Stamp collecting history

MACON, Ga. (AP) - Berdia Felder collects stamps the way a lot of kids collect baseball cards. She stashes them by the thousands in boxes under her bed and in her attic. She has no organized albums or fancy display cases for them.

Felder doesn't worry about how mint-condition the stamps are either. She doesn't much mind if they've been licked. Aesthetics aren't the attraction.

For her, it is the memories they conjure.

On a recent afternoon in her Forsyth Road living room, Felder, a retired school counselor, sat on a couch with a plastic bin of stamps in her lap. Most of the stamps, full sheets of them, are related to black heritage. One, with the botanist George Washington Carver on it, dates back to 1948 when stamps were 3 cents.

But some of the other figures in black history on the stamps aren't necessarily as well known.

As she picked through what was but a fraction of her collection, every few minutes she held up a stamp and asked, "You heard of Charles R. Drew? ... You heard of Dinah Washington? ... Benjamin Banneker? ... Paul Laurence Dunbar?"

Those prominent blacks - Drew, a surgeon; Washington, "Queen of the Blues;" Banneker, an 18th century astronomer; Dunbar, a poet - are among the many whose faces have appeared on U.S. stamps during the years.

"It means they have contributed to the American culture," Felder, who retired from Macon's Northeast High in the early 1990s, said. "When you look at them you're sort of proud."

She first took an interest in stamps four decades ago when a principal at a school where she worked in Florida talked her into heading up a student stamp club.

"Stamps really tell an interesting story, not only about history, but about different personalities, different countries and regions," Felder said.

After she moved to Macon in 1974, she kept collecting.

"I buy some for my letters during Black History Month, because that's a way of promoting black history," she said. "To me, the stamps mean that these people were accomplished and that what they did helped America. ... Whatever your talent is, there is some value in it if you use it the right way."

Felder doesn't have a favorite stamp.

"I like them all," she said.

But being an Alabama native, she said she is a bit partial to the 1997 Paul "Bear" Bryant stamp.

Felder, who won't tell her age, just that "I'm well-seasoned," hopes to pass the collection on to one of her four grandchildren, perhaps the youngest, a grandson who is 8.

"Letter writing is sort of becoming uncommon. I still write letters to my children and my grandchildren, and they write letters back," she said. "I save the letters."

So in some ways her commemorative stamps - the ones she sticks on envelopes and drops in the mail - play a small, if not colorful, part in handing down whatever wisdom her letters might impart.

The stamps make sure they arrive.

The rest, she said, is tucked inside: "You write your own history."


Information from: The Macon Telegraph, http://www.macontelegraph.com