Ken Umbach (researchguy) wrote,
Ken Umbach
researchguy

From the archives ...

Spectrum: Ken’s Corner for October 20, 2009

Ken Umbach

Recently my lovely wife and I visited the expanded and relocated Midway Antique Mall, on Madison Avenue, near Auburn Boulevard, Sacramento. In a sign of the times, it is in a former furniture store building. Furniture stores are suffering, judging from the number that have recently closed or that are in the process of liquidating.

The Antique Mall is huge, with corridor after corridor leading to room after room of every sort of household item. Much of the merchandise displayed does not meet the definition of “antique” (not old enough), but that does not keep it from being interesting. One room featured state-of-the-art kitchen appliances – state of the art in the 1950s, that is. Another displayed an art deco style dining room set – table and chairs – complete with original invoice from the 1930s, showing the down payment ($70) and monthly payments adding up to something over $800. You can buy that set, still in excellent condition, for a few thousand dollars, not bad after you account for inflation.

Around a corner I found long-time stamp dealer Vince Izdepski still at his trade. I used to visit Vince’s shop in Fair Oaks, but a few years ago he relocated to the Midway Antique Mall, and then he moved with it. Vince and his business symbolize a bygone era when postage stamp collecting was a widespread hobby. Department stores had stamp departments and dime stores like Woolworth’s featured inexpensive stamp albums and collectors’ packets.

When I moved to Sacramento in 1973, Macy’s on L Street, downtown, still had a stamp department. Stamp stores could be found near downtown and in the suburbs. One by one, stamp stores have disappeared, replaced by dealers who use mail order and the World Wide Web. The hobby lives, but you have to look for it.

Among my recent leisure reading has been a series of crime novels by the late Lawrence Block. The protagonist, a man named Keller, is a stamp collector. Keller is professional hit man, but at least he has a nice old-fashioned hobby! Keller visits local stamp dealers in his travels around the country. His thoughts about the pleasures of working on his collection bring back memories of my own visits to long-gone local stamp dealers, and my own modest collection. It is good to see Vince Izdepski still carrying on the tradition.

It is hard to believe now, but in the 1920s and 1930s there were even radio shows devoted to stamp collecting. School children learned much about geography and history, and about little-known countries and remote colonies through their stamp collections. Even President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was an avid stamp collector.

The annual Sacramento stamp show, called SACAPEX, is coming the weekend of November 7 and 8, 2009. (SACAPEX is short for Sacramento Philatelic Exposition.) The show is put on by the Sacramento Philatelic Society and takes place at Scottish Rite Temple 6151 H St. (H at Carlson), in Sacramento. On Saturday, November 7, the show is open from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., and on Sunday, November 8, it is open from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. You can find more information at http://sps.nfshost.com/. [NOTE: for 2014, the event is scheduled for weekend of November 1 & 2, at Scottish Rite.]

Even if you are not a stamp collector, the show has much to offer. Aisle after aisle of mounted exhibits illustrate history and culture through stamps. Exhibitors invest countless hours, and often considerable expense, in creating and displaying stamps, covers (addressed envelopes with stamps and cancellations), and narrative.

You might be inspired to revisit an old interest if you were a stamp collector in the past, or to take up the hobby now if you are looking for a new interest. The beauty of stamp collecting is that there are as many ways to approach it as there are collectors. You can focus on a country, a period of history, or on a topic such as railroad trains, cats, or authors on stamps. The hobby does not have to be expensive, as you can buy packets of stamps for a few dollars or pick through trays of stamps and select the ones you wish at a few cents each. Add a stamp album (even just one with blank pages for your custom collection), stamp tongs, and hinges for mounting the stamps, and you are on your way.

***

I had not looked forward to our recent plane trip to New York State, but was pleasantly surprised at the efficiency of the screening process at Sacramento International Airport. The process is much streamlined in comparison to several years ago. Most travelers now are aware of the rules and resigned to such inconveniences as removing shoes to put them on the X-ray belt, and of the various prohibitions affecting airline passengers. Awareness and preparation help.

However, a passenger overheard in the Philadelphia airport (a pleasant middle-aged lady) complained of having been required to take off her pants behind a partition as part of the screening process. She had no idea why, and certainly did not look even slightly threatening. One of our own checked suitcases got home with a note inside it, advising us that it had been opened and inspected by TSA. The inspectors found nothing more alarming than various clothing, some cell phone chargers, and a plastic bag holding underwear awaiting a trip to the washing machine.

***

On October 20, 1930, the Sherlock Holmes show debuted on NBC radio. The show ran (with some interruptions) until 1956, with various actors starring as Holmes and his sidekick Dr. Watson.

On October 20, 1947, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Un-American Activities began a high-profile investigation of communists in the Hollywood entertainment industry.

On October 20, 1968, Olympic high jumper Dick Fosbury won the gold medal, setting an Olympic record of 7 feet 4-1/4 inches at the Mexico City Olympic Games. In so doing, Fosbury demonstrated for a worldwide audience his unique high-jumping style that came to be called “the Fosbury Flop.” Rather than the traditional scissors kick over the bar, Fosbury turned rotated to clear the bar by arching his back while facing up. His technique soon became the standard method for the event.

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