by: Richard Stambaugh

At 95 years old, Bob Rice, Figure 1, is the oldest member of the Meter Stamp Society. He is also the next-longest-serving current member having joined fifty-three years ago in 1971 preceded only by Alan Draves who joined MSS in 1968.

Figure 1
Figure 1. Bob Rice at his desk.

Bob is also the only person in the world who won both a Grand Award and a Best in Show Award at a major stamp show in the United States with an exhibit of meter stamps. The exhibit was “The Experimental Postage Due Meter Dies (1941-1954)” and the show was NAPEX, 2009, Figure 2.

Figure 2
Figure 2. Bob with his Grand Award winning exhibit of postage due postage meter stamps.

This excellent exhibit is just one of several amazing exhibits Bob has built in his years as a stamp collector. My favorite, one that is unbeatable in historic significance to the hobby, is “The Man From Chicago With the Big Idea” (Figure 3). This exhibit focuses on Arthur Pitney who was inventing and building experimental postage meters long before he met Walter Bowes in 1919. From 1901 to 1921 Pitney produced several meter prototypes which were trialed by the U.S. Post Office at various times during those years. (To see these stamps go to the United States Postage Meter Catalog, online at . Look at Types AB1 and AB2 and essay Types ESY-AB1.1 through ESY-AC3.6.

Figure 3
Figure 3. First page of Bob’s Arthur Pitney exhibit.

How did Bob acquire such a vast and important collection? Part of the answer is that he worked for Pitney Bowes for forty-five years, from 1950 to 1995, the first forty full time, and the final five part time as a serviceman in White Plains, NY. He made lots of friends in the company, and they were aware that Bob was a collector. They would give him stamps and proofs from the machines they accessed in their work. Among them were experimental and test machine stamps, early versions of various meter models including the Mailomats. His Postage Due stamps were acquired over many of those years of collecting.

The extraordinary early material — the stamps in the Arthur Pitney exhibit — did not come from his association with Pitney Bowes.

The company did not exist when the Pitney experiments were active. So, where did those stamps come from?

Bob was a member of several stamp clubs and made connections with like-minded collectors. He became friends with Herman “Pat” Herst Jr. Many of us will remember Pat Herst. He was a major philatelic figure in the 20th century, both as an author and as a stamp dealer. Among his books are Nassau Street, Fun and Profit in Stamp Collecting, Stories to Collect Stamps By, and The Complete Philatelist. For forty years, from 1933 to 1973, Herst ran a retail stamp business and conducted stamp auctions, first on Nassau Street in New York City and later in Shrub Oak, New York. Bob worked part time for Pat Herst for seventeen of those years. Through the stamp clubs and his work with Pat Herst Bob met many serious collectors who through trades and purchases helped him build his collection.

It was several years after his time with Pat Herst that Bob made his greatest find. He was put in touch with the great-great-grandson of Eugene A. Rummler who was Arthur Pitney’s patent attorney and business partner during the important years 1901 to 1920. Well aware of the value of his ancestor’s archives the man was looking for an appropriate home for them. He approached various museums and archives but none appeared to grasp the historic significance of the papers. Eventually his search lead him to Bob who fully well understood their importance. Much of that material is now saved for posterity in Bob’s Arthur Pitney exhibit.

The seed was planted early for Bob. He was born in February 1929, in Ferndale, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. He started collecting stamps at age eleven. He remembers as a youngster walking past the Pitney Bowes office in Detroit and gazing at the big red Model H mailing machine displayed in the window, an image that remains with him to this day.

During the Korean War Bob, served in the Army for six years. For most of those years he was stationed in Washington, DC. In 1954, 25 year old Bob left the Army and found an office job with a small company. Getting nowhere with the company he searched for something better, saw an ad for a job with Pitney Bowes, applied, and was hired. Later, as part of his Pitney Bowes duties, he went back to his former employer and repossessed their PB postage meter when the company went out of business.

Outside the realm of stamp collecting Bob and his wife Ardis have been married for sixty-six years and have raised five children. More recently there was an event in Bob’s life that would be a shock to any of us. At age 79, after applying for a passport for a vacation in Italy, he learned that he had been adopted and that his name did not match the one printed on his legal birth certificate (which he had never seen before). His Census Bureau contact told him that he was the oldest person to whom they had ever imparted that news. Some years later when genetic ancestry web sites became available, he discovered that his birth parents were Scottish and that he had two living aunts in Scotland. He and Ardis made the trip, met the two aunts and five half-siblings. They also learned that he had nearly sixty other close relatives in the U.S.

Bob has lived an interesting and at times an exciting life. Postage meters, meter stamps and the Meter Stamp Society have all played a major role in it. The reverse is also true. Bob has been a major player in meter stamp exhibiting and a leading light in the Meter Stamp Society.