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Philately still alive & well in the 209
Al and Penny Ftacek are shown in an undated picture taken at their home in Manteca. The World War II veteran and the father of 10 children is a lifelong philatelist. He even owned and operated a buy-and-sell stamp store in Manteca at one time for many years. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

With e-vites, e-mails and all kinds of electronic communication devices proliferating, practically obliterating the popularity of sending mails via the postal service today, one would think philately has gone the way of the dinosaurs, right?

Wrong, surprisingly. Philately, or stamp collecting, has not as of yet been buried in cyberspace. It’s still alive and well.

But not as robust as it once was when lifelong avid philatelist Al Ftacek of Manteca owned and operated his collectible-stamp store and enjoyed a thriving business. So much so that he managed to raise 10 children with wife Penny, with the meager proceeds from his modest buy-and-sell stamp business augmenting the salary he collected from three part-time jobs.

“It’s been so many years ago. I don’t even think there’s hardly any stamp stores anymore for collectors,” said Penny who was delegated by her husband to be his spokeswoman during the telephone interview.

The 89-year-old World War II hero – Al flew more than 30 bombing missions from England over Germany before he even turned 20 – has serious problems with his hearing even with a hearing aid, his wife explained, laughing.

“He was a stamp collector since he was a kid. It was just something to do. He liked the history of the stamps,” said Penny, who laughed even more when she said she never shared her husband’s interest in philately.

“I really didn’t pay too much interest in that. I had to raise (10) kids,” she said, giggling.

“It used to be a big thing at one time but then it slowed down quite a bit,” she added about her husband’s business. Eventually, it became “pretty slow and he just decided it was too much for him.”

When he was working at Libbey-Owens-Ford glass company (now Pinkerton) in Lathrop, where he found a job after the war, Al recruited his older son Steve to take care of the store during the day.

“He ran the business between working three shifts at LOF, and Steve would stay there while my husband was working the day shift. He (Steve) took care of the business because he was handicapped and didn’t have a regular job at that time,” Penny said.

This was before her son finally got a job with the now-defunct Continental Telephone housed in the building next to the Manteca Bulletin on East Yosemite Avenue.

Penny attributes the dying popularity of philately as a hobby to a number of things.

“Probably television – I blame everything on television,” laughed the octogenarian retired Laura Scudders worker. “Just like I do (blame) computers now. That’s why the post office is broke because now, you could just use your phone and talk to whoever you want. I don’t use the computers so I don’t know what’s going on.”

While stamp collecting is no longer as popular as it used to be, there are still many diehard fans of this hobby, said John Gallardo, postmaster at the Manteca Post Office.

The only difference now is that a lot of them have switched purchasing the collectible stamps online. In fact, “we sell out some of them,” Gallardo said of the collectibles that are issued different times of the year.

“Sometimes, if they are good sellers, they re-issue them. Every year, the (United States Postal Service) issue different varieties of stamps,” he said.

Perennial best sellers though are “all Christmas stamps,” Gallardo said.

A lot of collectors usually check in January what collectible themes are being issued during the year, he said. “As soon as (stamps) come out, they come in (to the post office). They already know what stamps will be available and what they look like.”

More often than not, the collectible stamps they have at the post office are sold out, prompting many to shop for them online, Gallardo said.

Besides the collectible Christmas stamps, other themes that are popular to philatelists are those that target specific milestones in life – weddings, birthday parties, and graduations. People buy the children’s stamps with cartoon figures for invitations to their children’s birthday party, for example, the postmaster said.

Among the collectible stamps issued in 2013 are music icons like Johnny Cash (issued in June), the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center with the picture of Lydia Mendoza, the singer Ray Charles (a Forever stamp), Made in America/Building a Nation, and Althea Gibson, the first black tennis player to win one of the four major singles tournaments.

For the latest on collectible and limited-edition stamps, visit

209 staff reporter