Weather Forecast


Jack Zaleski: A trove of memories in stamp album

In another life I sometimes can hardly remember, I was a stamp collector. I never reached the heady status of philatelist, but I was an obsessed amateur. I was about 12 years old. I collected until high school. Stamp collecting was not cool in high school.

I started when I came across Polish and Italian stamps on letters my grandparents had received from the old countries. The colors, images and languages were exotic. I’d cut them off the thin envelopes, and affix them with a dab of glue in a spiral notebook.

Then, quite by accident, I discovered in my Connecticut hometown neighborhood a trove of very old U.S. postage stamps in the attic of an abandoned colonial-era house that was about to be razed. My friends and I broke in (hey, we were kids), rummaged around, and salvaged (stole, I guess) some worthless stuff that seemed neat at the time – moldy books, rusty tools, an age-blackened snow sled, a crate of wavy-green glass apothecary-type bottles with glass stoppers.

The stamps were in a dust-wrapped, deeply scarred cigar box. They’d been carefully placed between yellowing sheets of paper I later learned was vellum – the papers laid flat in the box to protect the stamps. What a find it was.

My mom bought me a real stamp book – the Ambassador Album for Postage Stamps of the World – that included a lesson for handling stamps properly. I filled the various nation sections, and then concentrated on the U.S. pages, which included black-and-white photos (and color descriptions) of the nation’s oldest stamps. I had dozens of them in the cigar box.

As instructions advised, I used folding glassine stickums to mount the stamps in the appropriate squares in the album. I placed the stamps on or near matching photos. Several of the stamps were among the oldest depicted in the photos. I thought I might have something worth keeping.

Soon after, other priorities pushed my stamp collection into storage, where it remained until a few days ago. While searching for something else in the family archives, there it was: that old Ambassador album, its collection still pressed onto its pages. The stamps looked good – untouched after all that time, and full of memories of those kid years.

However, I still don’t know what I have. I’ve never done the research (wouldn’t know where to start) to determine if those old U.S. stamps are worth something, or just old.

Any experts out there? I’d love to have you take a look.

Contact Editorial Page Editor Jack Zaleski at or (701) 241-5521.