By Leah Weissman
Pilot staff writer
"I've been collecting stamps since I was 12," Brookings resident Bonnie Maneval said. "Stamps are one hobby that makes me happy. I'll get really excited if I find one I don't have, I'll say, Oh my gosh I have to have this!'"
In the Chetco Activity Center lounge, five members of the Brookings stamp collectors group sat around a wooden table strewn with pieces of postage stamps of all sizes, colors and origin. Animals, sports, ships, helicopters even past royalty adorned the fronts of thousands upon thousands of stamps being traded back and forth.
The first Thursday of every month, avid stamp collectors and those just putting together their first stamp collection, convene to share, trade and discuss stamps. Some come with one sheet, others come with boxes filled to the brim.
"I collect stamps from more than 100 countries," member Ted Steinbeck said. "But it's not just about the different countries they come from or how much they are worth. Stamps are beautiful, full of color you get lost in them."
Steinbeck used to run a small stamp trading/selling business out of his home for three years. Even after retirement, he couldn't shake the draw of finding a new stamp to add to his treasure.
"It's also a social thing," he said.
People sitting around the table seemed to agree, as they chatted back and forth about their collections and gently flipped through the pages of stamp books of other collectors looking for the ultimate find.
"If you're going to be a stamp collector, the idea is to try to get them all," Maneval said. "But you also look for old stamps, unique stamps. For instance, I'd like to have a complete set of the Trans-Mississippi."
A complete set of nine, the 1898-issued Trans-Mississippi commemorative postage stamps were made by the United States to mark the 1898 Trans-Mississippi Exposition held in Omaha, Neb. The finely-engraved stamps depict various scenes of the West from Indians hunting buffalo to settlers living out of covered wagons.
According to Maneval, stamp collecting is a very particular hobby requiring the collector to inspect every postage stamp for imperfections.
"You want a perfect stamp, or else it loses its worth," she said. " You can't have any creases, the perforations need to be perfect, and the centering of the image is critical."
Besides its condition, a stamp's worth is also dependent on how old it is, and how many others were issued.
Even handling a stamp is a delicate process.
"Oils on your hands can get on them, so you have to pick up each stamp with tweezers," she said.
Sometimes people don't even know what they have, collector Carl Rovainen said. And that's what these meetings are for.
"I had boxes and boxes of stamps in our attic from collecting in high school, but I didn't have time to deal with them," Rovainen added. "I put a classified ad in the paper asking if anyone was interested in trading, and I heard from lots of people. Now, here we are."
Other people think they might have something, and come to the meetings hoping to discover a treasure hidden in their collection.
During last month's meeting, the group appraised a man's stamp book he acquired from a local teenager. After viewing the collection, Maneval said, if he sold the whole collection now, he could probably buy a cup of coffee and doughnut.
"Collecting stamps is sort of like a treasure hunt," Rovainen said. "You have to keep an open mind when searching."
The stamp collectors will next meet from 1 to 1:30 p.m. Thursday, May 1, in the lounge on the bottom floor of the Chetco Activity Center, 550 Chetco Lane. Anyone is welcome to attend.