National Stamp-Collecting Month, Part II

This is edited from the how-to section from the piece I originally wrote for my old Angelfire site around 2005-07. I also saved my how-to posts on numismatism (coin-collecting) and marble collecting, if anyone is that interested in me reposting them here.

1. Read guidebooks, stamp magazines, trade publications, grading books. If possible, try to attend a conference, lecture, show, or convention.

2. You need to know how things are graded, or you risk getting cheated and duped. You don’t want to pay $300 for a very common stamp or trade in a bunch of duplicates for $50 when they’re really worth $160.

3. Uncirculated stamps are worth more. If it’s rare and/or in demand, it won’t matter to a serious collector if it’s been voided by going through the post, but don’t expect to be paid full value for a bunch of cancelled stamps.

4. The ideal way to handle stamps is to pick them up with tweezers or a similar grabbing object (provided it’s not sharp and won’t tear the paper). Dust and body oil devalue them.

5. Stamps shouldn’t be stored in the sunlight. Since they’re really nothing more than delicate thin paper, they can be fragile and are likely to fray easily if not stored and handled correctly. They belong on mounts or in albums. Even an inexpensive spiral notebook works. That’s the state of a big collection my late grandpap gave me. He came across a neighbour burning her recently-deceased husband’s belongings, and he saved the immense stamp collection by saying he had a granddaughter who liked to collect stamps. A lot of them are quite old, and from places that no longer exist, or now have new names.

6. Never try to remove a stamp from an envelope by yourself unless you know what you’re doing. This decreases a stamp’s value. It’s not hard to steam or soak a stamp off, but this isn’t something you want to be doing unless you’re absolutely sure of the correct procedure. It’s the same way you should take a copy of Yesterday…and Today to a professional to have the top layer steamed off if you spot the signs of the butcher cover.

7. The rabbi emeritus at my original shul said it’s important to have a special focus, not to collect every stamp you see. His focus is Judaic stamps, some of which he gave me in spite of my protests that he didn’t need to give away part of his collection.

8. If you know an older philatelist, as I did, nurture that relationship! Your friend might be eager to help you by giving you stamps.

9. If you tell people you’re a philatelist, they might send you letters and postcards with nice stamps.

10. Buy special stamps at the post office. You can also request people send you communications with those stamps.

11. Let those you live with know you’re a philatelist, so they’ll cut out interesting stamps on letters for you.

12. You could find stamps at auctions or antiques stores. They may have old postcards or stamp albums. Older relatives also might have stamps.

13. It’s a good idea to get your collection ensured if you know it’s worth anything.

14. Just because a stamp is old doesn’t automatically guarantee it’s worth much. If you see a lot of duplicates, it means they were very common.

15. Try getting a foreign penpal or writing to friends and relatives abroad.

16. There are over half a million types of stamps today. Unless you’re independently wealthy, there’s no way you can acquire and store them all.

17. Know the basic guidelines for worth. Common stamps are worth two to five cents apiece. Really common stamps (such as flag stamps) are only worth a penny. Mint copies are worth the same price they were when they were originally bought. If it’s rare, even if it’s cancelled, it’ll be worth more. In the late 19th century, stamps were issued in about 20,000-100,000 copies; today there are a hundred million, as well as over a billion Christmas stamps produced each year. Many older stamps were later destroyed.

18. If you come across a string, block, or sheet of stamps, never attempt to pull them apart. This can tear them, and ruin their value. They’re worth more in their original state, since it’s so rare to find an intact strip of stamps from, say, 1883.

19. If it’s foreign and/or old stamps you’re after, your best bet is a collector. You don’t happen into old or foreign stamps on a regular basis.

20. Don’t let yourself get cheated. Some stamp dealers offer common stamps for exorbitant prices, and people who don’t know any better fall for it. Sometimes it’s even incredibly obvious that the most valuable stamps have already been removed from these collections. For example, there was one e-Bay auction advertising 35 old Russian stamps, yet on the side of the scanned stock sheet, there was a Post-It note saying “44 old Russian stamps,” possibly written by the previous owner. That leads one to believe the dealer removed 9 valuable stamps and sold 35 of lesser value. It sold for $10.50 (the opening price was $10), when it was only worth about $2.

National Stamp-Collecting Month, Part I

In honour of National Stamp-Collecting Month, I’m going to be sharing, in several parts, a piece I wrote for my old Angelfire site probably around 2005-07, “How to Be the Best Philatelist You Can Be.” The original piece is almost 2,500 words, which I now recognise is a bit too long for most non-scholarly blogs!

These are some photos (out of many more!) of my stamp collection as it was at that writing. Since then, my collection has increased a fair bit. The Israeli stamps in the third-last and penultimate pictures are part of a stash given to me by the rabbi emeritus at my original shul in Massachusetts. He was really excited to discover I share his longtime, passionate hobby of philatelism, and thank God, he’s still alive.

See the rest of my stamp pictures

More Than Just a Kiss Blogfest, crafty stuff, and lace anniversary

More Than

Cecilia Robert and Christine Rains are hosting the More Than Just a Kiss Blogfest from 9-15 September, which they’re judging with Laurelin Paige and Kyra Lennon. A number of prizes will be given. Full rules and list of prizes are available by clicking on any of the above links.

I’m using part of a scene I used in another blogfest last year. It’s from my Bildungsroman And Jakob Flew the Fiend Away, Part IV, “And Jakob Loved Rachel,” Chapter 20, “Heat Beneath His Winter.” (Bonus points to anyone who knows the song I got the chapter title from!) It’s May 1945, and young soldier Jakob has finally got up the nerve to kiss his dream girl. They first met a year and a half ago, but he thought he’d lost her forever when he found out she was sent to Westerbork. While on a brief relief mission at the newly-liberated Westerbork, they met again, and began a deep friendship that turns into romance.


He knew it was now or never.  That night, as they were counting stars, Jakob slipped his violently shaking arm around her and pulled her towards him, then wrapped his other arm around her, leaned down to her height, and kissed her.  Rachel seemed to sense that he didn’t really know what he was doing, and he gratefully let her take over and teach him.  He let his mouth become soft, pliant, and passive against hers as she demonstrated the techniques she liked.  After awhile, he became emboldened enough to try imitating her, while still letting her lead.  His only active role was running his hands through her hair and along her face.  He was burning with desire to touch a lot more than just her hair and face, but he knew respectable people never went from nothing to everything overnight.

His whole body was shaking when he finally released her and gazed into her eyes. “I love you,” he blurted out.

Before Rachel had time to respond, he pulled her back into his arms and began kissing her again.  Once more he let her dominate him, glad at least one of them knew how to kiss properly.  There were so many different factors that had to come together in just the right way, but there was no time to think them all through in the heat of the moment.  As jealous as he was of her prior boyfriends, he was glad she had experience.

Express Sept

It’s been awhile since I participated in the Express Yourself weekly meme, as I had a bunch of posts I wanted to move out of my drafts folder during the summer lull.

For almost 25 years, I’ve been cross-stitching and embroidering. I also know how to make simple quilts and dolls, though I never figured out how to work a sewing machine. It takes at least twice as long to sew a quilt or mend something by hand!

Just a small sampling of my projects:

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My first cross-stitch, maybe 1989.

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I had to reconstruct a lot of this from educated guesswork and observation of patterns, since many of the stamped stitches had become faded from age. I last worked on it in 1996, when my family moved, and it was about 10 years before I finally picked it up again.

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I made a few mistakes on this, but hopefully no one will notice.

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A cute little project that was in one of my sewing baskets for years but never done.

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My mother began this in ’88 as a gift for her parents, after my uncle died, but never finished it. She gave it to me to finish in 2006. She made a few mistakes with colours, but I worked around them as best I could. It’s now hanging in a frame on my grandparents’ wall.


9 September is a very special day for me because it’s my lace (13th) anniversary with my first Who album, Tommy. I actually bought it on 7 September 2000 (not knowing at the time that it was Moonie’s Jahrzeit) and played the first few songs the next night, but didn’t play it all the way through till 9 September. It took me awhile to get used to it, but once it had become a familiar friend, I was insatiably hungry for more. I’ll always fondly remember my junior year of university as when I became a serious Who freak. Within a year, I had all their studio albums plus a few extras.

Here’s to 13 more years, and even more returns, with the album that started it all!

All that for a pair of scissors!

Words on Paper

Tuesdays in Blog Me MAYbe are themed “May I tell you something about myself?” In February of 2008, I got in a lot of trouble with El Al security at Ben Gurion Airport, all on account of a little pair of embroidery scissors in my pocket. And instead of acquiescing and letting them throw them out, or even having them put in an envelope to be mailed to the United States, I went through all the bother of saving them and having them put on my flight.

These are the scissors in questions, which I’d had for about 20 years at that point, since I’d begun embroidering and cross-stitching:

I chose this background prop because of the white background, not because I happen to like showing off my vinyl collection. (This is the second-newest addition to the collection, by the way.)

These are totally within the approved size for scissors on United States flights, four inches or under. We flew in on Continental and not El Al (due to a scheduling snafu by the tour organizer), and none of the customs at Newark gave me any trouble because of the scissors.

After we’d checked in and had our luggage checked and stowed, while going through security, the scissors were discovered while my carry-ons were going through a metal detector. These people are trained to be paranoid (for reasons everyone but leftist extremists can understand).

A handsome young man spoke to me about the scissors, and I was as calm as could be. I said I’d said, when we were asked near the beginning, that I did have scissors, small sewing scissors, and hadn’t withheld any such information. I said I’d had them on the plane coming over and needed them for sewing. I even offered to show him the sewing projects in my backpack.

He didn’t ask check, but he would’ve seen a lot of thread, needles, an embroidery hoop, a frog cross-stitch kit, more blank fabric, and two other cross-stitch diagrams. He asked why I had the scissors in my pocket, and I said I’d had them in there while I was sewing, and had put them in there when I got off of the plane.

It’s not like I was planning to stab someone on the plane with a pair of small scissors that aren’t even industrial-strength sharp! And when I said the American airline regulations allowed scissors of that size, he said Israeli security regulations don’t allow any scissors in carry-on luggage.

And of course, since it’s El Al, I had a number of other questions leveled at me, like what the purpose of my visit was, who I came with, how long my stay had been, the name of the congregation I came with. (At our orientation meeting before the trip, our rabbi told us their profile of a potential terrorist is NOT an Arab, but a young single woman travelling alone, particularly a European.)

He gave me three options—go back through security and get a box to check them in with the other luggage, mail them home, or have them confiscated. It cost nothing to put them in an extra box, so I did that.

It took up a lot of time, and I was redirected around several times, even at one point having to get a new security strip put on the large envelope, because the first one had had a sticker placed over the numbers. I thought I was going to miss the plane because of how much time this was taking. It was pretty close, but I did get there before boarding started.

Having to go through all that hoopla just to get a little pair of scissors safely stowed on board with the other checked luggage was very nerve-wracking as the minutes ticked by, but it was worth it. I saved my property and went to the bat to preserve my civil liberties. Someday when I have a child, I’m going to use those scissors for the Upsherin (ritual first haircut done on the third birthday, which is also when a child traditionally starts learning Torah).

Marbles aren’t just for kids!

My 2nd Annual Flash Fiction Blogfest entry is here.

(Pre-script: Happy 10-year anniversary of graduating UMass Amherst to me!)

Words on Paper

Tuesdays in Blog Me MAYbe are themed “May I tell you something about myself?” One of my hobbies, since childhood, is collecting marbles. My collection isn’t that huge, but it’s bigger than those of the average person who only sees marbles as a children’s toy. To this day, I mourn the couple of marbles who fell into the interior of my family’s red ’84 Honda and couldn’t be pulled out.

As if any more evidence were needed that I was a weird kid, I actually named my marbles and played games with them, like pretending they were characters in a story and doing actions. I only remember a handful of the names I gave them—Minnie (the biggest marble in my collection back then), Peaches and Cream, Herb, and Simon. Maybe there was one called Milky Way? Minnie was the little marbles’ teacher, since she was the biggest one.

Over the years, I’ve also picked up some marbles I randomly found. A number of the marbles I found come from the grounds of the house my family moved into when we moved back to New York in February ’03. Apparently the previous owners’ kids liked marbles too, and weren’t as careful about taking care of their marbles as I was.

Here are some pictures of my marbles. I have other sets of marbles I haven’t gotten around to taking pictures of, and haven’t gathered together all my stray marbles for one group picture.

I bought these at some gift shop of a museum in the Berkshires, maybe around 2000.

This is the tin I’ve kept my first set of marbles in all these years, since before I can remember.  It was made in Peru. The tin also contains some jacks, little rubber balls, and other things. They’re kept in a Raggedy Ann drawstring bag, also dating from the early Eighties.

My original gang, minus the few who were lost in the old car. They’re not as fancy or diverse as the other marbles from Massachusetts. Someday I want to diversify even more and get marbles of much larger and smaller sizes (such as doll-sized marbles), different materials (like clay marbles from the Civil War era), and different colors of agate.

Connection to my writing: Along the way of writing him, I made one of my Shoah characters, Isaiah von Hinderburg (separated big brother of Lazarus and Malchen), a marble collector as well. Isaiah is very proud of his marble collection, and when he and his friends go back to their homes under cover of darkness to collect some important possessions after going into hiding, he makes sure to get his marbles. Isaiah is also a fellow numismatist and philatelist, and also takes his coins and stamps into hiding.

Isaiah is one of the two people in his group of seven who isn’t caught in November ’43, and he escapes into the underground tunnels of Holland and eventually Belgium. When he’s liberated by the Canadians in September of ’44, he still has his beautiful, extensive marble collection.