Hot people in line opening day for the world stamp show probably never realized that the 91-degree heat on May 9, 1936 was just the start of a weather trend that would develop into the worst heat wave anyone had ever experienced. The jolly faces in the admission line that wrapped around Grand Central Palace showed not an inkling of the developing scorcher.
The most avid aficionados of first-day covers (stamped envelopes) had begun to queue around midnight, planning to head straight to the temporary U.S. Post Office inside, pick up all four commemoratives being issued at the show, and get their prizes postmarked. By day’s end philatelic fanatics had bought more than 2.5 million stamps.
All over the country, stamp lovers unable to make it to Manhattan followed the show in the press and listened to nationwide radio broadcasts. Two months later, when temperatures in New York hit 106-degrees, the whole country would be so hot and dry that nobody paid attention to stories of buckling highways, dying livestock, and eggs sizzling on sidewalks in the East. But for now, it was just a hot spring start for this country’s Third International Philatelic Exhibition, TIPEX for short, an honor bestowed on the U.S. every ten years, and those who couldn’t be there were keeping close track.
With flight all the rage, a vast space had been given over to air mail. A new zeppelin was arriving in time for the show, and the wildly popular aviatrix, Amelia Earhart, would be attending.
President Roosevelt pressed a button in the Oval Office that Saturday morning to light the exhibition hall and formally open the show. Though an avid collector himself, he had to stay in Washington and focus on getting the country back to work building roads, parks, and public buildings for his new Works Progress Administration. However, his predecessor was now a man at leisure, and Herbert Hoover would be visiting midweek to see a display of envelopes franked with the signatures of all the U.S. Presidents, including himself.
When the lights came on, crowds streamed under the marquee, paid their forty cents (children 25-cents), and flooded the cavernous first floor. The May 9 issue of Stamps magazine told visitors that there would be an information desk near the main entrance, staffed by volunteer philatelists, including for the first time, a “large delegation from the Women’s Philatelic Clubs of New York and Brooklyn.” Stamp collecting was still considered a male pastime.
And, yet, in the hype leading up to the show, The New York Times hailed the arrival from England of Colonel and Mrs. Anson McCleverty, she bearing her incomparable air-mail collection with which she’d taken gold at the Air Post Exhibition, England’s most recent turn to host the annual world stamp show two years earlier. By the third day of TIPEX, the Times reported that the number of women exhibitors had increased over past shows, noting that, “The majority of them are air-mail specialists.” Ultimately, 1936 would prove to be the year that woman collectors were finally acknowledged as something more than a novelty, just as air-mail was.