Roxy with military dog stamps

Last week I ordered an empty stamp binder and set of two-row stamp pages, so now I can easily page through my small collection of first-day covers. And with this modest bit of philatelist organization accomplished, I’m almost embarrassed to admit how much joy it brings me to gather my treasures in this way.

Anything becomes a treasure–a cherished collectible–if you put it in an album. Last night I received another presentation book I’d ordered to archive the pictures, cards, and silly printouts J posts on our refrigerator. A saner soul would toss these out in the name of decluttering, but it brings me joy (again) to flip through an album of memories: an archive of random moments.

Yesterday I heard part of an NPR story about a journalist who wrote a New York Times op-ed in praise of clutter, arguing that sentimental objects and decor help personalize our homes, apartments, and offices. This isn’t to advocate for hoarding, he was quick to add…but I’d argue that one person’s hoard is another person’s treasure.

It’s not accidental that the title of my blog includes the word “hoarded,” as I have always been a collector. A child’s inclination to collect stamps or dolls or coins (or, in the case of my childhood, model horses) is an early manifestation of an archivist’s urge. An archive is a repository of texts and artifacts that are clutter today but will be history tomorrow.

And although I doubt historians will be interested in my ragtag collections, my intended audience isn’t them but me in the future: someone who will be interested in unpacking the archaeology of my younger life.

First day of issue

Yesterday, J surprised me with first day of issue covers of two US postage stamps commemorating Henry David Thoreau: one issued in 1967, and the other issued this year. The stamp from 1967 is ugly as sin–its designer managed to make an admittedly homely fellow look even worse–but this year’s stamp is lovely, with a portrait of Thoreau in muted earth tones alongside a reproduction of his signature.

Postcard with Smokey Bear stamp

I was never a serious stamp collector, but I still have the albums from when I dabbled in stamp-collecting as a child, along with a souvenir postcard with a Smokey Bear stamp I bought and had cancelled at the Smokey Bear Station at the Ohio State Fair in 1984, when Smokey turned forty. (That sentence tells you pretty much everything you need to know about me as a fifteen-year-old. Not only was I nerdy enough to collect stamps, I was nerdy enough to love Smokey Bear.)

Stamps about stamp collecting

To me, stamp collecting was an aesthetic pursuit, like admiring tiny works of art. I enjoyed the serendipitous nature of stamp-collecting: getting mail was exciting enough, and getting mail with interesting stamps was even better. I still like to use pretty stamps for even mundane mail: if you have to stick a stamp on an envelope anyway, you might as well use an attractive or otherwise interesting one.

Thoreau stamps

When Thoreau’s new stamp came out this year, I bought several sheets even though I didn’t need any stamps at the time. I like to think that sticking Thoreau’s face on my mail draws attention to a writer who has left an indelible mark on my intellectual life. Even if the adult recipients of the mail I send don’t notice the stamps I use, maybe some curious child will, just as I did when I was younger.

This being said, I haven’t yet used any of the Thoreau stamps I bought; so far, I’ve been saving them, using other stamps instead. I like to think my secret stash of Thoreau stamps is there just waiting for me to use them when the time is just right: in the “nick of time,” just as Thoreau described his own birth.

Apparently, I’m a true collector at heart, buying sheets of Thoreau stamps when they became available only in part because I wanted to use them. In reality, I just wanted to have them.