Alan Beals started collecting stamps as a boy. In the '80s, when a flood of new issues from the U.S. Postal Service swamped his enthusiasm, Beals stumbled into the obscure niche of Judaic philatelists. Along the way, his hobby yielded a self-education in American Jewish history and led to his publishing a catalog for a rare breed of stamp collectors like himself who covet Jewish charity seals.
This month, Israel's postal authority plans a limited issue clock tower stamp series that niche hobbyists like Beals are eager to obtain. The special issue recognizes a Tel Aviv exhibition this month, Telabul 2004, that lures exhibitors such as Robert B. Pildes, of Evanston, Ill., president of the U.S.-based Society of Israel Philatelists.
Beals, 70, is vice president of the society's 30-member Los Angeles-Orange chapter. A bookcase in his Tustin home holds volumes of pristine stamps on subjects such as bonsai trees and Winston Churchill along with stamps of Israel.
His own specialty is rare: Jewish charity seals of the last century, which he finds at stamp shows and on eBay. Only annual issues from the Jewish National Fund are commonly available. His quarry are obscure ones issued by 166 other groups, such as a "To Answer Coughlin" seal. Its recipients backed ads to undercut the anti-Semitic, Catholic radio commentator during the '20s.
After researching the origin of each seal he finds, Beals' adds a summary and a scanned picture of the seal to his catalog, now at 240 pages. About 100 like-minded collectors have purchased the volume, which was copyrighted in 2001 and self-published.
"I learn of more every day," he said, such as the intriguing $4 purchase he made recently online. A swastika outlined in Hebrew turned out to be two intertwined snakes bordered in Yiddish with a political message: "Do not buy merchandise from bloody Hitler's country."