Postmark collectors gather in New London to celebrate hobby, trade and reminisce

Don Patten, of Moore, Okla., examines a collection of postmarks that were free for the taking at The Postmark Collectors Club's 49th annual convention being held at the Radisson in New London Wednesday, July 21, 2010.
Don Patten, of Moore, Okla., examines a collection of postmarks that were free for the taking at The Postmark Collectors Club's 49th annual convention being held at the Radisson in New London Wednesday, July 21, 2010.

New London - The first thing you should know about postmark collectors is this: They are people just like us.

Well, maybe not just like us.

"One time somebody compiled a list of 10 reasons to collect postmarks," says Andy Mitchell. "And one of the reasons was 'Nobody ever asks you twice what your hobby is.'"

Postmarks, of course, are those little black circles - containing the name of the town and the date - with the wavy lines that the post office puts on stamps to "kill" or cancel them.

And Mitchell, of Bloomfield, is the guy who organized this week's gathering, the 49th annual convention of the Post Mark Collectors Club, running Wednesday through Saturday at the Radisson.

Mitchell estimates about 100 of the 400-plus members of the national organization will be in town this week to talk about postmarks, trade postmarks, buy and sell postmarks and paw through the boxes of old postcards and envelopes stacked on the tables of the Radisson conference

room to look for postmarks to add to their collections.

"For a fairly esoteric pursuit," he says, "I think that's a pretty good response."

They also will be taking the ferry out to Block Island Friday to drink in the sights and - yes - collect a Block Island, R.I., postmark.

So what is it that gets someone into this hobby?

"In my case, it was when I was a kid," says Mitchell, 60. "When I was in the fourth grade, a classmate of mine said, 'Hey, I've got this fun hobby that I heard about, where you just go through your family's mail, and each piece of mail has this little circle on it saying where it came from.' So you could accumulate a collection for free. So that was better than stamp collecting, because you had to pay for stamps."

Mitchell fondly remembers that "when I was a kid and we'd go on vacation, I'd always be pestering my parents to stop at every post office so I could mail myself a postcard. That was fun."

And, as it turns out, it is a hobby that attracts women as well as men, though the women, Mitchell says, approach it a little differently.

"The guys like me tend to be 'completists,' like I've got to get all of Connecticut," he says. "Some people do it differently. They narrow it down. Like they get special pictorial cancellations like this."

He holds up an envelope with a special cancellation from Groton marking the 50th anniversary of the Nautilus going under the North Pole.

"Some people do thematic, like post offices with water in their names, like Lakeville, Lake City or Valley Stream or whatever," he says. "So there's a lot of creativity involved here, coming up with different ways of collecting."

Sitting at one of the tables paging through postcards is Diane DelGrosso, from Nevada, who says she knows a woman who's trying to collect postmarks for every date in the 1930s.

"It's amazing," she says.

DelGrosso is with her husband, Mike, and has been attending the annual conventions for years. She well remembers the first one.

"When my husband suggested that we go on our first trip to Sarasota to a postmark convention, I said, 'You mean other people collect these?'"

These days, they travel, taking pictures of old post offices, which they share with The Post Mark Collectors Club Museum in Bellevue, Ohio.

"I've always been interested in place names, but now I'm more interested in the history, and I've been taking pictures of the smaller post offices that are fading away rather quickly," Mike DelGrosso says.

Gary Hendren of St. Louis, Mo., also has a fascination with what's been and gone.

He explains that St. Louis "was the first town in the country to offer street car mail, mail was sorted and stamped right on the street car. And I happen to have the earliest known St. Louis cancel, which makes it the earliest known cancel on a street car anywhere. You can't go out and buy that if you had a million dollars, because there's only one. So that's the thrill of things."

But if there's one thing that's obvious from looking around the room, it's that the younger generation doesn't get that thrill.

Hendren is 71; Mike DelGrosso says he's "68, I guess," and Diane DelGrosso says, "I'm 39 and holding, but I've been holding a long time."

And so it may be that the postmark collectors are going the way of the postmarks they seek.

"It's an aging group," Mitchell admits. "This kind of hobby, I think, is losing out to flashier pursuits for younger people."

k.robinson@theday.com

Right, collectors from around the country look through displays at the convention.
Right, collectors from around the country look through displays at the convention.
Post Mark collectors Mary Jane Wade of Deptford, NJ, center, catches up with Diane DelGrosso of Sparks, NV, right, during the first day of the Postmarks by the Sea 49th annual convention of the Post Marks Collectors Club at the Radisson in New London Wednesday July 21, 2010.
Post Mark collectors Mary Jane Wade of Deptford, NJ, center, catches up with Diane DelGrosso of Sparks, NV, right, during the first day of the Postmarks by the Sea 49th annual convention of the Post Marks Collectors Club at the Radisson in New London Wednesday July 21, 2010.

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