The stereotype of stamp collecting is that it is a hobby of nerds, but Solon resident Matt Liebson is fine with that, he said with a laugh.
The lifelong collector who has turned a childhood hobby into a full-fledged business, Mr. Liebson, 44, continues to find great joy in his passion.
“I have been a collector basically all my life,” said Mr. Liebson, a native of Pennsylvania.
His father, Richard, collected when he was younger and gave Mr. Liebson and his twin brother, David, a “standard kids stamp album.
“I’m unusual in that I never stopped,” Mr. Liebson said of stamp collecting. “Lots of people collect as kids but go away from the hobby when they discover rock and roll.
“But I’m the rare one that went straight through.”
Mr. Liebson, who has lived in Solon since 2008, links his affinity to history to his draw to stamp collecting.
“I’ve always had a strong interest in history so finding old stamps was neat,” he said. Back in the day, stamp stores were on every corner and Mr. Liebson would frequent them. There were also hobby shops and of course stamps taken off letters.
He collected throughout high school, but honed his area of focus as he got older, he explained.
“Kids will collect anything and everything they can come across, but I became interested in older materials,” Mr. Liebson said, including those from 1840-1940.
“Most (of those stamps) were small in size, and there were not nearly as many stamps issued back then as now,” he noted. “The first 100 years was a contained area.”
In his undergraduate years at Denison University, where he studied philosophy, politics and economics, Mr. Liebson said he became more interested in how the stamps were used, and focused on post marks and postal rates.
“It’s what we called postal history,” he said.
A walking encyclopedia of stamp facts and trivia, Mr. Liebson said that before there were stamps, the postmaster would write the name of the post office and town on each letter or package. Sometimes there was a rubber stamp or hand stamped device used.
The first U.S. stamp was issued in 1847, he continued, but mail was not required to have a stamp until 1856.
Stamps, he added, became fully adhesive in 2000. “You can’t find water sensitive adhesive (stamps) if you tried in the United States,” he said. Self-adhesive was first done as an experiment in 1974 but gained popularity in the 1990s.
“After 2001, everything was self-adhesive.”
Choosing who or what is featured on a stamp falls under the purview of the Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee, which reports to the Postmaster General of the United States, Mr. Liebson said. “The committee comes up with ideas, and sometimes Congress will ask for a stamp.”
Mr. Liebson, who is chairman of the Membership Committee for the American Philatelic Society, shared some of this trivia recently with a group of about 20 gathered at the Solon Historical Society. He explained the basics of stamp collecting and shared some of his collection.
Mr. Liebson noted that stamp collecting has always been, and continues to be, a stress reliever for him. A father of four children ranging in age from 15 months to 15 years old and married to wife Christine, an archivist, Mr. Liebson graduated from Harvard Law School. He practices out of his home-based law office Liebson Law Firm LLC, specializing in business law, marketing and advertising law.
“Before the kids were born, I spent time in law school selling (stamps) on eBay. It wasn’t just a hobby, I would sell some things too.”
He has taken that to a larger level working as a stamp dealer with his business Paper History LLC, centering on U.S. Postal History.
“Despite being a stamp dealer, I almost never sell from my own collections,” he said. “There are some things too sentimental.”
He does have that first album from his childhood somewhere and also has pieces from his parents’ collections. His paternal grandfather also collected stamps, as do his children now, he said.
“They all collect different things,” he said of his kids, who attend Solon public schools. For example, his daughter prefers unusual varieties while his son collects mail from a particular World War II cruiser.
Mr. Liebson said he favors some of the more “interesting” stamp collections of late, including a sheet of stamps honoring magic. More of a “souvenir sheet” that you could not get in post offices, Mr. Liebson showed off the three stamps that, if you turn them, looks as if the rabbit is jumping out of the hat.
“There are a number of interesting stamps,” he continued. One issued for the solar eclipse was comprised of thermal-sensitive ink, which, when one’s thumb covers the stamp, you can see the moon.
“I have thousands of stamps,” he said, adding that often he collects both the stamp and the envelope.
He has a large collection from early mail from Ohio and also likes to collect postmarks from Solon, which has had a post office since the 1830s.
Mr. Liebson said stamps in the 1950s cost 3 cents compared to today’s rate of 55 cents, still considered one of the cheaper domestic postal rates in the world.
His knowledge has broadened even further through his membership with the American Philatelic Society (Philatelic refers to a person who “loves stamps”) since 1992. The organization, which includes about 29,000 members, is considered the public voice for stamp collecting in the United States, he said, and is a great resource for collectors.
“Stamp collecting is known to be traditionally a hobby for loners, someone sitting in a room of their house with their stamps, but that is not necessarily true,” he said. “There is a strong social component to stamp collecting.
“I call it a liberal arts college of hobbies,” he said. “It’s intellectual.” While some like collecting because of the artistic components of stamps, others like the idea of organizing or hunting for something rare.
“It’s a very scalable hobby,” Mr. Liebson said.
Mr. Liebson travels to a variety of stamp shows around the country. He attended last month the large national show in Cleveland and will travel to Columbus in June. The biggest show of the American Philatelic Society, which moves from city to city, will take place later this year in Nebraska.
“I buy things from around the world and also sell all over the world,” he said, noting that eBay makes that process easier.
“In the last six months, I have sold things to people in more than 40 countries,” Mr. Liebson said.
To that end, stamp collecting is truly alive and well, he said, although not like it was in the 1930s and 1940s when everyone collected.
“The internet has changed everything, and it has flattened the market in terms of people not needing to just buy from dealers,” Mr. Liebson explained. “Materials are much easier to find, but you are competing with many for that one stamp.”
While he is humble in his range of knowledge, Mr. Liebson does consider himself an expert in some specific areas.
“I’m very good at the postal history of the State of Ohio and the U.S. Postal history generally,” he said. His best known collection is that of U.S. War Saving Stamps, which were stamps bought and traded for savings bonds in World War II.
“Extreme specialization is what collectors typically do,” he added. “It’s still fun, even though it’s a business, too.”