Welcome again to Stamp Nook! Today we spotlight two powerful, yet very different, philatelists: Karl Rove and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
It's hardly a secret that philatelists run much of the world. Philately is, after all, an elite pastime that appeals to those accustomed to luxury and ultimate wealth, so of course those who reach the pinnacles of power are privileged to partake in it. But beyond that, there is a natural affinity between the collecting of stamps from various nations and the collecting of various nations themselves that appeals to the Imperial-minded. (Interesting fact: World War I was orchestrated as part of a gentleman's agreement among philatelist leaders of the Allied and Central Powers for no other purpose than to create a pretext for the independence of more nations from which new stamps could be issued.)
Kings and queens, presidents and prime ministers, heads of state and potentates -- philatelists all! Those who aspire to power would do well to start a stamp collection, if for no other reason than to have something to chat about while hobnobbing at Bilderberg conferences.
Given philately's ubiquity among the world's ruling class, it's no wonder that Karl Rove -- the Republican strategist who, unable to acquire the power he desperately desires through conventional means, has instead ingratiated himself into the company of the elite as a sort of modern-day Kingmaker -- all-too-readily admitted to being a 'practicing philatelist' last year at a Radio-Television Correspondents' Association dinner. However, when asked if he had any rare stamps in his collection, he conceded that he did not.
That's probably for the best as he's wont to use items from his collection for actual postal transactions, as was the case when he mailed a note to the owner of a soap-box derby car named in his honour, plastering the envelope with a 'hodgepodge of vintage stamps from his collection, including an eight-center with a stylized image of a bobsled, commemorating the Sapporo Olympics, in 1972' (Scott #1461).
In a recent New York Times interview, Rove acknowledged his predilection for using his stamps to humourous effect:
Are you going to send [US President-Elect Barack Obama] a little note congratulating him?
I already have. I sent it to his office. I sent him a handwritten note with funny stamps on the outside.
What kind of funny stamps?
To Rove's boorish mind, stamps themselves are funny. His unsophisticated use of stamps to express messages, apparently often of a trite nature, is more akin to the Language of Stamps once used by novice philatelists than to true philatelic steganography as practiced by those elite philatelists who fully embody their positions of power -- philatelists whom Rove unconvincingly emulates. For an example of the latter, we need only look to FDR.
Unlike Rove's irreverent, if not dilettantish, take on philately, US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a serious philatelist who took great pride in his collection and interest in the philatelic arts at all levels. While President, he was very active in the design process for new stamps, exercising veto power over proofs that didn't meet with his exacting standards. He even sketched original designs for several issues, including a Mother's Day stamp (#737) intended to encourage Americans to write their mums.
Some have suggested that the only reason FDR ran for president was so he could create new material for his collection. He certainly was unabashed at using the power of his office to further his philatelic goals, going so far as to have the Post Office Department create a commemorative Polar Stamp (#733 -- his own design, naturally) and establish a post office at Admiral Byrd's expedition base in Antarctica just so he could have for his own collection a cover with a special postmark from 'Little America'. Now that's a dedicated philatelist.
Roosevelt's love of stamps was of such international renown that it became the subject of a 1947 stamp from Monaco (#C16). Besides commemorating the tenacity with which he pursued philately, this stamp was the only depiction of a physical abnormality FDR possessed that was kept hidden from the public. I am of course referring to the extra finger he had on his left hand:
Not wishing to alarm a nation already made nervous by Depression and War with the possibility suggested by his sinister sixth digit of a physio-transformative morphogenic awakening -- a 'New Deal' for human physiology, if you will -- brought on by the sympathetic gravity of unfolding historical events, Roosevelt insisted that his extra finger be airbrushed out of all official photos (a technique suggested to him by Stalin, who often used it to erase sore thumbs). He even took to pretending to have suffered from polio in order to distract attention away from his hand, such was the level of secrecy surrounding his asymmetric polydactylism.
But being a philatelist to the end -- his last phone call, less than an hour before his death, was with his Postmaster General, Frank C. Walker, about the first day ceremonies for a United Nations stamp -- Roosevelt made certain his secret would be revealed only to his fellow stamp collectors, whom he knew could be trusted with the information. Thus a seemingly innocuous airmail stamp from a seemingly innocuous Monaco was used to reveal his secret from beyond the grave.
The stamp was issued to commemorate the principality's participation in the Centenary International Philatelic Exhibition. Obviously this rarefied subject would garner the attention of the philatelic elite more than that of the non-stamp-collecting hoi polloi. Notice the details of the design: FDR seems to be using his magnifying glass on a stamp from his collection, but there is something amiss that only a true philatelist would note... he is not using philatelic tongs! A dedicated practitioner of philately such as FDR would never risk exposing his precious stamps to finger grease, making it clear to the philatelist that the magnifying glass is actually a prompt to use one's own glass to examine FDR's hand more closely, allowing his polydactyl secret to be known.
To this day FDR's condition is denied to the public; but we philatelists, who carefully study the signals and hidden messages delivered through stamps by our compatriots in positions of power throughout the world's governments, know the truth -- about this and many more important things I shan't divulge in mixed company.
So until next time, keep studying your stamps for further instructions and happy philateling!