sponsorship, demonstrated the exclusivity common to late nineteenth-century clubs. These collectors were part of a “consuming brotherhood” that emerged in the late nineteenth century. Spending money on dues and stamps was similar to how members of fraternal orders and elite dinner clubs consumed: purchasing costumes, paraphernalia, or cigars. ((Mark A Swiencicki, “Consuming Brotherhood: Men’s Culture, Style and Recreation as Consumer Culture, 1880-1930,” Journal of Social History 31, no. 4 (Summer 1998): 773–808; Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions (New York: Mentor, 1899); Charles McGovern, Sold American: Consumption and Citizenship, 1890-1945 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006); Daniel Horowitz, The Morality of Spending: Attitudes Toward the Consumer Society in America, 1875-1940 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985); McGovern, Sold American.)) Stamp societies created standards for normative collecting behaviors that lent legitimacy to their practice so outside observers would see purchasing stamps and collecting paraphernalia as non-frivolous and worthy expenditures.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Together with these new organizations, stamp collectors internationally, distinguished themselves from other collectors was by constructing their hobby as a scientific and rational pursuit. In contrast with those afflicted with a collecting mania, philatelists practiced a rational leisure time activity they broadly defined as a “science” because their collecting work involved researching through observation, classifying, and arranging stamps. The language of science was permeating many aspects of everyday in the late nineteenth century, definitions of science and who qualified to be called scientists was highly contested. As Progressive- era social scientists worked to create a science of the socio-historical world, philatelists tried to utilize scientific practices by studying the world of stamps with support of their newly-created associations. ((Paul Lucier, “The Professional and the Scientist in Nineteenth-Century America.” Isis 100, no. 4 (December 1, 2009): 699–732; Dorothy Ross, The Origins of American Social Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991).))
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 The idea that philately could be scientific may also have been rooted in nineteenth-century European philosophical ideas about writing history. This type of historical inquiry was promoted by the newly-formed American Historical Association and was taught in graduate programs training “professional” historians. Collecting documents for careful study and comparison helped historians draw conclusions about historical “facts” that led to supposedly objective histories. ((Joyce Oldham Appleby, Telling the Truth About History (New York: Norton, 1994).).)) Although not seeking to answer historical questions, philatelists studied stamps as primary documents. Such research equated to scientific study in the minds of some. One British publication asserted, “If minute observation, research, dexterity, taste, judgment, and patience are sufficient to lift a pursuit from a hobby to a science then assuredly Philately is a science.” ((“Recent Sales of Postage Stamps,” Chambers’s Journal of Popular Literature, Science, and Art 6 (May 4, 1889): 287–88.))
¶ 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Philatelic associations and individual philatelists perpetuated the idea that the collection and study of stamps was a scientific practice, even if they did not explicitly explain why. In one 1886 British book describing The Study of Philately, Arthur Palethorpe simply declared that “philately now ranks as a science,” equating the practices of philately with that of a serious discipline. A philatelist classified a stamp by country of origin, year issued, denomination, paper type, paper perforations, printing process, and subject. Careful observation of the ink or perforations of a stamp might lead a collector to find differences or perhaps a mistake. Because stamps were mass-produced, any differences within a sheet or printing were considered to have more value than the monetary amount assigned to that stamp. ((Arthur J. Palethorpe, The Study of Philately (Bury S. Edmund’s, England: Nunn, Christie & Co, 1886), 6; John M. Luff, What Philately Teaches: A Lecture Delivered before the Section on Philately of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences, February 24, 1899 (New York, NY: n.p., 1915), http://www.gutenberg.org/files/15713/15713-h/15713-h.htm.)) Stamp journals printed by philatelic associations described and defined philately as scientific. The editors of the American Journal of Philately commented that their readers enjoyed debating “in the field of our sciences,” while the Northwestern Philatelist billed itself as “a monthly magazine devoted to the sciences of philately.” ((American Journal of Philately, 2nd ser., 1 (1888): i; Northwestern Philatelist: A Monthly Magazine Devoted to the Science of Philately (Elk Point, South Dakota: J.C. Richard, R.J. Ellis, 1899-1900); American Philatelic Association, Catalogue of the American Philatelic Association’s Loan Exhibit of Postage Stamps to the United States Post Office Department at the World’s Columbian Exposition Chicago, 1893 (Birmingham, CT: D.H. Bacon and Company, 1893), 10; and Steven J. Diner, A Very Different Age: Americans of the Progressive Era (New York: Hill and Wang, 1998), 176-78.)) Whether thinking about philately as scientific history or using the term “science” to gesture to individuals engaging in research and study of stamp design and production, incorporating this rhetoric was prevalent in stamp literature.
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Some collectors hid their collecting practices out of embarrassment and were mindful of public criticism of their hobby that appeared in newspapers and magazine, but found support from these criticisms in the new associations and societies formed. Eva Earl, a contributor to Pennsylvania Philatelist, acknowledged that in 1894 it was “customary to laugh at the devotees to stamp collecting—all the world laughs.” ((Gelber, “Free Market Metaphor,” 755; Eva Earl, “A Girl’s Philatelic Reminiscence,” The Pennsylvania Philatelist 5, no. 3 (February 1894): 207–8.)) Vindication of this push for recognizing philately as a disciplined pursuit came when British King Edward VII declared stamp collectors to be “scientists” and philately to be a “science” in 1907 when elevating the London Philatelic Society to status of “Royal” by officially incorporating the Society with a royal charter. Most likely influenced by his son who amassed a large collection of stamps, the King observed the Prince researching and attending to his collection. Prior to the King’s proclamation, philatelists in the US delighted in the establishment of a Section of Philately in the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences devoted to the study and promotion of stamp collecting in 1898. The Institute hosted lectures and meetings where collectors could bring their stamps for “study and comparison” for the purpose of making meetings “profitable and interesting.” More than a quarter century later, the Maryland Academy of Sciences elevated philately from a subsection of its history department to become its own department, placing philately, once again, “among the sciences.” ((H.A. Talbot, “Communications Report,” American Philatelist and Yearbook of the American Philatelic Association
¶ 6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Defining their hobby as a science also offered philatelists an opportunity to achieve an expertise in the small bits of paper they collected, traded, or bought through stamp clubs and associations. Club founders and members were stamp dealers, who bought and sold stamps for a living, and casual collectors, who bought, traded, or sold their stamps during their free time. Informal meetings of collectors were not new, but when those collectors formed associations, they organized in a more systematic way. The first permanent organization in the world was the London Philatelic Group in 1869, now known as the Royal Philatelic Society. In 1872, a young collector who was eager to join a stamp club for boys wrote to Oliver Optic’s Magazine. Even at that time, before the American Philatelic Association (APA) formed in 1886, the editors of Oliver Optic’s assumed one had already formed because there was such a great interest in collecting and establishing clubs. The APA’s founders encouraged local groups of adults to form wherever “six philatelists can be brought together.” As a national society, the APA would connect smaller groups meeting across the country in the pursuit of philatelic knowledge. ((Halgren, 185-6. “Our Letter Bag,” Oliver Optic’s Magazine, Our Boys and Girls 12, no. 233 (1872): 827;Theo. F. Cuno, S.B. Bradt, and W.G. Whilden, Jr. to The Philatelists of the United States, June 25, 1886, in Official Circular Number 1, American Philatelic Association, (November 1886): i.))