1952 a twenty-one year old philatelist and stamp dealer from Stratford,
Connecticut named William Wonneberger published a series on Vatican philately in
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
in Barcelona, Spain.
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.
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