Lion Ross Paine has 53,000 reasons why people should recycle stamps. The Australian Chapter of the LCI Stamp Club has just completed a record 12 months in which they sold more than 400 kilos (882 pounds) of stamps at auction, raising AUD$53,000 (US$38,333) to help children with cerebral palsy walk.

A boy walks with the help of a walker from Australian Lions Children’s Mobility Foundation (ALCMF)
Jaydyn, who has cerebral palsy, takes his first steps with the help of his brother and a new walker, thanks to Lions stamp recycling project and the Australian Lions Children’s Mobility Foundation.

Every stamp donated was sold, and every cent raised by Lions was given to the Australian Lions Children’s Mobility Foundation (ALCMF) to purchase walkers for children with cerebral palsy. Between July 2019 and July 2020, the foundation supplied 63 walkers, bikes, tricycles, and quadricycles to people under the age of 18.

The stamps needn’t be collectible or in vintage condition to be worth money. Stamp collections that are no longer wanted, postage stamps clipped from envelopes – this is what the Lions have received and sold, and what they are looking for more of.

A Long History of Stamps

The Lions International Stamp Club (LISC) was formed in 1952 when collecting stamps was a popular hobby with kids and adults alike, but the thought to recycle and sell the stamps as a fundraiser didn’t come about until 1991 when Paine, of Queensland, and the late Lion Max Laurie attended the LCI convention in Brisbane.  Both were active members in the LCI Stamp Club. Laurie was president. Paine had been in the hobby since childhood, collecting stamps from Australia, Papua New Guinea, and Pacific Island countries.

Lions originally gave their stamp sales to a children’s school for the deaf and blind, but in 2006 switched to ALCMF where the motto is “Walk With Pride.”

Lions Ann SAnders trims collectible stamps
Anne Sanders, a Tamworth Peel Valley Lion in Australia, helps by trimming and sorting stamps at home.

That year the Lions made AUD$1,197 (US$866) with the project. By 2016 they had increased sales to pull in AUD$13,500 (US$9,771). Then, in 2018 their sales jumped to AUD$25,500 (US$18,458). In 2019 they made AUD$48,000 (US$34,745) and by April 2020 their annual haul was AUD$53,000 (US$38,333). In total, the Lions have raised more than AUD$200,000 (US$144,809) for ALCMF by recycling more than 4 tons of stamps.

Originally a Lions-only project, recent articles in Australian newspapers and trade journals have drawn attention to the cause, and now stamps come from individuals all over Australia who have no connection with Lions, says Paine.

The project grew so quickly that two years ago they had to appoint used stamp coordinators in each Australian state just to receive, prepare, and sort the philatelic donations from their state. Until then, Paine had been doing almost all of this labor-intensive work, clipping paper edges from stamps, and sorting thousands of stamps with the help of a non-Lion neighbor.

Collecting, Sorting, Trimming

The stamp contributions are now collected by about half of the 1,200 Lions clubs in Australia, including the Tamworth Peel Valley Lions in New South Wales where Anne Sanders, a Lion for 27 years, and a stamp enthusiast, is proud to be part of a good cause.

A table full of bagged and sorted stamps.
Stamps by the bagful.

“I am just a conduit for these stamps, and we are just one of the many clubs all over Australia who help in the stamp collecting,” says Sanders. “Trimming the stamps is very relaxing for the small amounts that come to me. But the bulk are sent to Ted and Ross for tidying.”  She refers to Paine and Ted Henebery, immediate past president of the LISC.

Originally the bulk of the stamps were those clipped from incoming mail, but now the majority come from collections people have inherited. The family doesn’t want to throw the collection out, and the grandkids aren’t interested. They are too entrenched in their electronics, says Paine. So, the stamps are given to LISC in Australia where they are sorted into saleable lots and sold in bulk at an auction center in Sydney. Buyers come from all over Australia and Asia, where the hobby and business of stamps as an investment is booming.

Paine personally stopped collecting around 2014 when the hobby was taking over his free time and the the number of stamps being issued was increasing, along with the cost of keeping his collection up to date, he says. Now, as a 79-year-old retiree, he can spend as much time on the project as needed. That can mean 80 to 140 hours a month clipping and sorting the stamps for sale while watching TV or chatting with his family.

“I find it very relaxing, and the fact that children are benefiting is a great source of satisfaction,” he says.

At auction, the stamps are sold in bulk lots of 5 kilograms (11 pounds), which is about 5,000 stamps, or 10 kilograms (22 pounds), depending on if the stamps have or have not been soaked off the paper envelope.

Lion displays table full of stamps
Australian Lion Ross Paine is buried in stamps, and that’s good thing.

“On paper” stamps have to be scissor clipped to leave about 1/8-inch around the stamp because the stamps are sold by weight, and the buyers do not want to buy stamps with too much paper around them.

But among the many collections coming now are mint stamps – those originally purchased from the post office exclusively for collections and never used. They can be sold at face value and be used.

Combining a Hobby with Lions Service

Once the tedious tasks are completed, Henebery, in New South Wales, amalgamates them into boxes and delivers them to the auction center. The money that comes back goes straight to ALCMF.

The funding from the Lions stamp project takes away the pressure of having to ask clubs individually for contributions, especially in these times of COVID-19, says Danny Richardson, chairman of ALCMF.

But members also benefit, says Paine, as this project combines their hobby with an important Lions’ service.

“I find it can be very relaxing just having the old brain ticking along in neutral and not involving myself in anything physical,” he says. “We have several octogenarians assisting with the clipping, and they are only too happy to be involved as it enables them to feel useful within Lions as they are contributing to a project that does not require any great physical exertion.”