One of my long-time hobbies is marcophily, better known as postmark collecting.

What is Postmark Collecting?

You may wonder what exactly that is. For the most part, it is the collection of postal markings and related paraphernalia, including history related to the post office.

The simplest illustration of a postmarked “cover” (full envelope) is when a postage stamp goes through the mail system and is “cancelled.” That usually means with a marking that includes a city, date, and ZIP code and some lines to render the stamp no longer usable for postage.

Postmark "Elsmore, KS 66732 Nov. 28, 1986 AM" on Christmas (Perugino, National Gallery) 22 cent USA stamp
This is a hand cancel or “four bar” – a favorite for collectors

Are you still awake?

I don’t blame you if this sounds boring, but to us collectors it represents history, geography, and culture.

You see, a postal marking is kind of like a passport stamp for a place. From small towns that no longer exist to large cities with multiple branch offices, each post office has a story to tell.

Postmark reading "Lexington IL 61753 Apr 5 2024" on flower postcard
I obtained this postmark on a road trip, exactly 35 years after I started collecting!

The Origin of a Hobby

My collection started quite accidentally. I’ve long obsessed over place names and geography. One day I decided to write to a post office and ask the postmaster to postmark an enclosed post card.

A few days later, I received the card back with two different kinds of postmarks. The quality was not great, but my experiment worked. A new hobby was born.

Postcard with "Anguilla MS 38721 Apr 5 1989 PM" postmark on 13 cent Robert Morris postcard
My first officially requested postmark through the mail

I proceeded to go through my directory of post offices (because of course my tweenage self had already been ordering those for a few years) and selecting post offices to write.

There are thousands of post offices in the United States, and there were even more in the late 1980s. Many of them had funny names, so I focused on those.

Postmark reading "Mouthcard, KY 41548 Mar 21, 1991 PM" on America the Beautiful 15 cent postcard with 4 cent Carl Schurz stamp
Kentucky has tons of uniquely named post offices

I must have had an inkling that this would become a favorite hobby of mine, because I also had an eye out for small towns that I thought might not have a post office for long.

My collection was building and it gave me something to look forward to after school. I was already in high school, but since I wasn’t in any sports or after-school clubs, this became my thing.

Postcard addressed to John H. Burt, Lincoln, Kansas (County Clerk) with a Vesper, KS postmark dated July 20, 1907
I prefer older postmarks, like this one from Vesper, KS (no longer in operation)

Finding the Post Mark Collectors Club

Despite its obscurity, there is a nonprofit club entirely devoted to this hobby. Founded in 1946 in Ohio, the Post Mark Collectors Club (PMCC) now has about 400 members. I have been a member for more than 30 years now.

As an avid stamp collector since age 6, I had subscribed to Linn’s Stamp News. From a small ad in the classifieds, I found out about PMCC a few years into my collecting.

Now there were other people in the world interested in this very unusual pursuit. Truly, I thought I was the only one. Up until then, only my parents knew about my new hobby.

Postcard postmarked "Cascade, Colo. July 26, 1937" and a special mark "Summit of Pikes Peak July 25, 1937" and a written note to the addressee
I love reading old postcards and seeing how people used to communicate

There were lulls in the hobby when I was in the thick of grad school, during my time as a Peace Corps volunteer in Uzbekistan, and as I settled into a new adult life in the Washington, DC area.

Attending My First Convention

In 2001, I attended my first convention in Linthicum, Maryland. That was only about 45 minutes away from my new home in downtown Washington.

Abandoned post office
This is an abandoned post office in Camden, Missouri

I entered the room to find several tables piled high with postmarks. I was certifiably blown away!

For a registration fee of only $5, everything on those tables was completely free for the taking. I must have asked several times about how many postmarks I could take, but there really was no limit.

Another fun event that year was a school bus tour of nearby post offices. While I could have driven to them myself, it was nice to have it organized. We even stopped at one place that was inside a gated community.

Author sorting postmarks with others at the 2001 convention in Linthicum, MD
Me at my first convention in 2001 (photo courtesy of the Post Mark Collectors Club)

Aside from the swap tables, they had other activities and events such as a baseball game, ice cream shop visit, guest speakers, the banquet, and an auction.

Refining My Collecting Preferences

My collecting preferences have changed over the years. I focus on three main types now:

  • DPOs: Postmarks from discontinued post offices, or postal stations that no longer exist (mostly from Kansas and Missouri, with a smaller collection of Kentucky and Illinois)
  • Photos: Pictures of post offices, past and present
  • Travel stops: Getting postmarks at post offices along a road trip route or when I travel internationally
  • Unique: Unusually named towns, funky covers, and other interesting postal history
Author holding postcards in front of the Hell Post Office in Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
My collections have even taken me to Hell!

Celebrating Milestones

In 2018, nearby Fredericksburg, Virginia hosted the 57th annual convention. To my surprise, I was celebrating my 25th anniversary as a member.

PMCC recognized me with a plaque. I stood in front of the room with other members who received 25, 50, and even 75 year plaques. I could hardly believe I’d been collecting for so long.

Author holding plaque reading "PMCC 25 Years"
Celebrating 25 years as a member of the Post Mark Collectors Club

Over the years, I’ve attended 9 conventions. It would have been 11, but plans cancelled my trip to Saint Louis in 2003 and Branson in 2012.

The pandemic cancelled the 2020 event for everyone. I attended it the next year in Jefferson City. The Missouri curse had finally ended for me!

People looking through boxes and seats set up in preparation for the auction
Preparing for the auction, the culmination of the annual convention

Leadership Positions

In 2020, I was voted into a Director position on the PMCC Board. I am also on the Finance Committee.

Frequently I write articles for the monthly PMCC Bulletin newsletter. My series on international post office visits has been a hit.

When I left my full-time job in 2022, I wanted to get more involved. I knew someday I would be interested in hosting a convention. Little did I expect it to happen so soon!

Two postmarks: "Postmark Roundup Station, Terrell, TX 75160 September 22, 2023" with a cowboy image and "Terrell, TX 75160 Sep 22, 2023 USPS" on a duck postcard
Every year a specially designed pictorial postmark is issued to commemorate the convention

Hosting a Convention

I’ve been planning for this year’s convention since late 2023, and now it is almost upon us! Talk about full circle moments.

The 62nd annual convention will be hosted by yours truly in York, Pennsylvania from August 8-10, 2024. If you are at all curious about this unusual hobby, please stop by. Get the full details and registration form here.

The event will be open to the public. Anyone is welcome to check it out for free. If you wish to partake of the free material or group activities, the low registration fee of $10 will help defray costs. We are a nonprofit after all!

Scene of downtown York, PA with "First Capital" clock
Downtown York, Pennsylvania

Planning a convention even for a relatively small group is a lot of work! With only one month left, this is crunch time. Registrations are coming in, designs are getting finalized, and finishing touches are being made.

In the end, I know that everyone will gather and take comfort in our shared hobby that most people would not find interesting.

Listen a little more closely to your curiosity, though, and you might find something interesting. After all, the post office really had an integral part in the development of the USA. There is even a book about it!

Lit candle and two flower vases
A tradition at each convention is to light the memorial candle and honor collectors who have passed away

Portions of this were originally published August 19, 2018.

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