Autofabrication Through Philately

fdr stamp collectorFirst of all: sorry about the long absence! I was not even busy with work, but on holiday high up in the Alps, where there are very few wireless internet waves in the air (nor quite enough oxygen). It won’t be the last long absence either, because I am expecting a baby, which will no doubt lead to temporarily diminished blog-attention. Apologies in advance.

And secondly: thanks so much to everyone who replied to my plea for help with the matter of FDR’s stamp collecting (actually of course: thanks a million to everyone who ever replied to any blog post! But today I’ll revisit the matter of stamps) Various (semi-)professional philatelists have been helpful in pointing out the flaws in the photograph (FDR seems to be looking at an empty page, reading from back to front, a “real” stamp collector would not hold a stamp with his fingers, but would use pincers, etc.). Others, like Margaret Voorhees in Canada and Henk Schonewille in the Netherlands have helped me develop my thinking, not only with their knowledge, but particularly also by asking critical questions (“If you want to say whether FDR was a stamp collector, how do you define stamp collector?”).

The point is not, to my mind, whether or not FDR really was a stamp collector (he owned a stamp album as a boy and died leaving a huge collection of stamps, so there can’t be much doubt really). But I would like to know more about why he was one and what motivated his interest in stamps. What I find very intriguing about the previously cited blog post is that it suggests he only became a more serious collector when he discovered in early 1933 (i.e. after he had been elected but before the was inaugurated as president) that the media were very interested in the president’s hobby. Much more generally, I hope to be able to argue in my dissertation that one important way in which FDR developed the presidency, is that he brought his own private life into his public execution of the office; that he actively used elements from his private life in the media to create a highly personal image for himself. Which was then – I’ll try to argue – a relatively new habit that has stuck to the presidency (and to celebrity and stardom in general), and which has made supposedly personal passions like the stamp collecting such a persistent factor in Roosevelt remembrance.

In that light, it would be very interesting to find out that Roosevelt at that particular moment in early 1933, when he did not yet want to express himself explicitly in political matters, because he was not yet inaugurated as president, had been triggered by media interest to embellish his stamp collection publicly and privately in order to enhance his autofabrication as a personal flesh-and-blood president. Of course, even if he did not start to seriously expand his collection at that time or for that reason, it was still a clever move to put it out in the media then, because it had a depoliticizing effect. It made him more human and simultaneously placed him outside the realm of partisan politics. This kind of depoliticization was obviously a political move in itself, but that is another issue. What I need to find out now is: when and how was Roosevelt’s stamp collection accumulated? Did he do this (only) personally in his spare time, or was there White House staff involved? (and if so, how?) Whose idea was it to have Roosevelt pose for that famous photo? And is there any other evidence to back up Greg Laden’s father’s memory? Any takers?

Over Sara Polak

Blog about my research: The World We Live In Today Is FDR's World
Dit bericht is geplaatst in Autofabrication, Cultural memory, FDR personal. Bookmark de permalink.

3 reacties op Autofabrication Through Philately

  1. Henk Schonewille schreef:

    Sara: interesting questions.
    Below mentioned some web-page references as “possible” answers to some of your questions about FDR as stamp collector. Perhaps the archive staff of the FDR library/Research Support Services can help out?

    Good luck in your quest.

    “When he ran for re-election in 1912 he was unable to campaign for office because he’d come down with typhoid fever. At that point he hired Louis Howe to write letters, meet the people and keep him informed about the political waters of the day. Interestingly, FDR gave Howe a list of stamps he wanted and so part of Howe’s “work” was visiting stamp shops on his travels through the state in an effort the secure these stamps for him.”

    “Although the public had begun to become aware of FDR’s stamp collecting hobby during his campaign for governor of New York in 1928, it was during the campaign of 1932 as people found out more about FDR the man that they heard more about the grand hobby of stamp collecting that he loved so much.”,510678
    • More about the accumulation of Roosevelt’s stamp collection: Grace G. Tully – FDR My Boss – pages 7 and 8

  2. Henk Schonewille schreef:

    Hi Sara,
    In conclusion to my yesterday’s blog entry, hereby some interesting reads.
    I wish you every success with your dissertation.

    • A series of editorials in the American Philatelic Society magazine in 1932 pointed to the danger of mixing philately with politics as Franklin Roosevelt is a candidate in the U.S. Presidential campaign :

    • APS leaflet : “In this era of world-wide depression every voter must give serious thought to the grave problems that beset our Government and intelligently cast his ballot. And so, as an enthusiast in Philately, we bespeak the favorable consideration by all the members of the A.P.S. of the candidacy of our fellow member, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, for the offi ce of President of the United States!” Document also shows a copy of FDR’s APS application.

    • In the mid-1930s, when Franklin D. Roosevelt was president, Proctor and Gamble took to the radio airwaves on the National Broadcasting Company with their incredibly successful Ivory Soap Stamp Club of the Air. Captain Tim Healy, a bona fide real-life world traveler and explorer, hosted the show which offered kids the opportunity to send in an Ivory soap wrapper to receive a free stamp album and stamps to fill it. The success of this program was greatly due to the famous stamp collector in the White House. Not only did hundreds of thousands of youngsters become interested in philately during his 12 years in office, the hobby enjoyed a surge of popularity among all age groups that has to this day never been matched.

    • Why did stamp collecting become popular in the 1920s en 30s?

    • In the age of anxiety of the great depression, stamp collecting approached the zenith of its popularity. Even small things such as the stability of a hobby was influenced by the need to regain certainty. In this respect, stamp collecting offered both a sense of stability with its catalogs and printed albums as well as socially acceptable escapism.

    • In Curtis B. Dall’s book – FDR my exploited father in law – 1968, page 38, there is a story about FDR who made a great find of a very rare stamp on the roadside. That event created a commotion in the stamp fraternity.

    • About accumulating stamps and the involvement of Farley:
    John T. Flynn – The Roosevelt Myth –The Ludwig von Mises Institute -2008, p. 274-275.

    • In his article on, Adam Nicolson like Greg Laden tells the story about FDR’s barber Curly.

  3. Sara Polak schreef:

    Dear Henk,

    Thank you so much for your extensive contributions! Great to get such important help in this way – this is why I wanted a blog to begin with! Some of the sources you mention I already knew, but most are new to me. All in all the sources you suggest in your reactions (as well as the comments by Bob Ingraham) give me the impression that FDR actually was actively and personally engaged in collecting stamps before this became a useful element in his image management (especially the idea that he had Louis Howe look out for particular stamps for him in 1912 suggests to me that he was interested in stamps for their own sake, at least at that time).

    Anyway, I don’t think this is the last that will be said about this, so I’ll keep you posted here and elsewhere. And please if you have time etc. do keep sharing whatever you find that may be of interest!

    All best,

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