In The Spotlight

GBCC President Gordon Milne interviews
Michael Dixon and Ann Triggle,
U.S. Commissioners for The Stamp Show 2000 in London

Stamp Show 2000 logo

Published in the July, 1999 issue of The Chronicle, the journal of the Great Britain Collectors Club. Reprinted by permission.

The following provides a revealing look at the duties and responsibilities of two GBCCers, Ann Triggle and Michael Dixon, as they proceed with the daunting and responsible task of being U.S. Commissioners to The Stamp Show 2000 (the international stamp show to be held in London in May, 2000). GBCC members Mark Ebery and Janet Klug are especially thanked for their contributions to this second interview.

Milne: With The Stamp Show 2000 now less than a year away, and the eyes of the philatelic world all set to focus on the first major international show of the new century, it’s most kind of you both to take the time to answer the following questions from GBCC members. The first question is the one everybody asked, namely: What does a U.S. Commissioner to an international show do?

Triggle: Rather than write a complete job description, I’ll just summarize the main points.

  • Inform prospective exhibitors of the show, and generally publicize the event in the local philatelic media, e.g., The American Philatelist, Linn’s, etc.
  • Fulfill any request for copies of the show’s information bulletins.
  • Send out and receive back preliminary applications.
  • Submit applications to the Commissioner General of the respective international show.
  • Receive acceptances and inform the potential exhibitors.
  • Receive, pack and transport exhibits to the show, guiding them through customs.
  • Mount exhibits.
  • Attend daily meetings.
  • Monitor the framed exhibits for any possible problems and be available should the jury or expert committees wish to open the frames.
  • Attend all banquets and gather all medals and awards
  • Dismount exhibits.
  • Pack and carry back all exhibits and awards to the USA.
  • Negotiate customs.
  • At home, pack each exhibit separately and send to its owner, together with copies of the show program, Palmares (list of award winners), medals and any special prizes.

Dixon: It is also the Commissioner’s responsibility to collect from exhibitors whatever frame fees are required by the organizing committee and to remit those fees to the organizers by the deadline set by the show.

On receiving exhibits from exhibitors before departure, the Commissioner will check each exhibit to be sure the sheets are correctly numbered, the information required on exhibit envelopes is correct and the exhibitor supplied inventory is correctly completed. Also, as few of us are in a position to, nor have a desire to, store such large numbers of valuable exhibits in our homes, Commissioners will make arrangements with a suitable institution, e.g., a bank, to hold the exhibits as received until departure for the show, and make comparable arrangements for their return. Moreover, when delivering the exhibits at the show venue, the Commissioner must be present while the organizers check every single exhibit sheet to make sure that it matches with the exhibitor completed inventory for the number of stamps, covers, etc. on each sheet. After the show, the Commissioner performs a similar check when the exhibits are returned to the Commissioner’s custody.

Additionally, the Commissioner has to be present at the show throughout the judging process in case there are any questions from the jury to be answered.

Milne: How does a Commissioner get appointed? And by whom?

Dixon: One first needs to express to the APS (American Philatelic Society) Commissioners Committee chairman an interest in servicing the philatelic community in the role of a Commissioner. At the same time, it is usual to indicate a preference at which shows the Commissioner would like to serve. This normally happens several years before the show, since FIP (Federation Internationale de Philatelie – the body that governs international stamp shows) rules indicate the Commissioners should be appointed “in good time prior to the publication of the first publicity brochure for the exhibition.” So, for example, I was appointed as one of the Commissioners to IBRA in the fall of 1996, more than two and one half years before the show.[Editor’s Note: IBRA was held April 27 – May 4, 1999 in Nuremburg, Germany.]

Triggle: Our appointment as Commissioners to London occurred in the summer of 1997. Initially the Chairman of the APS Commissioners Committee will recommend a potential Commissioner to the APS Board, and the APS recommends the name to the international show. Then the Commissioners are formally appointed by the international show’s organizing committee.

Milne: What qualifications are required for such an appointment?

Dixon & Triggle: There are no particular qualifying requirements stipulated by the FIP, nor, as a rule, by the show organizing committees. However, the APS has set its own requirements. These include, for example, a need to have been an exhibitor and have won at least a vermeil medal at an international exhibition, to be fully conversant with FIP rules and regulations, etc. These are detailed in the APS “Guidelines for National Commissioners” that is available from the APS in State College, PA. [Now Bellefonte, PA. — Ed.] Some knowledge of the country hosting the show is obviously desirable.

Milne: Did the fact that both of you were born in Britain have any influence on your getting The Stamp Show 2000 appointments? If so, how?

Dixon: I’m sure it did. I have no idea of who else, other than Ann, may have expressed an interest in being the Commissioner for London, but I would imagine that in making the appointment, my having served on the London 1980 team and my personal good relationships with so many of the 2000 team through my former position on the Council of The Royal Philatelic Society, London must have played a role.

Triggle: When I expressed an interest to act as the Commissioner to London in 1995, I asked that my British background be taken into consideration.

Milne: As I understand it, Michael, you have been a U.S. Commissioner many times before. What was your first show, and when did you serve? And the obvious follow-up to that, for how many shows have you been a U.S. Commissioner?

Dixon: No, Gordon, that’s not quite correct. IBRA, earlier this year, was my first time as a Commissioner. Let me add that there was only one reason for applying to act as a Commissioner. As you know, I am President of Washington 2006, our next USA international show. Over the years, I have heard many comments about the activity of Commissioners — good, bad and indifferent. In order to adequately plan for 2006 and to understand what is involved, I thought there was no better way than to be “on the other side” and serve in such a position at one or two international events.

Milne: By the same token, Ann, am I right in assuming that you are apprenticing in London, i.e., this is your first experience at being a Commissioner? If so, what led you into participating?

Triggle: No, that’s a wrong assumption. I’ve had some previous experience when I acted as the Assistant Commissioner to CAPEX 96 [in Canada]. Because I live on the Canadian border, all the U.S. exhibits were shipped to Clarence, and the other U.S. Commissioners gathered here. I also acted as the U.S. Commissioner for the AAPE (American Association of Philatelic Exhibitors) show in Toronto last year.

Milne: How do you apprentice? What is entailed?

Triggle: You volunteer as an unpaid helper and learn the ropes. John Warren will be acting in this capacity for London.

Milne: As I understand it, one of you is Commissioner for the Eastern U.S., the other for the West. What does that mean, and how was it determined?

Dixon: At international exhibitions, the U.S. and U.K. are probably unique inasmuch as they often each have two commissioners. This reflects the number of exhibitors from these two countries that are accepted by the organizing committees. For example, at IBRA we had more than 40 USA exhibitors with a total of approximately 350 frames, about 10% of the competitive exhibits. The effort involved from an organizational aspect with the physical requirements of handling the exhibits, etc. make it appropriate to appoint more than one U.S. Commissioner. Note that the minimum number of exhibits that a Commissioner must bring to an international, as set by FIP, is only three.

Triggle: We split the country so that we would have roughly equal numbers with which to work. Past experience has shown that the east coast potential exhibitors usually equals the central region and west coast combined. For the 109 London preliminary applications, the balance is a little off — we submitted 44 from the east coast and 65 from central and west.

Milne: Will most of the work each of you have to do for The Stamp Show 2000 be done ahead of the show or actually while you are in London? And are your tasks identical or different?

Dixon: The effort for London started many moons ago at a relatively low level. As we get nearer the show, the activities will increase in intensity, peaking with full-time effort during the period of the show, and then tapering off. (I’m still working on IBRA mop-up activities!) I’m not sure it is possible to quantify the effort between what happens before or after or during a show.

Triggle: Our first answer gives a fairly accurate picture of when certain aspects of the work are addressed.

Milne: How long do each of you have to be in London?

Dixon & Triggle: For the whole show plus a couple of days at each end.

Milne: Are you paid for your Commissioner services? If so, by whom?

Dixon: There is no pay. Rather, we receive contributions from the exhibitors towards our expenses. This is accomplished by levying exhibitors a small handling fee for processing their applications ($20, as a rule, but only $5 for those that are unaccepted). Then, for those exhibitors whose exhibits we carry to/from the show, there is a per frame fee of the order of $12.50 to $15.00 that is determined nearer the show when expected costs can be more accurately forecast.

Out of those fees, the largest expenditures are for the air tickets and for excess baggage charges. There are many, many incidental costs for which there is no reimbursement, e.g., for printing stationery, mailing of bulletins, letters, faxes, photocopies, bank transfer fees, and so on ad nauseam. As stated in the APS “Guidelines for National Commissioners,” as one of the qualifications of a Commissioner, the Commissioner must “be willing and able to cover out-of-pocket expenses.” I have yet to meet a U.S. Commissioner who has not been significantly out-of-pocket. Incidentally, the USA is the only country of which I am aware where the national philatelic federation does NOT make a contribution towards the Commissioner’s cost; most national federations pay for all incidental expenses as well as the major ones, such as air fare and excess baggage, and the exhibitors pay only the show’s frame fees.

Milne: Michael, can you describe for members what a typical day at the show is likely to entail for you as a U.S. Commissioner?

Dixon: The answer to this is in part covered by the answers to the first question asked. The day invariably starts with a meeting of all Commissioners to discuss administrative matters. This often involves scheduling meetings with the organizers and Expert Committee for the purposes of being present when selected items are removed from the frames (and later replaced). Informal meetings are often held with jury members, especially the USA judges, to answer questions regarding specific exhibits, e.g., to clarify prior awards. Throughout the show, there will be various social events, from the opening ceremony to receptions for exhibitors, the admission tickets for which are usually handed to the Commissioners at the daily meeting. There is then a need to roam the exhibition to locate the exhibitors and deliver the tickets to them.

There is constant monitoring of the exhibits. Visual inspection is made daily, for example, for effects of humidity, excessive light, items that mysteriously come out of their mounts, etc. It is therefore necessary to look at each sheet in each frame and to call the attention of the organizers to anything untoward.

When the jury results are announced, there may be some need to establish contact with the U.S. jury members to plead a case for re-evaluation (usually totally unsuccessfully, but one must try!!) for any exhibits believed to have been inappropriately judged. Then there is the need to relay back to the USA the results for those exhibitors who do not attend (successfully accomplished by email from IBRA).

Somehow or other the day gets filled. I should add that at IBRA I spent some time campaigning for support for Washington 2006 among my fellow Commissioners and booth holders; never too soon to get them to make a note in their diaries …

Milne: How are your responsibilities at The Stamp Show 2000 likely to be different from those at, for example, IBRA earlier this year?

Dixon: I expect they’ll differ only in so far as the show is of shorter duration, and the activities will be compressed into a lesser timeframe.

Milne: What sort of responsibilities are involved in taking millions of dollars worth of exhibits into a foreign country? Specifically, how does one maneuver through customs?

Dixon: To use an American colloquialism, the responsibilities are “awesome!” The most worrying times are during the transportation to/from the exhibit collection point and the departure airport, and to/from the arrival airport and the exhibition site. As a security matter, I’ll not here elaborate on the measures taken.

On leaving the USA it is necessary to have completed the appropriate U.S. Customs service forms detailing the collections and indicating that they are being taken out for exhibition and will be returned in the same condition. Copies of the exhibit inventory form are used as support documentation. The forms are to be signed by a U.S. Customs officer.

One of the FIP regulations states that the organizing committee must render assistance to commissioners with customs formalities on arrival at, and departure from, the place of entry. This is usually done by using the aforementioned inventories and by the organizers arranging with the customs authorities to allow the exhibits to pass without any problems. Doesn’t always work out that way. At IBRA no less than 32 commissioners were unable to get the German customs forms signed on arrival; they were advised at the show that they would, therefore, be unable to carry them out of the country!! All was later resolved, and a major lesson learned for 2006.

On arrival back in the USA, the Commissioner presents to U.S. Customs the form that had been signed on the way out. No problem, provided one has the appropriate documentation. I do know of one Commissioner who inappropriately declared he had some gold medals — which were, of course, not on the inventory when he left the USA. You can imagine the ensuing problems …

Milne: How many international stamp shows, Ann, have you personally attended over the years?

Triggle: I believe 8 or 9, plus I’ll be in PhilexFrance shortly.

Milne: What do you believe makes a good international show?

Triggle: The many countries participating in the exhibits and seminars, and dealers with interesting, reasonably priced material.

Milne: Pacific 97 lasted 11 days; The Stamp Show 2000 is scheduled for only seven. Do each of you think a shorter show is better? If so, why? And do you think the trend is likely to be towards shorter shows?

Triggle: The trend is to shorter shows to trim expenses for the attendees. The dealers, however, would prefer to have the two weekends that 8/9 days would offer.

Dixon: I agree with Ann’s comments. There are several factors involved, not the least of which is the availability of the exhibition venue. It was my understanding that for London, the Earls Court exhibition hall was not available for a longer period. In some cases, it may be a function of the cost of the exhibition center. One can forecast the show’s revenue, which largely comes from the rental of dealer’s stands, and the expected expenses, and simply just not have enough to hold a longer show. On the other hand, especially from the exhibition judging aspects, there is a minimum time required.

Furthermore, as Ann indicates, for a dealer to travel many thousands of miles with his stock and incur expenses for travel, meals, hotels, etc., he needs to achieve a certain level of sales. If he feels that cannot be achieved in the time of the show, he’ll not attend. You then enter into the spiral of diminishing returns since, as the dealer elects not to participate, recovery of the fixed costs (of the exhibition center, for example) needs to be spread over fewer dealers, pushing up the price and making it less attractive to attend. This can only be overcome where shows are sponsored by national postal authorities who are prepared to provide generous funding. Clearly, optimizing the show-opening period is one of the highest priorities for Washington 2006. (Sorry to keep harping on it!)

Milne: Can you share with members any information either of you may have on which have been the most popular international stamp shows over the last 25 years?

Triggle: By numbers attending, the answer would have to be somewhere in Asia, e.g., Singapore or Bangkok, but my subjective answer is London 1990.

Dixon: Again, I agree with Ann, but it depends on the metrics one uses for “popular.” My impression has been that whereas, in terms of numbers of attendees, the shows in Asia are way out in front, from the dealers’ perspective, they are not so popular. For the record, IBRA had 127,000 attendees, but then it was the first full international show in Germany in 27 years.

Milne: How are the countries/cities awarded international shows?

Dixon: Any country and any city can hold an international stamp exhibition at any time. However, if it is intended that the show have FIP patronage, then there is a convention that generally a show is held only once every ten years in any particular country. The member federation of FIP (in our case, the American Philatelic Society) will invite people interesting in arranging the show to bid in much the same way as cities bid to hold the Olympic Games.

In the case of Washington 2006, two teams, Chicago and Washington, bid to hold the show. The APS Board made the decision. Having selected the city, APS then makes the appropriate contact with the FIP to seek patronage. FIP, in its evaluation of whether or not to provide patronage, will take into consideration when the last show was held in the country, what other shows are scheduled around the same time, etc. Other factors will be international travel availability, accommodation facilities, etc. etc.

It does not necessarily follow that the FIP will provide the patronage, but obviously, the sooner an application can be made, the better. For what it is worth, the Washington 2006 team started its planning several years before Pacific 97. I envisage the team that will mount and host the 2016 show will start its activities around 2004.

Milne: Who determined the Earls Court site for The Stamp Show 2000?

Dixon: For whatever reason, the British Philatelic Federation decided to hand over the organizing of their next international, i.e., The Stamp Show 2000, to a professional exhibition company, P & O Exhibitions. There are relatively few places in London that could host an exhibition of the size of the event. Olympia, Earls Court, and Alexandria Palace were probably the only possible venues. Stamp World 1990 was held at Alley Pally (Alexandria Palace) and, I suspect because of the local transportation scenario, it was decided not to return there. Between Olympia and Earls Court there may have been reservation problems or other reasons that I can only guess as being the determining factors. I can say that London 1980, which was held at Earls Court, was a roaring success — that may have also influenced the decision.

Milne: From the advance knowledge you have of The Stamp Show 2000, how will it most significantly compare to or be different from the last major international show in Britain which was, as I recall it, Stamp World 90? And did either or both of you attend that show 10 years ago?

Dixon & Triggle: We were both at Stamp World 90. We expect the major differences between that show and The Stamp Show 2000 will focus on (a) the venue of being in the center of the city and being better served by public transport and (b) the shorter (seven days) event. Another significant difference is that the TSS2000 show will be held in one hall rather than in several as at Stamp World 90.

Milne: In your judgment, what are the most important ingredients of a successful international show?

Dixon: My winning a large gold medal!

Milne: The early enquiries I’ve made of the cost of securing a room reservation at the show for holding a GBCC meeting there are mind-blowing, like something in the range of £300 (or about $500). Who sets this fee? And am I right in recalling that there was no such turn-off at Pacific 97 [in San Francisco]?

Dixon: This may very likely be an artifact of the contract with Earls Court. It is possible that the contract provides only for the exhibition floor space and a minimum number of offices and meeting rooms, e.g., for the bin room, jury room and commissioners meeting room. Additional meeting rooms may have to be individually rented on an as needed basis, and it is the exhibition center that is setting the prices. Or, it may be that P & O has already contracted to hire the meeting rooms and is recovering its costs based on square footage and time of use. I don’t know.

However, my understanding of arrangements with the Moscone Center for Pacific 97 was that the entire facility had been rented for a given sum, and that meeting rooms were included whether or not they were used. So, no charges were made for the use of the meeting rooms by societies. We have a similar situation for Washington 2006. While the new convention center has not yet been built, and we have not yet finalized a rental contract, it is envisaged that our function will be for the entire facility, including meeting rooms. You should know that the cost of rental of convention centers in the USA is more a function of the concomitant hotel room occupation than anything else. Bring 100,000 visitors to Washington, DC and the convention center is yours for free — or something like that.

Triggle: The British Caribbean Society is holding its meetings offsite and I suspect many other societies are doing so as well.

Milne: Both of you are gold award-winning exhibitors. Are either of you showing at London? Or are you prohibited from doing so because of your Commissioner status?

Triggle: The highest international award I have for any exhibit is a large vermeil, which I hope to maintain if my exhibit is selected for London. You know, the Commissioners also have to file preliminary applications and keep their fingers crossed — there is no guarantee for anyone to be accepted.

Dixon: I, too, have only received an international large vermeil. There is nothing to prohibit Commissioners from entering competitive exhibits, but there is also no special treatment. I’ve asked for frames as one of the 109 USA exhibitors who have applied. I hope my incomparable, ace, grand prix level exhibit of U.K. aerogramme junk will be selected — but there’s no guarantee. Ann and I are also in the nail-biting phase, waiting for the nod.

Milne: Finally, what would each of you offer as your best piece of advice to any GBCCer planning to visit London next May?

Triggle: Come to London. Don’t miss this event, but do bring your umbrella and chequebook.

Dixon: No matter what your collecting interests and level of involvement in philately may be, just do not miss The Stamp Show 2000. Plan now to attend before airlines and hotels get overbooked. Come and have fun, see some of the world’s finest philatelic exhibits, meet old friends, make new ones — the social aspect of an international is just as valuable as any other aspect.

Milne: Thank you both for having taken the time to shed some light on your duties as Commissioners specifically and on The Stamp Show 2000 in general. I’m sure the membership is all the more enlightened as a result of your responses. Good luck in your endeavors!

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