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Revised FDC Awards Would Benefit Hobby

by Dave Moorshead

[This article originally appeared in the November 16, 1998, issue of Stamp Collector, and is reprinted here by permission of both Krause Publications and Mr. Moorshead.]

The American First Day Cover Society (AFDCS) hurriedly formed an ad hoc committee, charged with revising the annual cachetmaking awards process, after the awards debacle at their national convention in Somerset, N.J. in August.

Headed by Monte Eiserman, who initiated the Planty Awards in 1992, the committee is about to make its recommendations to the AFDCS board of directors.

Since I was critical of this year's awards in my August 24 Stamp Collector column, I feel compelled to offer recommendations as well:

Follow the Rules

The AFDCS should follow its own contest rules. As this year's letter to cachetmakers stated, "A winning cover will be selected from each category and from those the top cachet (Planty Award) will be selected." It sounds simple. There are 12 cover categories. Select a winner in each, and from them, select a grand prize cover.

This year, covers by Blossom Brower and Florence Villasensor were selected as co-grand prize winners, but they weren't chosen as best in any category. The committee should have awarded the grand prize to one of the 11 qualifying category winners. (The 12th category winner, who won the grand prize last year, was as such ineligible to win it again this year.)

Contests Should Choose the Best

Each year's contest should determine the best covers for that year, period. The silly non-repeat rule can prevent the best cover from being selected, when only the current year should be taken into account. The principal behind such a rule is to prevent anyone from dominating the awards year after year.

I'd like to suggest a compromise: any cachetmaker who wins a category or grand prize four years in a row should receive a Lifetime Achievement Award and, effectively, retire from future competition.

Establish Judging Criteria

In my Aug. 24 column, I quoted Eiserman, writing in the December 1, 1992 issue of First Days, the AFDCS' journal, where she explained the judging criteria, identified the judges and cited their credentials, and provided a glimpse at how the process worked.

While AFDCS president Tom Foust's Jan. 15 letter lists the same five criteria as Eiserman did in 1992, the application of this criteria has come into question. Eiserman's openness is gone.

Judges Should be From the Hobby

If three is the magic number, I'd select an active cachetmaker, a dealer, and a collector to serve as judges. To say that unbiased people can't be found within the hobby is absurd, and a cachetmaker who's entered the competition can simple "vote around" his own work. What's imperative, however, is that judges be selected who understand the problems associated with creating cachet art.

Foust's letter further stated, "In case of ties, there will be more than one winner and each will receive an award." Except for the grand prize, however, there weren't any ties, but there were seven "honorable mentions."

Where did these come from? I agree that the AFDCS should make multiple winners possible within a category, as Eiserman used to do, particularly when the judging points are so close that true distinctions aren't possible. But get rid of honorable mentions.

Geography Shouldn't Matter

Because Eiserman lives in Texas, the judges for the first several contests were chosen from there. But cries of an alleged Texas bias have moved the judging around the country in recent years. Geography, however, shouldn't limit the quality of judges selected. If qualified judges can be found in close proximity to each other, fine, but don't dilute the contest if they can't. Rather than ship covers around the country, fly one or more judges to a central point for a weekend of judging. The Planty Award fees alone generate between $4,000 and $8,000 in revenues. They can afford to pay for a judge's plane ticket if it means improving the result.

Delegate and Manage the Process

The AFDCS board can't and shouldn't appoint an awards committee and then walk away. Yet when members' cries of poor performance were heard by some board members, they tried to absolve themselves by blaming the awards committee. It doesn't work that way.

Entry fee checks were made payable to the AFDCS, not to the committee. It's the first rule of management that "you can delegate authority but not responsibility." In addition to selecting a new committee and modifying the rules, AFDCS officers need to establish a monitoring procedure.

Give the Winners Their Due

The awards banquet at the national convention ran almost 3-1/2 hours. The Planty Awards presentations took 10 minutes. Someone clearly lost a sense of purpose. The presentations were so rushed that the awards weren't even taken out of their brown bags when given to the winners.

I think Eiserman's idea was excellent. As a collector, she realized that by recognizing cachetmaking excellence the quality of what the hobby produces will improve, thereby strengthening FDC collecting as a branch of philately.

The entrants seemingly take the awards process more seriously than the AFDCS. I like the Planty Awards. I just don't like what they've become.

Dave Moorshead

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