A look at
Minonk's past

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By Albin Johnson

I wonder how many others watch the TV program called "The Antique Roadshow"? After following the show as it traveled around the country, I started wondering how all this popularity with saving things began. This spring as the birds gathered and started building nests in our patio structure, I took notice. I tried not to disturb this one fellow as he set about strutting his stuff. I figured he was a "mister" as he had bright colored feathers on his "puffed out" chest. He chattered incessantly. [A male characteristic!]. Then I noticed the gathering of select twigs in order to build a nest.

I had always figured the female gender was responsible for the nesting as the males were too busy impressing the ladies. With this notion came the revelation, which incidentally didn't come easy! I made a giant leap and decided that nature is responsible for our obsession with collecting all manner of castoff and worthless monkey junk. Birds seem to do it, bees do it, and as we progress absolutely anything.

Swedes have long been accused of having "a wait and see attitude." Why try Eggs Benedict when oatmeal will do? I'm not necessarily slow, just reserved. At my age it came as no big surprise that I started stewing about all my youthful possessions. Didn't I have exotic marbles, a stamp collection, trains, Big-Little books, and a marvelous set of WWI lead soldiers, and who knows what else? Where did this all go? Should I lose sleep fretting about how valuable these priceless possessions have become? I wondered if the birds have any idea of how valuable their nests might become. I suppose, much like me, they have moved so often that things were lost or tossed out in transit. What to do? WHAT TO DO??

Marilyn and I travel a lot which have us coming in contact with a lot of interesting ethnic trinkets. Many of these local items seemed clever enough to purchase. I had no experience with the potential value of "stuff", so our purchases were mainly crafty things.

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Navy life had taught me to pack sparingly, so it was easy to suggest we buy only that which we could manage to carry. This, in my mind, meant a size of 3"x4"x10" or 120 sq. in.'s. I soon added an amendment for smaller items. Nothing that would require a box larger than 1"x1"x2" or 2 sq. in.s. I was no dummy as jewelry abounds in the tourist havens. Of course, in the real world, you win some and you lose some! I generally felt good about our antiquities, as they became selected bits of memorabilia symbolic of that place and moment in time. Many have become precious reminders of where we have been.

By the 1980's I was reminded that all our friends had traveled too. We, like all these fine folk, had taken tons of 35mm slides, which were begging to be shown .We soon found even our children became disinterested in viewing them. Many years later I came to realize that collecting is a learned response, not genetic, as now our grandchildren revel in these funny old "shots".

By the 1990's, our friends and co-workers began "crowing" [a bird connection] about their purchases of famous brand named items such as: Lamoge, Royal Dalton, Lalique, Delft, Lladros, Hummels, Stuben, and even Chinese antiquities. They were now concentrating on select items. They had shelves and bookcases filled with "rare" pieces complete with secret marks, names, and all had been appraised! I realized I was out of my league. I defended my ignorance by using the term "obsessive". I vowed never to become a "Collection Snob."

I have always prided myself that I knew when to stop overdoing anything that might overload my rational thinking. I have done my share of "hunting" [jobs and apartments] and "gathering" [dirty laundry] but I have kept a level head on my shoulders. THEN!!!!

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In the spring of 2000, at age 70 with two little stents in my heart arteries, I decided to "let go" and start a new hobby. Postage stamps came to mind. They sounded rather fitting. I found a stamp dealer and told him I had collected before as a kid and wanted to start anew. This time U.S. stamps only. He suggested a very large box [5040 sq. in.'s] filled with some retired dealer's hoard. I glanced at what seemed to be billions of stamps. I eagerly paid $450 figuring I got a bargain. I bought two albums and a ton of hinges [hinges? so I 'm a slow learner] Now I began serious collecting.

It took me two months just to sort through what I had. Now, somewhat organized, I was ready to fill the pages. Many were very old and most were cancelled. I bought a stamp-rating digest and received a seller's catalog through the mail. I was soon fluent with some of the Philatelic nomenclature. This is SERIOUS business filled with all kinds of do's and don'ts. I wondered if I really wanted to get that involved, anyway, I stumbled ahead. As I started placing stamps I noticed I would wake up at night wondering about the previous day's find. I gave up my other interest such as genealogy and Civil War history and even painting. I was limiting myself to only stamps.

At the end of the next three months I had been through the box and had resold what was left for $200. Now, I was really ready to become a "learned" student or at least I thought so. My wife hinted that I might be coming a bit zealous too. I would have nothing to do with that idea, imagine thinking I was behaving irrationally!

The term "Zillionsofstamps.com" appeared in a book I was scanning. Keep in mind I had never acknowledged the presence of the computer in our home. With hat in hand, I cautiously and humbly asked Marilyn how to turn "IT" on. Ever the teacher, I got the whole "keyboard"! Computers are like the perfume "Obsession". [a metaphor] Once you get a whiff, you are unavoidably smitten. A new world opened up complete with research tools, e-mailing, and a "stampers" paradise, e-bay and amazon.com auctions. I now turned my hobby up a couple of notches. I soon accumulated more bids than I could keep track of. This peaked when I entered a bid of $400.01 for a stamp instead of $4.01; there were only seconds left before the bidding closed! I was able to rescind the offer, thank goodness.

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I have now developed a new compassion for the inveterate collector. I will never become rich from stamps as the lucky antique buyer might, I have though joined the ranks of impetuous people who save comic books, salt shakers, coke bottles, Bakelite products, quilts, Depression glass, Dali prints, autographs, Playboy magazines, baseball cards, hats, books, old toys, and even old lead soldiers. What do "twigs and nesting birds" have to do with stamp collecting? I'm not sure, but I have a Commerative Mint Pane of 20cent stamps issued in 1982 showing "State Birds and Flowers". Beside Illinois, there are six other states that name the Cardinal. Another bit of trivia: it wasn't until the mid 1940's that any real birds appeared on U.S. stamps. One of the first was a 3 cent Commerative issued in 1948 showing a "light Brahma" CHICKEN!

Anyway, United States Stamp collecting is a part of America's history. It's a very colorful account of who we are and where we've been. Happy hunting