Little pieces of history are on display in Richland. They are really little pieces -- thumbnail-sized rectangles of paper.
The postage stamps and the envelopes they are attached to offer surprising glimpses into foreign countries -- did you know there are Boy Scouts in Libya? -- and they tell the story of the Tri-Cities.
And that is why many collectors like the stamps -- for the stories they keep alive. But the miniature illustrations and the men and women who collect them are becoming ever rarer, as habits change and old mail is shredded rather than passed on.
But for now, the tradition is alive and well, as evidenced by the stacks of philatelic delights gathered in Richland this weekend.
The Tri-Cities Stamp Club is holding its annual show at the Knights of Columbus Hall at 2500 Chester Road in Richland. The show continues today from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
As it does every year, the club successfully lobbied the U.S. Postal Service to create a special cancellation stamp for the event. A cancellation stamp is the ink mark pressed over a postage stamp to show that it has been sent and can't be used again.
Usually that postmark shows the date and the name of the post office from which the letter was sent. But the cancellation stamp available at the stamp show goes beyond that simple task.
The ink mark celebrates the fact that 100 years ago, the Navy, Marines and Coast Guard started using airplanes. It also shows an image of the Pasco Naval Air Station control tower.
Port of Pasco officials are debating whether to tear down that aging structure.
The ink stamp was specially made special for the show. It will be used at the show this weekend, then stored at the Pasco post office for 30 days. After that, it is destroyed, said Lawrence Clay, the organizer of the show.
Clay has an album of envelopes chronicling Tri-City history. There are letters postmarked at Hover and Horse Heaven post offices, both of which are long gone.
And there are show envelopes going back to 1978, the first year of the stamp show. Each of the show envelopes carries a postmark designed special for that year.
There are ink marks depicting the Kennewick Man's skull, the 50th anniversary of Hanford, the first hydroplane race and the Washington centennial, to name a few.
These aren't just decorations -- they are official government stamps, which require an application to the regional postmaster in Seattle.
The application goes through a local postmaster. And that could get tougher if the postal service goes through with a proposal to close the Pasco sorting facility.
Right now, the stamp club has a good relationship with the postmaster there, Clay said. They need the local official to route their application to the regional post master.
"Not all postmasters are happy to do it," Clay said. "We have worked with the people in Pasco for a long time."
While they have had to think hard some years to come up with a theme for the postmark, next year's design already is in the bag -- the 100th anniversary of the girl scouts.
It's a theme close to Clay's heart. He got into stamp collecting when he was a Scoutmaster in his twenties. Clay turned 77 yesterday.
While looking for stamps for his Boy Scouts' collections, Clay noticed that there are postage stamps depicting scouts. He was hooked.
He eventually became the president of the Scouts On Stamps Society International, which has 800 members worldwide. He retired from the office, but still collects and sells Scout-themed stamps.
Several developments may limit the stamp collectors of the future, Clay said.
For one, people send fewer personal letters, resorting to email instead. But perhaps more importantly, fewer people use the mail to interact with businesses, to order goods or pay their bills, for example.
In the past, stamp dealers asked mail-order businesses to give them their old envelopes, especially those sent from exotic locales. But concerns about identity theft and decreased mail orders have cut into that market.
Then there is the problem of reaching the next generation.
"There aren't too many young people in the stamp club," Clay said. "We're fighting a lot of other activities. Sitting down with something as quiet as stamps doesn't get a lot of people's attention."
But perhaps there is a way to get young folks interested after all:
Young kids who come to the stamp show with their grandparents often rush toward the table manned by Jeanette Benders, a postal worker who is usually at the Pasco office.
She runs a temporary post office at the stamp show. People can buy tomorrow's collectibles from her -- the special stamps put out by the postal service.
"Kids come running up and say, 'Oh, cool -- stickers,' " Benders said.