Philatelist, minerals enthusiast reflects on collections and helping young rockhounds

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local

The classic game of “rock, paper, scissors” may involve a simple decision-making system, but the paper stamp has “got it covered” for junior rockhounds looking to pay for college.

How those little paper squares found their way from philatelists to amateur geologists is anyone’s guess, but their ultimate purpose is to bow to the mighty rock and serve the next generation.

Anderson displays an example of a unique cancellation mark.

That’s because Lebanon resident Ed Anderson, member of the Sweet Home Rock & Mineral Society, is asking for donations of used stamps to be sold for the Northwest Federation of Mineralogical Societies Scholarship Foundation, which benefits students’ pursuits in geological studies.

“We’ve got youth we’re trying to promote into the mineral field,” Anderson said of the federation, which consists of multiple rock clubs throughout the Pacific Northwest.

“We give out four or five large scholarships each year for kids that are wanting to get into the mineral or hydraulics training.”

As both a rockhound and stamp collector, Anderson finds it a little frustrating that the United States Postal Service has only twice issued commemorative stamps featuring minerals, and he wasn’t shy about writing to the postmaster on the matter.

The NWFMS had been selling stamps for a number of years to benefit cancer research, but when Anderson and his friend Aaron Currier, of the Willamette Agate & Mineral Society, took over the project, they changed course to divert the proceeds into the federation’s scholarship funds.

Anderson is also a member of the Salem Stamp Society and is still considered a “newbie” after four years, but the club gives him more opportunity to auction and sell the stamps.

Anderson shows one of the many bundles of like-stamps in the collection to be sold.

“They’re a bunch of old guys, really,” he said. “Those guys have been at it all their lives, most of them, and they’ve got large collections.”

Pointing to several full boxes, he said, “This is just a little piddly (collection) to them.”

The boxes are about half of what were passed to him and Currier after they took the lead on the federation’s Stamp Committee, but it could take several shows to sell them all.

He’s sorted most into “topicals,” grouped by decade or theme, as they seem to be of current interest to collectors, he said. The boxes also include hundreds of same-style stamps wrapped with thread in bundles of 100.

“People do silly things,” he said of the bundles while reflecting on the effort required to assemble them. “Hopefully we can find somebody that’s crazy enough about stamps who’ll buy them.”

Two of many gold-embossed first edition stamps available for purchase.

Anderson also found a stack of first-day issues (stamps on a cover, postal card or stamped envelope franked on the first day it’s authorized for use) with accompanying gold-embossed design, which would have cost the original owner a good amount of money but today moves for less than its value, if at all.

“Stamps are a hard sell right now to individuals,” he said. “Dealers buy by the box. They’re looking to buy things dime-on-a-dollar. There’s not much money in it. It’s really a narrow margin of profitability.”

But still, Anderson and Currier have managed to raise $550 since joining the committee.

Meanwhile, Anderson seeks more commemorative stamps, old collections, unique cancellations (postmarks with temporary, themed words and designs), pre-1940 stamped and intact envelopes, foreign stamps and old postcards.

“This is the kind of thing that people look for,” he said. “You go to a stamp-club meeting and one month everybody’s looking for something, then the next month they’re looking for something else.”

As he sorts through a century’s worth of postage, one thing really irks him: a flag stamp affixed upside-down.

“The international distress signal of any nation’s flag, if it’s upside-down, means there’s a serious problem,” he explained. “It’s always been that way.”

Ask any Boy Scout, he said, and they’ll confirm. He believed the upside-down stamp was done out of sloppiness but admitted to an unfamiliarity with the language of stamp-positioning.

From one of several boxes, Ed Anderson shows bags of stamps sorted by topic.

According to PhilatelicDatabase.com, this “language,” where placement on envelopes relayed secret messages, originated in England, then spread across the globe during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

For instance, a stamp positioned at a right angle with the surname indicated, “I long to see you.” Upside-down, however: “I’m engaged.” One in an envelope’s center signaled “yes,” but at the bottom-center signaled “no.”

An upside-down stamp in the upper-left corner meant “I love you,” but at the opposite end advised “Write no more.” (As indicated in a 2005 New York Times article, “From Love to Longing to Protest, It’s All in the Tilt of the Postage,” the “I love you” message is still in play, though placed in the upper-right corner today.).

But the varying placement of stamps led to a worldwide regulation requiring stamps in an envelope’s upper-right corner.

Like many boys in the early- to mid-20th century, Anderson became interested in stamp-collecting after his mother gave him one that she believed had value. And, like many young men who lost childhood treasures through several moves or careless parental decisions, he lost his collection.

He spent 20 years in the Army, serving one year in Vietnam, two tours in Korea, two years in Okinawa, and most of his service in the Army Intelligence School at Fort Devens, Mass., before eventually settling between Sweet Home and Lebanon. Finding an unwanted stamp collection at a semi-recent estate sale revived his interest in philately.

“It just went from there and it blossomed to the point where I’m involved in the (stamp) club,” he said.

An image of the only “free stamp” Anderson has been able to find for his personal collection.

He estimates that his personal collection numbers in the several thousands, “a drop in the bucket compared to most people that are involved.” Anderson likes stamps between 1890 to 1940 but is keeping his “eyes peeled” for “free stamps” from letters sent during World War II, and the Korean and Vietnam wars.

During those periods, correspondents who sent word home to the United States simply had to write “free” in the top corner of the envelope. To date, Anderson has found only one “free” stamp.

“Stamps to me are like minerals,” he said. “You’ll never get out of it what you put into it. It is a true hobby. I collect for my experience, pet it, enjoy it and pass it along.”