On May 29, 1997, I entered the Moscone Center in San Francisco, California, on the opening day of the massive PACIFIC 97 World Philatelic Exhibition. To date, this is still the only international (or, even national) stamp event that I’ve participated in. To say the least, I was extremely impressed and overwhelmed by what was the largest stamp show to be held in the United States that decade (the first one ever on the West Coast) and I have many fond memories of the two weeks I spent there. This was the absolute peak of my philatelic life!

I had flown to San Francisco the day before from my then-home in Albuquerque, New Mexico. For the duration of the show, I stayed with my aunt and uncle at their home in Walnut Creek on the opposite side of San Francisco Bay. Each morning, I would take the BART train into the city and spend most of the morning at the Moscone Center. My afternoons were usually spent sightseeing in my favorite city of the United States. One afternoon, I unexpectedly ran into my sister and brother-in-law on Fisherman’s Wharf. I had no idea they were vacationing there as well, having come in from Kansas City.

[L to R:] Uncle Ed, brother-in-law Keith, sister Marilyn, ME! and cousin David in Walnut Creek, California, circa May/June 1997
[L to R:] Uncle Ed, brother-in-law Keith, sister Marilyn, ME! and cousin David in Walnut Creek, California, circa May/June 1997

The numbers are impressive: there were 3,584 competitive frames exhibited as well as another 100 in the Court of Honor and 15 frames devoted to special exhibits. This computes to around 60,000 stamp album pages of material to look at. The total length of the rows of frames was just under two-and-a-half miles! Fifty-seven different countries were represented by these exhibits with particular emphasis on Pacific Rim participants. George Kramer won the Grand Prix National with “Across the Continent — Mail across the American Continent before the Completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869,” which included the greatest Pony Express rarities. It was the first time a U.S. postal history exhibit had earned that honor. Two collectors from Thailand won the other top prizes: the Grand Prix International went to Pichai Burenasombate for “Classics of Great Britain,” and the Grand Prix d’Honneur went to Surajet Gongvatana for “Siam.”

More than 200 stamp dealers had booth and a number of philatelic auctioneers were in attendance (I sold my U.S. #1 and #2 as well as a Penny Black in one of the auctions). More than 130 different postal administrations were represented. My fondest memories are of visiting EVERY SINGLE ONE of the post office booths to buy at least one stamp (which was duly affixed into my philatelic passport and postmarked with each administration’s cancellation). I recall HUGE lines at the Hong Kong booth as the then-British colony was due to be handed-back to China the following month. The PACIFIC 97 Philatelic Passport is the item I most regret not bringing with me when I eventually moved to Thailand — an irreplaceable souvenir now lost forever.

Another highlight for me was the daily preparation of covers. The U.S. Postal Service released several stamps and postal stationery items at the exhibition. These included the first-ever triangular stamps released by the United States, a pair of souvenir sheets commemorating the 150th anniversary of the first U.S. stamps and featuring die proofs of the original designs, and two very attractive postal cards portraying the Golden Gate Bridge. The Franklin and Washington souvenir sheets created some controversy as they were only available for the duration of the show (the Washington sheet from May 30). Each day also had special USPS postmarks so it was quite fun preparing combination covers to receive the various cancellations available. I no longer have any of these (all remained in America when I made my cross-Pacific move), but I do remember making one or two very large covers that bore every available USPS cancellation (the first days and special days) that were available during the length of my stay.

There were a few interesting books published at PACIFIC 97 as well, including one about the Pan American Clippers. The 1997 edition of the American Philatelic Congress Book doubled as the PACIFIC 97 Handbook and contained many scholarly articles related to the themes of the show. There were many freebies on offer; Avery-Dennison distributed “dummy” self-adhesive stamp booklets and there were beautifully-engraved souvenir cards by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing available. It was also the first international stamp show to include a section for philatelic software.

Looking back, I feel that I was a rather unorganized collector. At PACIFIC 97, I felt like the proverbial kid in a candy shop — overwhelmed by the choices available. I like to believe that I’m much more organized in my present philatelic pursuits. I do long to attend another large stamp show. They seem to have one or two each year in Bangkok with a larger regional show every six or seven years. There are also shows in Malaysia and Singapore which are definitely within range (and budget!). The problem is finding details on these shows with enough advance notice to actually plan a trip! I often find out about the Thai exhibitions when there is a photo in the newspaper (usually of Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn opening the show). There must be a better way…

The slideshow below displays some items I’ve restored to my collection recently and a few I once had but now need to replace. When I came to southern Thailand more than 12 years ago, I  never thought that I would stay so long. I was in one of those periods of “non-collecting” and never thought about picking up my tongs again. It wasn’t long before the philatelic bug bit me once again but, by then, it was too late as I’d instructed my sister to sell off the entire contents of my storage unit in New Mexico. The only items I requested her to “save” were certain music albums and a few books. If only….