It took me quite a while to get my head around exhibiting, but I think it was worth the time and effort.
The concept of exhibiting is deceptively simple: you take some stuff, and make a display. Afterwards, some judges check it over, and if you’re good enough you get an award.
Then I discovered there were rules. That’s when things began to get complicated.
At first the rules seemed a bit silly to me. I heard horror story after horror story about how some incredible exhibit just didn’t get the right points because it wasn’t philatelic or technical enough. Then I found out that judges have to go through their own period of training.
To be honest, it seemed a bit like a bunch of stuffy old-timers had got together and figured out a way to resist change, and stack the deck in favour of their own biases. I figured exhibiting was supposed to be fun, and too many rules seemed to be a bit of a buzz-kill.
But, when I gave the matter a bit more thought, it all sort of made some sense.
If an exhibitor’s goal is to get better, then judging is really a form of constructive criticism. By trying, and paying attention to comments and suggestions, an exhibit can be improved. In that case, it is only fair to the exhibitor that the judges are all following the same rules. It’s like playing a sport, if the referee’s don’t have a consistent approach to following the rules, chaos is the natural result.
Similarly, expecting an exhibitor to work their way up through several tiers of exhibits ensures both success and quality at the top levels.
Again, just as in sports where a player starts out as a novice, works up to the senior levels, and eventually gets to go to the top levels. You don’t get to represent your country at the Olympics until you qualify at the national level.
At every step of the progress the athlete gets guidance and criticism, and a set of rules to follow.
I know exhibiting stamps isn’t an athletic endeavour, but I think the analogy holds true.
One difference, of course, is that stamp collecting is emotional, and because it has an artistic component, at least some of that judging is going to be a bit subjective.
I suspect that is where things get a bit messy.
I also suspect that some prospective exhibitors get scared away by the rules, and by a culture which sees exhibitors often complain bitterly when they don’t get what they want. I guess that would be the equivalent of unsportsmanlike conduct.
Is exhibiting perfect? I don’t think so. But over my time at Canadian Stamp News I have seen some changes, more and more exhibits are now focusing on postal history, and single frame exhibits offer a nice entry area for the novice.
If you haven’t exhibited before, I encourage you to give it some thought.
There are plenty of resources, fellow collectors, experienced exhibitors, and even judges are often more than willing to offer good advice.
The International Society of Worldwide Stamp Collectors even has a free web page that takes much of the mystery out of exhibiting. It can be found at http://www.iswsc.org/exhibit.shtml.
Check it out, you may just become inspired.