When did you lose track?



From stamps to coins to baseball cards to just about anything we could toss in—Beanie Babies, just about the entire world of Disney, Hummels, every official and unofficial and bootleg and unauthorized and second to last third annual farewell tour live music from your favorite band—collecting and becoming a self-taught-expert on things is something where just about all of us could look around our home, spot something, point, and express an admission of guilt.

We have hobbies. We have things that interest us. And, usually—for reasons that might involve cost, storage space, differing interests for different people—the way we pursue (or don’t pursue) those hobbies vary over a lifetime.

When I was younger, I tried to get interested in stamps and coins. The fascination lasted for one weekend trip with some friends to a hobby shop that specialized in stamps. Beyond that, I don’t think you could string together more than five minutes of attention from my childhood.

Ok, that’s not true. I vividly recall my parents, during a family trip to Washington, DC, bringing their children to the National Postal Museum one morning for a visit that involved many of the Smithsonian locations… and that was a pretty interesting trip for a variety of reasons. I’ve always appreciated some of the stories and histories involved in several specialty hobbies, including stamps and coins.

Instead, what I want you to consider is a bit more simplified than why some of us find things interesting or mind-numbing. And that is this…

Ice cream… chocolate cake… a wonderful steak cooked specifically to order with a tremendous horseradish cream sauce on the side. These temptations and others are things that all of us can agree are indulgences that we enjoy, even though we all recognize that they do not represent the healthiest of choices and shouldn’t be a daily part of a wonderful diet.

Twist that logic, and you have what I think applies to the vast majority of times when you mention stamp collecting to people. Because deep down, some of the stories are truly amazing…

  • How the early days of any postal service usually involved sending mail postage due… collect… pay upon receipt. So, often, mail delivery was turned away because intended recipients couldn’t afford to accept it. In 1840, the world began to change a bit, when the first postage stamp was offered in England.
  • The Inverted Jenny may be one of the most famous stamp errors that many of us have actually seen photographs of at some time or another. This stamp is well-known for the printing mistake that offered an image of an upside-down plane.
  • In the United States, the history of stamps and postal service efforts is deeply intertwined in the fabric and development and history of the country. Just the stories involving the Civil War are fascinating and incredible.

Remember the indulgences… delicious and wonderful, but perhaps not everyday treats? Most people seem to understand that stamps, and the history of them in America and around the world, can be interesting, fun, and cover important ground. And at the same time, those people also seem to lack long-term focus and excitement in the field.

It is with that lacking long-term attraction that we suddenly arrive at too much of a good thing.

Just over two decades ago, work began on a commemorative quarter program. You know the one… fifty states, five released per year over a ten-year run. Madness resulted as people began collecting them.

People wanted them in as perfect a condition as they could find. People bought specialty storage items and display units. All sorts of thrills.

Since then, the U.S. Mint has gone a bit nutty trying to follow-up on the successes of that program. Coins to celebrate U.S. Presidents, national parks, American history, and even a series of pennies specialized for Abraham Lincoln. And, there are more.

Let’s be clear about something… I’m not saying that these efforts are a bad idea. Potentially confusing since many of them involve coins in circulation, but not necessarily bad.

What I am wondering about is overall interest. Be honest. Did you know there were four different styles of pennies issued about ten years ago to honor dates of Lincoln’s birth (1809) and the first Lincoln cent (1909)? Did the run of nickels—known as the Westward Journey series—get you as excited about checking out coins as the 50 States Quarters effort?

Coming across a bicentennial quarter or a wheat penny can be pretty neat. Pushed far enough though, and it moves into an area that tests your patience.

I don’t remember exactly how I finished my set of commemorative quarters. It might not have been assembled in order or within days of the final coin release. But I can recall that I finished collecting all fifty.

I can also remember when I heard that the nickels would be joining the effort to have a special run, and not being that excited about continuing coin sorting and collecting efforts into other areas. Fifty quarters. I was good with that.

My wife and I aren’t head-over-heels avid collectors of anything. We have some things we’ve purchased, and you might say collected, over time. Many of them likely wouldn’t matter to you. That’s fine. And if you are collecting all the different coin styles as the circulate, fantastic.

But remove the interest, and regardless of the fascinating details, all of us eventually lose track. And I find myself wondering how long each of us lasted, and about the reasons we drifted off.


If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at Bob@inmybackpack.com