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Weather, Seasons, and Philately

with John M. Hotchner

This is one of those columns where a thought struck me and I have no idea as I sit down to write where it is going to lead. The thought is this: The days are beginning to get noticeably longer and the weather warmer. As changes have occurred in the past, I never gave a thought to how they affected my collecting habits, or whether they should. But it seems worth cogitating over.

First weather: I live in Northern Virginia, which means that there is a real change of seasons and a range of normal weather from temperatures in the teens to over 100 during some parts of summer. There is also a liberal amount of sunlight — perhaps as much as three days for every day of rain or snow.

I find as a general matter that I have more energy when it is sunny, and from 45 degrees up I enjoy sitting out in the sun. That is not compatible with washing, sorting and working on albums, especially if there is wind. So outside time, if I can escape doing outdoor chores, is a fine time to catch up on philatelic reading, and to pull out a random filing folder of philatelic articles, and to rediscover older stamps and stories about them.

There is enough evening time, and not-so-good weather that I don't fall too far behind on hands-on stamp projects, but when late fall comes and outside time is not possible, I do fall behind on reading. There is one exception to the outside time not being good for stamps. It is when it is time for watermarking.

I know watermarking fluids these days are supposed to be safe, but I still feel safer doing that outside on a warm day with a little bit of a breeze to dissipate the fumes. I might feel that way about washing self-sticks from envelopes using any of the substances recommended by U.S. Stamp News columnist Rudy de Mordaigle. It is just that it has been too cold out to experiment with that process. That will be a project for this summer.

Usually cold, dark and rainy days are a real downer, but not on stamp show weekends! Show organizers love that kind of weather — No possibility of collectors working in the yard, washing the windows from the outside, or cleaning out the gutters. In other words, the domestic tranquility is not upset when I go off to a stamp show.

Now let's take a look at seasons. Here I think there are more, and perhaps more weighty issues at play. In our part of the U.S., springtime showers do bring May flowers. They also, some years, provide excess precip, concentrated in short periods of time. Add in a dash of melting snow in the yard, and I have learned by unhappy experience that I need to suspend my floor-based filing system as my collecting activities are basement activities, and ground water getting into the basement can be a problem.

Those times — in fact warm weather times in general — also means increased heat and humidity, and what both can do to mint stamps if not stored carefully. The house is air conditioned and dehumidified. (How did earlier generations of collectors deal with these problems before those miracles became available to the middle class?) But even so, I am careful to store albums vertically, not one on top of the other, and to keep them off the lowest shelves of my bookcases.

Another place that stamps can be adversely affected by seasonal variances is while they are in the mails. What with having a wide correspondence, the mails carry stamps and covers, and again through sad experience I have noted that it is worthwhile to pack them carefully so as to avoid damage — running ink, paper discoloration, stuck down stamps — through inadvertent contact with the elements. It is also worth it to me to rent a post office box to minimize the access the elements have to my mail.

It is worth noting that sunlight and stamps don't mix well. And that can extend to high concentrations of artificial light over time. Have you ever left a stamped envelope on a window sill for a few weeks? If so you will recognize what I am talking about. Pray that this does not happen to a stamp worth real money. A faded stamp is not an attractive stamp, and as it fades, the value fades with it.

Finally, have you a favorite season? I am definitely a spring person. The rest of the year is nice too, but spring really floats my boat. Others get enthusiastic about fall and the start of school; or December and the approaching Holidays, or — managing to avoid Seasonal Affective Disorder — winter, with its exciting and marginally predictable snows and ice.

Why not look for nice representations of your favorite time of year on stamps: flowers, snowmen, schools and school kids, or the sport dominant at that time of year?

Should you wish to comment on this editorial, or have questions or ideas you would like to have explored in a future column, please write to John Hotchner, VSC Contributor, P.O. Box 1125, Falls Church, VA 22041-0125, or email, putting "VSC" in the subject line, at jmhstamp@verizon.net

How do the seasons affect your stamp collecting activities? Join us in the message board and tell us about it.

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