Postage Stamps' Days Numbered?
A speaker at UNC-Chapel Hill astonished me almost 60 years ago when he proposed that the federal government shed the postal system in favor of private enterprise.
With the U.S. Postal Service facing economic reality today, the prospect of closing smaller post offices is just as daunting. Email is certainly less expensive, but I still prefer greetings and personal messages in the form of cards, letters, telephone calls and visits.
I began collecting stamps in childhood. My interest in the hobby became even more intense after I met my future husband, also a stamp collector. Friends teasingly suggested that we had to get married because it would have been too difficult to separate our stamp collections if we decided to break up. A divorce settlement would have been even worse.
Stamp collecting remained a favorite hobby throughout our marriage, and I did not dispose of our extensive collection until after his death. I could no longer afford the hobby, and besides, the spark was extinguished with his death.
It was a honeymoon experience that reminds me of the blessings (and occasionally the curses) of small post offices.
Howard and I spent our week on the Outer Banks. It was 1957, and coastal North Carolina was still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Hazel. Beaches were almost barren.
We scaled Jockey's Ridge, visited the Wright Brothers National Memorial and climbed 248 steps to the top of Hatteras lighthouse. Intrigued by quaint villages then untouched by development, we rambled through Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills and Collington.
It also occurred to us that these rural post offices would be good places to fill gaps in our stamp albums. That dream was quickly squelched at the first office we visited. The clerk was friendly enough, but before she could open her stamp drawer for our scrutiny, a dour-faced man emerged from a back room and sharply informed us that the stamps were not for sale.
Shocked at such rude (and probably illegal) behavior, we simply stalked out and didn't make a stink.
We really were not looking for rare or unusual stamps, just some regular stamps in odd denominations not as popular as the more colorful commemoratives. Apparently the man (most likely the postmaster) feared we out-of-towners would buy something desired by a local collector he was protecting.
Our luck returned on our way home. We stopped in Swan Quarter, a small inland town in Hyde County, where the postmaster turned out to be a most gracious lady. Not only did she offer a variety of stamps, she she also gave us a commemorative envelope with a cachet publicizing the storied gameland/wildlife refuge at nearby Lake Mattamuskeet. But first, she autographed the envelope.
If you're unfamiliar with philately, I must advise that such an envelope, especially bearing the postmaster's autograph, is a collector's delight. It may not be valuable in the monetary sense, but it is certainly an aesthetic asset.
USPS economic woes are easy to understand today. With the economy in the dumps and businesses increasingly using e-mail, it's hard to break even and maintain the services we expect.
Post offices remain popular meeting places in many communities, and I hate to consider the possible demise of those miniature works of art called postage stamps. Philately is so popular that the USPS has a separate division selling stamps to collectors, a program that actually makes money because these sales do not require service.
More important, the postage stamp is a good medium to honor our history, our culture, our heroes, the environment, our celebrations and our needs.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at email@example.com.
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