John M. Corliss, 81, chemist, postcard collector

July 28, 2004|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

John M. Corliss, a retired chemist who collected and sold historic postcards, died of respiratory failure Friday at Sinai Hospital. The Medfield resident was 81.

Born in Baltimore and raised in the Park Heights area, he attended St. Ambrose Parochial School and was a 1940 graduate of Mount St. Joseph High School.

He tried to enlist in the Navy during World War II but was rejected for medical reasons. He was subsequently drafted into the Army Air Forces and served in England as a ground crew member.

"He was often awake 23 hours a day and worked at all hours whenever planes came in," said Bert P. Smith, a friend and fellow postcard collector. "He loaded the bombs for a plane's next mission during a very busy period in the war.

After the war, Mr. Corliss returned to Baltimore and earned a chemistry degree at Loyola College. He later studied electrical engineering at the Johns Hopkins University.

He became an analytical chemist at Edgewood Arsenal, and from 1953 until his retirement in 1977, he worked at Edgewood's micro-analytic lab.

"His work was pretty secret stuff, so he couldn't talk about it," said his son, Michael Joseph Corliss of West Bend, Wis.

Mr. Corliss developed his interest in postcards and stamps as a teenager. After his retirement, he began collecting and occasionally selling cards.

Family members said he was fascinated by military cards from both world wars, made by U.S., British, French and German firms. He also had numerous cards showing Baltimore and Maryland scenes, and local advertising.

"He never could say `no' to a postcard," said his wife of 56 years, the former Rosalie Rita Gloria Patti, who added that they also saved shoe boxes to store his collections.

Remarkably, his family said, Mr. Corliss found and bought several years ago a World War II-era card showing soldiers clustered around a Red Cross coffee and doughnut wagon. He inspected it closely and found himself in the picture.

"It was odd because he didn't like coffee or doughnuts," his wife said.

Mr. Corliss had been a member of the International Federation of Postcard Dealers, and the York Postcard Club in York, Pa., and traveled to postcard shows.

"He was one of the best-known and beloved postcard dealers in the area," said Mr. Smith. "His prices were fair, and he was pleasant to deal with."

A Mass of Christian burial was offered yesterday at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, where he was a member.

Survivors, in addition to his wife and son, include two daughters, Rita Gloria Herr of Abingdon and Patricia Marie Buckley of New Freedom, Pa.; a sister, Margaret Hampt of Cockeysville; six grandchildren; and a great-grandson.

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