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Postage stamps recycled for use by hobbyists

I have enjoyed pen-palling for several years now and I swap Friendship Books with many of my pen pals. I've seen little ads in these booklets from people saying that they collect used and unused postage stamps for certain charities. What, if anything, do these charities do with the stamps? I mean, I can't see them making any money off of them, especially if they've been used already. Any ideas?

— K.M., Medford

In the world of philately — stamp collecting — relatively few stamps have real value. But to fill the demands of the average collector, who might be filling out series or sets of common canceled stamps, the big dealers need to constantly replenish their supplies.

It's a long-standing, but not overly lucrative, way for nonprofits to earn cash for their group by collecting stamps and sending them off to a clearinghouse where they are soaked and resold to dealers, collectors, etc.

Some groups distribute the stamps to wounded veterans or other patients so they can start their own collections and pass the lonely hours in the hospital.

Commemorative stamps, issued in honor of an important event, person, or subject, are far more collectible than "definitives," those American-flag or Liberty Bell stamps sold in huge quantities. Whether to collect canceled or mint stamps is a personal choice.

Stamp collecting may be akin to watching paint dry to some, but to others, it's a fascinating way to pass the time. Here are some fun stamp facts, courtesy the American Philatelic Society (www.stamps.org):

  • Bhutan, an Asian nation in the Himalayan Mountains, issued a group of postage stamps that were actually phonograph records in 1973.
  • In 1879 Liege, Belgium, employed 37 cats to carry bundles of letters to villages.
  • In 1969 during the Apollo 11 moon flight, the astronauts took with them a die of a postage stamp which they pulled an impression of when they touched down on the moon, creating the moon's first postage stamp.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to youasked@mailtribune.com. We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.