How I got involved with philately, and how it came to be focused on Japan and the ISJP

by Ken Kamholz – Vice President & Publisher JP

August 25th, 2016

Seeing the blog posting from Lois M. Evans-de Violini made me think a bit about how I got involved with philately, and how it came to be focused on Japan and the ISJP.  So here is my story…as I remember things in some cases after more than 60 years.

When I was just six years old, an uncle brought me an old, nearly empty stamp album, and introduced me to collecting.  I remember no details about those early discussions, but I do recall doing things that would be expected from a little kid whose knowledge was limited.  For example, there was a US postage due stamp in the album, but it was loosely attached to the page (by what I later learned to be a stamp hinge).  I got out my cellophane “Scotch” tape and securely taped it down so it wouldn’t move.

I also recall the very first non-US stamp I added through my own efforts.  It was a very common stamp from Mexico, Scott 858 (or one of its later look-alike variants).  I don’t think I still have that stamp, but my recollection of it eventually led me to build a collection of Mexican stamps.

As a kid, and up to my mid-teenage years, I had everyone in my family saving stamps from their mail for me.  And a few friends and I also did what kids do: buy inexpensive stamps from dealers, directly and on approval, and engage in lots of swapping.  I got an album more suitable than the old one given to me by my uncle, and it quickly became unsuitable too since it didn’t have space for new stamps.

My later teenage years saw my interest in stamps take a back seat to academic interests, as I completed high school and went on to college and graduate school.  Philately remained my most important secondary interest during that time, and I frequently used spare cash to enhance my (rather pedestrian) collection.

The stamp albums available never quite fitting the accumulation of stamps I had, I set about (in my early 20s) making my own albums simply by typing the country name on ordinary unlined three-holed loose-leaf paper.  That enabled me to expand where necessary, and ensured that I would not have to be cramped for space.  Of course, I knew nothing about using materials with archival qualities, but then again the stamps were generally not very valuable.  I still have these homemade three-ring binders filled with stamps, about 25 of them.

Once I got out of school, got married, and started my career, I had more money to put into philately.  It was still my main recreational interest, so I could devote enough time to it to keep it current even though the rest of my time was filled with family, work and other critical pursuits.  But, during that time, I came to recognize that some focus in my hobby would be a good idea.  I would still be happy to collect stamps from anywhere, but maybe I would spend money only in selected areas.  Although in retrospect it wasn’t an especially good decision, I started new-issue subscriptions for most of the Western European countries and Japan.  When that got too expensive, I had to narrow my focus, and I decided to concentrate on just one country.  I selected France because their stamp-issuing policy did not tend toward proliferation, because their stamps were generally quite well executed, because dealers tended to have good stocks of the stamps, and because I had studied French in graduate school and could, therefore, read French philatelic literature.  I stopped all new-issue subscriptions, and focused on filling my new Scott Specialty album for France.

Over the ensuing years, I built two separate French collections.  I tried to obtain as many of the stamps as possible (mint where affordable).  I was not at all interested in postal history or postal stationery, so the collection was exclusively adhesives.  A few French booklets came my way, and I started a second collection of the wide variety of French booklets.  Eventually, the French booklet collection became my main focus, and, when I finally sold it, it contained over 1,200 items.

At some point, adding more stamps to the collection of French adhesives was too costly, and I decided to try a new country, Japan, and later, due to the same issue, I added Mexico.  In both cases, as I had done with France, I built mint collections to the extent that my finances allowed, using Scott Specialty albums.  Along the way, I joined the relevant specialist societies, FCPS, ISJP and MEPSI.  I came to regard my collection of French booklets as the gemstone, and Japan, Mexico and France, in that order, as my subsidiary interests.

I enjoyed the publications provided by each of the societies, and at some point in the early 1980s responded to a request for a volunteer to fill an Assistant Secretary role in ISJP.  That position eventually led to being centrally involved with the management of ISJP, where I am today its Vice-President and Publisher of its journal, Japanese Philately, having previously been Secretary and Treasurer.

I had hoped that someone in my family would share my interest in stamps, but that never happened.  My children each developed completely different interests, and so, I decided about 10 years ago that I would eventually have to divest of my collections rather than pass them on to family members.  The first portion to be sold was the French booklet collection.  I truly enjoyed going through it one more time as I prepared it for sale.  Later, I sold the Mexico collection as well as a number of small side-collections.  I still retain the collections of Japan and France, but I plan to offer them for sale shortly, along with the residue of my early general collections, largely still housed in those three-ring binders.  I have kept the French collection until now because it is not very well organized and needs a bit of attention prior to sale.  I have kept the Japanese collection because I often need illustrations of older stamps for the journal, Japanese Philately.  Recently I finished scanning all of my Japanese stamps, and now I can feel free to offer the collection for sale.

So, now in my 70s, I no longer collect, and I am actively selling what is left.  But this is still my hobby, and I get great enjoyment from my roles in ISJP.  Working closely with the Editor of Japanese Philately, Ron Casey, I get the journal into printable format, and then arrange for printing and mailing to ISJP’s membership.  It has been a lifetime of great fun, but I still regret that my kids (and their kids) have never developed an interest in this pursuit.