Bill Senkus is the driving force behind the Website Alphabetilately. Recently, I spoke with Bill about collecting philatelic ephemera and things alphabetical.
ephemera: Let's start with A for alphabetilately. When did your passion for alphabetilately collecting begin?
Senkus: I can tell you the exact day: February 8, 1997. I had a friend who was Communications Director of the San Francisco chapter of the American Institute of Graphic Arts. She had the idea for an event called, "Ephemera Philatelica: an Evening about Postage Stamps".
I had been sharing with her for several years my love of postage stamps and things philatelic, and she suggested that I present a talk to her group about some of the items and stories I had collected. We share a love of things alphabetic, so it was a natural choice to structure the talk as an alphabet. I made a list of candidate topics, and we selected the 26 that we felt would be the most fun to share with a group of people who knew nothing about stamp collecting. Then it was my job to find examples and put together a slide show and narrative. The premier presentation was for the AIGA on May 15, 1997.
Subsequently I presented the slide talk five more times, with my own title, "Alphabetilately," and in June, 1998, I created a Website based on it. Once I got started with the concept, of course, I was hooked. I wanted the best examples I could get for each topic, and once it was a Website, I was no longer limited to one topic per letter, so I added some of my favorites that did not fit the slide-show format, but worked well online. I have been revising and expanding the Website ever since, adding new topics and expanding old ones, as my interests and resources wax and wane.
ephemera: What challenges or obstacles do you encounter in collecting? How do you overcome these challenges?
Senkus: The biggest challenge of the initial project was its diversity. Each of the 26 topics was a separate collectible area, and while I owned good examples of some, such as advertising covers and setenants, others such as Persian Rugs were beyond my financial reach. Since my collection was only virtual, though, I could get by with good pictures or borrowed examples. My collection of philatelic auction catalogs provided superb images of many items, and my AIGA friend, networker supreme, arranged the loan of others. That set the pattern for my collecting ever since. My Website is now my chief exhibit, and I collect images mainly from the Internet. Sometimes the challenge is to select the objects that exemplify the topic best. For instance, I own hundreds of advertising covers, which ten or so will convey most why I find them so appealing?
ephemera: I face similar challenges in working on this site. What are your favorite items in your collection, and how do they inspire you?
Senkus: That's a tough choice to make. Some of my favorites are the items I created or acquired as part of the slide shows. Many are items I created myself, as souvenirs, while others were created by artists who participated in one of the presentations. And there are some I like simply because they were so hard to acquire. I suppose my current favorite is always the one I just acquired, since it is usually something I have been seeking for a long time. For example, one topic I find particularly fascinating is philatelic souvenirs from the Vienna International Philatelic Exhibition of 1933. Recently a viewer of my site sent me an image of a full sheet of poster stamps from the exhibit, something I had been seeking for twenty-five years!
ephemera: Neat. Cool story. What’s your advice to achieving success as alphabetilately collector?
Senkus: Pick your topics carefully. The idea is to educate viewers, by sharing something you care about in a way that inspires others to collect whatever interests them. Your alphabetilately isn't the same as mine. Make it reflect your experience and passions.
ephemera: Thanks for the A-to-Z tour of Alphabetilately, Bill. It's one of the most unique takes on ephemera collecting I've encountered, and I'm sure it's something that will fascinate and entertain the readers of the ephemera blog.