The ATA was founded in November 1949, by 17-year-old Jerome (Jerry) Husak in Milwaukee, Wis. His idea, to recruit a group of people who would like to share topical collecting ideas, got a lukewarm reception from his parents, who were more concerned with his schoolwork. However, they supported his plan, and Jerry’s bedroom became the ATA office. The first issue of Topical Time came out late that year. Initially dues were one dollar per year.
Within five months ATA had over 400 members, and membership continued to grow.
Jerry managed to find time for academics and ATA all through college, and he became the first executive secretary. After college he opened an office and it was there he met Sally Vogel, who became his wife in 1956. She was his partner in running the ATA office.
ATA held its first national convention and exhibition, called TOPEX, in Johnstown, PA in 1952. A national event has been held most years since then, often in collaboration with other groups. In 2000 the show became independent and the name National Topical Stamp Show was adopted under the leadership of show chairman David Kent. Since 2018, the NTSS has been a joint show with the APS. In 2020 it was to become a joint show of the ATA, American Philatelic Society and American First Day Cover Society, called Great American Stamp Show. Unfortunately, the show had to be cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. A list of past show dates and locations is available by clicking here.
The first affiliated study unit, the Casey Jones Railroad Unit, was founded in 1950, and many others soon followed. Study units have been added and dropped through ATA’s 70-year history, as interests change. Chapters (stamp clubs throughout the country) were authorized in 1951. The first to sign on was the Thematic Stamp Club of South Africa. Chapters have topical programs and promote ATA projects.
In more than 70 years, ATA has had only seven executive directors (formerly called executive secretary). They have been a dedicated group who managed the many aspects of running the association. The present executive director is Jennifer Miller.
Topical Time, our award-winning journal, has also had just seven editors. Noted philatelist, author and editor, Wayne Youngblood, has edited the journal since 2009.
ATA has had 20 presidents since it was founded, and thousands of volunteers have taken on projects big and small in those years. It is impossible to name them, but they should feel a good deal of pride in what they have accomplished.
Through the years, ATA has published handbooks on specific topics, such as insects and watercraft, as well as general references on topical collecting. For many years, Adventures in Topical Stamp Collecting, by Jerome Husak and George Griffenhagen, was the authoritative reference for topical collectors.
In 2020, ATA published Topical Adventures – A Guide to Topical and Thematic Stamp Collecting, ATA handbook #168. It is a useful reference on the full spectrum of topical collecting, from selecting a topic, acquiring stamps and other items, storing and displaying a collection and much more. The chapter on exhibiting has extensive information on thematic, display and topical exhibiting and is richly illustrated with exhibit pages by accomplished exhibitors.
The ATA’s member services increased dramatically in 2014, when the checklist dATAbase of topical stamps became fully operational. From a previous option of 600 checklists, ATA members could choose from more than 1200. Member Karen Cartier of Texas took on the multi-year project of entering 350,000 topical stamps into a computer database. Since that time, the dATAbase continues to grow and improve. Today more than 1400 lists are available, and the dATAbase can be custom-searched for additional topics. The tremendous job of adding new listings, making corrections and additions and developing new lists is now handled by checklist coordinators Dominic Sgro and Beth Scully.
Moving Boldly to the Future
As topical collecting becomes more popular and continues to bring new collectors into philately, the ATA works to serve the needs of its members and to be an active participant in worldwide philately.
Fifty-nine popular topical subjects, each adapted from actual stamp designs of 20 countries, appeared in vivid multi-color on sheets of philatelic seals (shown here) produced by the American Topical Association in the mid-1970s.
The 5 × 8 inch sheet contains 40 seals each 1 inch square with 6-color ATA coat of arms (globe and lamp of knowledge) arranged in checkerboard pattern interspersed with seals picturing in 6 to 8 colors, 20 major topics and 39 subtopics: animals (horses), space (rocket, astronomy, communications); Americana (flag, statue of liberty); sports (soccer, Olympics); ships (sailing ship); art (painting, nude, da Vinci); medicine (reptile, symbol); flowers (rose); railways (steam locomotive); religion (Madonna and Child, Christmas); music (notation, composer, instrument); Scouts (symbol, jamboree encampment); marine life (fish, coral, sea shell); United Nations worldwide (bird-dove, UN emblem); insects (butterfly); stamps on stamps (Churchill, Mason, tools of philately: magnifying glass, tongs); maps (polar, antarctic); Europa (birds); geology (mineral) and aviation (Concorde, balloon, UPU).
The twenty countries whose stamp designs provided sources for seal designs are: Poland, New Zealand, Japan, Uruguay, Portugal, Denmark, United Nations, Australia, Bulgaria, Germany (West), Congo, Sweden, Korea, Israel, Cuba, Canada, Mexico, Great Britain, United States, France.