Pen Pals

An old cousin contacted me this week. She had been researching the play “Mauritius” which has a stamp component in its plot for her husband’s amateur theatrical group and she came upon my name on the Internet. We had not been in touch in many years. She’s a bit older than I am and had estranged herself from the family. When I was in college she was in grad school at the same university and we were friendly. We are currently reminiscing about old family dinners and how crazy our different family members were (us excluded, of course).
All this is done electronically. We could phone if we liked but I think each of us cherishes the slight protection that emailing gives us, the chance to carefully craft our stories and reactions and to present ourselves in just the way we wish. Letters offer that. Phones and videoconferencing do not.

I often have wondered just what it was that hooked the first generations of stamp collectors into the hobby of philately. After all revenue stamp collecting never really made it as a mainstream hobby and all kinds of rare paper ephemera have their boosters but have never approached the popularity of stamps. Here’s a theory. Imagine a time before email and telephones-the time when philately was a vibrant hobby. A letter from a friend or family member was a valued event. The postman’s knock on the door, the joy of recognizing familiar handwriting on the address, the pleasure of reading the letter, folding it up and saving it in the envelope to be read and reread again. Children who grew up in families that so looked forward to postal communications esteemed letters and this may well have been the impetus to save stamps later in life. So when you hear about fathers and grandfathers introducing their children and grandchildren to philately they are just doing today what parents did 150 years ago when they read to their children letters that arrived from relatives far away.

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