By Roger Bergerson
He didn’t know it at the time, but a strike by the U.S. Postal Service got Tom Betz started on a hobby that would bring him enjoyment for the next 40 years.
The Falcon Heights resident is a creator and collector of “local stamps,” an offshoot of philately that he and a few hundred other enthusiasts pursue worldwide. Local stamps can relate to the actual delivery of mail and have a face value; however, Betz and fellow members of the Local Post Collectors Society produce and issue stamps that are more like collectible labels.
A monetary amount may be shown, but its only function is as a design element. “In 1970, I was working for a company in downtown St. Paul when postal workers went on strike,” Betz recalls. “Our employer assigned several of us to hand-deliver company mail in the downtown loop district.”
As a lark, Betz designed a few of his own stamps to adorn the envelopes, not knowing that he was participating in a tradition that dated back to the beginning of the republic. He gradually learned that there were other people involved in the activity and was delighted to hear from a person who had acquired one of his stamped envelopes at a sale in another state.
Some local stamps resemble conventional postage, but Betz’ are closer to folk art. He starts with ink drawings and then hand carves individual stamp elements, as one would do with a woodcut. His most complex designs have taken, literally, thousands of impressions to produce.
When a member of the Local Post Collectors Society has a stamp that he or she wants to “issue,” an announcement is made in the society’s newsletter. Those interested will send the issuer a self-addressed, stamped envelope. The issuer affixes the new stamp to the envelope and sends it back, creating a collectible in the process.
In Betz’ case, he also cancels the stamp, using his postmaster-approved personal cancellation. A variety of organizations—churches, even a group of inmates in a Massachusetts prison —have used local stamps to raise funds for good causes. One example: creating special stamps to put on Christmas cards.
“I putzed around a little with conventional stamp collecting,” says Betz, “but I find this a lot more satisfying. The personal involvement is what I like the best and the interchange with other collectors is quite gratifying.”
Want to know how to get started in local stamp collecting? Go to www.localcollectorspost.org.