“Stamps On Approval”


Once we had exhausted our supply of free stamps, my brother and I began sending away for stamps on approval from a couple of stamp companies. I remember Harris Stamp Company in particular, though there were others. The company would send several little glassine envelopes of stamps with such various assortments as “birds,” “Kings,” “Bulgaria.” and “sports.” Usually the packets had five or so stamps each and cost between 10 and 15 cents. We would pour over our possibilities, count our money and mail back those we didn’t want along with coins to cover the ones we were keeping.

It is amazing to think of the workers at those stamp companies opening countless envelopes from kids, returning the unsold packets to their slots and counting the money. I assume, however, that this was a lucrative business, no matter how labor intensive, since it lasted throughout our childhoods.

Needless to say, this produced my rather haphazard collection of stamps which I am looking over today. Clearly I favored colorful stamps and those from British colonies. But today my stamp album is intriguing for the global history it reveals. I find King George on the Australia postage. Eva Peron shows up on my Argentina stamp. Queen Elizabeth reigns over Basutoland. Hitler adorns German stamps. A haughty Franco faces us from Spain. Countless colonies have now become countries since I collected their stamps, and no longer does Queen Elizabeth show up all over the globe as she does in my album.

While my grandchildren will probably never collect stamps, I can give them a fascinating history lesson when we look at my album. And I can remember having to memorize the world map full of countries long since made independent and renamed. So much for the lasting value of that 7th grade African geography test!


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