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Appreciation of Printing : Stamps, an Inherited Love

September 2011 By Erik Cagle
Senior editor
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With all of the talk about digital alternatives and printers abandoning their heritage in favor of the moniker "marketing services provider," a salute to the art and craft of printing is long overdue. Look no further than the proud-yet-humble postage stamp for a prime example of timeless printing.

The stamp is an amazing way to view the world, its history, people and culture, places and events, moments in time and the subtleties of life. Jesus Christ has been celebrated on postage stamps. So has Adolph Hitler. Bunnies and butterflies. Malaria and war. Dag Bumstead and Dag Hammarskjold. Benjamin Franklin and Homer Simpson. Politicians, scientists, poets, musicians, astronomers, explorers, doctors, inventors—the list goes on and on. Even chickens have graced stamps.

John Johnson collected stamps as a child, like many boys of his generation. But Johnson, the manager of Palm Beach County's graphics division in Greenacres, FL, didn't become a hard-core collector (and philatelist) until his mother gave him his grandfather's collection—a whopping 64-album assemblage.

"When mom gave me my grandfather's stamp collection, my wife said, 'Oh no, not another hobby!' " recalls Johnson, also an avid train enthusiast who is drawn toward trains on stamps.

"Since I'm in the printing industry and know my way around layout programs, I have designed many album pages with extensive background information explaining the train subjects, all printed on 100 percent cotton fiber paper," adds Johnson, who has done similar pages for topical collections, including Civil War generals, cowboys, movie stars and presidents, among other themes.

"I have enjoyed researching about the locomotives and their builders. The 1994 set of five locomotive stamps (Scott catalog numbers 2843-2847) is a good example. I wrote a long explanation about each locomotive and a biography of the designer/builder of the locomotive. All very interesting stories. The researcher at the Postal Service that chose the five examples of late 19th century locomotive designs picked an excellent group to show the progression and diversity for that period."

Part of the beauty of stamp collecting is that there's a little something for everyone. You can be a topical collector like Johnson, a single-country collector (stamps from Hungary are some of the most colorful, with large pictorials, which some may find gaudy) or a worldwide collector. Trying to pick up one of every stamp ever issued is a futile attempt, but who cares?


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