When Franklin Roosevelt was little more than eight years old in 1890, his parents introduced him to philately. With the curiosity of an explorer that was with him all the days of his life, FDR immersed himself in the hobby, and built a vast collection that by the time he became President, numbered scores of albums for practically every country of the world.
Since the Roosevelt family of the 1800s was deeply involved in shipping and trading, with countries as far away as China and India, the young Roosevelt was always pestering his relatives to send him mail---and bring him stamps---from around the world. No country was left out, and no type of stamp was eliminated from his interests. He loved them all. And when he went away to prep school and later Harvard University, he took his stamp collection with him. In fact, for the rest of his life, no matter where FDR travelled, his collection went with him.
Several times in later life, when asked about his hobby, he stated that, 'I owe my life to my hobbies, especially stamp collecting.' In this regard, he was very serious. For in the late summer of 1921, after visiting a Boy Scout camp, he contracted Polio. In deep pain and with little chance of ever being able to walk again, Roosevelt turned to his stamp collection to while away the hours. With philately aiding his recovery (and he was in no doubt that it did), he moved vigorously back into politics, and by 1928 he was elected Governor of New York (and at that time he became a life member of the American Philatelic Society.) Four years later, with his stamp collection in tow, he entered the White House.
FDR's fame as a stamp collector spread throughout the world, and during his presidency, the hobby rose to become the world's most popular pastime; as president he either designed or held influence over every stamp issued by the United States.
During World War II he journeyed to many faraway places, and his stamp collections travelled with him in a large wooden trunk. Each night before retiring, he would spend two or three hours with his stamps, his knowledge of world geography - gained from philately - was so formidable, that he often impressed his military aides with expertise on even the most obscure potential battle site.
As the war was winding down, Roosevelt---exhausted from his recent trip to Yalta---travelled to his retreat at the Little White House in Warm Springs, Georgia. On the morning of April 12, 1945, he approved the design for the new 'Toward United Nations' commemorative stamp, and then spent a quiet hour with his collection. Shortly afterwards while posing for a portrait, he collapsed and died.
It is fitting that this lifelong stamp collector was pursuing his great love of stamps only moments before he passed into history.
The huge collection left by him, was later sold at auction in 1946 by H.R. Harmer. In the introduction, Eleanor Roosevelt writes a greeting to potential bidders in which she states: 'whether this collection is sold intact or broken up, I hope that whoever acquires the stamps, will acquire with them some of my husband's interest and power to lose himself in the occupation of the moment, which is the secret of complete relaxation. These stamps gave my husband great pleasure, and I hope they will continue to bring pleasure and good luck to those who may handle them in the days to come.'
FDR's fame as a philatelist can be traced to his barber. When he was the Governor of New York, Curly's barbershop was practically across the street from the Governor's mansion. When Franklin needed a haircut he'd call by, and of course over the years, they became friends.
To avoid the Press Corps during the Presidential campaign, FDR would ask Curly to visit the Governor's Mansion. When he was seen, a gaggle of fedora-wearing reporters would spring into action. The barber was always tight-lipped but enjoyed the friendly banter anyway. On one occasion he was carrying an envelope.
"Hey, Curly, you delivering state secrets, or something?"
Taken off guard, Curly answered directly, "Well, no. I'm President of the Fort Orange Stamp Club. These are some of the Governor's stamps. I've been appraising them."
Desperate for any interesting news about the candidate dubbed 'The Sphinx', the press jumped on the story and the headlines rang out:
"Roosevelt Loves the Stamps"
"Franklin Will Lick the Depression and Stamp Down the Fascists"
World leaders sent him stamps; the United States Department of Stamps was to exploit this during Roosevelt's presidency, and statements supporting stamp collecting were issued periodically from the Oval Office. It is said that Roosevelt took a direct role in the US postal stamp production and design, although there is little direct evidence to suggest that this was ever anything other, than using the Roosevelt name and reputation to promote philately. Franklin Roosevelt's stamp collection grew, until it became one of the largest and most comprehensive on the planet.
At the auction every album page or cover was handstamped, stating that it came from this greatest of collections.