REMEMBER WHEN…

His name is Israel Bick. Occupation: collectibles, mainly postage stamps and coins. Israel has been buying and selling stamps to collectors since junior high school days in the early 1950s.

Those years are remembered in elderly circles today as the time when stamp collecting was the number one hobby of young and old.

“Practically every kid I knew collected stamps, for good reasons,” Israel recalled. “It was an inexpensive hobby, fun and fascinating.

A learning experience

“Without realizing it, we were also receiving history and geography lessons while enjoying one of the most popular pastimes in the world.

“Collectors everywhere were being introduced to famous individuals. Their accomplishments were recognized too. Stamps also briefed us on historical events and current activities of countless countries. It all broadened our knowledge and understanding of the world around us,” declared this budding Bronx businessman.

For readers unfamiliar with the word “Bronx,” it is the name of a borough in that famous five-borough eastern city which guarantees that if you can make it there, “you’ll make it anywhere.’’

To young Mr. Bick Bronx, New York was home. “Making it there” meant selling enough stamps to earn a few dollars that would somewhat ease the grinding burden of near-poverty that plagued his family.

Heading for success

The most meaningful enterprise in his life during those hard times was getting good grades. The Bick family rightly considered this essential on the way to success no matter what career Israel chose. Fortunately A’s and B’s came regularly from junior high through four years at Yeshiva University in the Big Apple.

There he not only sold stamps to students. A number of university professors became regular customers as well. “This led me to believe that if the demand for what I was selling remained strong and steady among students plus their professors, stamp collecting would probably continue as a habit of many graduates along with others in the adult world.”

Student-teacher support plus a short but growing list of direct mail customers promised at least a steady cash flow in the near future.

Encouraged by what he saw as probable assurance of security, Israel founded Bick International immediately after graduation. It was largely a mail order operation. And its Founder/President was well aware that “we were nowhere near competing with the giant mail operations of the industry. But business was steady. We were also building a name for ourselves nationally via mailings.”

Putting the country first

In a sense, Bick International was a pioneer venture as well as a business with a bright future. From 1961 to ’63 it was run by a woman— very much a rarity in those days. Israel’s sister, Lorraine, took charge while her brother served a two-year stint in the Army. Upon his return to civilian life, the boss happily announced, “Lorraine did a terrific job in The Bronx. Our company is in great shape”

He also declared that “as far as I was concerned, we made it in New York and had an excellent opportunity to expand if we set up shop in Southern California. The area was booming, especially Los Angeles.”

The move west not only boosted business. It provided an opportunity for Bick International to reach new regional markets through recurring attendance at prestigious coin, stamp and collectible shows. “Show appearances have played a key role in the growth of our company,” Bick explained.

“The most current example of this is our appearance every two months at the Hotel Orleans in Los Vegas. A selection of our choice items are on display, and for the most part serious collectors attend this stamp and collectibles showing,” he added.

End of an era

On that note, we conclude our look at what might be considered stamp collecting’s bright side. Unfortunately there is darkness to spare, while postage stamps as a hobby steadily fade into history.

Linn’s Stamp News, the industry’s leading publication, sums up the story by the numbers. An LSM study reveals that approximately five million Americans, averaging 72 years old, now collect postage stamps. Virtually no new young collectors are joining them to sustain the hobby. “Those who do collect are well-to-do senior citizens, searching for rare high-value investment stamps.”

Similar situations are evident worldwide, according to a Wall Street Journal report in 2013. It put the number of stamp collectors on the entire planet at only about 60 million.

“In short, stamp collecting is clearly at rock bottom and has been there for quite some time. Active collectors are largely well-to-do seniors,” according to Bick.

What caused this fall from the top?

Bick pointed out that collectors began to lose interest with the end of World War 2 and the appearance of new, action-packed mechanical and electric toys and games. The final blow was the computer era.

Unbeatable competition

Very few if any 21st Century hobbyists would be satisfied quietly collecting little colored pieces of paper representing nations around the world. Their kicks come from playing and collecting fast-moving games set in thrilling, life-like worlds of their own, featuring daredevil adventures, athletic competition, outer space discoveries.

These and countless other games make up a steady flow of new and remarkably inventive designs to chose from.

In their own way, members of the world’s dwindling bands of stamp collectors are quite possibly as enthusiastic as today’s game-players. Many may happily share moments of the past filled with fun and friendships that came from trading stamps with other collectors. Or they may enjoy browsing through the old stamp album and letting the moments come to them as they turn page after page, traveling the planet.

Whatever they are up to is pure pleasure.

Just ask Israel Bick.