History of the Eire Philatelic Association

The First 70 Years

The Beginning – The Éire Philatelic Association in the 1950s

The year was 1948. In Brooklyn, Neil Stack, a 36 year old accountant, was occupying his spare time with his collection of Irish postage stamps. He was quite enthusiastic in his collecting, working towards a complete collection of Irish issues. Like many collectors at the time he subscribed to Linn’s Stamp News and particularly enjoyed a column written by Frank R.A. McCormick.

Frank McCormick was a retired engineer and a part-time stamp dealer living in Dublin and writing on Irish stamps for Linn’s. His writings were widely read in this country and several of his readers wrote to him suggesting the formation of an Irish stamp club. Among those corresponding with Frank was Neil Stack. McCormick wrote to Neil and suggested that we Yanks organize an Irish stamp club in this country for the many collectors of Ireland.

Unknown to Neil, Bill Hickey, a collector in Rhode Island, had also written to McCormick with the same suggestion. Bill was a 37 year old drill operator, living in Providence, who was also an avid collector of Irish stamps. McCormick wrote to him as he had to Neil and apparently suggested that he contact Neil.

In the early spring of 1949, Hickey wrote to Stack about organizing an Irish collectors club. About two months later, Bill went down to New York over a weekend to see Neil and to talk over the formation of a club. From May through September, they started recruiting members and formulating the organization. A constitution and bylaws were written. It named the officers of the association and it also set forth the objectives of the association: “To popularize and encourage the collection and specialization of the stamps of Ireland. To promote interest in the histories and display of Irish stamps at various stamp show and exhibits.”

By the end of 1950, Snoopy, Charlie Brown and the rest of the Peanuts gang premiered in a comic strip by Charles Schulz. L. Ron Hubbard published “Dianetics”, Jack Benny moved from radio to TV and the biggest heist ever occurred at Brink Express Co. in Boston, when 8 men captured over 3.7 million dollars in 17 minutes. The Yankees won their 13th title by beating the Phillies and Whitey Ford won the first of 10 World Series games.

Ireland was entering its second year as a Republic, John Costello was Prime Minister and deValera was out but fighting to get back in. The Irish Post Office issued three stamps that year commemorating the Roman Catholic Holy Year of Prayer, in values of 2 1/2d, 3d and 9d, one 2 1/2d letter card, a 1 1/2d newspaper wrapper and an air letter form (imagine, all that in one year!).

Like the ancient Irish monks who kept learning alive during the dark ages, a little band of philatelists was doing the same for the hobby of collecting Irish stamps. Although an ocean separated them, men like Thomas E. Field and Fred Dixon in Ireland maintained correspondence with Hans Zervas, Malcolm O’Reilly and others in the United States.

The time was right for a new society for collectors of Irish philately.  The Association was formed on September 15, 1950. By the end of the year, 48 members had been signed up. 1951 saw an additional 82 members added when member number 130 was signed up. Within the first 12 months, collectors who would play major roles in the ÉPA down through the years had joined the Association. Dr. Thomas Armstrong, Lorin Kay, Malcolm O’Reilly, G. P. Roberts and John J. Clark, all became members in the first three months. Rudolph Mitchell, H. G. Zervas, Robert Gray, Richard Swords, Perry Adams, Michael Giffney and Thomas E. Field joined the ranks in 1951.  The momentum continued in 1952 with 51 more members bringing the total to 181. Of course, some members were lost along the way. Frank McCormick, member #3, for example, died in 1951. But the group was growing, and continued to grow through the end of the 20th Century.

Presidents of the ÉPA

Through 2021 there have been 24 presidents of the ÉPA.  After 70 years, we owe a debt of gratitude to these people for their contributions to Irish philately and to the ÉPA.  To name the accomplishments of several of these presidents, William Hickey was our first president and was instrumental in forming the association.  Joseph Foley was president twice, for a total of six years, and was also president of the American Philatelic Society.  Both Patricia Walker and Chartles Verge were award winners for their exhibits and became exhibit judges.  Our most recent president, Richard Kelly, served for a total of nine years, the longest in ÉPA history.

Auctions Through the Years

In 1965, it was decided to offer the membership a stamp auction with each issue of the society journal. Joseph E. Foley took on the job of handling the auction and put together the first auction, which closed on September 20, 1965. That first auction contained 33 lots, of which 22 sold for a total of U.S. $60.90.  Auction number 2 contained 69 lots. #3 contained 32 lots, all of which sold for U.S. $206.45.Auction number 4 offered the 1/ Sword of Light (Sc.43, MW T46) in a very fine block of 4 and sold for U.S. $8.25. Fifteen of the 30 lots offered brought U.S. $69.85.By auction number 7, 58 of 67 lots sold for U.S. $307.35. By comparison, auction number 117 in 1999, contained 198 lots, of which 121 sold for a total of U.S. $1,009.50.Joe Foley continued running the auctions until auction number 15 in 1970, at which point he turned over the reins to James Brady.  Jim ran the next 7 auctions and in 1973 Bruce Weinman took over. He was followed by Bill Zellers in 1978, Pat Ryan in 1980 and Timothy O’Shea in 1982 who continued the tradition until 1986.  Lo and behold, in 1986 our present auctioneer and the one who started it all, Joe Foley was back at the post but unfortunately Joe passed on in 2006. Bill O’Connor took over after Joe’s death and continued the same format in producing a quality auction attached to the quarterly journal until 2013.  Bob Kemper took over the auction in 2013 and continues to do an outstanding job with four auction per year.

Éire Philatelic Association Chapters

With membership spread across the entire U.S.A. and around the world, it was not surprising to find members within convenient distances of each other getting together on a regular basis to discuss their mutual interests. These gatherings, from the earliest days of the Éire Philatelic Association, developed into local chapters of the Association.  Within the first few years of the 1950s, a chapter was formed in the New York City area and met regularly as “branch # 1” at the Collectors Club in Manhattan.  There was a Michigan chapter by the late 1960s and chapters in northern and southern California by the 1970s.  As of the early 1980s there were chapters in Chicago, Texas, northern New Jersey, Long Island (NY), the south Jersey/Philadelphia area and New England.  Unfortunately, due to declining membership in the association, and with stamp collecting in general, in 2021 we only have two active chapters, both in California.  Due to the COVID-19 virus and epidemic, which started in 2019 and continued in 2021, our annual Annual General meeting (AGM) has taken place virtually, via Zoom.

The REVEALER – The Journal of the Éire Philatelic Association

The Journal is the lifeblood of the Association and fulfills the main purpose of our existence, that of revealing the facts about Irish stamps and postal history.The first issue of the REVEALER came out in January 1951, just four months after the association was formed. It was published bimonthly up until September 1963. As of October 1963, it began to be published quarterly. Publication was interrupted for four issues when the Association and the Irish Philatelic Circle decided to combine their separate journals into one. They put out a combined publication, The Journal of Irish Philately, in July 1972. The combined journal continued for only four issues, the last being VOl.1 No.4, April 1973. The REVEALER resumed publication in July 1973.

The name of the journal, as conceived by Neil Stack, “signifies that our group is revealing much of Irish philately not to be found elsewhere, especially in a well-researched and authentic form.”

In its 70 years of publication there have only been twelve Editors.

1951-1956Neil Stack
1957Malcolm O’Reilly (one issue)
1957-1972Judge J.J. Walsh
1973-1977James Brady
1977-1984John Blessington
1985-1986Patricia Stillwell Walker
1986Peter Bugg and Bob Jones (interim editors)
1986-2007Patrick Ryan
2007-2009George Nicholson
2009 – 2018Liam Malone 
2018 – PresentSteven Friedenthal

Over the years the REVEALER has won recognition in numerous literature class competitions. Among the awards are the following:  At the 1974 Chicago Philatelic Society exhibit, it garnered a Vermeil ribbon.  It was awarded Large Silver at Interphil 1976 and again at Capex 1978The Chicago Philatelic Society again awarded a Vermeil in 1981.

Our website was completely revised in 2014 in an effort to stimulate new membership and provide a portal for existing members.  It built a dynamic website on the content management system Drupal.  The website now has all past copies of The Revealer posted online, and several award winning exhibits on Irish philately, to name just a few member benefits.  In 2015, the American Philatelic Society awarded the ÉPA a Gold Medal for its website.

The John Blessington Memorial Library

In 1958, J.J. Walsh, then editor of the REVEALER, received a collection of magazine clippings from John A. Cummings, member # 66, and, in his words, “plans to add to this collection from time to time to provide a complete library for the use of the members.”  The next mention of the library in the REVEALER has Gil Roberts handling member borrowing from the library in 1968.
The position of Historian/Librarian was established and William P. Hickey appointed the same year.

The library grew through the years, particularly under the care of John Blessington, who held the position of librarian from 1971. John was editor of the REVEALER from 1977 to 1985 and received the Field Award in 1983. After his death in 1985, the library was dedicated to his memory.  James Lavelle was librarian from 1986 to 1989, followed briefly by Duane Larsen. Peter Bugg, took over in 1991, followed by Paul Bento and Timothy O’Shea.  In 2018, the Blessington Library found a home at the Spellman Museum of Stamps and Postal History in Weston, Massachusetts.  Our Librarty is now in a safe environment and available for borrowing by ÉPA members.

International Nature of the Éire Philatelic Association

Although the Éire Philatelic Association is primarily made up of American collectors, it has always had an active Irish contingent and has from its earliest days had members from around the world.

By 1955, 17 Irish collectors had joined the Association, including F.R.A. McCormick (one of the founders), Michael Giffney of Dublin, Louis P. W. Renouf of Cork, William Kane of Dublin, Rev. Michael Noonan of Kilkenny and M.D. Buchalter of Dublin. Thirteen collectors in England had signed up, seven in Canada and 7 others in Australia, Kenya, Brazil and the Dominican Republic.By 1961, an additional 11 joined in Ireland, 8 in England, 3 in Canada and one each in Sweden, Holland and Hong Kong. By then Nora Wright of Dublin, Fred E. Dixon of Dublin, V. A. Linnell of Montreal and Dr. B. deBurca of Surrey had joined the ranks of the Éire Philatelic Association.  Now we jump to 1981 and find 44 Irish collectors, 18 English, 28 Canadian and 27 others around the world listed on the roster of the Association. Twenty-one percent of the membership was from outside the U.S.A.  Throughout its history, an average of 20 percent of the membership has been from outside the U.S.A. Today (2021) we have members in Argentina, Canada, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Guernsey, Ireland, Italy, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the U.S.A.  Our total membership is around 300, with 85 members (28%) outside the U.S.A.

The Future – The Éire Philatelic Association in the New Millennium

The New Millennium will be an exciting time in our hobby and particularly for our association. We have witnessed in this past year the effects electronic communications have had in the workings of the board of directors of the Association. We have had two proposals, which came up for a vote, and discussion before the board and action was taken on both issues within ten days. If this had to be done by regular mail I would estimate that at least two months would have elapsed before the proposals would have been finalized.  Another example of the benefits of e-mail is how we can send to the editor of The Revealer articles with graphics for publication and avoid the possible loss of original material sent by regular mail.

Online auctions will be major players in the new millenium. I have seen more Irish material than ever before being made available by the auction sites on the Internet. The ÉPA auction will certainly be part of this movement.  The majority of new members have downloaded membership forms from our website which is proof that we are getting more exposure than ever before via electronic communications.  Dues may now be paid online through PayPal.

Our membership numbers should remain static since we seem to have a dynamic core of solid members while other philatelic societies have seen their numbers decline in recent years. We do have to face the fact that there are many other activities competing for the spare time that was once designated for stamp collecting. We will have to renew our efforts to promote our hobby and society.  The COVID-19 pandemic of 2019-2021 has had a disasteric effect on our ability to attend meetings, but our ability to have meetings and presentations via the Internet has made up for much of this deficiency.

As we are now in the new millennium, we are utilizing the Internet for all Board member business meetings, our AGM and for general communications. We will be expanding the usage for disseminating information to all of our members.

(Revised 01/16/2021, John B. Sharkey, Secretary)