The Astronomy Study Unit Celebrates 50 Years of Astrophilately
The following is a condensed version of the article, “The Astronomy Study Unity of the American Topical Association Celebrates 50 Years!” by Gene R. Major and Leonard Zehr that appeared in the March/April 2022 issue of Topical Time (pp 68-71).
“Astronomical scenes on the postage stamps of many nations give us a fascinating way to view the universe.” – George G. Young, “A Universe of Stamps - I,” Sky and Telescope, 54, November 1977.
In June 2022, the Astronomy Study Unit (ASU) celebrates its 50th anniversary. The ASU was chartered in June 1972 by the American Topical Association (ATA) for “the study and collection of philatelic materials portraying the various aspects of astronomy, astrology and related subjects, and the communication of this knowledge to Unit members and other interested persons” [Astronomy and Philately, ATA Handbook No. 90, 1977, p. 75].
The ASU took on two major projects shortly after formation. In 1975, an ASU project, a 48-page book
“Worldwide Copernicus Cancellations” was compiled and produced. Now out of print, the book had
more than 250 different special cancellations honoring astronomer Nicholas Copernicus (1473-1573).
In a 2-year project, the ASU compiled the ATA Handbook #90 “Astronomy and Philately,” a massive checklist of astronomical-themed stamps (with Scott and other catalog numbers) issued through mid-1976. The editor, Ann Shoemake remarked that “[t]he goal of its authors has been to include all astronomy stamps that are specifically related to the subject plus an introduction to the various by-ways that may be explored.” The Handbook consisted of checklists of astronomical stamps by country and sub-topic, including astronomically-themed postal stationery and cancellations.
Although the Handbook is out of print, an astrophilately checklist has been maintained and updated by the ASU and is available to ASU members; it currently consists of more than 5,900 entries arranged alphabetically by country and by year of issue.
The ASU achieved recognition in the astronomy world in 1977-78 when ATA/ASU member and treasurer George G. Young wrote a series of articles for the popular amateur and professional astronomy magazine Sky & Telescope, called “A Universe of Stamps.” The first article in the series was even featured on the front cover of the magazine! There were five parts to the series with full color illustrations of astronomy-themed stamps from around the world.
The ASU’s quarterly newsletter, Astrofax, is the cornerstone of ASU communications with its members. The very first issue was delivered in July 1972 (Volume 1, Number 1). Prior to 2015, Astrofax was a print-only newsletter. It went digital in 2015, with a new logo and an updated look, which we have today.
In 2016, the ASU created a website to communicate with members and attract new members: https://www.astronomystudyunit.net/.
As the ASU hits the half-century mark in 2022, we have an exciting digital newsletter, an active website https://www.astronomystudyunit.net/, and a new ASU Facebook Group page https://www.facebook.com/groups/astronomystudyunit/, which has attracted astronomy stamp enthusiasts from around the world.