Computing's Heritage Goes Postal

How one philatelist took his passion for computers global

Slide Show >>

Larry Dodson found an ingenious way to combine seemingly disparate interests: computers and stamp collecting. It was the early 1970s and Dodson was working with computers for General Electric (GE) in Phoenix. He was thumbing through an article in the magazine Datamation when he stumbled across an article featuring a gallery of computer postal art. It contained images of 23 stamps related to computer designs. He recalls thinking to himself, that's a small number, and surely there must be a lot more.

How right he was. More than three decades later, he's amassed a collection of more than 5,000 stamps and other items. Dodson's collecting bug, begun as a refuge from the pressures of work, has spawned friendships the world over. He corresponds several times a week by e-mail with fellow stamp collectors in far-flung locales like South Africa and The Netherlands.


  The passion has also resulted in the publication of Computers on Stamps and Stationery, a 160-page handbook of computer technology and the people behind it as displayed on foreign stamps and stationery. Designed by artists around the world, images range from the abacus to the vacuum tube and feature luminaries from Intel's (INTC) Andy Grove to Yahoo!'s (YHOO) Jerry Yang. Published by the American Topical Assn. (ATA), the book's aim is "to identify, in a logical manner, all stamps relating to computers," says Ray E. Cartier, ATA executive director.

For all the interest in computers in the U.S., don't expect to see Dodson's computing masterminds -- at least not the living ones -- on stamps in this country any time soon. To be featured on a stamp issued by the U.S. Postal Service, a person has to be deceased for ten years, says a representative of the service. Exceptions to the rule are rare. Dodson also says "the post office gets hundreds [probably thousands] of suggestions each year of things to honor on stamps. Any suggestion of mine would have little chance of ever happening. Besides, they already have too many stamp issues each year."

None of that is to say the U.S. Postal Service has completely ignored the computer revolution. Just last year a U.S. stamp honored computing pioneer John Von Neumann.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.