Gordon Trotter, 78, stood behind a table in the home economics room at Harpers Choice Middle School in Columbia on a recent weeknight.
Wearing a short-sleeve black polo shirt, dark brown slacks and brown loafers, the longtime Wilde Lake Village resident raised a small stamp in the air with his right hand.
"Afghanistan," said Trotter, describing the origin of the stamp. "Much in the news lately, you might have heard."
The congenial, dry-witted Trotter, with snow-white hair and glasses, spent the next 40 minutes playing the auctioneer at one of the regular meetings of the Howard County Stamp Club.
The group, which began in 1972, meets the first and third Wednesday of every month, and a few times a year holds an auction. On this night, about a dozen members sit quietly as Trotter quickly makes his way through 159 lots of stamps.
Members of the 40-year-old club do not need to live in Howard County and some come from neighboring counties, including Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Prince George's.
At the recent meeting, all but one of the members there were men and most were in their 60s and 70s, But over the years, the club meetings have attracted at least two youths, as well as college faculty members, computer programmers, an antiques dealer, a retired Navy officer and some in the medical field. Dues are about $10 per year.
"I started collecting when I was 8 years old and never really stopped," said Trotter, one of the charter members when the Howard County Stamp Club began.
"One of the things that I like about it is how educational it is," added Trotter, noting that a person can learn a lot about history and geography while collecting stamps.
Worries about future
But while the club is four decades old and the hobby far older than that, many collectors worry about the future.
Member Jim Kuttler, of Ellicott City, said the U.S. post office has made decisions that have hurt the hobby, such as printing self-adhesive stamps.
"And of course kids have a gazillion other things to do. They have computer games, tweets and texting," he said. "I think stamp collecting is definitely a dying hobby. But that is in the U.S. It turns out it is pretty popular in Europe, especially in Germany. But it is a long slippery slope down" in this country.
"People don't use the post office as much or the same ways as we used to it," said David Mann, another member of the Howard club. "It used to be that everything you sent was with postage stamps. I think that is part of it."
Kuttler, who works at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in North Laurel, began collecting stamps as a young boy. "I was living near St. Louis and I was probably about 13. A neighbor gave me an old stamp collection that was in the attic. I collected for hours. I went off to college, got a job and got married and put (the hobby) aside."
Kuttler, who has been part of the club for many years, said in the past stamps were perfect to collect.
"People like to collect about anything, and stamps are popular because they are small," he said. "They are easy to acquire."
In recent years Kuttler, who has German roots, has combined his interest in stamps with another hobby: genealogy.
"One of the things that you can do when you run into a brick wall is see if you are related to anyone famous," he said. "That is a lot of fun."