The Stamp Act

EDWARD SHBNTON is the author of many books and stories, and has also served as illustrator and editor, He lives in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

The Stamp Act is a recurrent malady inflicted upon the public once in each generation. I remember when my mother got stamps from the first chain store. I also remember vividly the lamp for which she exchanged the stamps.

It was an enormous apparatus with a shade the shape and almost the size of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. It was made of irregular sections of scarlet, Paris green, bilious yellow, royal purple, and Van Dyke brown. It took her eighteen months and 37,000 stamps to acquire this objet d’art. Unfortunately the workmanship was not comparable to St. Paul’s. Fragments of stained glass began to fall out, leaving holes of undiluted electric light.

My father, a skillful man who was far ahead of his time — how he would have enjoyed this do-it-yourself era — undertook to replace the pieces. With soldering iron and molten lead he spent uncounted evenings on the job. But it was useless. As fast as he put in one section, another fell out. It was on April 5, 1917, that he blew his top. Seizing the lamp, with a word never before heard in our Presbyterian household, he hurled it through a stained-glass window which the more refined homes of that period boasted. The next day President Wilson declared war on Germany.

Well, here I was, after two wars, getting a swatch of stamps with my purchases. I will not, I said firmly, repeat the error of my parents. But as the bard remarks, “What suckers we mortals be.”

Presently I had a drawer full of stamps and still they accumulated. By chance, I recalled my wife’s remarking that our culinary equipment would make an Eskimo blush. At the time, I thought the statement a trifle extravagant; but writers are prone to colorful speech, and had she said merely that most of our pots and pans were over retirement age it might not have stuck in my mind. It would not be a sign of weakness, I decided, to use the stamps to revive our cooking utensils.

For three evenings I pasted stamps in the books, to my clothing, and in my hair. Then on my next trip I exchanged my labor for a shining stewpan. When my wife saw it, she cried ecstatically, “How beautiful! You must have paid a lot for it.”

“Only sixty dollars,” I replied nonchalantly.

After I had restored her to this world, I explained that various comestibles were included in the sum.

Later I secured a frying pan, $90, and a roaster, $120. I’m now saving for a new vacuum cleaner, as ours has got into the habit of exhaling the dust instead of inhaling. I estimate it will take twenty-seven months at our present rate of buying and $2100 in stamps.