Lombard convention features love-in for stamp collectors
Once upon a time, stamp collecting was cool -- Beatle John Lennon and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt cool.
Now the hobby has gone cold.
"We lost a generation," says Kim Kellermann, the 55-year-old grandson and part of the third generation of family members running Rasdale Stamps in Westmont.
A half century after Lennon made his move from stamps to rock 'n' roll, the American Stamp Dealers Association is trying to bring back the cool through "The StampLove," a new campaign that heralds the joys of stamp collecting.
"There's just so much more to it," says ASDA Executive Director Amy Nicklaus, an energetic 33-year-old blond woman who acknowledges that her very presence shatters stereotypes about stamp collecting. "There are so many things about this hobby that are really, really cool."
All those things will be on display from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday at the ASDA Midwest Stamp Show, which is free and open to the public at the Lindner Conference Center in Lombard. The show features dealers and collectors, free appraisals, chances to buy and sell, rare stamps worth tens of thousands of dollars and the unveiling of a new U.S. Postal Service stamp series celebrating modern art.
"I've been in this business since before I could ride a bike," says Kellermann, who still has some of the stamps he sorted and bundled for stamp shows when he was a boy.
At Rasdale, Kellermann handles U.S. stamps, while his brother, Kevin Kellermann, 52, is a licensed auctioneer and expert in foreign stamps. Their sister, Kristin Maravelias, 49, who has a law degree and lives in Mount Prospect, manages the office and handles the accounting. Their mother, Joanne, still was employed in the family business in 2011 when "she died working on her stamp collection" in her Lombard home, Kim Kellermann says.
Stamp collecting isn't as popular as it once was, but you wouldn't guess that by touring Rasdale Stamps, which expanded in 2012 and now boasts a 7,800-square-foot warehouse with two loading docks.
"There's still enough collectors out there," Kellermann says. Every three months, they open their warehouse at 35 Chestnut Ave. to between 100 and 150 dealers and collectors from around the globe for a massive stamp auction. The next is May 18.
Rasdale sells between 8 tons and 10 tons of stamps at every auction. Rasdale's best customer. a Chinese dealer who lives in New York, spends "well into the six figures," Kellermann adds.
Kellermann and his wife, Darlene Pylar, (whom he met at a stamp show) soon will depart on trips to Florida and Ohio to buy more stamps. Rasdale sells stamps on commission, usually between 15 percent and 20 percent of the winning bid. In 2004, the great-granddaughter of a collector who died in 1940 contacted Rasdale after finding a stamp collection inside two old steamer trunks in the basement. That collection sold for $1.7 million, Kellermann says. But most inherited collections aren't worth nearly as much the heirs expect, he adds.
"You mean he spent 40 years disappearing for hours and that's all it's worth" is a phrase Kellermann says he's heard many times. "It's my job to get their expectations back to reality."
The value of a stamp collection sometimes is purely personal.
"There's so much emotion," says Kellermann, who adds that people sometimes cry while selling stamp albums. "Part of them leaves when the stamp collection is sold."
Stamps can be the glue that holds families together, Nicklaus says.
"Before there were Xboxes, you spent time with your kids and this is one of the things you'd do," she says. "You'd talk about history, where you came from and what your values are."
Whether a collector focuses on 19th-century stamps from his ancestors' homeland or on the latest pop culture stamps featuring "The Simpsons," stamps help collectors understand a region, an era, politics and art, Kellermann says.
"You can literally own small pieces of history, small pieces of art," Nicklaus adds.
"There are myriad ways to collect, as many ways as there are people," Kellermann adds. "I've never touted stamps as an investment. It's a hobby. It takes time. It takes patience. Instant gratification? There isn't that with stamps."
He says he understands how young collectors fall away from the hobby as they get busy with romance, sports and school and then move onto work and maybe marriage and kids.
"But eventually," Kellermann says, "if they were seeded long ago, they start coming out in their late 40s and 50s."
Nicklaus can describe that transformation back into stamp collecting with a single word: "Cool."
Stamp Show in LombardWhen: from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday.
Where: Lindner Conference Center, 610 E. Butterfied Road, Lombard.
Who: Hundreds of stamp dealers and collectors.
Cost: Free and open to the public.