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Stamp Collecting as an Extra-Curricular Activity

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 As it grew in popularity, stamp collecting appeared as extra-curricular activities sponsored by youth-focused organizations. In the early twentieth century, adult progressive reformers developed recreation programs to keep idle children busy with what they saw as productive activities, and they taught recreation coordinators that collecting stamps qualified as healthy indoor play, because it  kept children busy and discouraged delinquency.1

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 The After School Club embodied many of those sentiments. Much like the Boy Scouts of America, also founded in the 1910s, the American Institute of Child Life’s (AICL) After School Club sought to fill all non-school hours with wholesome activities and acted as a “correspondence recreation center.” The After School Club’s handbook recommended different activities by age group, and listed collecting stamps and other objects as an appropriate activity for seven to fourteen year olds. Each young collector worked toward earning “degrees” after studying and learning from their objects. The Club also offered traveling collections of minerals, fossils, and stamps. Ultimately, the objective of this club was to make “young people wholesomely happy and to help build them into efficient and useful citizens.”2 The AICL and its board of leading scholars and researchers in the welfare and education of children, including child psychologist G. Stanley Hall, recommended stamp collecting as a wholesome activity that would shape young collectors into better citizens.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Upon further investigation, we see that the AICL’s mission to nurture young citizens was intertwined with emerging scientific fields studying and defining phases of childhood. In the 1910s, the AICL proclaimed their concern with the welfare of children and affiliated with many organizations “concerned with childhood.” Mothers who joined the AICL received complimentary memberships to all affiliated groups, including the new Eugenics Record Office in Cold Spring Harbor, New York, YMCA, U.S. Children’s Bureau, Audubon Society, among others. Curiously the Eugenics Record Office (ERO) received a prominent position at the top of the list. The ERO collected family trait histories and its director H.H. Laughlin advocated for eugenics-based immigration legislation and policies restricting reproduction of the “unfit.” The eugenics movement enjoyed many supporters in the early twentieth century, including progressive reformers, who sought to improve the American population through a variety of means.3

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 It is difficult to know how these affiliations developed, but it is possible to see how collecting stamps appealed to the AICL. Collecting and arranging stamps requires an ordering of the world relying on identification of differences among nations and defining people by politically-determined geographic borders. Stamps are tools that unify a nation or empire through postal infrastructure and the visual imagery imprinted that erase cultural differences. By comparing stamps, a collector is encouraged to notice differences that are enforced in albums. Viewing visual representations of nations in stamps offer an opportunity to teach young people about the perceived scientific differences and racial hierarchies among peoples of the world. Stamp albums provide spaces to order the world that also respected and enforced boundaries. According to philatelic practice, a stamp fit exactly into a space designated for it and did not belong anywhere else. Philatelists organized stamps according to a world order as proscribed by stamp-producing powers. This, of course, does not mean philatelists supported eugenics merely because they collected stamps. But it allows us to see that stamp collecting appealed to many different groups. For another group, the world’s stamps symbolized a gateway to spiritual duty and fulfillment.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 The Women’s Missionary Union of the Southern Baptist Convention encouraged stamp collecting to inspire young people to become missionaries. Their publication for children, World Comrades, started a stamp column in 1934 written by “Bob the Stamper.” He introduced readers to foreign stamps so that those nations would “become a call to the heralds of the Great Commission.” One column told the story of a man who linked his Bible studies with the family’s stamp album by writing a scriptural passage “to fit the stamps” on each page of the album. Each time anyone flipped through the album, the marginalia reminded them about the Bible and their faith. One reviewer praised the magazine for capitalizing on the collecting instincts of children “in the interest of Bible study and the spread of Christ’s Kingdom throughout the earth.”4

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 The Women’s Missionary Union believed that stamps possessed power to motivate young people to volunteer for Christianizing missions across the globe. If the stamps of each nation represented a path for pursuing the “Great Commission,” then an album represented work to be done and the hope of salvation. Identifying nations, territories, or colonies imposed a different order on the world, and helped Southern Baptists visualize the scope of their missionary work. Southern Baptists, like other groups, found meaning in stamps beyond their face value. Bob the Stamper used stamps to teach young people about the potential for uniting the world in the name of Christianity, and the album provided motivation and a path for accomplishing this goal.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 Progressive reformers and educators preoccupied themselves with preventing idleness in children because, in their minds, idleness led to delinquency and vice.5Stamp collecting was “something to do” and kept youths “out of all sorts of mischief and very often bad company.” This sentiment motivated some philatelists to work with young people by starting clubs in YMCAs and places like the Boys Hotel for homeless boys in Kansas City, Missouri. Some saw this as “missionary work for the hobby,” knowing that “every new collector adds to the stability of stamp collecting.” Collectors donated old stamps, albums, and literature for the benefit of the boys and girls. Dealers also prepared stamp packets that contained a variety of common and inexpensive stamps for beginning collectors, sometimes referred to as the “boy trade” even though boys and girls received these packs.6

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 In 1929, one philatelist reported that 10,000 new stamp collecting after-school clubs had formed that year in American schools—many with the help of its club members. The Oakland Philatelic Society, for example, organized 50 school stamp clubs from 1931 to 1932. In Los Angeles, philatelists organized fourteen Playground clubs by 1933. Both in Oakland and Los Angeles, California clubs sponsored competitive exhibitions where adult club philatelists judged and awarded ribbons to the winning students, such as from the Lincoln Heights playground in 1931. Dealers, particularly in the late 1920s and 1930s, actively engaged in this “missionary work” to groom new young collectors (and their parents) who one day might become customers.7


  1. 9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0
  2. “Lecturers Tell Teachers How To Teach Play,” Washington Post, July 15, 1934, sec. R, 10. 

  3. 10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 American institute of Child Life and After School Club of America, Young Folk’s Handbook (American institute of Child Life, 1913), 3–4, 73–4, available, https://archive.org/details/youngfolkshandb00lifegoog; and American Institute of Child Life and William Byron Forbus, Guide Book to Childhood: A Hand Book for Members of the American Institute (American institute of Child Life, 1913). While the After School Club was established for boys and girls, the AICL’s president authored studies on the “boy problem.” Stamp collecting was  recommended as an indoor winter activity for boys as early as 1901. See William Byron Forbush, The Boy Problem (The Pilgrim Press, 1901). 

  4. 11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 Recommended reading for AICL parents included, Sacredness and the Responsibilities of Motherhood; and A Better Crop of Boys and Girls. ((American Institute of Child Life and Forbus, Guide Book to Childhood

  5. 12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 A review of the World Comrades column appears in “Stamp Collecting as a Method,” Missionary Review of the World 57 (August 1934): 367. Founder and editor, Juliette Mather of the Women’s Missionary Union of the Southern Baptist Convention, first created World Comrades in 1922 because no Southern Baptist missionary publications existed for children. 

  6. 13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 David Macleod, Building Character in the American Boy: The Boy Scouts, YMCA, and Their Forerunners (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2004).  

  7. 14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 Untitled column, The Philatelic West and Collectors World 75, no. 1 (October-November,1918): 31; “Education from Stamp Collecting,” The Philatelic West and Collectors World 74, no. 1 (May 1, 1918): 44.; “Collectors of Dallas,” The Philatelic West and Collectors World 79, no. 2 (September 1922): np.; “Boys Start Stamp Club,” The Philatelic West and Collectors World 78, no. 3 (March 31, 1922): np.; and “Lincoln Y.M.C.A., Lusty Yearling, Will Celebrate,” Chicago Daily Tribune, October 6, 1929, 17. 

  8. 15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 “J.R. Stout Heads Rotary,” New York Times, April 3, 1929, 18.; Harry E. Gray, “Building Future Collectors,” American Philatelist 46, no. 3 (December 1932): 165.; “Stamp Exhibition Nearing, Boys to Display Washington Issue,” Los Angeles Times, January 11, 1932, sec. A, A14; “City to Sponsor Stamp Exhibit,” Los Angeles Times, April 10, 1933, sec. A, 5.; and “Playgrounds Foster Hobby,” Los Angeles Times, April 14, 1933, sec. A, 16; Washington Grant, Willard O. Wylie, and Thorn Smith, How to Deal in Stamps: A Booklet Designed for Those Who Would Like to Engage in a Lucrative and Clean Business, vol. fifth (Portland, ME: Severn-Wylie-Jewett Co, 1931); Jacques Minkus, “Merchandising of Postage Stamps,” Journal of Retailing 21, no. 2 (April 1945): 66–71. 

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Source: http://stampingamericanmemory.org/revisions/learning-to-read-stamps/stamp-collecting-as-an-extra-curricular-activity/