VPS History

William Wonneberger, c. 1954.  Click to enlarge.In 1952 a twenty-one year old philatelist and stamp dealer from Stratford, Connecticut named William Wonneberger published a series on Vatican philately in Linn's Stamp News.  In response he received numerous letters suggesting that he start a society for Vatican collectors, whose ranks had swelled in the years after World War II.  In May 1953, Wonneberger and some of his correspondents founded the Vatican Philatelic Society.  Wonneberger served as the Society's first president from 1953 to 1962.

The next month, Vatican Notes, the official journal of the society, was published for the first time.  Initially mimeographed and published monthly, in 1955 it began to be published bimonthly in a larger, fully illustrated format.  In 1960, VN won a bronze medal at the International Philatelic Congress and Exhibition in Barcelona, Spain.

His Eminence Francis Cardinal Spellman touring his philatelic museum c. 1966.  Click to enlarge.The VPS experienced rapid growth in these first few years.  From 99 charter members in 1953, membership reached 200 in 1954, and a membership chairman was needed to manage the growing numbers of applications.  By 1958, members lived in most of the 48 states as well as in the District of Columbia, Alaska and Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Canada, England, and in Vatican City itself.  His Eminence Francis, Cardinal Spellman,  the longtime Archbishop of New York and founder of the Cardinal Spellman Philatelic Museum, was a member until his death in 1967.

Also during these early years, VPS members distinguished themselves as philatelic exhibitors and scholars.  They helped to arrange the 1954 Marian Year Philatelic Exhibition at the National Philatelic Museum and contributed articles to a major reference book edited by Ernest Kehr for the exhibition.  They worked closely with Linn's Stamp News in order to provide information on new Vatican issues and with the Washington Press to insure the regular publication of supplements for its White Ace Vatican album.  VPS members served as assistant editors for the Vatican and Roman States sections of the Minkus Stamp Catalog; compiled a specialized catalog of the stamps of the pontificate of Pius XI; and wrote a complete guide for distinguishing genuine Roman States stamps from forgeries and reprints.  They determined the actual first days of issue for various World War II-era issues, and discovered perforation varieties of the 1946 'Council of Trent' series as well as various printings of the 1953 "Popes of St. Peter's Basilica' series.

The Society also began to provide a number of services specifically for members.  The Roman States division was created to assist members in collecting these forerunners of Vatican stamps; Louis Klein, a noted collector and expert in the field, served as the first Roman States chairman.  The translation service and slide program also began in the 1950s.  The auction department was organized in 1975 and continues today.

VPS Convention Cover, BALPEX '97.  Click to enlarge.In 1983, the Society celebrated its 30th anniversary and became affiliate #129 of the American Philatelic Society.  President Louis Padavan convened the first VPS Convention at Philatelic Show '83 at Boston on October 21-23; a convention cachet featuring the domes of St. Peter's Basilica and the Massachusetts Statehouse commemorated the event.  Over 50 frames of Vatican and Roman States stamps were exhibited and the convention was addressed by the noted philatelic writer Ernest A. Kehr.  Subsequent conventions were held at VAPEX 1987; NOPEX 1993; and BALPEX 1997.

When Louis Padavan resigned in 1992, his successor, Frederick Levitsky, noted that except for Wonneberger, Padavan "did more for our society than any other president."  Padavan had led the Society through its most dynamic and active period since the 1950s.

The VPS's first fifty years have been a time of numerous achievements.  Vatican Notes, other publications by VPS members, and the slide program have provided extensive information on numerous aspects of Roman States and Vatican City stamps and covers, including perforation and color varieties, background on stamp subjects, and new issues.  Through the society's auction, members can dispose of duplicate material while adding to their own collections.  The award winning exhibits of members such as Frederick Levitsky, Fr. Edward Mullowney, S.S.J., Greg Pirozzi, and William Wickert have helped greatly to promote our hobby.  The recent enrollment of VPS member #3845 demonstrates a continued interest in Vatican and Roman States philately and indicates a bright future for the society in its second half century of existence.


Adapted from A History of the Vatican Philatelic Society, 1953-2003 written by Thomas I. Crimando for the commemorative booklet distributed at the 50th Anniversary Convention, BALPEX 2003.