How exhibitionism stripped me bare

Melbourne 2017 Stamp Exhibition entrance bannerIf you’re the kind of reader who usually comes here for the pretty pictures and naughty words, be warned: I am hitting max geek with this one. Street cred be damned.

So a few weekends ago I popped into the Melbourne FIAP Stamp Exhibition, held in my hometown. It led to a rather unexpected journey of personal discovery that may affect the very blog you are reading. More on that later.

I can’t pretend a stamp exhibition is anything but exactly what it sounds like on the lid, but let me talk you through it so that if you ever accidentally find yourself at one, you won’t panic.

Almost the first thing I noticed when I entered: women. Not in the majority, but more than I think I expected. Also more bogans than expected, and even some young people. Well, younger than retirement age, which is always heartening. And not all anoraks, either. I spotted a lip ring and some outré hair colourings and I could tell they knew their stuff. Is the revolution go? Are we retro-cool yet? I wait with bated breath.

First stop: the exhibits. If a collector decides that they want the world to see their collection, and want judges to tell them how good it is, they exhibit. Imagine writing a school project on your favourite thing, and then it gets displayed next to other school projects, but everyone’s a grown-up, and supernerds fly in from other countries to judge whether your school project is the best. That’s exhibiting.

Just because I wouldn’t show my own collection to my dog doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the efforts that other nerds collectors put into theirs. I wandered the rows of exhibition frames and marvelled at what drives a person to study something like Postal History of Turmoil in Manchuria. I mean sure, there’s only so much a modern girl needs to know about Cancellations, Postal Markings and Correspondence of Country Post Offices Moreton Bay 1850-1860, but it pleases my heart to know that someone, somewhere is just REALLY INTO THAT SHIT and this is the forum where they are celebrated.

But there are more accessible gems to be unearthed. I got stupidly excited to spot a letter that was recovered from the Hindenberg, and has the burn marks to prove it.

(You’re probably wondering which exhibit won the most prestigious award, the Grand Prix d’Honneur. It was Prasarporn Eksombatchai’s ‘Siam 1899-1910: The Giesecke and Devrient Printings’. Nice one Prasaporn. I love me some Giesecke and/or Devrient printings. *THROWS NINJA SMOKE BOMB AND LEAVES BEFORE HAVING TO PROVE KNOWLEDGE OF WHAT GEISECKE AND DEVRIENT PRINTINGS ARE*)

Australia Melbourne 2017 Daily Pass prepaid postcard

Nerd note: the entry passes were actually pre-paid postcards, making them official postal stationery, which means that in years to come, some nerd will exhibit this

Next stop: the stands, or as I think of it, shopping. Local and international dealers set up shop in rows of temporary stalls, allowing serious collectors and casual browsers to elbow each other in the ribs to get to whatever it is they’re after. It’s like a farmer’s market for your accountant uncle. There’s a generally friendly vibe. If what you’re after isn’t on view, a polite enquiry can see a box of the good stuff pulled out from under a nearby trestle. Apologetic denials are usually accompanied by suggestions from the dealer or fellow patrons as to which stall might have what you’re after. I didn’t go too nuts, but I picked up a few nuggets that either matched my interests or delighted me in other ways.

Also: Postal administrations. The bigger the expo, the greater the number of official post offices flogging their latest issues. Collectors can buy limited-edition products issued especially for these shows, often available on only one day of the show, so that you need to attend every day to ‘collect the set’. The queues at the Australia Post stand were ridic. People were even lining up for hours before the doors opened to ensure they got their goodies (which this year were variations of the Rare Beauties issue I featured in my last post). Why? Maybe because the ‘full set’ of limited edition Jewel Beetle sheetlets sold at a show in China in 2016 with special cancellations are now fetching upwards of $1000, and a similar set of 8 minisheets with commemorative cancels from New York 2016 are so scarce a market price is difficult to find because so few exist. That’s why.

I’m not into that contrived scarcity nonsense, but Australia Post had another booth where I was definitely planning to queue as long as was necessary: the meet-the-designers table where fans (I guess that’s who we are) could meet designers from the AP studio. I heard from a reader that they were even signing autographs, and I was quivering with excitement at the thought of meeting some of the legends I’ve name-checked on this blog. That was, until I neared the table. And then a funny thing happened.

It suddenly occurred to me: I don’t just name-check legends here. Sometimes I tee off on the designs I don’t like. I don’t shame designers by name, because I always assume that bad designs are the result of too many chefs, meddling from the suits upstairs, and just The Man in general. (GOOD designs, of course, are entirely thanks to the artist. 100%.) Nonetheless… what if I met the designer of a stamp I’d slagged off? I wasn’t planning to declare myself, but if anyone mentioned the blog I’d turn bright pink. They’d know. And I would know that they’d know. And I would turn pinker. And they would hate me.

One of the reasons I started this blog was because I hated so many modern stamp designs from my native land. This was to be a vent in which I could take on the might of the corporate, government-owned Australia Post and its ridiculously overpaid head honchos (who, by the way, still remain despite the fattest cat recently resigning). Yet here I was, looking at the people who work at the coalface, who no doubt try to maintain creative drive amid soulless mission statements and useless notes from the powerful and the clueless. Have I ever taken aim at the AP behemoth but shot one of these good folk through the heart?

Suddenly confronted with the real-life ramifications of my life as an anonymous internet sniper, I felt like the biggest arsehole in the world.

I turned heel and ran. Well, actually, I went and got a coffee.

This is a serious issue, readers. I might have to stop being an utter bitch. Lately there hasn’t been too much bitching, anyway. I tend to mainly highlight the issues I like, and only when I find the time around my terribly important day job. And I must say, I think Aussie Post’s output has vastly improved since I was a fuming little firebrand.

If any of the AP designers are reading this, I’m sorry I couldn’t bring myself to say hello, and I’m sorry if I ever mocked your designs too heartlessly (especially if you were just doing your job under orders). Maybe by the time the next exhibition comes around, I will feel less ashamed.

Here is some other stuff you’ll see at a philatelic exhibition: food, coffee, information stands for various things, meetings for clubs and special interest groups, a kids’ area, and someone remarking “He died last year.”

Highly recommended, as long as you know what you’re getting yourself into.

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