If the idea of accumulating albums full of cardboard cards leaves you feeling cramped, and the cost of cards and the albums and plastic sheets that are de rigueur these days gives you visions of an empty wallet, consider stamps.
The ubiquitous postage stamp can be the foundation of an interesting sports collection.
The first U.S. sports commemorative stamps were issued by the Post Office Department in 1932 to honor the Olympic Games. There was a 3-cent stamp for the Summer Games, held in Los Angeles, and a 5-cent stamp for the Winter Games, held in Lake Placid, N.Y. To honor the 1960 Winter Games at Squaw Valley, Calif., there was a 4-cent stamp, and Olympic stamps have been issued regularly since 1972.
Baseball was first honored on a U.S. stamp in 1939, the supposed centennial of the game. Dr. James Naismith's invention of basketball was noted on a 4-cent stamp in 1961. The first college football game, Sept. 26, 1869, between Princeton and Rutgers, was honored on its centennial.
Since 1981, prominent athletes have been pictured on commemorative stamps. The first honoree was Babe Didrikson Zaharias, followed by Jackie Robinson (1982), Babe Ruth (1983), Jim Thorpe (1984), Roberto Clemente (1984), Knute Rockne (1988), Francis Ouimet (1988) and Lou Gehrig (1989). This year a block of four Olympic athletes featuring Jesse Owens was issued.
You may want to collect them or use them on your mail to show your interest in sports. Remember, before you put it on your letter, no matter how much you paid for an older stamp, it's only worth face value as postage. In September, the Postal Service issued a 25-cent No. 10 envelope depicting the Lombardi Trophy and three football players involved in a pass play. The stamp on the envelope is a hologram.
Older stamps can be purchased from a stamp dealer, while current stamps (such as the Olympic athletes) are available at the post office.
When purchasing stamps from a dealer, it is helpful to know the Scott catalog number of the stamps you're interested in. Scott Publishing Co. issues annual catalogs of the world's stamps and assigns a number to each stamp of each country. These numbers are almost universally recognized, so if you ask a dealer in Catonsville for U.S. Scott No. 855, he will show you the same stamp as a dealer in London (assuming they have it to show you) -- the 3-cent baseball centennial stamp of 1939.
From time to time, special cancels (the inked words and images that the Postal Service stamps your stamps with) are available commemorating sports events such as the World Series. Weekly stamp publications often list these well enough in advance that you can mail your requests. Send your stamped envelope with first-class postage inside an envelope to the city where the cancel will be applied; if you're artistic, you may want to decorate your envelope and use a stamp relating to the cancel).
One popular special cancel comes from Cooperstown, N.Y., every August. Visitors to the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies can get virtually anything canceled (Stamps reported that bats, ticket stubs, photographs and programs have been canceled and that a canceled 1989 program was going for $10).
To learn more about sports on stamps, check with a stamp dealer or contact Sports Philatelists International (a study group of the American Topical Association), 322 Riverside Dr., Huron, Ohio 44839.
Collectors World made its debut in the Nov. 23 issue of The Hockey News, the longtime bible of the sport. It will appear once a month as a full-fledged pullout tabloid in The Hockey News and will have articles, reviews and a price guide. The Hockey News will carry a price guide the other weeks, with one decade surveyed each week.
* Upcoming events:
Dec. 9, Baseball card show, Quality Inn, Towson, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., 239-7446.
Dec. 14, Baseball card show, Eldersburg Community Center, 549-1478.
Dec. 15, Baseball card show, Baltimore Ramada, I-695, Exit 17, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., 922-8366.
Dec. 15-16, Baseball Card & Autograph Show, 4-H Building, Maryland State Fairgrounds, 10 a.m., 254-2729 or 360-0832.
Dec. 15, Mid-Atlantic Card Shows, Holiday Inn-Cromwell Bridge, Towson, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
Dec. 16, Baseball card show, Howard County Fairground, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., 922-8366.
Dec. 16, Mid-Atlantic Card Shows, Howard Johnson, Hagerstown, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.