Philatelic Alfaholic

2 Feb

A few years back, while wandering Washington DC with my daughter, she excitedly asked to go see the National Postal Museum.  Opened in 1993 as part of the Smithsonian Institute in partnership with the US Postal Service, it highlights the postal process and delivery as well as the small artwork that’s been stuck on envelopes since 1840.   The process isn’t all that sexy, nor is stamp collecting but there are many people who find it fun and fascinating.  The tour turned out to be much cooler than I had envisioned.  It is estimated that over 23 Million people in the US collect stamps as a hobby, which means the chance of having a stamp collector in the neighborhood is much, much greater than having an Alfa Romeo club member nearby.  Among the collectors a few are famous folks; Freddie Mercury, John Lennon, Franklin Roosevelt, Ronnie Wood (The Rolling Stones) and Maria Sharapova.   Philately is the study of stamps, which is technically different from collecting with the majority of people simply collecting for the fun of it.

Though stamps are created to affix to items being mailed, there are plenty that are created knowing collectors will purchase them.  In the US that is a minimal percentage of postal revenue, but small countries often subsidize their post office costs with the sale of short run, specialty, tribute, or memorial stamps.   For the collectors, I’ve never heard of much profit being made; it’s simply fun finding what you like.

I like unique cars, and particularly Alfa Romeos.  When a relative from a nearby state spent a weekend in Western Washington with a few hundred other stamp buyers and sellers peddling their stuff, I did the sociable thing and stopped by the show.  Trying to appear interested, I leafed through stamps while doing everything I could to keep my eyes from glazing over.  The small talk lead to me asking, if there were ever cars featured on stamps.  “Yes, there should be a few depending upon what you like.” he told me.  When I got a little more specific and mentioned Alfa Romeo, he produced a collection from Monaco.  As I fanned through the stamps of Bugatti, Mercedes, Maserati, Lotus, Cooper, BRM, Ferrari, until I found a couple of Alfa Romeos.  The Alfetta 158 looked good on the one while the P3 graced the other.

My joy of collecting stamps was peaked after I was told that all 15 stamps I’d chosen were mine for only $6.00.  With online tools, I’ve now found a few more Alfas hiding on stamps.  The western African nation of Liberia featured a Duetto Spider stamp just prior to the country falling into 7 years of civil war.  The odd part is it is spelled Alpha Romeo.  Spelling can be a challenge and Bhutan put  a 6c1750 noted as an Alfa Rameo.   There are plenty of others like Hungary with a stamp showing a P3 and what looks like a 70’s era F1 Alfa Romeo. 

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In the United Arab Emirates, they featured Jon Shirley’s P3 while the Caribbean island of St Lucia showed a 6C1750 GS, and Vietnam has a 1922 Alfa RL.  You’d expect Italy to have a few and you’d be right.  One I found shows a late 40s Alfa Freccia d’Oro, and a newer stamp has a classic Mille Miglia scene of 6C1500 going through Futa Pass.  A couple recent (2010) releases in Italy were in honor of the Alfa Centenary with one featuring an A.L.F.A. 24 HP, and another featuring a new Giulietta. 

Maybe this won’t make you want to run out and start your own collection.  You probably have your own bad habits you’re already proud of  so don’t let me influence you.  Perhaps the best take-away from all of this is now, when a stranger strikes up a conversation with you about stamp collecting, or a trivia game refers to Philately, you can at least have a trace of conversation on the topic.  To pay me for this knowledge, simply watch for stamps with cars on them, check and if they are Alfa Romeos, buy them as a gift for me.  Thanks!


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