The Stamp Collector


Mark and Jeff and I are sponsors of our sons’ soccer teams this year. After a bruising Saturday morning chasing the kids through an activity that was something like soccer, we loaded the rowdy bunch of 9-year-olds into the van and headed towards the local pizza parlor, which was a welcome sight, believe me.

When we had the kids watered down, the dads relaxed with some refreshment of our own at a table next to them. Jeff was talking about his work when Mark chimed in with a remark about the fantastic baseball card purchase he had recently made.

“I’ll have to introduce you to my neighbor Tommy sometime,” Jeff said.

“I think I have met him,” said Mark. “Maybe at the Fourth of July barbecue at your house?”

“You might have. Anyway, he’s a stamp collector, has been for years.”

“Is that so? I’d like to see his stamp collection.”

“Well, he doesn’t have one.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, he doesn’t own a stamp collection.”

“… at present. You mean he’s sold his, or something.”

“No, I don’t believe he’s ever had a stamp collection.”

“Is he planning to acquire a stamp collection?”

“I don’t think so. He reads the ads in the stamp collector magazines, so maybe he’s thinking about it, but he’s never talked about buying one.”

“He subscribes to stamp collector magazines?”

“Oh, yes. He’s very enthusiastic about it. He’s gone to stamp collector conventions. He told me about his trip to Chicago to attend the national phil…, phil… something–”

“Philately,” supplied Mark.

“That’s right, a philately convention. He got involved in discussions about some of the technical aspects. He has quite a large set of books on stamp collecting.”

“Oh, I see. He is some sort of expert, writes articles, that sort of thing?”

“No, I don’t think he has ever published. He would have told me if he had, I think.”

After a pause, Mark began, “But Jeff, this is …”

“The sausage on the first table and the pepperoni on the second,” I broke in. After pulling out wedges for the kids, we paused to taste the peppery hotness. 

“Good, huh?” asked Jeff.

“Mm,” I replied.

“Look here, Jeff,” said Mark. “You say your neighbor is a stamp collector, but he doesn’t collect stamps, have a stamp collection, write about stamps, or deal in stamps. In what sense is he a stamp collector? Isn’t it an abuse of the language to call him a stamp collector?”

“I don’t know. He says he is very into it.”

“But what does that mean?”

I broke in, “I knew a guy that was wild about airplanes–been on an airplane exactly once. That kind of…”

“OK, he’s very into stamp collecting,” Mark was unwilling to let go, “whatever that means. Are all his friends stamp collectors? Does he spend time with other stamp collectors?”

Jeff thought for a moment, “I understand he goes to a club meeting once a week.”

“I just don’t understand, Jeff. How can you say that this guy is a stamp collector if he doesn’t collect stamps?”

“How should I know?” said Jeff, a little exasperated. “That is what he calls himself. He says he is a stamp collector. Who am I to say he’s not? I just thought you would be interested.” 

After a pause, Jeff turned to me. “I’ll have to introduce you to Doug, my neighbor on the other side. He’s a Christian…”

Robert McAnally Adams is a retired mathematician and curator of The Christian Quotation of the Day. See

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