Late in the Civil War, when the Confederate states were experiencing a paper shortage, people mailing letters would fashion envelopes out of wallpaper rather than standard paper.
Those wallpaper envelopes – or covers, as they’re known in the stamp-collecting community – are a rare find these days. One of them, mailed from Columbia to Charleston during the war, carried a Columbia-printed Confederate stamp and a $1,250 price tag at the Columbia Philatelic Society’s Stamp and Postcard Show on Saturday.
More than 150 collectors from the state and region are expected to attend this weekend’s two-day show in Columbia, one of two the society holds each year.
The rare wallpaper cover is part of Charlotte dealer Tony Crumbley’s inventory of more than 40,000 postcards and covers that he sells at shows. A postal history collector and dealer for more than 40 years, 65-year-old Crumbley considers stamp and postcard collecting a valuable learning experience.
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“When I grew up ... all the kids in the neighborhood collected stamps,” he said. “You learn the world when you start seeing stamps from all these exotic places. And it was a good history lesson.
“It’s frustrating that you can’t get more youth into the hobby, because it really is interesting. It’s not as dynamic as technology, but it’s still very interesting.”
Like Crumbley, Bill Mitchell grew up collecting stamps with other boys in his neighborhood and school. Growing older, he lost interest in collecting and turned his attention to other things, such as football and cars and girls, he said. But he picked up the hobby again years later and now has more than 70 albums and boxes filled with stamps and covers.
The 73-year-old’s collection includes covers that were canceled, or postmarked, by the post office, on the days when Pearl Harbor was bombed, when the Japanese surrendered in World War II and when Queen Victoria died.
“You can’t ignore history and collect stamps enthusiastically,” said Mitchell, vice president of the Columbia Philatelic Society, which has served stamp collectors in the Midlands since the 1930s.
Annette Metz’s husband, Leonard, founded the club. Since Leonard’s death in 1987, Metz has picked up her husband’s hobby where he left off, working to fill in his stamp albums to pass on to their three grandchildren. They’re not yet interested in the hobby themselves, she said, but it was something her husband loved.
She joined others scouring the thousands of items offered by eight dealers at the show Saturday, which ranged from colorful pages of stamps commemorating such events as the 1986 Tanzania World Chess Championship – available in a bargain-priced box for just 40 cents – to a $150 Confederate-stamped letter cover addressed to a Mrs. J. Devereaux in Raleigh, N.C., its scripted lettering still clear on the worn paper.
For many collectors, the excitement of the hobby is all about the hunt for particular items, Crumbley said. Collecting these pieces of postal history is a hobby that requires patience, Mitchell said.
“You can’t mash a button and get whatever you want,” Mitchell said. “And everything you get is a trade-off against something else that you might want. There are all kinds of decisions involved.”