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Sunday, 2.13.05: Going Postal

I can see why some kids get fascinated with stamp collecting. They pull you out of your small life and into the whole world. Here is one of the "covers" Jim gave me to sell. Tristan da Cunha. Not only are the stamps beautiful, but they send me running to the internet to see where they're from.

tristan da cunha postage stamp 1954I learn that Tristan da Cunha is a volcanic island in the South Atlantic, more than a 1000 miles from the nearest mainland -- the southern tip of South Africa. Its main sources of income are crawfish and... postage stamps.

The stamps themselves are beautiful little engravings. No doubt in small economies the best artists are put on the job. Did you ever read Griffin and Sabine by Nick Bantock? It's about a mysterious relationship between a remote island postage stamp designer and a London artist. I always find Bantock exciting because he can create such wonderful worlds with postage stamps and passports and other charming products of national bureaucracies.

I think the other reason stamp collecting is so appealing is that its beauty is neatly boxed up. No matter how creative the artist is, she still has to adhere to the conventions -- color inside the lines.

The stamps also tell us that the world is an orderly place. The stamp itself is small and lines up nicely in tidy notebooks, easily catalogued. You always know what's missing. Then, every stamp has its place in the larger system, from one nation to the next. For all the pot shots at postal systems, few things have been so reliable for so long as the postage stamp.

I read somewhere that, while children can be fountains of freedom-demanding creativity, they also crave orderliness and need to be able to figure out the underlying rules of the world around them. It's too bad stamp-collecting has gotten such a bad rap as the sport for nerds and geeks.  Seems like it would be a comfort to an anxious child -- at least until they are forced to confront what "going postal" really means.