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No fuddy-duddies at stamp show

The 19th annual Myrtle Beach Stamp & Postcard Show will showcase a hobby that lets people hold history in their hands.

Donn Ebert of Conway, director of the show and president of the Myrtle Beach Stamp Club, said eight dealers are signed up, two of whom are new and will focus solely on postcards.

The show opens at 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Myrtle Beach Inn on the Waterway, formerly Holiday Inn West, just west of Myrtle Beach, and admission is free.

Ebert said collecting stamps can be done in "many, many ways." He gave some examples: by country; by topic such as dogs, cats, horses or sports; or by a period of time, like 1940 to 1950.

"Take the year that you were born," Ebert said, "and try to collect as many stamps from that year. There are all kinds of ways to do it."

Some people amass a large collection of varieties of stamps, while zeroing in on one issue engulfs other individuals, such as seeking stamps with flaws or color variations, Ebert said.

"The more you learn about the individual stamp," he said, "the more fun it is."

Explaining the inexpensive nature and limitless bounds of scouting for stamps, Ebert, who is retired from a career in pharmaceutical research, said anyone can do it, at any pace.

"We find that a lot of people started when they were 8 to 10 years old, then lose interest," Ebert said, as school, work and family time take priority when growing up. "But then they pick it up in their retirement years."

Seeing more children at the 2010 show encouraged Ebert. The show this weekend will include a youth area, where complimentary stamps will be available for all budding collectors.

"We hope that once that seed is planted," Ebert said, "youngsters will come back and take it seriously. It's very educational. You learn history, geography and biography."

Famous people

Some dealers will exhibit historical people in their displays. The show theme this year will celebrate the centennial of Calbraith P. Rodgers' transcontinental flight and highlight the 25-cent "Vin Fiz Flyer" stamp issued in 1911. The Vin Fiz signifies a grape drink touted beneath the lower wing of the bi-plane.

"It really is an amazing feat that he was able to fly from Brooklyn, N.Y., to Pasadena, Calif., in a Wright Brothers-type plane with no airports and no air traffic control," Ebert said. "He had only 90 hours of flight training from the Wrights."

Reading more about Rodgers' venture, Ebert said the pioneer flier seems forgotten in the annals of history.

"He followed railroad tracks," Ebert said. "That was the way he navigated."

Although Rodgers didn't win the $50,000 incentive from publisher William Randolph Hearst to complete the trek within 30 days, he did reach his destination, as his wife traveled in a rail entourage that included a white car to be used for parts.

"So every time he landed or crashed," Ebert said, "they put the plane back together. By the time they arrived in California, he had only two original parts."

The Vin Fiz stamp, which Ebert said was designed by Rodgers' wife, remains rare, with an estimated 12 or 13 known items.

"These were the first air-mail stamps," he said. "The U.S. Postal Service didn't care for them, but tolerated them. ... When they come up for auction, they range from $35,000 to $60,000 each. It really is an unofficial stamp, but is listed in stamp catalogs."

Portrayals of people on stamps prompt collectors to research their biographies, whether from a Kate Smith stamp the Postal Service issued last year, or a stamp for the 100th anniversary of Ronald Reagan's birth, coming out Thursday.

Hanging his hat again on history, Ebert called George Washington the person most depicted on U.S. stamps, but said Benjamin Franklin was the nation's first postmaster general .

"Remember that you cannot be alive and be depicted on a U.S. stamp," Ebert said, "and you must have been deceased for a minimum five years before you can be considered a subject. Foreign countries, on the other hand, have depicted George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and Barack Obama in recent issues. All deceased presidents have been the subject of U.S. stamps."

Ebert said when the stamp club meets, members will give a presentation on a person memorialized on a new stamp. He named a "Penny Black," released by Great Britain in 1840 as his favorite.

"I'm more into the unusual things that were issued right after World War I," he said.

As a child in his native Chicago, when his father brought home an album of stamps, Ebert got hooked on the hobby. He thinks age 8 marks a good age for youth to start collecting, because by then, kids have gained the ability to handle stamps, which are more fragile than baseball cards.

"It really is a good hobby for kids," Ebert said. "They can take them to school and incorporate them into reports."

Postcards' popularity

Collectors who shop for postcards also have a world to file through with their fingertips, and many have been mailed already - long before e-mail, metered mail and nonprofit mail made dents into stamp and postcard usage.

"It's a neat way to read other people's mail legally," Ebert quipped. "Sometimes you'll find that postcards were sent to, or signed by, somebody famous."

Bryan Wester, the longtime owner of Coast to Coast Antiques Gallery in Myrtle Beach, said postcards have piqued more interest among collectors in recent years.

"We sell them all over the country," Wester said. "We're also seeing more interest in stamps of late."

Wester commended stamp and coin clubs for playing a role in promoting worthy pastimes.

"I really like these clubs that are getting people out into the community again," he said. "They do a great job."

Attesting to the sights of greater numbers of younger people engaging in the hobbies without having to spend a lot of money, Wester said, "They really get excited to see things from the 1920s, way before they were born."

Wester said he has bought a bunch of postcards and some stamp collections in the past month. A batch of cards from Vermont included a photo of the former Ocean Forest hotel in Myrtle Beach.

Postcards from the 1890s and early 1900s have become freeze-frames of local history.

"Sometimes, the only record of what the town looked like is on that postcard," Wester said.