The Ron Robinson Collection: Philatelic Adventures
Most people involved with the Central Arkansas Library System (CALS) recognize the name Ron Robinson. Not only is the CALS Ron Robinson Theater located in Library Square named for Robinson, but he was also active in many library activities. He was on the board of directors of Friends of CALS for three terms and offered pro bono consulting to the library system. He also made many contributions to the library’s collections. Original posters advertising movies with an Arkansas connection, collected and donated by Robinson, have been displayed around the system for several years.
The Butler Center for Arkansas Studies at the CALS Roberts Library recently opened a “collection of collections” consisting of many other Arkansas-related materials Robinson amassed over the years; the finding aid is here. These materials include sheet music and recordings of songs about Arkansas, postcards of Arkansas scenes, restaurant menus, matchbook covers, and philatelic materials (that is, materials related to the mail service—not only stamps, but also interesting and unusual postmarks, unique addresses or return addresses on pieces of mail, and artwork on mailed items, described by collectors as “cachets”). Because of his contributions to the philatelic community, the Forest Park Station of the United States Postal Service, located on Kavanaugh Avenue in Little Rock, was renamed in 2022 for Robinson.
Professionally, Ron Robinson was a partner of CJRW, the largest advertising firm in the state of Arkansas. (The letter R in the firm’s name reflects Robinson’s partnership in the business.) After serving as an intern in the firm while a student at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, Robinson joined the firm full-time in 1970 and remained part of the company until his retirement in 1996. Because of his employment in the advertising world, Robinson was able to collect items representing the array of modern communication methods. Musical recordings in the Ron Robinson collection range from wax cylinders through shellac records played at 78 or 80 rpm (rotations per minute), vinyl records played at 33 or 45 rpm, and compact discs (CDs) read by lasers. Likewise, audio/video recordings in the collection include 35mm film, magnetic tapes (both VHS and Beta), and DVDs.
Robinson’s interest in philatelic collecting led to his membership and leadership in the Pinnacle Stamp Club of Little Rock, as well as his appointment in 1993 to the United States Postal Service Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee. On that committee, Robinson helped to oversee the design, production, and distribution of many collectible postal stamps. Among Robinson’s donated materials at the Butler Center are copious examples of earlier stamps of interest to collectors, often accompanied by cachets produced by assorted artists and companies. For example, Robinson collected many samples of the Arkansas Centennial stamp from 1936 and the Arkansas Statehood stamp from the Sesquicentennial celebration of 1986. Other items in the collection include the Arkansas State Flag stamp, part of a series of fifty state flag stamps marking the United States’ Bicentennial in 1976, and the Arkansas mockingbird and apple blossom stamp, part of a series of fifty state bird and flower stamps produced in 1978.
Many collectible postal items gain value from the name of the community. Collectors of Arkansas materials like to save mail sent from Turkey (Marion County) from the period around Thanksgiving and including a holiday-appropriate cachet. Or they save mail sent from Flag (Stone County) with a postmark of June 14 (Flag Day) and a cachet depicting the American flag. Mail from Romance (White County) is popular on Valentine’s Day, although no event generated more mail through Romance than the release of the Love stamp on January 18, 1990. Dozens of artists created cachets to accompany that stamp on its first day, and they all had their contributions mailed from Romance. (More on the Romance Post Office here.) The four stamps in the American Tree series, released October 9, 1978, also inspired many cachet artists, whose work was postmarked from Hot Springs National Park in Garland County on that date.
Robinson also gathered many other special postal items into his collection. He had many pieces of mail from military stations. Some were from Camp Chaffee in Fort Smith and from Camp Pike/Camp Robinson in North Little Rock; many more came from ships at sea, including the battleship USS Arkansas—whose run of service from 1911 through 1946 can nearly be reproduced through the postmarks preserved in the collection—to the Guided Missile Cruiser USS Little Rock (CL-92) and the submarine USS Razorback (SS-394). Many samples from cachet artist Roger Wentworth, serving on the USS Arkansas (CGN-41) during its days as a nuclear-propelled guided-missile cruiser, are also included in the collection.
Highlights in postal history pepper the philatelic portion of the Ron Robinson collection. Railway Post Offices operated on many trains passing through Arkansas, and their RPO postmarks are preserved. Highway Post Offices, operated from buses, also appear with HPO postmarks. The advent of airmail service and of jet airmail service were also noted with special mailings.
The opening of a new post office, or a new post office branch, generated special mailings, as did the closing of post offices that had been decommissioned. Collectors sent self-addressed, stamped envelopes to post offices prior to their closing, often seeking signatures of the postmasters along with postmarks from the last day of service. One postmaster, Lakita Atchison of Herpel (Stone County) included a note with the collector’s envelope, identifying herself as a widow with five children and adding, of the closing, “sure hurts.”
Another postmaster offered a more subtle rebellion against the closing; postmaster Opal McDaniel sent out the last day’s mail from Lauratown (Lawrence County) dated April 31, 1954.
By Steve Teske, archivist at the CALS Butler Center for Arkansas Studies/Roberts Library