Postal Enthusiasts Flock to Vermont

  • U.S. Postal employee Dustin Frazier lines up a cancellation stamp on a Postal Service's Vermont Birds in Winter Nest Forever stamp during a dedication of the new stamps at VINS Nature Center in Quechee, Vt., on Sept. 22, 2018. Bill Barclay, of South Londonderry, Vt., left, a member of the Upper Valley Stamp Club, cancels his newly purchased stamps. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News photographs — Jennifer Hauck

  • A cancellation mark is fresh on the new Birds in Winter Nest Forever U.S. Postal stamps during an unveiling of the stamps at the VINS Nature Center in Quechee, Vt., on Sept. 22, 2018. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

  • Jason Shepard, of Wilder, Vt., claps during the unveiling of the U.S. Postal Service's, Birds in Winter Nest Forever stamps at VINS Nature Center in Quechee, Vt., on Sept. 22, 2018. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/23/2018 12:11:21 AM
Modified: 9/24/2018 9:37:55 AM

Quechee — Like many philatelists, Jay Bigalke is fascinated by details.

So it’s not surprising that the devoted stamp collector knew exactly how long it took for him to attend at least one first day of issue ceremony — where new stamp designs issued by the U.S. Postal Service are unveiled — in all 50 U.S. states.

“It’s been 22 years, one month and 21 days,” Bigalke said, after he was among the first to gather for the USPS’ “Birds in Winter Nest” series on Saturday at the Vermont Institute of Natural Science. “I’ve been waiting a long time for this.”

Bigalke, of Troy, Ohio, was introduced to the hobby — OK, it’s more of an obsession — while a teenager growing up in the tiny northern Wisconsin town of Readfield.

Having discovered the publication Linn’s Stamp News at the village post office, he was alerted to an Iowa statehood-themed first day of issue event in 1996 and convinced his father to drive him roughly 2½ hours to Dubuque in order to attend.

Several years later, Bigalke realized he’d checked off a few more states and couldn’t bear to stop. He soon found himself booking flights to far-flung states to attend events, which feature not only the opportunity to be the first to purchase newly issued stamps, but to have them placed on an envelope with commemorative cancellation markings displaying the date and location.

That increases their value for collectors, a big reason why about 120 philatelists from across the eastern seaboard packed into VINS’ pavilion room for Saturday’s presentation.

“It means a lot to get this off my bucket list,” said Bigalke, who is now editor-in-chief at Linn’s Stamp News and has also attended first day of issue ceremonies at several U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. “It means a lot.”

The late-morning ceremony included a presentation of colors by Wilder-based Boy Scout Troop 260 and the National Anthem sung by the Hartford High School concert choir.

VINS executive director Charlie Rattigan offered remarks before Sharon Owens, USPS vice president of pricing and costing, officially dedicated the four avian-themed stamps: colorful images depicting the black-capped chickadee, the northern cardinal, the blue jay and the red-bellied woodpecker.

The audience applauded and snapped photographs of life-sized versions of the stamps, which were designed by USPS art director Antonio Alcala with original artwork by London-based printmaker Nadia Taylor.

Featuring simple shapes and habitat elements such as tree branches, the white backgrounds on each are intended to provide contrast and evoke wintertime imagery.

“I remember watching cardinals and blue jays at my grandmother’s house, and my mother going out to shoo away the squirrels from the bird feeders,” Owens said during the presentation. “I remember watching woodpeckers, too, with my brother. It played a big role in what got me to appreciate nature, ecology and the environment.”

In keeping with the theme of VINS — an avian education, research and rehabilitation center — Vermont Center of Ecostudies conservation biologist Jason Hill spoke after the unveiling to address ways everyday citizens can help protect bird populations.

“It’s not enough just to care about birds; action is needed,” he said. “You can offer financial support through crowd sourcing websites or donating to places like VINS, or send in your bird observations to (online citizen science platforms) inaturalist and ebird.”

VINS personnel finished the ceremony by exhibiting several birds that live there, including a barred owl named Troy and Chesterland, a Harris’ hawk.

Rattigan, VINS’ fifth-year executive director, said he was contacted four or five months ago by the USPS, which last staged a stamp-themed event in Vermont two years ago at Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park in Woodstock.

That event previewed a stamp depicting a landscape painting on display at the park.

Prior to Saturday, the previous most recent first day of issue ceremony to be held in the Green Mountain State was held in 2012 to unveil the Weather Vanes series at Shelburne Museum, according to numerous Birds in Winter attendees.

“It’s so unique, to have something like this here,” said Bethel resident Cliff Cyphers, a long-time stamp collector whose friend, Chuck Cerasoli, traveled from South Burlington to attend. “It’s been a long time since we had one anywhere in Vermont, and this time we get it right in the Valley.”

Several active and retired postal workers were on hand, including personnel from the Quechee Post Office that sold various stamp packages and mementos featuring the birds.

Perkinsville postmaster Charlene Reynolds said offering novel stamp designs is good business for a postal service industry that has experiences significant financial losses in recent years.

“A lot of our customers love stamps,” Reynolds said. “Even if they’re not big-time collectors, they like having a variety. The ones having to do with nature are very popular — birds, flowers, landscape scenes.”

Retired USPS personnel such as former 32-year White River Junction office clerk Cathy Carroll and former Hartland Four Corners postmaster Francene Ellis also were on hand.

“I’m actually here to get (the stamps) for a friend who couldn’t be here,” Carroll said. “I have a few in my own collection, but nowhere near as many as he does.”

While most of Saturday’s visitors were drawn in by the stamps, there were a few who are primarily birdwatchers.

South Royalton couple Michelle and Jeff Amato were in that category.

“We’ve both documented (seeing) at least a couple hundred birds,” said Michelle Amato, who also called herself an amateur stamp collector. “It’s one of the things we do when we travel.”

Rattigan, whose late brother, James, was both a stamp collector and birder, said there are parallels between the hobbies.

“Birders have their lists, which is also a form of collecting. They’re collecting experiences when they know the type of bird that they see and mark it down,” Rattigan said. “When you come to an event like this, you have a stamp and you’ll always get to view the date that you got it.”

Glenn Mertz, of Allentown, Pa., chronicles details about newly issued stamps for the American Topical Association, a 60-year-old philatelic society, and says he owns 20,000 bird-themed stamps.

“This is my 180th first day ceremony,” Mertz said. “I try to go whenever there’s one on the east coast, though I’ve been to them as far off as California.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at or 603-727-3216.

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