Behind Canada’s secretive, invite-only specialists society

The Philatelic Specialists Society of Canada (PSSC) is finally – after 66 years – opening itself up to the philatelic crowd, and in some unexpected ways.

PSSC President Ingo Nessel said the “knowledge-based organization” is looking to grow, although he was sure to explain the “growth and path to growth has to be defined.”

“We want to be vibrant and energetic and let Canadian philatelists know what they can look forward to joining once they become more specialized and mature,” he said. “Everybody who’s anybody has been a member, but we’re not just looking for superstars; we want to also encourage people to become superstars in philately.”

Nessel concedes stamp collecting is a hobby, something that’s fun and relaxing, but he said there’s another level to the hobby that offers lifelong entertainment and education.

“Philately is a fascinating subject to satisfy your hunger for knowledge. We want to share more knowledge and to encourage people to take stamp collecting to the level of philately and postal history, to make it into the learned thing it can be.”

Nessel said he and his motley crew, which currently includes about 120 specialists, are self-described “advanced philatelists with diverse specialized interests.” The society serves as a “forum for knowledgeable philatelic discussions” by and for its members, who are among the most active Canadian philatelists in terms of exhibiting, researching and publishing.

“The PSSC, until now, has been quietly encouraging philatelic excellence,” Nessel said, adding the PSSC frequently and loudly recognizes its members’ successes. “In my leadership, I’m going to start to try to open us up to the outside world a little bit.”

CANADA
ON THE WORLD STAGE

After keeping a “low profile” for its entire 66-year history, the society will now be making its presence known not only in Canada but on the world stage.

“We’re going to become more open to the rest of the hobby.”

Nessel said his six-person executive – “I have a great team with me,” he added – has recognized it’s the “Philatelic Specialists Society of Canada, not Toronto, even though we have our meetings in Toronto.”

There’s usually someone from out-of-province at each PSSC meeting, and to reflect its national nature, it will begin exploring options to spread philatelic excellence from coast to coast to coast.

“We’ve struck a new committee that’s pursuing new media,” he said, adding there are already a number of exciting developments. “We’re trying to record our meetings, and we’ve videotaped one already and put it on our website’s ‘Members Only’ section. That means even if you’re in Edmonton, Alta., or Fredericton, N.B., you can enjoy the lectures our presenters give.”

Nessel said the video conferences have been “very well received, although it’s in the early stages;” however, another ongoing goal of Nessel’s – this of having a PSSC presence at all major Canadian shows – is set to enter high gear.

“We’re starting to have meetings outside of Toronto,” he said, adding there’s one lecture-based meeting each month. “We’ve been at Orapex for more than five years, but that’s going to be enhanced.”

Next up is a meet-and-greet at the highly anticipated World Stamp Show in New York this May 28-June 4. That’s to be followed by the 88th National Convention of the Royal Philatelic Society of Canada this Aug. 19-21 in Kitchener, where the PSSC will host a lecture.

“The good thing is members in those regions get to benefit from the society,” said Nessel. “Members who travel to those shows also get a social event, and that’s been well received. You’ll see more meetings of the PSSC in different parts of Canada.”

Nessel said the society attempts to “maximize diversity” by having no more than two members with one specialty, and owing to this diversity, each of the monthly meetings offers an exciting philatelic adventure from which attendees are certain to gain all sorts of knowledge.

“It covers the whole era of postal history, pre-stamp up to today. Every meeting is something completely new.”

With many judges in the PSSC’s membership, there’s plenty of exhibiting assistance to be had at the society’s meetings.

“Members who haven’t exhibited much can come and learn a lot,” said Nessel.

“There have also been a handful of things we’ve published over time. That’s part of the mandate of our organization, and we support our members if they want to publish something through us.”

He said for the past few years, the PSSC has also issued a secretive annual journal with “20 to 30 very interesting articles” produced by PSSC members, something that was previously unknown outside of specialist circles.

BRIGHT FUTURE

The PSSC’s autocratic days are behind it, apparently, and thanks to Nessel’s career in business, he has been able to apply his leadership to the society in beneficial ways, and it’s causing a few changes.

“I’ve begun to encourage ideas,” he said. “I’ve asked the organization and executive to have ideas and throw out suggestions.”

Among the “great ideas” coming in is this: because there’s a youth exhibiting specialty at national-level exhibitions and there’s a frame fee for youths, the PSSC has decided to support youth philately by subsidizing the frame fees for youth exhibitors at national-level exhibits.

“The 15- or 16-year-old collector might’ve blown their budget acquiring the stamps, so we’ll help by paying for their frame fees,” Nessel said. “I want everyone to be a supporter of philatelic excellence, so I’m looking for good ideas coming from anywhere.”

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