There’s a stamp out there for everyone. A horse stamp, a lighthouse stamp, a car stamp, a boat stamp — you name it, there is probably a stamp for it. Stamps can be collected topically to reflect someone’s interests, but there are plenty of other ways to collect them. They can be collected by country of origin — for instance, if an immigrant wants to remember their birthplace or if someone wants to commemorate their family heritage — but they can also be collected more broadly or by era as a way to learn about the history and geography of the world, since countries commemorate their most important figures, places, objects and events on stamps. They can even be collected simply by rarity — although that can become pricey, since many rare stamps go for thousands of dollars and the most expensive stamp in the world is worth over $8 million. Anyone can find a way to enjoy collecting stamps on any budget, and a dedicated community of enthusiasts is keeping the hobby alive in Lancaster County.
The Lancaster Patriot spoke with Wayne Gehret, who has been collecting stamps since his childhood. His grandfather was a minister who communicated with the missionaries sent out from his church, so he would frequently receive mail from around the world. “I would tear the stamps off the envelopes and collect them,” Gehret said. “It’s been my passion since I was four years old. I just never gave it up.”
An Ephrata resident born and raised, Gehret went to Messiah College, where he ended up parting ways with his first roommate because he had too many stamps in the dorm room. He began selling stamps while in college, and he has now been selling stamps and coins to collectors for over 40 years. He is a member of the American Stamp Dealers Association, a member of the National Stamp Dealers Association, and a lifetime member of the American Philatelic Society — “philately” being the technical term for “stamp collecting” — and he can be found on their websites. He has his own website, usmintsheets.com, where he buys and sells stamps.
Selling stamps is an orderly business. “Every stamp has its own individual catalog number,” Gehret explained. “So if I talked to anybody across the country that knows anything about stamps and said I wanted stamp number 929, they would say, ‘Oh, that’s the 3-cent Iwo Jima stamp from World War II.’ The catalog would then have a price available for a mint stamp, a used stamp, and a first day cover. And every stamp in the world is cataloged that way.” To keep up with the changes in the catalog, every year sellers have to buy at least six volumes that are each about 2 inches thick and together cost about $600 to $700.
“Stamps need to be mint in order to have some form of value to them,” he added. Used stamps can be sold by the pound, with a single pound costing roughly $20 and containing about 8,000 stamps, or about four stamps for 1 cent. The cheapness is due to the fact that stamps that have gone through the mail were acquired for free, since people only tore or soaked them off envelopes. The fact that stamps can be collected for free makes the hobby a great one for children, who can collect a large variety of stamps without paying for them.
Gehret attends national and local stamp shows, like the Lancaster Stamp Show, which is held at the Lancaster Farm and Home Center every two months. The upcoming show will be on Friday, April 28, and Saturday, April 29, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. According to Gehret, the crowds at stamp shows tend to be the older generations, but he hopes to see more young people and families take an interest in stamp collecting. Stamp shows, he said, are a good place for beginners and hobbyists to purchase a few stamps to start or expand their collection. He also recommends eBay as a good place to hunt for stamps.
People interested in learning more about stamp collecting or how to begin collecting should check out the American Philatelic Society, Gehret advised. This society can be found online at stamps.org. In addition to its many free resources and its adult membership options, the society has two youth programs: Young Stamp Collectors of America, a virtual stamp club for ages 6-17, and Young Philatelic Leaders Fellowship, an educational program that supports serious stamp collectors ages 16-24, providing them with learning opportunities, mentorships, and full scholarships to the society’s shows and seminars. The Philatelic Society of Lancaster County, the local chapter of the American Philatelic Society, meets twice per month and can be found online at lcps-stamps.org.