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[Sun Sep 22 2002]

CARBONDALE -- Some people never even have enough stamps to mail all their bills; others have enough stamps to fill 30 volumes of laminated pages.

To the untrained eye the fourth annual Southern Illinois Rural Postal Exhibition being held this weekend at the University Mall may look like row after row of discarded postage stamps, fading with age. For Tim Jones, president of the Southern Illinois Stamp Club and chairman of SIRPEX, the stamps tell as much history in about one inch as 300 pages tell in a textbook.

"You can pick up a lot of little facts just from looking at a stamp," Jones said. "It gets you to do research on the culture."

Jones has been collecting stamps since he was in the seventh grade, beginning with an Australian stamp issued in 1932 depicting the Sydney Harbor bridge. Since that time he has gathered quite a number of the tiny cultural portraits. "I don't think I would want to count them," he added.

Jones' specialty is collecting stamps that come from various islands around the world.

"If it's an island, I collect it," he said.

Bill Raible, a stamp collector and dealer from Fenton, Mo., finds his collection to be a little more general. In his time, Raible has collected around 100,000 pieces. "It doesn't take long to get them," he said.

Raible's passion for collecting led him to become a stamp dealer along the way. "You collect for 35 or 40 years, then you decide to sit on the other side of the table."

Nancy Garth of Murphysboro sat on the collector's side of the table Saturday afternoon, thumbing through books of stamps. Collecting has been her hobby since she was 9, she said.

"It's a great way to pass the time when you're alone," she said. "And I'm a natural-born researcher."

She describes stamp collecting as a learning process, because they show you interesting aspects of a culture that you might not find anywhere else. Garth said her own collection tells intriguing bits of history.

"It's not a valuable collection, but it is interesting," she added.

Dwayne Selix, a dealer from Bratville, Ala., laid his favorite stamp out on the table -- U.S. 292, "A Cattle in the Storm." The stamp, issued in 1898, portrays cattle drivers pushing through during heavy rains.

Selix admires this stamp because of its intricate artwork.

"I had a friend of mine that got me interested in collecting," he said, putting the stamp back under its protective glass. "I started in the 1930s."

Selix has collected stamps from the United States, Canada and Germany, where he was stationed in the U.S. Air Force for five years. He finds postage stamps usually depict interesting historical events in a country and can always strike up a good discussion.

"I always like to talk stamps," he said.

Jones said starting up a stamp collection is as easy as saving the postage a person gets with regular incoming mail. He also believes its a rewarding activity and something to cherish for a lifetime.

"It's just a fun hobby that doesn't take up too much space," Jones said. "Well, it does if you have 30 countries. It doesn't if you don't get carried away like me."

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