Rochester Philatelic Association
After an exhaustive search and review of all of the documentation stored by the Rochester Philatelic Association over the years, the RPA Archive Committee members, chaired by Paul Gerwitz, have compiled our notes resulting in this work. It is believed to be the most accurate and complete historical review ever attempted by the RPA.
Ninty plus years have taken their toll on the archived material. The first order of business was to organize all documents by date. In doing so, it was obvious that several gaps in our history may never be filled in due to a lack of information. However, it is hoped that some of our senior members may be able to recall additional details to improve this history.
Various articles, photos, and related ephemera are depicted here using items from the RPA archives. Click on these links to view them. To see a listing of the items themselves, click here.
Newspaper abbreviations used:
It all began officially on March 26, 1913 at 8 PM in the lobby of the Hotel Rochester. Two weeks earlier, on March 12, thirteen men banded together agreeing to call themselves the Rochester Philatelic Association and paying their $2 annual dues to become founding members. These men were: L.S. Richardson (President), M.F. Ottly (Vice President), Fred E. Merritt (Treasurer), Freeman C. Allen (Recording Secretary), Paul Wild (Librarian), Woolf H. Amberg, L.L. Albright, Harvey J. Haddleton, Dr. George P. French (a nationally recognized philatelist at the time), M. R. Burton, Dr. Sigmund Handler, William A. Carr and John S. Williamson.
Two other attendees decided not to join, but by the meeting on the 26th, some 19 paid members were present. The men agreed to meet the fourth Wednesday of every month to further their collecting interests. There was no actual rental fee for meeting in the Hotel Rochester's lobby, however minutes of the next few gatherings note that 50 cents was paid each night to the porter, who made the scheduling arrangements with the hotel.
From the beginning there were strong ties between the RPA and the already established Rochester Numismatic Association, with some members belonging to both groups. There were early discussions to determine if the two groups could jointly find a common meeting place, which never came to fruition.
In fact, finding a permanent meeting site was always a problem in the early stages of the RPA. Over the next few years the RPA met at the Surrogate Court Room of the Monroe County Court House, the Rochester YMCA, the Ellwanger Barry Building (where Paul Wild had his Covert Stamp Company office) as well as the Hotel Rochester. One reason was economic, as 50 cents for the porter was a tidy sum in those days. The other was for space, as the membership ebbed and flowed.
The RPA agreed to join the American Philatelic Society in a meeting on September 24, 1913. By November 26 there were four junior members in the club who each paid dues of 50 cents per year. The first woman member joined in June, 1914, referred in the minutes as "Mrs. Zimmerman." She had paid her dues at that meeting, but her name never again appears in latter RPA meeting minutes as attending.
The featured event at most gatherings was the display of a country collection brought in by one of the members. However an auction took place in October 1913, with sold lots totaling $8.65. One dollar went to the club treasury as commission. A competitive exhibit was held the following March. The RPA was invited to join the RNA in a banquet scheduled for January 1914. It was a rousing success except for the fact that when all was completed, a $40 deficit had to be split to pay the Hotel Rochester's restaurant final bill.
The strength of the RPA, or at least its leadership, was evident when the RPA agreed to invite the APS to hold its 1915 annual convention in Rochester. The offer was extended to APS officials at the 1914 APS convention held in Niagara Falls. APS President, General Lehas Coolidge, opted to hold it in San Francisco instead, but gave tentative approval for Rochester hosting the 1917 meeting.
Little came of this, as tough times were ahead for the RPA. Former Vice President M.F. Ottly became the first expelled RPA member on November 24, 1915. He had ordered $37.22 worth of items from a dealer in Bath, England, and failed to pay him for the shipment. The February 28, 1917 meeting was especially interesting. Membership had dwindled and there was talk of disbanding. The spirited debate that evening dealt with how the $91.24 treasury would be divided should the RPA dissolve. This minor crisis was settled by agreeing to meet informally at Paul Wild's stamp shop, change the meeting date to the fourth Thursday of every month, and to continue to recruit new members.
Not much is known of the RPA during the war years. It is noted that renewed interest brought the membership numbers up again and another meeting site was found at the new Municipal Museum at Exposition Park, later named Edgerton Park. The first meeting there took place on July 24, 1919.
Correspondences in the archives from 1921-3 covered mainly one topic. Work had begun in 1919 to create a club collection of stamps, at first out of duplicates members had on hand. Two years later, the project had created one of the best worldwide stamp collections anywhere, putting Rochester on the philatelic map. Donations were sought from members and other collectors around Rochester and western New York. In time, entire collections were donated to the "Municipal Collection." Stamp frames were ordered to house the collection from the same company that made them for the National Stamp Collection at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC. A gala exhibition was held in December 1921, to unveil the stamps and frames to the public.
Rochester's collection gained local, national and international attention. A front-page article in Sunday's December 4, 1921 edition of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle highlighted the teamwork of the entire RPA membership in forming it. Publicity traveled far and wide. In fact, the RPA accepted an invitation extended in late 1921 by the organizing committee of the 1923 International Stamp Exhibition in London to be named a "Committee of Honor" club member. It is unclear as to which, if any, RPA member actually attended the May 14-26, 1923 show, or what the "honor" actually entailed. Such attention brought membership inquiries from as far away as the Straits Settlements. References continue to mention the club collection into the 1960's.
Sometime between 1923-6, the RPA organized a junior branch for boys of high school age. Even then collectors realized that the future of philately depended on getting youngsters involved in the hobby.
On February 28, 1928, the RPA became a branch of the Society of Philatelic Americans, a rival of the APS. The major benefit of joining was in receiving sales circuit books for the members to browse through during meetings.
Several events of note occurred in the 1930's. Another philatelic society was established in Rochester in 1929 named the Genesee Valley Stamp Club. An ex-RPA member, James Flynn, formed it, conveniently scheduling GVSC meetings on alternate weeks from those when the RPA met. One major benefit of GVSC membership was the publication of a newsletter that was available at meetings. Many area collectors belonged to both groups at first, but by 1933, the GVSC was in trouble due to declining membership.
On December 14, 1933, the RPA board voted to absorb the Genesee Valley Stamp Club into its ranks. One spin off of this action was the first appearance of the RPA’s owns publication titled, "Philacopy." The earliest edition found is dated December 11, 1933 (volume 1, #2) containing two pages, one with news and the other with advertisements. Further newsletters were named "Rochester Philatelic Association Bulletin," starting with volume 1, #3. It was also around this time, in November 1933, that the RPA agreed to meet twice a month, on the second and fourth Thursdays.
Rochester's centennial was celebrated in 1934 and several philatelic tie-ins were arranged. The brand new Cumberland Street Main Post Office was completed that year and the RPA created a commemorative cover to mark its dedication on April 2, 1934. It is uncertain if this was the first such cover produced by the RPA. The rubber stamped cachet pictured the building, which included an underground tunnel connecting the post office with the railroad station to expedite the mail. It was supposed to meet Rochester's postal needs through the year 2000. Two stamp exhibitions were planned around the centennial festivities. The RPA and Rochester Chamber of Commerce sponsored the November 13-18, 1933 "Stamp Expo."
The Rochester Centennial Hobby Show ran from August 11-September 2, 1934. It featured many collecting/hobby groups in Monroe County all displaying their areas of interests. The show probably was run in conjunction with the Monroe County Fair, also taking place at Edgerton Park at the time. This event may have sparked the RPA into joining the Rochester Museum Association in February 1935. That organization was a loose confederation of all the hobby groups, which met regularly at the museum. Subsequent hobby shows took place.
The RPA's 25th Silver Anniversary banquet was held in 1938 with over 70 people in attendance. The guest speaker was Rollin Flower who spoke about something called the "stereoptican table." On Wednesday, October 11, 1939, the famous Philatelic Truck visited Rochester and many RPA members took advantage of its appearance.
Little is known of club activities in the 1940's. For a time, meetings were held at members' homes. The RPA met for the first time at the Rochester Museum of Arts and Sciences, 657 East Avenue, in 1942. The Hobby Room was on the third floor and used by many groups. The new museum would become the RPA's home for the next 34 years. At least on exhibit took place there from August 30 to September 1, 1945, known as the 7th Annual Hobby Show.
On March 4, 1950, two RPA representatives traveled to Buffalo to assist in the formation of the Niagara Frontier Federation of Stamp Clubs. The group (which disbanded in 2000) consisted of stamp clubs throughout western and central New York, as well as southern Canada. Rochester hosted several federation meetings and exhibits sponsored by the Federation in 1951 and 1957.
1950s RPA membership card
Two hospital stamp clubs were supported by the RPA. One was at the Rochester State Hospital run by Rudolph Langer and the other at the Canandaigua Veterans Hospital run by Charles Messner.
The later half of the 1950's was quite active. On January 21, 1956, the RPA sponsored a junior exhibit contest, with the winning entry being sent to the FIPEX stamp show in New York City that April. A club library was formed in memory of Ed Huggler. Several RPA members contributed books that contained bookplates noting their donation. The club collection was still going strong with Henry Berman as the curator of the 44 frames of material. It remains a valuable resource for RPA members today.
1956 RPA annual banquet (TU 5/24/56)
Another attempt to form a youth program was started in 1958. The RPA Junior Stamp Club was intended for children over 12 years old and met on the same dates as the senior club. Jerome O'Neill, Jr., a junior member, already had international exhibiting experience, having been invited to show his collection of flown dirigible first day covers at the 1957 Soviet Youth Festival held in Moscow.
The club bulletin was inaugurated in 1958. A philatelic letter drop was established at the main post office. Efforts began to make the RPA a tax-exempt organization with the Internal Revenue Service and the State of New York.
1958 Plewacki and RPA show (5/58)
Tragedy struck in 1958 when 1959 president-elect Helen Lauer died unexpectedly on November 10. She had been elected President at the October 27th meeting. Helen was active with the Niagara Federation and also Rochester's chapter of the Cover Collectors Circuit Club.
The 1960's can clearly be called the "golden era" of the RPA. The membership had outgrown the museum’s Hobby Room, so subsequent meetings were held in the basement, which could accommodate over 100 people. Activities planned around the RPA's 50th anniversary brought more recognition to the group from the community, swelling the ranks further.
1960 Walter O. Wilson Hobby of the month* (Rochester Museum magazine)
Georg Lefebre operated the club's catalog-value based stamp exchange program started in the spring of 1962. By the following year, over 50,000 stamps were in circulation and more than $8,000 catalog value in stamps had already changed hands. A formal RPA membership photo was taken in November 1962.
Thirty-three RPA members and friends left for New York City on Friday, November 16 to visit the ASDA Stamp Show. They arrived around 12:30 AM at the Commodore Hotel near Grand Central Station, took a quick nap and spent Saturday at the show, arriving back home on Sunday.
1962 ASDA show trip (TU 10/13/62)
A contest was held to replace the newsletter's title, "The RPA Bulletin." The winning entry was "Hinges & Tongs," submitted by Mary Morison, who also wrote the weekly stamp column, "Today in Stamps," seen in Saturday editions of the Times-Union newspaper. Her prize was a complete mint plate block collection of the National Parks stamp series. That title was used for the first time in January 1963, and continues today.
The big event of 1963 was the RPA's 50th Anniversary Exhibition, held for 50 straight hours from 3 PM, April 26 through 5 PM, April 28 at the city's newest hot spot, Midtown Plaza. Chaired by Gordon Morison, its scope was ambitious enough to be compared to international level shows. The RPA was Incorporated in the State of New York in time for the show.
1963 RPA Incorporation papers
A truly international theme pervaded the event, based on the animated Clock of Nations, centerpiece of Midtown Plaza. National non-competitive stamp displays were prepared by the governments of Austria, Belgium, Dahomey, Ghana, Israel, Nigeria, Surinam, Switzerland, Togo, the USA and Venezuela, which were also represented on the clock. Some governments sent their ambassadors and foreign service personnel to the festivities. Crowds were estimated at over 15,000 during the entire show.
Competitive exhibits filled 743 six-page frames entered by philatelists from the US, Canada, England, Guatemala, India and New Zealand. The more than 5,000 album pages shown had a value in excess of $100,000 at the time. On special display was a copy of the inverted Jenny, Scott's C3a, worth $7,000 and shown courtesy of an anonymous Nebraska collector.
The U.S. Post Office Department and the United Nations both sold current stamps and other items. Six new UN postal stationary items were given first day cancels on Friday, April 26, jointly in Rochester and New York City. The sale of UN material was so brisk that the initial shipment valued at $5,000 face value which was supposed to last the entire show was sold out within hours after the show's opening. An additional parcel from UN headquarters was sent by train to replenish the supply, as the cost to send the trunk of stamps by airmail ($30) was too expensive for the UN to absorb. A postmark permit commemorative cancel and a meter honoring the 10th anniversary of the American Metered Postage Society (which met during the show) were also available.
The awards dinner was also memorable, being held on Saturday, April 27 at 6:30 PM at the Manger Hotel. Two hundred guests heard the featured speaker, APS national secretary Admiral Jesse Johnson. Other dignitaries included Mayor Henry Gillette and Rochester Postmaster John Bittner.
Twelve of each gold, silver and bronze medals were presented. The grand award winner was Henry Blum of Leonia, NJ for his presentation of Swiss stamps and material from 1799-1862. He appropriately received a silver clock. Rochester was well represented with 33 local exhibitors.
This 1963 RPA medal was presented to Ralph L. Stuntzner of Providence, RI by the Perfin Society for “Perfins – their Origin and Usage.” It was a specialty medal, rather than a gold, silver or bronze. Several societies presented these medals; the Perfin Society presented three.
The entire weekend was lauded by onlookers and participants as an overwhelming success.
Other activities and changes capped off 1963. The RPA incorporated itself before the show in March. In June, it was decided to change the terms of office for RPA officers from a calendar year to a fiscal year system, from July through June. The 1,000th RPA meeting was celebrated on October 12, 1963. Exactly how this date was calculated remains a mystery.
A major RPA mail auction took place on May 20, 1964. Months before, a two page ad was taken out in Linn's Stamp News listing the available lots. It is assumed that this may have been the disposition of the club collection. There were 1,129 lots with a catalog value of $32,000. Among the items sold was a mint White Plains sheet for $63 and a mint set of Zeppelins for $225. The sale brought in $7,200, averaging 26% of 1964 catalog value. As reported in a March 31 newspaper article, the auction was staged to launch a building fund for a permanent home for the club. No further references were found to substantiate this.
Hoping to capitalize on the '63 show's success, 45 RPA members took a three day bus trip to the NAPEX show in Washington, DC in 1964. While there, they lobbied successfully to name Rochester the host of the 1968 82nd APS convention.
Mrs. Evelyn Arthyr, wife of RPA member Bill Arthur, unveiled a postal stationery error from the Bahamas in 1966.
There can be no doubt that many RPA members were active topical exhibitors. Among them were Mrs. James Fordham with two outstanding displays on "Biblical Botany" and "Religion on Stamps," and Ruth Gordon with her "Towards a United Europe."
This may have influenced the American Topical Association to hold their 16th annual convention in Rochester in 1967. The RPA was ready, for in fact the club had purchased frames from the 1966 SIPEX show held in Washington, DC the year earlier. Three members made the trip up and back by truck to get them and had some tall tales on their return.
1967 ROPEX/TOPEX show committee named
Another stamp show took center stage in 1968, as the RPA played host to the APS convention as earlier mentioned. Once again, Gordon Morison was the chairman and innovation was its hallmark. Besides sponsoring the usual exhibits, it was decided to invite the grand award winners from previous major shows to compete for the title, "Champion of Champions." This award continues at every annual APS STaMpsHOW. Another first for the 1968 show held September 19-22 was a national literature competition.
The only glitch occurred well before the show's start when the original site, the Hotel Manger, closed and the Sheraton was chosen in its place. The UN once again held a first day ceremony, this time honoring the World Weather Watch stamps. Of special note was a special night out featuring a buffet dinner arranged at Batavia Downs Raceway followed by an evening of horse racing. The Champion of Champions winner received a Steuben crystal bowl valued at $100. He was Robert H. Cunliffe for his exhibit of 18th-19th Century U.S. revenues.
1968 show prospectus (PDF)
Two members who joined the RPA in 1913 were still involved in the club in 1969.
Club details from 1970 onwards are scarce. The RPA continued participating in Rochester Museum club fairs before leaving the museum in 1976.
RPA's favorite son Gordon Morison left Rochester to join the USPS in 1970 as its philatelic division head. Of course, so did his wife Mary!
The term "ROPEX"- ROchester Philatelic EXhibition- was first used for the 1971 stamp show, held September 24-6. Three weeks later another attempt was made to gather young collectors. They met on October 14 at the Rochester Museum, still the home of the RPA at that time. Five youngsters attended.
Bert Kiener received a nice write-up in the Rochester democrat & Chronicle about his collecting specialty on the pharmaceutical stamps and related philatelic items..
In 1974 ROPEX hosted the American Topical Association at the show June 21-23
1974 ROPEX/TOPEX: Topical Times cover depicting souvenir card
Assorted other articles and photos outline some highlights of the following years.
1978 ROPEX: Mayor Ryan and John Kellas photo
That concludes this part of the RPA’s history. Additions from present and former RPA members members are welcome. Share your remembrances by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.