Tony Bird 1

1988   –   ORBIT   –   2001


Tony Bird [003] Looks Back


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When Jeff first asked me to write an article looking back over the past 15 years of the Society I got my A.S.S.S. Binders off the shelf and started flipping once more through the early editions. As I did, so the memories started to come back.

In the first issue of ORBIT I commented on the fact that ” I tended to think that I was one of the odd ones out in the field of collectors. No matter what fair I went to, stamp, postcard, book, or even toy I never met anyone who shared my interest.

Then, back in 1987, an advert appeared in ‘Stamps’ magazine from a chap by the name of Robin Cleeter who wanted to hear from anyone interested in forming a stamp society on the theme of Space & Astronomy. I made contact with Robin and we ranged to meet.

I still can remember sitting in Robin’s lounge as he shared his idea of forming a club aimed at bringing together stamp collectors whose interests were Space & Astronomy.

Yes, the beginning of the Astro Space Stamp Society was as simple as that, agreeing over a cup of coffee to produce a magazine 3 times a year for members. And so, a result of that meeting, in January 1988, the first Issue of ORBIT was circulated to 36 founder members, many of whom are still in membership today.

People such as Margaret Morris [002], Brian Lockyer [004], Jurgen Esders [006], Bert van Eijck [013], Harvey Duncan [018], Peter Talbot-Ashby [025], Rex Hall [033], and George Spiteri [036].

I didn’t have access to a computer in those days, so production was a cut and paste job on my kitchen table, using a typewriter, letraset and felt-tip pens on A4 sheets, before photocopying onto A3 sheets of paper.

We just about filled 28 A4 sides on that first issue, with items on “Soviet Space Postmarks”, ‘Project Mercury”, a Crown Agents article entitled “Space Anniversary for Ascension”, part one of a “Manned Spaceflight Checklist”, “Gagarin Postcards”, a “Lollini catalogue Book Review” and the first sketchings of Harvey Duncan’s Infamous “Checklist”. Gaps were filled up with other information about the society, pictures of space stamps and even a “Cosmonauts Wordsearch”!!

In the early days we were contacted by many space enthusiasts who were interested in Philately, but had little or no understanding of how to start a collection, or what to then do with it. I remember making up Packets of stamps, from stocks that members had sent in and forwarding them on to those who wrote in. Members also wrote articles to help those new to the hobby. Jurgen Peter Esders gave advice on ‘How to get space covers [ORBIT 4], Harvey Duncan kept us up to date in each issue with his ‘New Issue Guide’, and I particularly remember an article that Jean Brown wrote on ‘Looking at the letters of the Russian language’[ORBIT 2].

Of course there were also articles for those who’d been collecting for a while, In ORBIT 3 we looked at “Guidelines for the Judgment of an Astrophilatelic Exhibit” and Bert van Eijck introduced us to ‘Rocket Mail Pioneers’ [ORBIT 8]. George Spiteri wrote a series for us on ‘A Year in Space’, giving a day-by-day account of the time that Titov and Manarov spent on the Mir space station. Adrian Woollaston, and later Dave Saunders, ran regular ‘Postal Auctions’ and Harvey Duncan [goodness knows where he got all the time to do it!) began a “Postal packet” scheme where members sent him stamps which he put into books which were then circulated amongst members who’d asked to be included in the scheme.

I really enjoyed editing ORBIT in those first years of the Society. It was a mine of information, not just for stamps and covers, but on so much else as well. Today we’ve got the Internet, where every night we can go over to NASA and get the latest news. I have daily reports on the International Space station emailed to me, I can, at any time, find out where it is flying over. Other lists give up to date information on the latest shuttle flight or I can watch broadcasts, live or recorded.

And as far as collecting is concerned I can go daily to sites like Ebay and keep in touch with what stamps or covers are available, autographs, postcards, books, patches, etc. etc. You name it and you can probably find it. But back in 1987/8 when the A.S.S.S. started, people like me didn’t have that kind of access available, we had to rely on magazines like ‘Spaceflight’ [whose articles were often too technical for me], and ‘Spaceflight News’ [which I could understand, but which sadly went bust; because, we were told; it didn’t have a large enough customer base!]

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