Marshall man is a lifetime collector with a collection on its way to one million stamps
BY SCOTT THOMA
Two large trophies sitting on a table in Steve Klein’s office in Marshall were giving off a radiant glow from the sun’s rays penetrating through a nearby window. Klein didn’t earn these trophies or any of his many blue ribbons for showing animals or for baking pies at the state fair. They were the product of his philatelic prowess. One of the trophies he was awarded in 2017 was for an impressive and informative collection of Abraham Lincoln stamps.
“It takes about three years to put together a display like this,” said Klein, as he holds up a large glass-covered frame that showcased the many Lincoln postage stamps he collected. “It takes a lot of time and research to complete a collection like this.”
Each of the many Lincoln stamps were issued at different times since his death. The oldest Lincoln stamp in Klein’s display is a “mourning stamp” that was issued on April 14, 1866, exactly one year to the day that Lincoln was shot in Ford’s Theater.
The display features every stamp ever issued for Lincoln, except one.
“The one I’m missing costs $2 million dollars, so it probably won’t get in my collection,” he said with a laugh.
Abraham Lincoln isn’t the only stamp in Klein’s collection. Not even close. He estimates he has between “a half million to a million” stamps in his possession.
“A stamp can’t be issued for someone until they are dead,” he said. “There are stamps for things like when they walked on the moon, but those stamps are for the event and not for the individual.”
Klein’s most valuable stamps are tucked away in a safety deposit box.
One misconception about collecting stamps is you cut them off envelopes, purchase some from the post office, or buy a few online and place them in shoebox or a booklet of some sort.
“There’s a little more to it than that,” said Klein, as he sets out several “tools of the trade” on a table. Included is a stamp collector’s book, a traditional magnifying glass, a 30x magnifier, stamp hinges (to place a stamp in a booklet without damaging it), UV light, perforation gauge, watermark liquid and tray, and tweezers (for picking up a stamp without causing damage to it).
“These are all things a serious collector needs and uses,” Klein said, as he demonstrates each of the tools of the trade. “I’ve been collecting a long time. I probably have 100 books about stamps in my library.”
To put the hobby in perspective, the American Philatelic Research Library in State College, PA, has 23,000 books and 5,700 journals pertaining to stamps and stamp collecting.
Klein actually started out collecting coins when he was in third grade. That hobby eventually turned into stamp collecting.
“I was collecting pennies and my mom bought me a book that holds the different years,” he explained. “It was about as serious of a collection as can be for an eight-year-old boy.”
Klein’s collection instead turned to stamps when he was looking at a Boy’s Life magazine, and noticed an advertisement on the back cover where 100 stamps could be ordered for 10 cents. That ad piqued his interest because that seemed like a less expensive route, so he sent in an order form, along with his 10 cents. Ever since that day, he’s been hooked.
“I don’t think a day goes by where I’m not doing something with stamps,” he said with a smile.
“I’m either looking for a stamp online or going through a bunch of stamps that I ordered, or selling stamps myself online.”
Klein and his wife, Kaye, own and operate Klein Foods/Walnut Grove Mercantile in Marshall.
“She’s fine with me collecting stamps, Klein said. “She knows how much I enjoy it.”
While stamp collecting can get costly if you are pursuing a rare stamp, Klein said he has a limit on the price he will spend as evidenced by the missing Lincoln stamp that he obviously covets.
Individual or bulk stamps can be purchased online by outbidding other interested bidders, similar to eBay.
“I might buy a bag of stamps for a few dollars, even though you don’t know what stamps are in there; sort of like a grab bag,” he said. “After going through the bag and picking out any stamps I might want for my collection, I will bag the rest of them back up and put them online to sell. Sometimes you sell them for more than you paid for them.”
Klein said one of the biggest enjoyments in being a philatelist is how much he has learned.
“Stamp collecting is very educational,” he said. “There’s an incredible amount of knowledge you gain. I have learned so many things from collecting stamps; history, geography, culture, politics, science, and on and on. Everything that has gone on in the world is reflected in stamps.”
In fact, as Klein points out, a common trait among “Jeopardy” winners is that they are stamp collectors.
Klein’s favorite stamp is a one-dollar stamp called “Western Cattle in the Storm” issued in the United States in 1898, and actually derived from a Scottish painting.
“It’s been called the most beautifully-designed stamp in U.S. history,” he said.
Klein attends national stamp conventions each year in the United States, and is planning to attend the Minnesota Stamp Expo held in Crystal in mid-July. He even attended an international show when it was held in Chicago in 1986. It will return to the United States in Boston in 2026.
Klein has also been president of the Lyon County Philatelic Society since it was organized in 1980.
“We are always encouraging others to join,” he said. “You don’t have to live in Lyon County to join our club. As I said, it’s very educational. You don’t have to be a serious collector. You can do it any way you like.”
Klein also evaluates stamps for other people. For more questions, or to have a stamp evaluated, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.