Collectors sing praises of Oregon’s new stamp
by Amy Reifenrath
January 14, 2009
She attracted a cult following after breaking out on the CBS reality show “Rock Star: Supernova.” On Wednesday, Oregon’s Storm Large sang the national anthem for a different kind of crowd: philatelists.
They’re stamp collectors, and people who study stamps.
About 100 of them — some taking time off work — crammed into the World Forestry Center in Portland. The celebration? The first-day-of-issue ceremony of the Oregon Statehood Commemorative Stamp.
The U.S. Postal Service issued the stamps to launch the celebration of the state’s 150th birthday Feb. 14.
About 30 million have been printed. The 42-cent stamps are available at post offices around Oregon and at major cities nationwide.
The organizers invited Large along with Oregon first lady Mary Oberst, Portland postmaster Shawneen Betha and other dignitaries to the two-hour event.
In the Oregon stamp, white waves made with broad brush strokes appear to crash against rocks along the coast. A tree leans to the right, as if fighting the wind, and the sky turns orange as if the sun is about to set.
“I wanted to make it an icon, an impression, of what the shoreline feels like,” said Beaverton artist Gregory Manchess, who designed the stamp using oil on a panel. It depicts a scene reconstructed from a photo taken just south of Boardman State Park, north of Brookings.
The agency issues dozens of stamps every year. Organizers described Oregon’s new stamp as a miniature billboard sent across the country advertising the state’s beauty.
Although Large is not a hard-core collector herself, she did go home with a first-day-of-issue stamp. The singer says stamps have their charm. In a day of e-mails and text messages, “Writing letters and using a stamp to actually mail them — it’s so romantic,” she says. “But I don’t like to lick them.”
Many celebrities collect stamps, says Ken Martin, spokesman for the American Philatelic Society in Bellefonte, Penn. They include Jerry Buss, owner of the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team; actor Clint Eastwood; and the president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, who received a stamp book from President Bush during a recent visit.
“Maybe it seems dorky because it doesn’t require social skills and involves people studying fine details of little things,” Martin said. “But it’s a great hobby that can be done as a family at almost all ages.”
The stamp-collecting industry, he said, is booming. He cited a study from Lynn’s Stamp News, a collectors magazine, which found in 2007 that U.S. stamp sales by all dealers had reached a record $1.18 billion.
The postal service’s circulation doesn’t reflect such gains. The agency estimates it circulated 202.7 billion pieces of mail in the past fiscal year, a decline of about five percent from the year before.
First-class mail has been declining fastest, probably because more people send notes by e-mail and pay bills online, U.S. Postal Service spokesman Peter Hass said. The postal service, which supports itself without tax money, estimates that stamp collectors provide it with about $200 million, he said.
Collector John Blakeman, a 44-year-old from Portland, gave the new stamp good reviews. He was among the people who took the day off work to attend Wednesday’s stamp ceremony. An employee of the IRS, he began collecting stamps as an 11-year-old when he inherited a collection from his great-grandmother.
“Seeing those stamps for the first time was the best thing ever,” he said. This year, he stopped going out to lunch and saved $1,500 to buy himself three stamps that are part of a pictorial series he is collecting.
He and others acknowledged that stamp collecting is a poor investment. Dealers usually buy them at a fraction of their catalog price.
Oregon’s 42-cent statehood stamp will probably be worth 42 cents a decade from now, and dealers would probably only buy it for a couple dimes, stamp collectors said.
But by collecting stamps, Blakeman said, you are “collecting a history, something of consequence, substance and beauty.