Weekly Feature

2017-12-06 / Editorials

Plastic model cars and other forgotten hobbies

Managing Editor

Pastimes that once were a part of my generation’s daily existence are fading away, often surfacing on television shows taped in pawn shops or dusty barns.

Squirreled away in my basement are at least a half-dozen unassembled plastic model kits, ranging from vintage race cars to the space shuttle to fire engines. I suppose several were purchased simply to grab on to, fearing their loss to another, more qualified collector.

I have several cans of spray paint (which seem to be used more on unrelated projects) as well as those little jars of paint. The model cement seems to dry up despite being tightly capped, so I replenish my meager supply periodically.

Yet the kits remain unassembled.

It didn’t help that Niagara Hobby & Craft Mart closed its doors several months ago after nearly 32 years in Cheektowaga.

Another case in point: stamp collecting and its spinoff hobby, collecting first day covers. The latter was a way to obtain new stamps postmarked on the initial day of availability from the ceremonial spot selected by the U.S. Postal Service.

I’m not clear on how the purchases were made back then, but my mother typed my name and address on the deluxe envelope and sent inside a larger envelope for the distant postmark. It arrived shortly after the cancellation date amidst the electric bill, handwritten letters and Life magazine.

ArtCraft remains the best known printer of first day covers. The brand was introduced by Washington Stamp Exchange in 1939, long before my mother launched our family’s collection commemorating presidential inaugurations, space flights and historic anniversaries.

For example, the “Battle of New Orleans” stamp was issued on Jan. 8, 2015, in Chalmette, Louisiana. The ArtCraft envelope features a dramatic color illustration of Andrew Jackson standing atop a fortification as his troops clash with the British in the last battle of the War of 1812. A New Jersey firm, The Washington Press, offers the postmarked envelope for just $3.50, a pretty inexpensive history lesson that will last for generations.

A cover from President Kennedy’s inauguration on Jan. 20, 1961, sells for $30. Another collectible is the cover from President Truman’s inauguration on Jan. 20, 1949. It retails for $125. The stamp itself was just 3 cents.

The current inventory of covers is not limited to special events, as there are envelopes depicting butterflies, authors and an assortment of hobbies. There is even a Music Icon series that includes Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin.

Another endangered pastime – at least from my suburban vantage point – is bicycle riding. Mine has been collecting dust for more years than I care to admit, although there are countless bike paths and sleepy streets where it could be enjoyed anew.

In an effort to rediscover some of that simplicity, I have instituted “Vinyl Mornings.” Rather than delve into a news program or political show, I resurrect a record album that I haven’t heard in years and unleash the turntable. The choices are limited, but the albums that survive are worth hearing again.

I don’t see it as an escape or a means to avoid the harsh realities of the day. I see it as a subtle diversion free from all the electronic appendages so essential to life as we now know it.

The hobby of building plastic models may never make a complete recovery, but at least we can hold on to the good old days they represent. Drop the needle and see for yourself some morning.

(David F. Sherman is managing editor of Bee Group Newspapers and a columnist for the Weekly Independent Newspapers of Western New York, a group of community newspapers with a combined circulation of 286,500 readers. Opinions expressed here are those of the author. He can be reached at dsherman@beenews.com.)

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