Earl Apfelbaum

My grandfather, Earl P L Apfelbaum, was born in 1905 and died in 1985. He was born in Philadelphia and though he travelled extensively, at the time of his death his home was only a few miles from where he was born. He collected stamps from his earliest childhood and this was an interest he shared with his father, Maurice. Earl started his stamp business in 1930, at the beginning of the Great Depression, by opening his little shop in downtown Philadelphia.

Earl’s interest in philately was different from what most people do today. He was a complete generalist, as happy sorting through a batch of mixed Nicaragua as researching a transatlantic cover. One country or era was pretty much the same to him and he was this way intellectually as well, being proud of belonging to a select group of people who had read the old Encyclopedia Britannica from Aardvark to Zygote( try doing that today with Wikipedia). He was politically progressive – a lifelong New Dealer. He believed that government had a role in modern life and could be a force for good in our society. On an issue that united him and his grandson in the 1960s, he was an early, outspoken critic of the Vietnam war. His knowledge of history and geography, partly gleaned through his years in philately, convinced him that it was a war that could not be won and that the domino theory, which was the intellectual underpinnings of the war (the neo-conservatism of its day), was simply wrong.

He was an active man. He enjoyed reading and conversation with friends. In later life liked nothing better than going to the Union League, the oldest Republican club in Philadelphia, to argue his way through lunch. He didn’t drink and was a confirmed meat eater, disliking poultry and never to my knowledge even tasting fish. He was a loyal and loving husband to my grandmother Anne whom he had met when she came to the big city from small town New York state to be his secretary. They had one child, my father Martin. It was a regret, my grandparents said, that the austerities of the Great Depression made it impossible for them to have more children. Throughout his life, Earl supported his mother (his father Maurice died in 1935) and a sister who was born with special needs. Additionally, for most of his life he either supported or helped to support my Grandmother’s two sisters.

He was a loving grandfather. At seven or eight, I would go over to his house and we would read together (yep-the Encyclopedia Britannica). When I started coming around into the business he began my training program. It was a slow and methodical introduction to virtually all of the stamps of nearly all countries. He even imported an Argentine stamp dealer who had trained in Germany in the years before 1920 to be the tutor of my brother and me. He saw philately as a study not a business. When I look around today and see how splintered philatelic knowledge is, with people knowing a great deal about their narrow area but very little about the entirety, I realize how lucky I was that Earl Apfelbaum was my grandfather.

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