Phillip Stager, a retired Coast Guard officer living in St. Petersburg, Florida, collects venereal disease ephemera among his other philatelic interests, which include, palm trees, bamboo, etc. He also collects postcards dealing with the transport of iron ore on the Great Lakes.
Our recent conversation, however, focused on his affinity for VD collectibles.
ephemera: Venereal disease is such a rich topic. How did you first get interested in collecting ephemera relating to Sexually Transmitted Diseases?
Stager: My interest in VD as a collectible and as a philatelic exhibit began around 1986 when I received a reply from the International Association of Lighthouse Authorities (IALA) concerning an article I wrote for the IALA Journal. The response was in a letter envelope from Great Britain with a slogan postmark "AIDS - Don't Die of Ignorance". Since I was looking for a new collecting interest--something affordable on a retirement budget--and something interesting with little competition, a new sexually transmitted disease, along with syphilis and gonorrhea, looked like ideal subjects. A quick search indicated that enough philatelic material might exist from which to assemble a competitive exhibit. I thought that the subject would be simple, cheap, and easy. Wrong on all counts. But it has been challenging , rewarding, and a lot of fun, and I realize that most collectors have strange ideas of fun.
ephemera: While STDs are no laughing matter, collecting VD ephemera does sound like loads of fun. Talk about the challenges of finding material on this subject.
Stager: The obvious challenge was the societal attitude here in the U.S. "We don't talk about such things." Which is why the STD infection rates are high along with teen pregnancy rates, etc. The Puritanical heritage is alive and well in the 21st century, along with the Medieval religious notion of disease as punishment for sin. However, a thick head and thick skin help...along with a good sense of humor. The major challenge now is finding affordable material--affordable being a direct function of my check book balance. Scarce high-quality material for almost any collecting interest is always in demand.
ephemera: What are some of your favorite items in your VD collection?
The eleven inch long urethral irrigator is always a hit, along with the usual comment that, "Ouch, that had to hurt like hell!" For those not into instruments of torture, the gonorrheal apron always elicits some unusual comments. The human tragedy of untreated syphilis is evidenced in a circa 1930 autopsy report of a woman that died from a syphilitic aneurysm.
ephemera: What is your advice for other collectors interested in obscure ephemera such as VD materials?
Stager: Knowledge, persistence, patience...and remember, it is a hobby.
ephemera: What resources do you recommend in the pursuit of VD ephemera?
Stager: The Internet has made life much easier for all of us, but one of the best resources is the local library. I cannot say enough good things about the staff at my local St. Pete library and all the inter-library loan books they have obtained for me. Knowledge is my most valuable collecting tool.
ephemera: Of all of the ephemera collections we've featured, yours is among the most interesting. Thanks for spreading the word about VD ephemera, Phillip.
Search Abebooks for the books listed in this interview.