By: Dave Astor
When Peter Rexford began self-syndicating “The Stamp & Coin Exchange” in 1985, a regular stamp cost 22 cents and the state-quarter series wasn’t even a twinkle in the U.S. Mint’s eye.
How does one independently distribute a column for so long? “You have to have an insatiable fascination for what you write about,” replied Rexford, whose weekly feature turns 20 in April.
The St. Louis-area writer noted that “stamps and coins can be two of the dullest topics on the planet if, like any hobby, you get too technical.” So he covers the history, the anecdotes, the lore, and more relating to stamps and coins — as well as other perennial collectibles such paper currency, precious metals, and autographs. “I don’t like to write about fads,” he said.
One of Rexford’s most interesting recent columns was about a 1680s French coin that appears to show a flying saucer hovering above the landscape. “Perhaps, most mysterious and/or telling are the Latin words around the rim of the coin — ‘opportunus adest’ — translated to mean, ‘It is here at an opportune time,'” wrote Rexford. He went on to quote an authority who said the object in the sky might be a Biblical reference to visitors from beyond or a symbol of needed rainfall, but that no one knows for sure.
Rexford, 48, has also written about unusual stamps — such as the ones put out by the Iranian government that actually pictured the American hostages of 25 years ago. “Ever since stamps were created, they have been used for propaganda,” he noted.
The award-winning columnist is periodically critical — he told E&P, for instance, that the U.S. Postal Service has been known to put out too many stamps, which makes it hard for collectors to keep up. Also, Rexford tries to root out fraud when he finds it. And he periodically travels to gather material for his feature; earlier this month, he attended the World Mint Conference in Switzerland to learn about new coins and other matters.
Before starting his essay and Q&A column in 1985, Rexford had launched a rare stamp and coin division for a brokerage firm and was contributing articles on collecting to various publications. He first approached the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about doing a column, and the editor there asked Rexford for five samples, then five more samples, then five more samples before publishing him. The paper also let Rexford use its phone to try to drum up other clients.
Now, Rexford’s newspapers include the Tribune-Review of Greensburg, Pa.; The Times Herald-Record of Middletown, N.Y.; The Sacramento Bee; the Staten Island (N.Y.) Advance; The News Tribune of Tacoma, Wash.; and The Washington Times, among others.
The columnist (email@example.com) has thought about hooking up with a big syndicate, but worries, among other things, that most features aren’t marketed heavily after the initial launch. That, said the former advertising man, leaves syndicated creators doing much of their own promotion anyway.
Rexford — who has made many radio and TV appearances — noted that there are millions of coin and stamp collectors in America. So he’s puzzled that more newspapers run columns about bridge than about coins and stamps.