Conversations with Philatelists united collectors during pandemic

By Jesse Robitaille

With the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic spreading illness, fear and uncertainty, the cancellation of virtually all in-person events spurred two U.S. collectors to fill the social void in the philatelic community.

Trying to match the camaraderie of mingling with people at stamp shows, Michael Cortese and Charles Epting launched Conversations with Philatelists, a video podcast featuring guests both directly and tangentially tied to the hobby. The hosts both graduated from the Young Philatelic Leaders Fellowship (YPLF), founded by the American Philatelic Society in 2009, and crossed paths at international shows before launching the podcast in mid-2020. Since then, it has garnered about 120,000 views on YouTube, as well as thousands more on other platforms, with nearly 100 episodes airing as often as every week.

“It started pretty innocently like that: we just wanted to talk to people,” said Cortese, of Pittsfield, N.H., the co-owner and executive vice-president of NobleSpirit, a family-run company specializing in stamps, coins and other collectibles. “But as we put up more and more episodes, something happened that we didn’t really expect.”

Cortese started hearing from the viewers about the growing sense of community between them and the collectors, dealers, exhibitors and other guests who appeared on the podcast. While they had yet to meet in person, many people connected online after an episode, somewhat mirroring a show’s interactive social nature.

“Some of the most exciting parts of being a philatelist or a dealer are attending the shows and talking to people you’ve met and never met,” Cortese added.

With only three months passed since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cortese and Epting ran their first episode, feeding socially starved collectors around the world, in July 2020.

While the duo had previously spoken in person only a handful of times, Cortese called Epting weeks earlier with a proposition about a fun new medium to which he had been paying close attention.

“We were both keeping plenty busy with work,” said Epting, who heads the H.R. Harmer auction house in New York, N.Y. “There was no shortage of material to describe or auctions to hold, but I think that social component – being in a room full of people, sitting in a booth, getting to shake people’s hands and see people face to face – is one thing we were both missing. Again, we had the stamps, we had the research, we had tons of stuff to do. It wasn’t boredom; it was really a lack of interaction.”

The duo uses Zoom, a video-conferencing platform that gained popularity early in the pandemic, to record the episodes, which are available on their website,, plus most major streaming services. By the 60th episode, which ran in July 2021, Epting reiterated their goal: “It’s not about stamps necessarily; it’s the people behind the stamps,” he said, adding they “wanted a platform where we could just talk to people and tell ‘people stories.’”

The first episode, which the duo described as a “pilot,” ran on July 27, 2020, with Alex Haimann as the guest. Haimann, who founded the YPLS, discussed with the hosts his predictions for the hobby’s future, including the importance of engaging youth, plus his exhibit on Zululand, a former monarchy in present-day southeast Africa.

Other notable guests include Victoria Lajer, of Stanley Gibbons, who discussed the British firm’s purchase of the one-cent magenta (episode 57); Karl Rove, the former deputy chief of staff to U.S. President George W. Bush (episode 58); and Pat Simmons, a Doobie Brothers founder and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee (episode 60).

The duo has also interviewed Canadian guests, including Ottawa dealer Chris Green (episode 27), CSN reporter Jesse Robitaille (episode 63) plus collectors Gregg Redner (episode 82) and Jean Wang (episode 92).

Since the pandemic restrictions were lifted last spring, the duo has started hosting live episodes, including at CAPEX 22 last June in Toronto (episode 91), Stampex last September in England (episode 93) and the Spellman Museum’s expertizing event this December in Massachusetts (episodes 96-97).

For the CAPEX episode, click here or watch below.

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