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Philatelic Exhibiting 101: Exhibiting During a Pandemic

by Robert R. Henak, originally published in Topical Time

My last several columns have dealt with some of the specifics of assembling a thematic exhibit, and we will get back to the nuts and bolts of exhibiting in future columns.

However, it is unclear when any of us will have an opportunity to actually exhibit again in the normal sense of mounting our pages in frames at a stamp show. As I write this column in late March, at least nine out of about 30 World Series of Philately shows, along with two FIP international shows, have been either canceled or postponed. Plymouth, where I was scheduled to judge in late April, was canceled and I had to withdraw from judging Orapex in early May. With social distancing and stay-at-home orders likely to continue at least into June, there no doubt are more cancellations to come.

So, other than following CDC guidance, maintaining social distancing and stay- ing healthy, what’s an exhibitor to do?

I would suggest we can do at least three things: LEARN, IMPROVE and, well, EXHIBIT.

First, LEARN. Use this time of self-quarantining to learn more about your favorite collecting or exhibiting areas. I suspect that, as a thematic collector/wannabe exhibitor, you probably already have many more books and other resources on your chosen area of interest sitting on your shelves or in a pile near your desk than you have ever had the chance to really study. Now would be a good time to do it.

Then, of course, there is always the Internet.

I am constantly learning new information regarding things that could be included in my non-equine “horses” exhibit, for instance, simply by surfing the World Wide Web. Just this past week, I learned that hippology, hippocrene and equitant all are words derived from ancient roots meaning “horse.” Did you know that “Philip” is derived from ancient Greek words meaning “lover of horses”? I am sure that I could fit some of that knowledge into my exhibit.

In addition to brushing up on your chosen thematic collecting/exhibiting areas, you also can use this time to learn more about exhibiting itself. The website of the American Association of Philatelic Exhibitors (AAPE) has links to a number of helpful online resources for those seeking to learn how to exhibit or to improve their exhibiting skills. The “C3a” section of the American Philatelic Society’s website also has philatelic “online learning” courses, including Phil Stager’s 10-part video series on Competitive Thematic Exhibiting, albeit for a price.

Even if you cannot currently admire an exhibit in the frames at a stamp show, you can still use this time to learn from other exhibits, including thematic exhibits, and you can do so without leaving the comfort of your favorite chair. The exhibiting section of ATA’s own website includes selected pages of a number of the top award- winning exhibits from past National Topical Stamp Shows. The following websites are just a few of the others that display digital copies of exhibits, including thematic exhibits, for public perusal:

The AAPE website:

Exponet contains more than 1,000 active exhibits, many in English:

Italian Thematic Philately Center, which includes several in English:

Second, use this time to create or IMPROVE your exhibit(s). If you have not yet created your exhibit, find a space where you can safely spread out the material you have, organize it into a reasonable storyline and then store it in that order in a binder of Vario type pages or heavy-duty archival page protectors until you can start producing exhibit pages. Keep notes of your thinking with the material so you do not forget your great ideas when you return to work on the exhibit later.

If you already have an exhibit, read through it from beginning to end, checking for typos, unnecessary wordiness, inaccuracies and confusing organization. Then pull out those annoying judges’ comments from prior showings of the exhibit and see whether they make more sense now that you are able to step back and look at the exhibit anew.

Whether creating a new exhibit or improving an exist- ing one, where are the obvious or not-so-obvious holes in the story you want to tell? What material are you miss- ing and what do you need to do to find it? Do you actually have it already in that stack of material that you purchased previously but have not yet had the time to organize? In clearing my desk so I could more efficiently work from home, I found a number of important items I had forgotten that I had for various of my exhibits. Update your want list(s) so you don’t end up buying two or three of the same item. Then check what might be available online or by mail from your favorite dealer(s).

You can also improve your exhibit by obtaining the advice of accredited judges even when there is no WSP show available for displaying it. The AAPE provides critique services to its members (which should include anyone interested in exhibiting) for only the price of copies and postage. Separate evaluation services are available for either your title and synopsis pages or for your entire exhibit. Check the Critique Services section of the AAPE website for details.

And finally, we can all still EXHIBIT. If you have already completed and improved your exhibit and you just cannot wait for the whole wide world to see it, literally, you can exhibit it online even if there are no WSP shows available right now. AAPE members can submit their exhibits for inclusion in the AAPE Exhibits Online page. See the Exhibit Upload page on the AAPE website for details. You also could upload your exhibit to the Exponet virtual stamp exhibition following the directions on that site:

I hope that everyone remains safe and healthy and is able to enjoy developing or improving his or her exhibits during these trying times.

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