Exploring Stamps with ‘extreme philately’

By Jesse Robitaille

With nearly 40,000 followers across his social media accounts, one philatelic influencer has propelled the hobby into the 21st century with an “extreme” take on collecting stamps.

Graham Beck grew up in South Africa, where he collected new issues with his childhood friends, before moving to the United States, where he now lives in New Jersey. In December 2016, he launched the Exploring Stamps podcast on YouTube and has since garnered 3.29 million views and about 29,400 subscribers. While most episodes centre on a specific country or subject, some of them take a more general approach with videos about collection storage, tongs and tweezers, perforated initials (commonly called “perfins”) and pen cancellations to name but a few. Some of the most popular episodes explore “extreme philately,” a term borrowed from extreme sports such as skateboarding and BMX biking, both characterized by their high risk.

“It’s become known as extreme philately in the online community – the idea of getting a stamp, taking it out of your collection and bringing it to a location to line it up with a photograph,” said Beck, whose channel is available at youtube.com/c/ExploringStamps.

He first used the term “extreme philately” during a trip to Toronto and then Iceland for different episodes in the show’s second season, which aired in 2017-18.

“The idea behind it was to pull a stamp out of a big box somewhat at random, research it to learn more and maybe even travel to its actual location.”

Following a 20-episode inaugural season, the second season opened in Iceland with an episode exploring a stratovolcano known as Hekla. Its 1947-48 eruption, which spanned 13 months, is featured on a seven-stamp set that’s the focus of the episode.

“Because of its activity, in the Middle Ages, this volcano was known as the ‘Gateway to Hell,’” Beck said in the episode, available at youtu.be/uFVSBwEw2QI. “That’s pretty intimidating.”

Only able to work in the freezing temperatures for about 60 seconds at a time, Beck and his wife filmed enough footage of Hekla to fill the roughly six-minute episode, which has since received about 15,000 views.

“I took a picture and said, ‘This is extreme philately,’” Beck told a crowd of show-goers at CAPEX 22 last June in Toronto, where he led a presentation. “It’s the idea of taking a stamp out of your album, going someplace with it and having fun. Since then, that term has really taken on a different meaning over time, more so lining up a stamp with its actual intended subject or taking it to a location. With extreme sports, you kind of break the rules of traditional sports – showing off, doing tricks and taking risks. In essence, that was what I was doing with this stamp out of the box.”

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