Reprinted with Permission From Valley Stamp Company
These days it's relatively difficult to ascertain what the word "popularity" means when it comes to the President of the United States. But imagine, if you will, what it must have been like for stamp collectors when one of the most popular presidents in our history was not only a philatelist, but someone who actively promoted our hobby.
In the mid-1930s, when Franklin D. Roosevelt was president, Proctor and Gamble took to the radio airwaves on the National Broadcasting Company with their incredibly successful Ivory Soap Stamp Club of the Air. Captain Tim Healy, a bona fide real-life world traveler and explorer, hosted the show which offered kids the opportunity to send in an Ivory soap wrapper to receive a free stamp album and stamps to fill it.
The success of this program was greatly due to the famous stamp collector in the White House. Not only did hundreds of thousands of youngsters become interested in philately during his 12 years in office, the hobby enjoyed a surge of popularity among all age groups that has to this day never been matched.
I have always been fascinated by this unusual "Golden Age" of philately. FDR's hobby was so widely known that a wide range of philatelic souvenirs were produced and the pursuit of them has been enjoyed by many of us ever since. Someday I hope to produce an exhibit that tells the story of this world leader and his stamps. Another exhibit, on which I am working right now, will offer an unusual philatelic glimpse into the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor---and it, also, will include much about FDR.
The cover illustrated here is one of my recent acquisitions. It shows a cartoon of Roosevelt chatting with Winston Churchill and pointing out some "stamps" in his collection. In this case, the cover is a World War II patriotic design and the "stamps" are images of America "stamping" out the three Axis powers: Japan, Germany and Italy.
Such philatelic souvenirs of the Roosevelt era are readily available and generally at very attractive prices. For instance, the "Roosevelt and his stamp collection" poster stamp is one of several that were widely distributed during the four times FDR ran for president.
The poster stamp---as well as other souvenirs made in this era---is derived from one of the four photographs (all taken on the same day in the White House just prior to the 1936 election campaign). The most famous of these four photographs, offered here through the courtesy of the Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park, NY, is shown.
Naturally, since large numbers of World War II patriotic covers were produced, one can find many of them featuring Roosevelt. And upon his death in April 1945 another wide range of FDR memorial covers were developed by various cachet makers. Along with these items is, of course, a nice selection of postage stamps that were issued to honor him both before and after his passing.
But the most difficult to find items are those that feature the president and his hobby. Not nearly as many of these were produced as were the plethora of patriotics.
This great philatelic devotion to President Roosevelt---which involved stamps and covers produced not only in the United States, but from countries as widely diverse as Greece and Monaco---spawned a subculture in our hobby. At one time not so long ago there was even a philatelic society devoted exclusively to collecting FDR material.
FDR took his stamps very seriously, but his collection was no more intricate than that of the majority of philatelists. He collected the stamps of the entire world---and mounted them in his full set of Scott Specialty albums. He also collected covers---mostly because he had many of his friends (even including his Secretarys of State) send him the covers they had received in the mails.
He also was very involved in the design of every one of the postage stamps the U.S. issued during his tenure---often sending his Postmaster General, James A. Farley, rough sketches of stamps he wished to have issued. The special favors bestowed on FDR by Farley were responsible for the famed Farley's Follies, which is a tale that could take an entire book to tell.
Roosevelt was, in essence, a typical philatelist of his era. He was a worldwide collector, he bid at auctions and mail sales, and he even became a life member of the American Philatelic Society. And no matter where he went---from war plant visits to Casablanca and Yalta---his stamp collection went along for the ride.
His collection was near him up to the very moment he died. Shortly before succumbing to a massive cerebral hemorrhage at his "Little White House" in Warm Springs, Georgia, on the afternoon of April 12, 1945, he had worked on his collection. That same morning he also approved the final design for the "Toward United Nations" stamp that was about to be issued.
Today we should still mourn the passing of this great collector. Since the day he left us there has been an unfilled vacuum in our hobby that only an individual of his stature could fill. The renown and popularity of the hobby has never been the same. That's why I've thought many times that what philately truly needs is another stamp collector in the White House. But then...the White House is not the same place it once was, is it?