GBCC Past-President Gordon Milne interviews
Janet Klug, prolific author, former GBCC president
and current APS vice president
Published in the April, 2002 issue of The Chronicle, the journal of the Great Britain Collectors Club. Reprinted by permission.
Milne: First of all, Janet, thank you for having agreed, at very short notice, to be the subject for this quarter’s “In the Spotlight.” Let’s start with the most basic question of all: What prompted you to start collecting stamps? And at what age was your interest first aroused? (I thought my phrasing of the latter would meet with more approval from you than the question I had originally put together, which was: “How long have you been a collector?”)
Klug: Thank you for allowing me this opportunity to talk about issues that are important to the hobby.
I began collecting as a child. I remember it exactly. My two older brothers were given stamp collecting kits for Christmas. I thought that this was the neatest present they had, and I was jealous. I was six years old and considered too little to have a collection. My brothers lost interest very quickly, and I sort of “requisitioned” their collections. Apart from teenage⁄early 20 years, I have actively collected ever since. I’m not going to say how many years that is!
Milne: Was there one special country or topic that appealed to you most in those early days? If so, what and why?
Klug: My first recollection of what caught my interest were the German inflation issues. Those stamps with the huge numbers on them. I just knew they had to be valuable! Remember, I was only six and didn’t know about stamp catalogues. My source of new stamps was the local Woolworth’s store, which had a small stamp collecting counter stocked by H.E. Harris. For $1 (which was probably two months’ allowance), you could buy an orange cloth bag stuffed full of stamps. Mostly they were current US definitives (Prexies and Liberty series) and GB Wildings. I liked those Wildings! I still do.
Milne: When you acquired them as a six-year-old, Janet, they must have been out for many years!
What got you interested in collecting the stamps of Tonga and, specifically, that country’s famed Tin Can Mail?
Klug: As a teenager, I read an article about Tin Can Mail in the “Minkus Stamp Journal.” It sounded fascinating, and I vowed one day that I would own “one.” Years later, when I was just getting back into the hobby, I attended a stamp show in a Cincinnati area shopping mall and there was an exhibit of Tin Can Mail. Interestingly, it was put together by the man who wrote that article in the “Minkus Stamp Journal” years before. That was it. I acquired my first cover at that show. A couple of years later I was exhibiting them myself! Janet has a web page devoted to Tin Can Mail.
Milne: Have you ever visited the island of Tonga?
Klug: No, the closest I have come was Samoa. Maybe some day…
Milne: Sadly that country’s study group with which, I know, you were so actively involved and associated for a long time, bit the dust a few years ago. How do you now fill that void?
Klug: You have got to be kidding! I wonder now how I had the time to edit the bimonthly journal (a job I held for all 20 years of the organisation’s history). Actually, the Tonga & Tin Can Mail Study Circle technically still exists as an adjunct to the Society of Australasian Specialists/Oceania.
Milne: I didn’t know that! I thought it had left us forever.
Moving gears and heading, geographically, in the opposite direction, what attracts you to the stamps and/or postal history of Great Britain? And in what specific areas do you currently concentrate your GB collecting attention?
Klug: I have already mentioned my Wilding interest that began in childhood. Currently I am much more interested in both civil and military censored mail from WW1 and WW2, and the British Commonwealth Occupation Force in Japan at the end of WW1. The BCOF was dominated by Australians, but there were British, Indian and New Zealand forces attached to the BCOF as well.
Milne: Do you have a favourite designer? Or stamp/set?
Klug: Am I correct in presuming you mean British?
Klug: I have favourites from virtually all the countries I collect, but my favourite British set would be the Wildings. Generally speaking, I consider the design work of British stamps to be the best the world has to offer. The printing done in Britain is also superior to what is done in the U.S. and elsewhere, although there are some exceptions! The one that springs to mind is the 1976 Social Reformers set. [Note: A booklet pane containing four of the Wilding definitives is shown below right. One of the stamps from the Social Reformers set is shown at left. It honors Lord Shaftesbury, a member of Parliament who was responsible for legislation prohibiting women and children from working in mines and for limiting the number of hours per day that a child could work in other industries.]
Milne: Oh, that one by my favourite GB designer, David Gentleman.
Klug: You like that set? Surely not! YUCK!!!!
Milne: …Now tell me how you really feel about it?!!!
You have exhibited for many years. What prompted your interest in this field?
Klug: I suppose the desire to inform, educate, and entertain other collectors. For me, reading stamp exhibits at a show is akin to visiting a museum.
My first several exhibits were on various aspects of Tonga. This was an evangelical attempt to bring a bit of respectability to those of us who collected that country. In the 1970s, when I first started doing this, Tonga was not a country “real” collectors were supposed to collect. It wasn’t respectable.
Milne: What are the exhibits of which you are most proud and admiring — that is, both yours and other people’s? And why?
The first time I exhibited I wanted to crawl into a hole when I saw it.
Conversely, I suppose my pride and joy is my exhibit entitled “Tonga Definitives, 1897 – 1953” which I have been working on for more than 25 years. I still love those stamps and have not tired of it. Click the image at left to see a page from Janet’s exhibit.
I have put together a lot of “just for fun” exhibits that have given me enormous pleasure. I’m currently working on a new one on the above-mentioned BCOF that is not ready for prime time yet.
Milne: Was it your interest in exhibiting that led you the further step to judging? How fulfilling and difficult do you find that pursuit to be?
Klug: The “How I got to be a judge” story is kind of interesting.
I was at Dayton’s AIRPEX show (this must have been about 13 years ago), and Peter McCann [currently president of the American Philatelic Society — Larry] told me he had “fixed it all up.” I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about until he explained that he had organised that I would do my first apprenticeship at INDYPEX. I was, indeed, speechless.
Milne: I can’t believe that! Wow! A first!!
Klug: Let me continue…having expressed no interest in becoming a judge.
It took me a couple of apprenticeships before I realised what I had gotten myself into. It is hard work, both physically and mentally, but the pay-off is getting to really see and study the stuff that is in the frames and, of course, meeting the exhibitors and sharing their enthusiasm.
Milne: For those GBCC’ers who are unfamiliar with this area, how much time do you spend — and how? — preparing to judge at a show?
Klug: A month or more before a show, the organisers will send each judge a package containing copies of the exhibit title pages and, perhaps, a synopsis page. These are prepared by the exhibitors for distribution to the judges.
Each judge is expected to read those pages and supplement their reading with additional background on those subjects with which he or she is less familiar. Depending on the size of the show, I could spend 10, 20 or more hours doing this sort of “homework.”
It is time well spent, because it gives me a better appreciation of what challenges the exhibitor has faced.
Milne: This is a delicate one; but I have to ask it! What is your reaction to the oft-expressed comment that exhibiting (and judging) are pursuits of the elitist few? And do you believe that they are, in the main, divorced from the interests of the average collector?
Klug: I’ll address the last question first with a yes and no.
Yes, I believe some exhibitors acquire tunnel vision and expect the hobby world to revolve around them.
No, I don’t believe for a second that this is reflective of all or even the majority of those who exhibit and judge.
It is the case of a few giving a bad name to the many.
Milne: Nicely put, Janet!
Klug: As far as being elitist, that is a matter of perception. Most of the exhibitors and judges I know are active in their local clubs, collect many things besides what they are exhibiting, and have the same problems finding — and paying for! — material that all collectors have.
Milne: How best do you think the gap can be bridged?
Klug: Well, hopefully, some of the recent initiatives the Committee on the Accreditation of National Exhibitions and Judges, which I chair, will have an impact.
We have added new categories of exhibits to encourage more collectors to participate. In past years, those who collect poster stamps, local posts, first day covers, patriotic covers, and commemorative covers were discouraged from exhibiting.
Now there are classifications for them to compete in on an equal basis. Collectors who supplemented their collection with photographs, picture postcards, newspaper and magazine cuttings, coins, medals etc. couldn’t put that material in the frames to help tell their story. They can now, and some are doing so with remarkable effectiveness.
This is simply a matter of becoming sensitized and appreciative of each other’s efforts. It is a big hobby. There is room for everyone, no matter what their interest or participation.
Milne: That’s refreshing to read!
Your interests are clearly manifold. Of how many stamp groups are you currently a member?
Klug: I have no idea! LOTS! I don’t even want to go back and look at the dues checks I have written this year!
Milne: In the past few years your name has been appearing more and more in the philatelic press as a writer. Is this an activity that brings you pleasure? And for how many publications are you currently writing on a regular basis?
Klug: Writing is great fun. It gives me an opportunity to reach audiences I cannot reach in person, and it is a perfect “bully pulpit” to extol the joys stamp collecting offers.
I currently write monthly columns for beginner and intermediate collectors in both the “American Philatelist” and “Linn’s Stamp News.” I have a quarterly feature in “Scott Stamp Monthly,” and I write occasionally for many of the journals of the societies to which I belong.
Milne: What initially prompted you to become interested in organized philately in general and the American Philatelic Society in particular?
Klug: “Organized philately” is somewhat of an oxymoron! I belong to lots of different collector societies and few of them are organized. Structured, perhaps, but organized?
I have been involved in one way or another with the American Philatelic Society for a long time, having served on a number of committees including being Vice-Chairman of the Chapter Activities Committee that serves local stamp clubs.
About 10 years ago I read about a forum that GBCC’s founding father, Tom Current, conducted regarding the APS and why its Board meetings were held in closed session. You couldn’t attend a Board meeting — and you couldn’t get minutes for them — but you were expected to vote for officers every two years who then had no further accountability to the members who elected them!
I wrote to Tom with my “attaboy!”
He immediately enlisted me into a committee to draft a bylaws amendment that would give the membership access to minutes and the Board meetings. Eventually this was passed as a standing resolution, and the Board meetings have been open and the minutes published on the APS website ever since.
This was Tom’s doing; and he has to be commended for his activism. My role was that of a supporting player.
Milne: You served the APS admirably for four years as its Secretary and successfully moved on last summer to be elected one of the Society’s vice presidents. Some of the philatelic press are already touting you as Dr. McCann’s successor — in a year and a half’s time — as the APS’ next President (and, if thus successful, the first woman to occupy that prestigious position). From where you stand right now, is this something that you seek? And, if so, why?
Klug: By the time this interview is published in the “Chronicle,” I will have announced my candidacy for APS President.
I have a number of goals, including putting members back into the picture. Lately it seems as though the APS is concentrating its time, effort and financial resources into areas that don’t directly affect the rank and file members. This has got to change. The APS also faces very serious financial challenges which must be addressed based on today’s realities. Wishful thinking will not pay the bills.
Milne: I learned that you were very disappointed (as was I!) that the Society recently voted to purchase the Match Factory in Bellefonte, PA as its next headquarters. Can you please outline why you voted “No”?
Klug: Yes, I was extremely disappointed. Let me give you a little background.
The Match Factory was presented two years ago to the APS Board as the solutiuon to the need for more space in the Society’s Headquarters. The project was touted as a method to get the Society the space it needed and to assist the Society by providing income in the form of rents from tenants of the extra space.
One prospective tenant was the Bellefonte Post Office, which was interested in 22,000 square feet of space.
Other attractive aspects of the project that were presented to the Board included the ability to sell tax credits received for historic preservation and financing the whole project by issuing largely tax-exempt municipal bonds.
Last year I voted to approve the purchase of the Match Factory on a contingency basis, and I agreed to the tentative financing through municipal bonds based on all these assumptions.
Unfortunately, none of these things happened. The Bellefonte Post Office lost interest in the project. Then the tax credits melted away. Finally, the APS failed to secure the bond issue.
Through all of this we have always promised APS members that we would not do the project if we could not afford it.
At the February 2002 Board meeting, the APS Board cast a 6 to 4 vote to purchase the Match Factory, waiving the tenant requirement contingency. This vote was made without a business plan, without financing, without a development plan, and on top of two consecutive years of very serious declines in the combined total assets of the APS and APRL.
I voted “No” because I did not want to break the promise made to APS members that we would not do the project if we could not afford it.
Milne: What do you think would have been a better alternative for the Society? And why?
Klug: Hindsight is 20-20. I think the first thing we should have done was establish a budget for how much we could afford for an expansion project, how much we can reasonably expect to raise in donations, and then look for a project that would meet our needs based on the financial realities.
Even with the vote to purchase the building, additional votes will be needed for the development of the site. Those who are looking for a quick fix for the library expansion are going to be disappointed.
I still think the APS should keep other options open, including property that could be developed within an established budget or an existing structure that could be converted to our needs within an established budget.
Unfortunately, I am in the minority on the Board who thinks this way.
Milne: Although it’s obviously now a moot point, why, I ask, couldn’t the Society have stayed in its current facility at State College — always a delight to visit — and expanded that?
Klug: One of the first presentations the Board saw on a possible building expansion was extending our current location.
The project costs were explored and fixed at $4 million, a sum that the Building Expansion Committee said was more than members would be willing to donate.
Then the Match Factory option came up. This was explained by the Building Expansion Committee as a very viable option. We’d have rental income from tenants, more space than we could ever use for ourselves, tax credits we could sell and help pay for part of the renovations, and the sale of our current property to pay for the rest.
The Match Factory was first presented as a $5 million expansion that would pay for itself. It sounded great! But projected costs have now grown to $7.5 million without us having turned over the first shovel of dirt, and all the financing we had hoped for has dried up and blown away.
Milne: It is public knowledge that, of late, the Society is losing about 1,000 members a year — that’s about a 2% annual decline. Why do you think that is so? And what steps do you think need to be taken to arrest this slippage?
Klug: Membership is one area that concerns me most. A couple of years ago I put together a membership promotion that I thought would work, but that was less successful than I hoped.
Our membership is aging, and we are not getting enough younger members to fill in for those who are resigning because of poor health or failing eyesight and those who pass away. Yet the Internet is bringing hundreds of new collectors into the hobby every day. There are new collectors. The APS does not do a good job of promoting itself to beginner and intermediate collectors or offering services they would find helpful.
I have lots of ideas about promotion, including non-traditional promotions outside philately that piggyback on other allied hobbies. We also need to interact better with the local stamp clubs that are our chapters. In most clubs, only about half the members are also APS members.
There are a lot of things we could do to support clubs and, in turn, use them as recruiting centres for new members. Finally, we need to put together a program with our dealer members and get them involved in hobby promotion. It is in their best interest as well as APS’ best interest.
Milne: From purely my own standpoint, I am getting as much enjoyment out of the hobby now as I ever have in 50+ years of collecting. This is because, through national and international ventures like the APS Stamp Store and, of course, eBay, I am now able — and readily! — to acquire material that is, sadly, not available at the local stamp show. What do you think needs to be done at the local level to stimulate enthusiasm, or said more bluntly, to prevent the local stamp show’s demise?
Klug: This is a problem for which I must honestly say I don’t have a solution.
Local shows are dependent on dealers to pay the bills. Their booth fees pay the cost of the venue rental. Without dealers, there is no show. Unfortunately, show attendance is both costly and time-consuming for dealers. Many are, indeed, taking their business to the Internet where the costs are very reasonable and the buyers are willing to part with the money.
It is a new reality. I don’t know how smaller shows will survive under these circumstances. Certainly all the preconceived old ways of doing business are changing. It is going to take a lot of people with a lot of creativity to work out a solution.
Milne: Do you think postal authorities globally are killing the hobby, either through the over-proliferation of issues or being service-unfriendly to the collector? If so, how can either be changed?
Klug: I think unhelpful service is far more a detriment to the hobby than the proliferation of postal issues. For every collector who hates the new issues, there are those who love them. I’ll confess to being one of them!
Last year Switzerland issued a souvenir sheet that looks like a chocolate bar. Great Britain has issued a stamp that “forecasts the weather.” Many countries have released holographic stamps. These are stamps that many will call gimmicky…
Milne: I do!
Klug: …but I take to show kids and non-collectors what an interesting hobby we have.
Milne: Maybe I’m too much the traditionalist, or as some would call me, “just an old fart”!
Moving on in a steadfast manner, you have achieved much from your various philatelic pursuits. What remains still to be accomplished?
Klug: Hmmm! Personally, I’d like to write a book for beginners some day. I have been singularly unimpressed with most of the works I have seen.
I’d also like to win a grand award with one of my exhibits some day — I never have.
I have about six research projects in file folders that I would like to have the time to devote to their completion.
And, on a grander scale, I’d like to put together a viable promotion for the hobby of stamp collecting, perhaps drawing in the resources of postal administrations, philatelic societies, stamp dealers, the National Geographic Society, and some corporate sponsors.
Milne: I have but a few more questions and then you can get on and complete all those endeavours!
On a personal front, how many hours a week do you currently spend on stamps or related business? How is that split? And, selfishly, which activity brings you the most pleasure?
Klug: You’d get a more realistic answer from my husband! I’d say a good chunk of every day is spent on philatelic pursuits.
Milne: That’s pretty precise!
Klug: But those are broken down into writing, various APS administrative tasks, Accreditation Committee business, and simply playing with my stamps. The time spent on the latter seems to suffer. That which brings me most pleasure is the time I spend at stamp shows, just hanging around with friends I’ve made in the hobby or making new friends. Stamp shows are the really fun part of the hobby for me.
Milne: How supportive is your husband of all your philatelic activities?
Klug: Russ is a saint! He recently accompanied me to Sarasota and went to all the functions (including the GBCC dinner). On the way home he said “Hey, that was fun. We should go again next year!” He also enjoyed STAMPSHOW in Chicago last year and London 2000. He’s good for about one stamp show a year!
Milne: Is there time available for other interests/hobbies? If so, what?
Klug: I power walk four miles every day. I read a lot and collect books printed by Roycroft in the arts and crafts style at the end of the 19th century and turn of the 20th century. I also love to travel.
Milne: Most everyone who knows you at all well is familiar with the fact that, with little prompting, you will burst into song. Do you sing around the house? And have you ever had lessons?
Klug: Lessons? You’ve heard me sing…You know I’ve never had lessons!
Milne: I was trying to be polite! After all, you granted me this interview at short notice and responded dutifully within 24 hours!
Klug: …to continue, Russ bought me a karaoke machine for Christmas a year ago, and we have had a lot of fun with that. Some Saturdays we will hook it up and sing duets. Fortunately we live in a rural area where the houses are very far apart.
Milne: You stole my response! But I give you a perpetual gold — and always will, dear friend — for effort and courage!
Rumour has it that you also worked for Ross Perot. Is this so? And, if so, in what capacity?
Klug: Yes. I worked for Electronic Data Systems (founded by Ross Perot) in the 1970s, first in San Francisco, then in Concord, California and finally in Cincinnati. I was manager of the data processing department. In Cincinnati, I was liaison between EDS and its client, Union Central Life Insurance Company. I met Ross Perot twice during my employment. He was a good boss.
Milne: And, finally, if a fairy could grant you one wish for the future in any particular area of life, what would you request of him or her?
Klug: Good health for friends and family.
Milne: And that, dear lady, is what the GBCC wishes for you, too. Thank you, on behalf of all the membership, for having taken the time from your busy schedule to answer all my questions. Good luck in all your future endeavours, philatelic and otherwise.