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World Stamp Show Highlights Stamps
as Cultural Icons
by Bob Brooke

A lot of people collect stamps, including some celebrities like Queen Elizabeth II of England, Warren Buffet, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. But surely none of them thought of stamps as collectibles. In fact, stamp collecting is a category all by itself.

But stamps and all sorts of postage memorabilia are in fact ephemera—paper goods—in the broadest sense. The wide range of items available is astonishing, in some cases numbering into the thousands. And just like collectors of antique ephemera such as stock certificates, stamp collectors seek out the rarest of the rare. And what better place to show off the rarest examples and the most unique collections than at one of the largest stamp shows on the planet.

Every 10 years, the United States hosts this historic event in which people from around the world come together to honor the postage stamp. This year’s eight-day celebration, World Stamp Show-NY 2016, runs from May 28th to June 4th, 2016, at the Javits Center located at 655 West 34th Street in New York City. In addition to hundreds of thousands stamps from around the world, this year’s exhibition will include the world’s most valuable postage stamp, John Lennon’s childhood stamp album, vintage postal vehicles, and much more.

Unlike antiques shows where the focus is on selling, stamp exhibitions enable stamp collectors to help educate the public and other collectors about stamps in general and their special areas of interest in particular. Exhibitions also give collectors a chance to mingle and share ideas, unlike antiques shows at which collectors seldom get together to share ideas and news of their particular category. Stamp exhibitions also appeal to those who are competitive and want to achieve bragging rights. At a world-class event like this, those bragging rights become very important.

Visitors from all 50 states and more than 100 countries are expected to attend the free exhibition and retail event at which they can buy from more than 200 of the world’s most notable and respected stamp dealers, bid on rarities through revered auction houses, view nearly 60,000 pages of stamp exhibits, attend seminars, or visit over 60 post offices of nations from around the world that are participating in the exhibition.

What to See
On display will be very valuable and rare stamps, including the British Guiana One-Cent Black on Magenta stamp, produced in 1856, sold in 2014 for $9.5 million, and considered to be the world’s most valuable object by weight. Those new to stamp collecting will receive complimentary stamps and guidance from “stamp buddies” on how to begin collecting in the “Beginner’s Area,” with planned activities for those attendees from 6 to 96 years of age.

For more than 150 years, postage stamps have connected people from all over the world. Just as Passport stamps show where people have traveled to in the world, postage stamps are a unique way of learning about history, geography and even pop culture. Through their exhibitions, called frames, collectors tell stories of the past, such as who was the president of the US in any given year, what cars were popular when, or when the world was at war, all through the stamps they exhibit. Many exhibit groupings assembled around a theme, such as art, inventions, presidents, and national parks.

For generations, people have used stamps on letters that have delivered news of events, both happy and sad occasions, business, politics, discoveries, and family history. By the same token, postage stamps reflect the times and teach everyone about people, places, and events. And like antiques and collectibles, stamp collecting is a great way to connect with the past.

Exhibiting got its start in the great art salons and world’s fairs of the 19th century. History has recorded the great art competitions in the 1860s when the Impressionist movement became the center of attention, or the Armory show in New York in 1913 where Modern art occupied public attention and controversy. Just as these events had medals and awards, so do stamp exhibitions.

Awards for world class philatelic exhibitions follow generally the framework established by the International Federation of Philately (FIP) headquartered in Switzerland. There will be a Grand Prix d’Honneur, a Grand Prix International, and a Grand Prix National. The first is awarded to the most outstanding exhibit in the championship class, those exhibits that have previously won a large gold award in international competition. The second will recognize the most outstanding exhibit from all of stamp collecting. And the third will recognize the most outstanding exhibit of the host nation, in this case the U.S. At past exhibitions, these awards have included classical bronze sculptures, Native American sculptures, and other remarkable objects d’art.

The exhibition jury will award medals of various levels to deserving exhibits in the various classes other than the championship class. These start at the bottom of the ladder with bronze medals and top out with large golds. The jury uses a point system, established by the FIP by mutual agreement, to determine which award goes to which exhibit.

This exhibit will be so large that a couple of hours won’t do it. Visitors should plan on staying for at least two days if not four or five. What antiques show is so large to require a similar investment of time and is free to boot?

To learn more about the show, visit the World Stamp Show-NY 2016 Web site.

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