By Jesse Robitaille
Although at this point he considers himself more of a collector than a philatelist, Irving Osterer has his hands in many aspects of the hobby in Canada and abroad.
“It was really my first foray into exhibit design, although it’s on my horizon,” said Osterer, a long-time graphic designer who’s also an award-winning teacher and department head at Ottawa’s Merivale High School. “It’s something I’m very interested in doing.”
Aside from designing Israel’s first hockey themed stamp in 2009 and producing a series of philatelic projects with his students each year, Osterer also designs the covers for The Israel Philatelist, the quarterly publication of the Society of Israel Philatelists (SIP), of which he is an active member (see sidebar “Israel Philatelists”).
Earlier this year, he also began assisting the SIP with its display at the recent World Stamp Show in New York City, where each participating organization was afforded some promotional display space.
“I was honoured they asked me,” said Osterer, who was given a 17-inch-by-11-inch canvas with which to work. “I wasn’t expecting it, but it was fun to do.”
He also assisted other SIP members with their contributions to the panel, making decisions on type selection, layout and image correction.
“Although I did not get to attend personally, my son, a New York City resident, went in my place and reported a very attractive and convincing SIP display.”
Osterer decided he wanted to “do something off the beaten path” for his portion of the display, and his fascination with postal markings drew him to the area of commemorative synagogue postmarks.
“I tried to visually link the artwork by shape, and received help from a few of my students and Ottawa’s diplomatic community with the headline copy, which I felt was appropriate given the nature of the World Stamp Show forum.”
Osterer, who been teaching for 35 years and collecting stamps and other philatelic material for even longer, said his display “goes beyond Israel.”
“I used stamps and thematic postmarks from countries that have a significant Jewish population in their midst, so it shows how synagogues are commemorated by other countries around the world.”
Osterer said the material, which came from a thematic collection he has been assembling for more than a decade, is not “terribly expensive, although some of the regional cancels are harder to come by.”
“You really have to pore through things and hope you come up with something interesting once in a while,” he said, of collecting synagogue postmarks.
“The cancels themselves are fascinating; some like the Leicester mark are very representational, while others are simple slogan cancels.”
According to Osterer, among the cancels’ more interesting aspects are their variety.
“Some celebrate significant community anniversaries, while others recount the horrors of the Holocaust,” he said. “Each is an acknowledgement by a country recognizing the contributions to their society made by their Jewish citizens.”
And whether it’s postmark design or stamp design, Osterer said there’s a “really interesting design element” to philately.
“How do you make this look good in a really, really small space? That’s one of the things that has always drawn me into the hobby: a design can go down to inches, and it can still be fantastic.”
Osterer said “only a few designers can figure that out and make it work,” adding it’s something he presents to his students each year as “a problem to solve.”
“It works as a tangible vehicle to discuss things with the kids.”