Illinois hunting and fishing

Vern Kleen recently sold 500 pounds of donated postage stamps to an East Coast dealer. Photos by Chris Young.

Old postage stamps boost Illinois Audubon Society

November 25, 2011 at 10:11 AM

Try to visualize 500 pounds of used postage stamps.

Retired ornithologist and stamp collector Vern Kleen sees those stamps turned into land where prairie chickens show off, owls hoot and warblers flit through the treetops.

Since 1984, Kleen has been capitalizing on his stamp collecting experience to market donated U.S. commemorative and foreign stamps, picture postcards and other collectible stamps as a way to raise money for the Illinois Audubon Society’s land acquisition fund.

The program has raised nearly $58,000 in the past quarter century.

Recently, Kleen sent 500 pounds of stamps to an East Coast dealer.

That’s a quarter ton of stamps, meticulously clipped from envelopes, sorted by type and packed into 26 boxes and shipped at a cost of $538.

The payoff was $2,500 raised for the Illinois Audubon Society’s land acquisition fund (the dealer even paid $300 of the postage bill).

The fund helps Illinois Audubon, a land trust, buy and protect rare habitats.

That way, the state’s unique species of birds, plants and animals will always have more than a postage stamp’s worth of space.

Kleen also is a board member of Illinois Audubon and a member of the Springfield Philatelic Society.

It turns out that people who have never heard of Illinois Audubon have heard of its stamp-collecting project.

“I get donations from all over the United States, not just Illinois and Springfield,” Kleen said. “I’ve got plenty of stuff to sell.”

“I have a hard time getting my brain around how Vern and the volunteers do it,” said Tom Clay, Illinois Audubon’s executive director.

“At first, people probably wondered, ‘How much money can you raise collecting used postage stamps?’” Clay said. “But by now, hopefully they seen that over a period of time, you can actually do it.”

Clay said bulky envelopes full of stamps arrive regularly at the society’s headquarters at the Adams Wildlife Sanctuary, 2315 Clear Lake Ave.

Once stamps arrive, Kleen relies on the Springfield RSVP, or Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, for help sorting commemoratives from foreign stamps and others.

He also holds monthly stamp sorting nights at the Adams Wildlife Sanctuary from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on the third Tuesday of each month.

Anyone who wants to help is welcome.

As the stamps – and pounds – add up, turning them into cash is the next challenge.

“I had been trying to find a dealer who would pay anything,” Kleen said of the 500-pound shipment. “It turned out to be about $5 a pound.”

Clay said contributions of the stamp-collecting project provide a source of matching funds for grants.

“We always have to bring money to the table,” he said. “It is a huge help having that source of income.”

Chris Young can be reached at 788-1528.

Illinois hunting and fishing

Illinois Audubon Society Stamps for Wildlife Habitat Project


Vern Kleen


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Stamps needed:

* Cancelled U.S. commemoratives

* Airmail stamps

* Express mail stamps

* Foreign stamps

* Duck stamps

* State conservation stamps

* High denomination definitives

* Picture postcards – new or used

* Unused stamps, no matter how old

* Stamp collections – complete or incomplete

What to send in:

* Cut the envelope, leaving 1/8 to ¼ space around the stamp. Do not try to remove the stamp from the envelope. This will destroy its value.

* When in doubt, send in the entire envelope.

Monthly stamp sorting meetings are held on the third Tuesday of each month at the Adams Wildlife Sanctuary, 2315 Clear Lake Ave.

Hours are 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Anyone who wants to help is welcome.