I couldn’t pay my Duke Energy bill with these. What would they care?

Deconstructing a childhood stamp collection … An emotional journey to the past

When my mom and dad passed away in 2012 and 2013 respectfully, the task of “cleaning out” and “settling up” HOME in Waynesville, NC became forefront in my and my sister’s lives.’ My tangible personal connections to HOME changed when I moved out of the house in 1978 as a young adult to become a permanent resident of Winston-Salem, NC.

While I took on the task of settling my parents’ estates, my sister took on the challenge of “mucking out” as she referred to it, everything else since she continued to live in the HOME until she could design and build her own.

Reuter, San Martin, Paderewski, Garabaldi (the 4c and 8c versions), Bolivar, and Mahatma Gandhi

In one of our “check in calls” she asked me, “what do you want me to do with your stamp collection?”

Uh, oh …. I had completely forgotten that one. So, on a visit back to Waynesville, I loaded the boxes, brought them to Winston-Salem, and stored them away until a time that I could go through them. They couldn’t be worth much, I thought, even though the collection was all mint (uncancelled) stamps. They sat again in the corner of our living room.

This winter, someone wrote the Ask SAM column in the Winston-Salem Journal asking about stamp collection values and appraisals recommendations. His answer was succinct:

“It is not an investment possibility, as it was once considered to be,” he said. “Very few stamps have increased in value over the years. And what increase there was, was wiped out a few years ago, when the market went into decline at the same time the antique market and stock prices went south.”

Boy Scouts, NATO, Project Mercury, Kansas Statehood, and Range Conservation

This was just the permission that I needed to cannibalize the collection for the postage value only. Feeling rich, I without guilt started removing the mints stamps from their protective glassine envelopes. Then something happened. The emotional flood gates opened. I nearly drowned. There is Reuter, San Martin, Paderewski, Garabaldi (the 4c and 8c versions), Bolivar, and Mahatma Gandhi. And then there is Boy Scouts, NATO, Project Mercury, Kansas Statehood, and Range Conservation. And my favorite stamp ever of all time, John James Audubon (I bought an entire sheet).

I knew that I couldn’t pay my Duke Energy bill with these. What would they care?

My intimacy with American history and with these commemorative three and four cent stamps issued between 1963 and 1980 matured. Grandmother Houck (my mother’s mother) started me at the age of 13 collecting, bought me my first album, and helped me mount them precisely so they could be “preserved”.

The old Waynesville post office

My backed-up emotions rolled over me like a California mudslide. It felt as if it were only yesterday buying those stamps, and with my own money. There was a ritual in the process, too. I bicycled to the old post office downtown (now repurposed as the Waynesville City Hall) to find Mr. J.T. Russell looming large in the stamp window, my laying out my hard-earned cash on the cold marble counter window, and exchanging for a “block of four with serial number”. He was my stamp guardian; I was sure he had a special recess in his stamp drawer just for me. The relationship was that special. And another bonus, he saved all the new issue announcements which showcased the image of newly issued stamps, documented their history, and cited their date of issue. These were always thumb tacked to the lobby bulletin board right next to the wanted posters.

My favorite stamp of all time, John James Audubon

So …. Duke Energy will not get my stamps.

Instead, I will be using them as postage for our Christmas cards that we send to our friends this year along with the link to this story informing and reminding them where all these old beautiful quaint stamps came from.

“Merry Christmas,” already.  Maybe you will be the lucky one to get my favorite stamp of all time.

4 Responses to “I couldn’t pay my Duke Energy bill with these. What would they care?”

  1. Paul Osborne says:

    Houck, you old philatelist, you! Absolutely LOVED your tale about stamp collecting, replete with photographs. I completely agree with the comment about that connection to history. Dennis and I both had childhood stamp collections. After stealing most of my “good ones”, Dennis went on into the hobby in a large way, assembling a massive collection over the years. His central focus was some area of American postage (don’t remember} but he also had an interesting group of foreign albums. His library of the references and histories to support these collections was enormous as well.

    I blame my interest in history and geography on this early exposure to postage stamps. Coconut trees, volcanoes, strange fish, exotic animals, dead heads of state, vanished countries……….all at a curious mind’s fingertips! Zepplins, biplanes, motorcars, carriages, trains and all other modes of transport in miniature, just awaiting discovery. Medicine, engineering, acting, opera, communication, sports, commerce…….the world opens up to be explored.

    Sadly, these opportunities don’t seem to be generally available today. And the “Ask Sam” guy was right on the mark for the most part. Previously, collectables seen as a store and transport of wealth in the past have “lost their luster” so to speak. Philatelic stamps, numismatic coins, rare gems and diamonds now command a lower value but retain a certain cache to various groups. Dennis’ widow is tasked with disposal of his stamp and radio collections. Antique radio collectors are dying at quite a pace recently and I don’t know anyone who collects stamps anymore. But I don’t get out much either.

    I’ve gushed on a bit long this morning when all I really wanted to say is in the first two sentences. And, Oh Yes…..Thanks!


    • Houck says:

      Yes, Paul … I remember now about Dennis and your collecting. Your collecting books were another part of the sense of wonder of your basement. I can still here Dennis’s authoritative voice of yes, whatever specialty he was collecting. Appreciate your response.


  2. Peter says:

    Interesting story Houck. Echoes my thoughts about the value of some of the items I have hoarded and protected over the years traveling from country to country. What will my kids think of them …. ? Probably take them to the local thrift shop, as we did with many of my mother in laws items last year when she passed. So many things are just “stuff”, the only intrinsic value linked to memories as to when and how they were collected.



    • Houck Medford says:

      Interesting thoughts, Peter. Yes, it is the links to memories that are important. We also believe they should be written down when it moves us, as in this case. That is the first step in anything that might be done for perpetuity (my stories will be archived).

      Another important attribute is sharing the story with others as we have done here. It touched you.

      Mission accomplished!



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