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Stamp Papers

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Philatelic West masthead, July 1904 (available in Hathi Trust)Philatelic West masthead, July 1904 (available in Hathi Trust)

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Philatelic clubs shaped communities of collectors by defining practices and limiting memberships, while a larger community engaged in discussions about stamps in a flourishing philatelic print culture made possibly by the postal system. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, this print culture facilitated the growth of an imagined, and perhaps more diverse, community of stamp collectors and philatelists stretching across state and national borders.1 Publications disseminated information about the practices and vocabulary of the hobby to novice collectors. The first serial, Stamp Collector’s Record, began in Albany, New York, by S. A. Taylor in December 1864 and continued until October 1876, and the number of publications grew exponentially. Between 1864 and 1906, over 900 stamp papers were published in the United States alone. While Americans created the largest number of stamp papers during this time, hundreds of other publications circulated from Great Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Argentina, Egypt, Spain, Turkey, and Venezuela. Some publications published serious studies of stamps, watermarks, or articles about the countries that produced specific stamps, while other papers were the work of one person sitting at home writing a newsletter.2 A drop in American periodical postage rates from two-cents per pound in 1874 to one penny per pound in 1885, encouraged this flurry of circulation in all types of periodicals.3

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Some papers attempted to generate business for dealers, while others were small outlets for local philatelic clubs. Dealers such as Scott Stamp and Coin Company Limited and C.H. Mekeel Stamp Company became publishers, printing papers to encourage philately and generating business for stamps and collecting paraphernalia. Mekeel’s became the first weekly newspaper in 1891 and reported philatelic news from around the world by publishing notes from clubs, announcing new issues, and hosting stamp exchanges. Like most periodicals of the day, Mekeel’s also sold advertising space. Few in-depth articles could be found in its tabloid-style pages, but it maintained its hold as the definitive newspaper for collectors from 1891 to the present. Philatelic West began in 1895 as the journal of the Nebraska Philatelic Society and quickly grew from a regional to national publication by 1902 when it became the official organ of more than ten collecting associations. Its publishers boasted of the largest paid subscription list of any American philatelic monthly.4 Examples of some regional journals include the following:

  • 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0
  • Evergreen State Philatelist (Hartland, WA: R.W. French, 1894-1900)
  • California Philatelist (San Francisco: E.F. Gambs, 1883-1899)
  • Southern Philatelist (Charleston, SC: Southern Stamp and Publishing, 1889-1896)
  • Virginia Philatelist (Richmond, VA: Virginia Philatelic Publishing, 1897-1905)
  • Ohio Philatelist (Westerville, OH: H.W. Keller, 1888-1889)
  • St. Louis Philatelist (St. Louis: E.F. Gambs, 1876-1882)
  • Michigan Philatelist (Detroit: Union Stamp Company, 1877-1879)
  • Pennsylvania Philatelist, (Reading, PA: C.W. Kissinger, 1891-1898)
  • Eastern Philatelist (Fitchburg, MA: Eastern Philatelic Publishing, 1887-1899)
  • Western Philatelist: A Monthly Journal for Stamp Collectors (Chicago: Western Philatelic Publishing Company, 1887-1888)
  • Lone Star State Philatelist (Abilene, TX: Bradley,1894-1899)

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Millions of Americans learned philatelic practices and connected with fellow collectors through these publications.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Many individuals contributed to this print culture even if their papers were short-lived. One teenager, known later in life for his fiction, started Stamp Collector in his Syracuse, New York, home. L. Frank Baum printed at least four issues of this serial between 1872 and 1873. During the 1870s—“the golden age of amateur publishing”—it was not uncommon for boys, more so than for girls, to create publications using the Novelty Toy Printing Press and to distribute them locally or to mail them to interested young readers around the country.5 Baum was no doubt familiar with these and other stamp-related papers as he created his own.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 While young printers delighted in their creations, some adults cringed at the abundance of amateur publishers. One adult writer found no “earthly use” for amateur papers he claimed were produced by boys with “limited knowledge” of stamps that “only bring ridicule upon collecting from outsiders” and disgust from “advanced” collectors.6 If forming stamp clubs and publishing journals helped to legitimize the hobby of stamp collecting, the interest generated by younger collector-publishers was viewed by some as a distraction rather than as a boom to stamp collecting. Even the smallest and shortest-lived papers show us that there was great enthusiasm for participating in a public discussion about stamps and the practice of collecting them.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 Philatelic publications were so prolific by 1892 that they became the subject of separate, disparaging, articles. Harry Franklin Kantner of the Pennsylvania Philatelist declared that the “philatelic writer” was “one of the most potent factors in the Philatelic field,” fighting for the progression of the hobby. To fully express his concerns, he wrote a poem entitled “The Philatelic Publisher’s Soliloquy.” This parody mocked the dilemma facing an amateur publisher who invested their own money and time “to clip news by the sweat of his classic brow,” gather postal statistics, and “revamp old philatelic articles that delight none.” The Soliloquy borrowed from Hamlet:

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 To publish or not to publish,—that is the question.—
Whether ’tis better to announce a new philatelic journal;
The fulfiller of a long, long felt want
Or to give up these grand ideas of gaining popularity
And never issue the wished for journal?7

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 Kantner’s disapproval of the proliferation of stamp papers continued the following year when he decried that “the ‘stamp fever’ had become the ‘publishing fever.’” His article actively discouraged “all ambitious young men” from starting new papers. In December 1894, the Weekly Philatelic Era rejoiced that an “exceedingly small number” of new philatelic papers appeared that season, which was much more pleasant than the “obnoxious” mushroomed-growth of past years. An author for Philatelic West desired to start his own paper in the 1890s and reflected how fortunate he was that he did not burden himself and the “already long suffering philatelic public” with such a venture.8 These collective comments demonstrated that while some stamp associations openly encouraged all to collect stamps, not everyone agreed that all collectors should participate in the philatelic print culture, or even the broader community of philatelists, equally. Within the philatelic community, philatelists drew lines among their own.

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 Applying a hierarchical framework to stamp papers and journalists was in keeping with the post-Civil War tendency to distinguish between high and lowbrow activities.9 Even as stamp collectors tried to construct a cultural space for themselves as learned philatelists through clubs and readership of journals, some proposed fracturing within their own ranks. Kantner proposed instituting hierarchical labels for philatelic publications. He categorized papers into four classes: professional, semi-professional, amateur, and price-list journal. He classified his own journal, Pennsylvania Philatelist, as semi-professional because it was less “scientific” but more literary than the “professional” American Journal of Philately. Kantner criticized smaller “amateur” papers that merely reprinted stories from larger journals and did not produce original articles. Quite aware of philatelists’ place within the greater American culture, Kantner commented that it was “not only a progressive age in general affairs but also in philatelic matters.”10 Philatelists used the structure of a club, like that of a professional association, to promote standards of practice. Many stamp collectors believed in American exceptionalism in all matters, including philatelic. One way to ensure that American philatelists contributed to a global print culture was to classify papers by their content and discourage just anyone from starting his or her own papers. As a group, stamp collectors were earning an expertise in their collections, but some philatelic writers, like Kantner, felt that even enthusiastic philatelists needed to respect the hierarchy and demur to the expertise of others.

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 Despite complaints by vocal writers such as Kantner, the journals lived on and connected thousands of collectors each year. Like professional journals, most philatelic publications kept members abreast of the field and facilitated communication among societies. Articles featured news of first issues of American and international stamps, explanations of different types of stamps, philatelic literature reviews, and letters from readers.11 A handful of papers, like Weekly Philatelic Era, offered subscribers a free exchange notice to facilitate the commerce of stamps among the community that was enabled by the postal service. Beyond articles, most papers accepted advertisements from dealers in stamps and collecting ephemera. Such items advertised included albums and specialized tools for handling stamps. Merchants engaged with hierarchical rhetoric and might call out to “serious collectors” in an advertisement.12 Not only were collectors defining themselves in ways typical of the period, but in reading about their hobby they were also bombarded with advertising by dealers and manufacturers selling accessories including magnifying glasses, hinges, and tongs. A cottage industry grew up around philatelists. By reading these papers, collectors educated themselves in the minutiae of philately.

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 Connecting and corresponding with other collectors was an important part of the culture, and philatelic publications helped collectors connect with others to buy, sell, and exchange stamps. One did not need to belong to a club in order to acquire more stamps and participate actively in the hobby. Around the time that C.H. Mekeel began his Weekly Stamp News, he also printed a directory containing names and addresses of collectors and dealers who paid one dollar to be listed. Five thousand collectors responded in 1891, which increased to nine thousand by 1897, and each person’s entry described their collecting specialties, such as specific countries, and sometimes mentioned the languages in which they corresponded. The listings demonstrate global connections of collectors.Not only were collectors living outside of United States represented, but many American philatelists wanted to connect with foreign collectors and dealers. For example, Leon Lambert of St. Paul, Minnesota, desired to “correspond in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and Dutch to exchange on the basis of any catalogue. Sample copies of foreign papers desired.” Charles Townsend of Akron, Ohio, called out to collectors “in all part of the world, particularly those in Mexico, Central and South America, and the Islands in the West Indies.” And, dealers from Peru, Britain, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, and France bought ad space in this directory.13 Not only were stamp collectors and dealers supporting the governments who produced stamps by purchasing them, but were also supporting the postal system by conducting transactions through the mail. Stamp papers and directories provided contact information to allow collectors and dealers to conduct transactions and facilitate the practices of collecting on their own.

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 Collectors also used their philatelic papers to discuss what they liked about collecting. Some journals, like the Philatelic West, offered regular testimonials, and others published philatelic poetry that expressed the joys of stamp collecting or of reading a particular paper. In the Philatelic West, “Modern Maud Muller” skipped past her lover to get to the post office in a blizzard to retrieve the latest copy of her Philatelic West magazine, which she loved more dearly than her man, “And when to his heart her form he pressed, There was something nearer to her heart—THE WEST.14 This light-hearted poem penned by a man in 1901, jested that the Philatelic West was so good that a “modern” woman, would not be swayed by matters of the heart and put aside her love interests to read her favorite stamp paper. The poem also represented an enthusiastic female collector, an audience some publications tried to develop.

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 Readers of philatelic journals often heard from editors that they needed to recruit more members of their society or subscribers to the paper. Verna Weston Hanway encouraged philatelists to enlist at least one more collector and proposed starting philatelic societies in the public schools.15 One tactic was to recruit women as subscribers to stamp papers even if they were not members of a philatelic society. Some women read philatelic papers, like Philatelic West, whose editors recognized its readership. As early as 1905, the West offered readers a “Woman-Collectors’ Department” authored by Hanway. In her column, she encouraged women to collect and wrote various articles on stamps, curios, and books. She urged busy women to get a healthy pleasure to relieve them from the turmoil of their days that they might find pleasure in their collections. She tried to recruit women by writing in the pages of the West that women were genetically predisposed to be collectors because curiosity was “an essentially feminine attribute.”16Pennsylvania Philatelist and Philatelic West were the first papers that really identified a need to attract female readers and society members. Of course, since these papers were businesses, attracting any and all new readers or members was a key to their long-term success.

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 As philatelists discussed and defended their hobby, it is undeniable that stamp papers played an important role in the growth and shape of philately. Though some collectors and journalists did not like the proliferation of philatelic literature, one cartoon printed in A. C. Roessler’s Stamp News captured the reason for the paper’s existence. In panel one, the first man says to the other, “I don’t subscribe to stamp papers—they cost too much.” In the second panel, the other man holds the first one down, beating him, saying, “Without papers your hobby would be dead in a year, you poor it.”17 Granted, A. C. Roessler’s also needed to justify its existence and remind its readers to send in their subscription payments. But, the cartoon deftly illustrates that the print culture acted as the glue that connected stamp collectors from around the world and made stamp collecting a popular pursuit. Papers offered subscribers opportunities to acquire more stamps, to learn about different varieties, to best care for their collections, and to create an imagined community. Although many small American stamp papers disappeared or merged with other publications by the early 1900s, many still thrived and supported the growing numbers of stamp collectors into the twentieth century.


  1. 17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0
  2. Benedict R. Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, Rev. ed (London: Verso, 2006). 

  3. 18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 Edward Denny Bacon, Catalogue of the Crawford Library of Philatelic Literature at the British Library, rev. ed. (Fishkill, NY: Printer’s Stone, with the British Library, 1991). Source Note: First printed as a bibliography of James Ludovic’s (the Earl of Crawford), personal collection of philatelic literature, the Crawford Catalogue has become the best reference guide to early stamp-related publications. An ardent stamp collector in the 1860s while attending Eton, Ludovic’s interest died out until he encountered stamps at a Sotheby’s auction in 1898 that he decided to buy and reopened his collection. According to his introduction, the Earl sought out literature on stamp collecting and found an abundance of resources, but most were difficult to obtain. He started his own library and increased it substantially when he bought the library of J.K. Tiffany, a philatelic writer from St. Louis, Missouri, who began collecting stamp papers from their earliest days. Eventually, the Earl of Crawford donated this large collection of philatelic literature to the British Museum where it resides today. 

  4. 19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 Wayne E. Fuller, “The Populists and the Post Office,” Agricultural History 65, no. 1 (Winter 1991): 1–16; and Jane Kennedy, “Development of Postal Rates: 1845-1955,” Land Economics 33, no. 2 (May 1957): 93–112. 

  5. 20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 Scott and Company produces the standard catalogue for stamps. Mekeel’s Weekly Stamp News (Portland, ME: Severn-Wylie-Jewett Co, 1891-1996). Mekeel’s is still an active publication, but with a different publisher. In 1901, Philatelic West changed its name to Philatelic West and Camera News and became the official publication of the following clubs: Nebraska Philatelic Society, Nebraska Camera Club, Kansas Philatelic Society, American Camera Club Exchange, Stamp Collectors Protective Association of America, Boy’s Collecting Society, Michigan Camera Arts Association, Pennsylvania Camera Club Exchange, Spanish-American Philatelic Society, International Souvenir Card Exchange, and the Stamp Dealers Protective Association. For listings see Philatelic West and Camera News 15 (March 1901): boiler plate. While claiming to have the largest circulation, the West opened their subscription books for others to count, the actual numbers are absent. See “Philatelic Advertising,” Philatelic West and Camera News 18, no. 3 (March 1902): n.p. Philatelic West expanded to a general hobby-collecting magazine that became Hobbies by the 1930s. 

  6. 21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 Bacon, Catalogue of the Crawford Library of Philatelic Literature at the British Library, 770. There is some confusion as to where Baum’s paper resides. Neither the American Philatelic Society library nor the library at the National Postal Museum has it available but it is believed to be in a special collection. Paula Petrik, “The Youngest Fourth Estate: The Novelty Toy Printing Press and Adolescence, 1870-1886” in Elliot West and Paula Petrik , ed., Small Worlds: Children and Adolescents in America, 1850-1950 (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1992), 127. Young journalists even formed their own society, the National Amateur Press Association, elected officers, and held a conference.  

  7. 22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 Philatelic Journal of America (1893): 168. 

  8. 23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 Harry Franklin Kantner, “The Philatelic Writer,” The Pennsylvania Philatelist 2, no.1 (June 1892): 3; and H. Franklin Kantner, “The Philatelic Publisher’s Soliloquy,” The Pennsylvania Philatelist 2, no. 1 (June 1892): 3. 

  9. 24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 H. Franklin Kantner, “Philatelic Journalism,” The Pennsylvania Philatelist 3, no. 3 (February 1893): 49-52. “Review of Philatelic Press,” Weekly Philatelic Era 9, no. 18 (1894): 141; and “Philately in 1895,” The Philatelic West and Collectors World 77, no. 1 (1920): 28. Kantner’s use of “young men” indicates that a majority of the publications were headed by men in the late nineteenth century. Few female writers appeared in the journals I reviewed, but some like Eva Earl mentioned earlier in the paper encouraged women to collect and participate in philatelic societies. 

  10. 25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 Lawrence W. Levine, Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988). 

  11. 26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 Kantner, “Philatelic Journalism,” 52. For a discussion of nineteenth-century cultural hierarchies see Levine, Highbrow/Lowbrow

  12. 27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 W.C. Eaton to American Journal of Philately editors, May 25, 1894, in American Journal of Philately 7 (June 30, 1894): 288; Philatelic West (Superior, NE: Brodstone & Wilkinson, 1896-1898). The American Journal of Philately published minutes from many of these smaller societies. Quaker City Philatelist (Philadelphia: Quaker City Philatelic Publishing, 1886-1894).  

  13. 28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 Warren H. Colson, “Advertisement,” American Philatelist 36, no. 4 (1922):161, 91; and Halgren, All About Stamps, 186. I reviewed many journals to discover these patterns, including American Philatelist, 1886-1898; American Journal of Philately, 1888-1899; The Pennsylvania Philatelist 1891-1900; Philatelic West, 1896-98; The Quaker City Philatelist, 1891-94; Texan Philatelist, 1894-98; and Weekly Philatelic Era

  14. 29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 C.H. Mekeel, Mekeel’s Stamp Collectors’ and Dealers’ Address Book, 2nd ed. (St. Louis: C.H. Mekeel Stamp and Publishing Co, 1891), 8, 10, 24, 42; and J. de Q. Donehoo, Mekeel’s Address Book of Foreign Stamp Collectors and Dealers: Containing over 9000 Names and Addresses from 127 Countries and Colonies, Being the Most Complete Work of the Kind Ever Issued (St. Louis: C.H. Mekeel, 1897). 

  15. 30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 George J. Remburg, “The Modern Maud Muller,” The Philatelic West and Camera News 15, no. 2 (1901): n.p. 

  16. 31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 Verna Weston Hanway, “Philatelic Complaining,” The Philatelic West and Camera News 29 (1904); “An Aside,” The Philatelic West and Collectors World 63, no. 2 (1914); and Bradford Peck, The World a Department Store; a Story of Life under a Coöperative System (Lewiston, ME: B. Peck, 1900), 61. 

  17. 32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 The first column of the Woman-Collectors’ Department I found was from September 1905, appearing in the back of the Philatelic West portion of the journal once it was printed together with Camera News. By December 1906, Alma Appleton took over the column. Verna Weston Hanway, “Woman-Collectors’ Department (no Title),” Philatelic West and Camera News 31, no. 1 (September 1905): np.; and Verna Weston Hanway, “Old Manuscripts,” Philatelic West and Camera News 32, no. 3 (April 1906): np. 

  18. 33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 “The Outbursts of Mr. Phil A. Telic,” cartoon, A.C. Roessler’s Stamp News 97, no. 1 (1917). 

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Source: http://stampingamericanmemory.org/2014version/building-philatelic-communities/stamp-papers/