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Collecting with Boy Scouts

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Boy Scouts of America, Stamp Collecting BadgeBoy Scouts of America, Stamp Collecting BadgeThe business side of collecting was rarely addressed in schools or in most extra-curricular activities, but it was an important element to earning a Boy Scout merit badge introduced in 1931. By adding this badge, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) acknowledged stamp collecting as an activity worthy of building character in young men. Prior to making the badge official, stamp collecting and Scouts already enjoyed a close relationship. In 1926, the “Lone Scout” program provided boys living in rural areas—too sparse for troops—an opportunity to participate in Scouting by organizing stamp collecting clubs. More than 100,000 boys registered for the Lone Scout program. With assistance from members of the American Philatelic Society (APS), the BSA crafted requirements for the badge. Scoutmaster and APS member William Hoffman asked fellow members to offer their expertise to local Scout councils across the U.S. and to volunteer as “Expert Examiners.” The Girl Scouts of America did not offer a stamp collecting badge until the 1960s. 1

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Stamp collecting in the Scouts was so popular and enjoyed such favor with practicing philatelists that the BSA created a Boy Scout Stamp Club that met in Washington, D.C. It was run by a philatelist who belonged to several societies and who guided them through the stages of earning their badge and in general collecting practices. By one estimate, nearly 25 percent of D.C.-area Scouts in 1934, approximately 750 boys, collected stamps and participated in this club.2

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 To help boys pursuing the stamp collecting badge, the BSA printed a philately guidebook. Earning the stamp collecting merit badge required that a Scout be committed to collecting and required assistance from a philatelic club member to achieve each of these milestones based in philatelic practice:

  1. 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0
  2. Own and exhibit a collection of 500 or more well-conditioned stamps, collected by the Scout;
  3. Exhibit 10 varieties of stamps, including air mail, envelope, surcharged imperforate, perforate, postage due, pre-cancelled, flat plate, rotary press, telegraph, revenue and registration;
  4. Exhibit and explain the following classes and stamps and names one country of issue: postage, commemorative, special delivery, postal packet, express, split or bisected, postmasters’ provisionals, and private proprietary;
  5. Exhibit and explain cancellations and their relation to the value of a stamp;
  6. Explain the principal characteristics of stamps viz: class of paper, watermarks, separations, impressions.
  7. Exhibit the following issues of U.S. stamps: 10 different commemorative, present postage, present envelope; 2 different memorial, 1 flat plate, 1 rotary press, 10 different official or departmental and 4 different air mail stamps;
  8. Demonstrate ability to “catalog” accurately 5 stamps provided by the Examiner;
  9. Explain in full the “condition” of a stamp, and how the exact value of a stamp is determined.3

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 The creation of this badge expressed confidence from the BSA that stamp collecting helped boys as they matured into young men, and that collecting related to a “boy’s vocational outlook.” Boys needed to collect and properly organize and describe a variety of stamps and were required to explain how the value of a stamp was determined. These young collectors learned about the alternative stamp market through Scouting. By the 1930s, more badges related to experiencing and experimenting with vocations, such as blacksmithing, carpentry, cotton farming, or salesmanship. 4 With the exception of dealers and a few novelty shop owners, stamp collecting was a hobby, even as it was categorized a vocational badge. As an avocation, the practice of philately might earn someone extra money if they cared for and amassed a variety of rare stamps. Stamp collecting forced an ordered classification of stamps and taught these boys that stamps could be worth an amount of money different from the value printed on the stamp. With the guidance from a local philatelist, a Scout was prepared to sell and trade their stamps.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Steven Gelber has argued that boys were socialized into stamp collecting, more so than girls, because buying and trading stamps mirrored capitalist activity of the marketplace. Following this market model could make collecting profitable, and Scouts were required to discuss how a stamp was revalued in the philatelic market to earn their badge. 5 Explaining the design on stamps was not required for this badge, even though we see that reading images is the primary approach to teaching about stamps normalized by philatelic clubs. Mentoring a Scout to sell and exchange stamps might serve them well, “as the boy grows to manhood.” 6 Shaped primarily by a national philatelic association, the process for earning a stamp badge socialized Scouts in philatelic culture as much as it taught practices. In this very direct way, the BSA and the APS groomed boys in the all-male Scouting network to become philatelists, another homosocial network of adults.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 These examples typify the connections philatelic clubs made with non-philatelists and how philatelists worked to increase the general public’s exposure to stamp collecting. Their involvement in extra-curricular activities varied. Stamps’ availability and accessibility made them easily translatable as pedagogical tools for individuals and groups to use as they wished. Philatelists pushed back, in some ways, by the creation of a Boy Scout badge meant to normalize practices for young collectors. Club collectors balanced the advantages of sharing their hobby with wide audiences with emphasizing that true collectors belonged to a community of practice.


  1. 8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0
  2. “Lone Scouts,” New York Times, November 6, 1926, 16; William Hoffman, “Merit Badge for Stamp Collecting Available to Boy Scouts,” American Philatelist 44, no. 10 (July 1931): 466.; and Prescott Holden Thorp, Stamp Collecting, Merit Badge Series; (New York, Boy Scouts of America, 1931). 

  3. 9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 “Scouts Have Good Stamp Collections,” Washington Post, May 20, 1934, sec. A, 9. 

  4. 10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 Thorp, Stamp Collecting; Hoffman, “Merit Badge for Stamp Collecting Available to Boy Scouts.” 

  5. 11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 Boy Scouts of America, Handbook for Scoutmasters, A Manual of Leadership (Boy Scouts of America, 1932), 175–183. 

  6. 12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 Steven M. Gelber, “Free Market Metaphor: The Historical Dynamics of Stamp Collecting,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 34, no. 4 (October 1992): 742–769. 

  7. 13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 “Scouts Have Good Stamp Collections,” 9. 

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Source: http://stampingamericanmemory.org/2014version/learning-to-read-stamps/collecting-with-boy-scouts/