Collecting Stamps: ESPER Encouraging African American Philately

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Rosa Parks stamps and ESPERStamp collecting is one of the world´s most popular hobbies. It is estimated that there are more than 20 million in the United States. And more and more African Americans, according the Ebony Society of Philatelic Events and Reflections (ESPER), an international stamp society, are becoming “philatelists”.

ESPER is dedicated to promoting the collecting of stamps and philatelic material depicting people and events related to the African Diaspora.

“You learn to view the world in all shapes and factors. You learn about other cultures and people, this in turn helps you lean more about yourself,” says ESPER founder, Esper G. Hayes. Walter Lee Faison, Jr., president of ESPER agrees. “Each piece of philatelic material offers a treasure chest of knowledge. Once you open that chest, your curiosity can lead you in so many directions: the country, its culture, its wildlife, flora and fauna.  Its postal history, and famous people and events.  Stamp collecting can take you in any direction you want to go.”

According to Hayes, who started out collecting stamps with birds and butterflies, it is easy to get started. Do some research on the Internet. Join a stamp collecting club or society such as ESPER, or the American Philatelic Society. “Simply start by saving envelopes that are mailed to you. Ask your friends, neighbors and co-workers to save envelopes for you. It doesn’t have to be any more intense than that until you start developing specific interests,” Faison explains.

Also, go to stamp shows. But before buying anything, research the cost of stamps, advises Hayes.  “One mistake people make is just buying the first stamps they see,” she says. “Check out the completion and negotiate the price.”

Hayes and Faison encourage people to collect the United States Postage Service´s Black Heritage Stamps, such as the new Rosa Parks stamp released earlier this month. “When a new stamp is released, you as a collector will reflect on the accomplishments, contributions and life of the African-American depicted on the stamp. It is a true reminder and a teaching tool to the youth of the world of the tremendous contributions made by African-Americans,” says Faison. 

When Hayes started ESPER 25 years ago, there were very few African-American stamps on the market. “There were just three African-American stamps on the market,” she says. She was inspired to launch ESPER, which today has more than 400 members in chapters nationwide, when she met Olympic legend Jesse Owens at a NYC stamp show. “We were the only two Black people there. He was there to give out autographs. He asked me why there were no other Black people there and encouraged me to try and do something to get more Black people involved in such pursuits.” At the time, Hayes was a graduate student with very little time for anything else other than reports and papers. “Years later when Jesse Owens passed away, I felt guilty that I had not tried to do anything.” Hayes has been a member of the debut Black Collectors  Club. She contacted the former 25 members about restarting. “So in my living room in Kew Gardens, Queens, ESPER was formed,” says Hayes. This year, ESPER is planning its 25th anniversary celebration in Charlotte, NC, in October.

Both Hayes and Faison say there are more African Americans becoming collectors. And Hayes says ESPER does a lot of outreach to young adults and children to encourage a new generation of collectors. “There are definitely more and more minority faces and images on stamps today. Our organization’s focus is to support this effort. Collectors are generally very young or very mature. Young folks usually lose interest, then they come back to the hobby when they get much older,” explains Faison

When collecting, Hayes says to make sure to have your collection appraised and insured. Also, make sure to store the collection properly. Make sure to use the proper storage materials to protect the stamps.