The United States Specialist – January 2013
The Walter W. Hopkinson
The Inside Story
By Larry S. Weiss
USSS #8558, 133 S. Washington St., Naperville, IL 60540
One of the most prestigious awards of the USSS is the Walter W. Hopkinson Memorial Award, an annual award for the best article or series of articles in The United States Specialist. The award is often referred to casually as the Hopkinson Literature Award. The criteria for the award, “the best,” are summarized in a couple of deceptively simple words that leave a
bit of a mystery as to how that is determined. This article presents details of the process of deciding the winner of the annual award, an elaboration of how the “best” criteria are applied, a brief history of the award and some recent changes in the eligibility requirements for the award.
Other than annual announcements of the winner, the last discussion of the subject award appeared in this journal for February, 1968, in a short article by George W. Brett.1 Brett, for those of you new to the USSS, was one of the greatest philatelic researchers, an authority on stamp production, a prolific author with more than 500 articles to his credit and, among his many awards, the first three-time winner of the Hopkinson Literature Award. His contributions to philatelic research were recently honored in conjunction with our last Annual Meeting.
Figure 1. The Hopkinson Award Plaque for the 2011 winner, Kevin G. Lowther.
I had the benefit of discussing the award with Brett on several occasions before his passing in 2005 and, as a multiple winner, I have served on many committees deciding the award, including a few with Brett as member or committee chairman. Thus, I have the benefit of philosophies Brett shared with me and many examples of recent practices used in deciding the award. According to the USSS website:
The Walter W. Hopkinson Memorial Award was established in 1953 in honor of Walter W. Hopkinson, by his wife, Mrs. Constance B. Hopkinson. The award is given annually to the author of the best article or series of articles published in The United States Specialist, the monthly journal of the United States Stamp Society. The award honors Hopkinson’s interest in philatelic scholarship and the dissemination of research and knowledge through the Society’s publications. Hopkinson was a plate number specialist as well as a vigorous supporter and long time member of the Bureau Issues Association, as the Society was then known. The first award was given in 1954, and it has been presented annually thereafter. The award
consists of an engraved plaque with the Society’s seal [Figure 1], and an honorarium.
The website then provides a list of the annual winning members and the titles of their articles or series. This statement is about all that exists –– no details of the process of deciding a winner is given and there is no elaboration of the criteria for the award other than “the best article or series of articles published in the . . . Specialist.” A number of practices have evolved in deciding the award and these are not fixed by anything more than tradition and the desire to adhere to the
spirit in which the award was established. The traditions that have built up over the years in coming to decide the annual award winner and my personal comment on the details of the award criteria follow.
The Overall Process
The award consideration process formally begins each year with the action of the USSS President. Near the end of the year or early in the new year, the past three years winners of the award are asked by the President to serve as a committee to decide the award winner. Should a former winner be unavailable, an earlier winner is substituted so that there is a committee
of at least three. The past three winners, of course, know they will be called upon to serve and usually have already been reading all articles in The Specialist from the past year as they appear. The most recent winner often is advised
during the year of details of the process to prepare for the role as a selection committee member.
Barring unusual circumstances, the earliest winner is asked to serve as the chairman of the committee. The chairman leads the committee in coming to an award selection. The committee is usually asked to reach a decision so that a notice about the award can be published in the March or April issue of The Specialist. That places the target for a selection by mid-February.
Earlier decisions are always welcomed.
The selection committee chairman identifies the winner, if any, to the President who in turn notifies the winner. The President also has the Awards Chairman prepare the engraved plaque and the Treasurer the honorarium. An announcement of the award, generally one page in length, is prepared by the chairman for publication in The Specialist. It is reviewed by the
selection committee members and sent to the President for a final review and submission to The Specialist Editor for publication. The President may also prepare or have prepared a publicity release for other publications.
The award, if decided in time, is presented at the USSS Annual Meeting, which is often held in May. The winner receives the plaque and an honorarium in person if able to attend. If the winner is unable to attend, often a “thank you” statement is sent for reading at the meeting and the plaque and honorarium are delivered by mail. One more tradition: many winners have donated the honorarium accompanying the award back to the general funds of the Society. I personally have deviated from this tradition, once rewarding my wife for her extreme tolerance of my writing activities and the effect it had on “family time” and on another occasion to fund research in progress that I otherwise would not have been able to support. Following this tradition is of course at the discretion of the winner.
The award is not given routinely; if no article is judged to be of sufficient caliber to merit the award, no award may be given that year. The award is given only to members of the USSS. It may be won more than once by a member. Employees of the USSS have not been eligible, thereby removing from consideration the Editor of The Specialist and the USSS Treasurer and
Executive Secretary. Committee members are also not to vote for their own articles. Neither of these restrictions is specified for the award, but both are followed by tradition. Brett explained to me that since the intent of the award was to encourage authorship of significant, quality articles for The Specialist, the competition from a professional such as the Editor was not
appropriate, and former winners, already proven researchers and authors, were to be excluded for three years to give others a better chance of winning. The next matter is to determine which “articles or series of articles are eligible for consideration. By tradition, an “article” is taken as a single or multi-part piece published in the past year. For multi-part articles, parts
published in previous years are considered with the parts published in the award year. Generally, the majority of the article should be published in the award year, but that is not a hard-and-fast rule and exceptions have occurred.
All the work of an author printed in the award year may be considered as a “series of articles” and are as a group to be eligible for the award. For example, in 1984, I won the award for various unrelated articles on Washington-Franklin head issues. Selection committee members may have been involved in the preparation or review of articles they judge. If they are not named as authors, there is no restriction on their selecting that article, and they must include all articles in their deliberations. The winner is the author or authors of that article or series of articles judged as “best.” More than one member may win the award in a year, as occurred for the first time in 2009 when Gerald Nylander and I received the award for an article we co-authored.
Determining the “Best”
There is no specified decision path for the committee and, in my opinion, there does not need to be any codified path nor strict criteria. The selection committee chairman sets the path to a decision, and a wide variety of systems have been used, all producing appropriate results. I have served on committees that listed all contenders and voted for each with a “1 to 10” rating system, giving the award to the article scoring highest in the combined total.Another past process had each committee member picking three authors, in order of first through third choice. First choice author receives 3 points, second choice gets 2, and third choice, 1 point. The author with the highest number of points receives the award; discussion is needed if there is no clear single winner.
Some chairmen have simply named their choice and asked for agreement. Other committees have simply declared a winner based on what was obviously the most worthy contender. A simple system is often used where each committee member names a potential winner, and if unanimous, it is a “done deal.” Otherwise discussion will ensue until a consensus is developed. I prefer this consensus building approach, with the two newer committee members starting the process by
naming their primary choice for the award and, if they feel so inclined, others that are strong contenders. Whatever system is used, the selection committee members are expected to read all eligible articles. This is best accomplished as the articles appear in the monthly issues of The Specialist. Inevitably, some re-reading of articles is necessary. Usually, committee members are ready to decide in late January and, with the speediness of email today, a decision is often reached rather
quickly. Before the internet, correspondence was by mail and the decision was often less timely.
Articles are first judged to determine if they rise to a level of worthiness to be contenders for the award. Happily, there always seem to be several that achieve the caliber of being the potential award winner. That group is often tagged as the “contenders.” The next criterion applied is simply to choose from that group of contenders the “best” article or series of articles. As noted, there is no further formal guidance as to how to choose the best, and this puts to the test the good
judgment of the committee and the informal guidance and traditions that exist. The factors in the “best” are generally agreed to include:
(1) Original research – development of new facts from examining data, not just finding information from previous literature. The new information should add in a substantial way to knowledge of the subject.
(2) A meaningful subject to U.S. specialists.
(3) A clear, comprehensive presentation – the information needs to be presented in an easily understood writing style with thoroughness. Illustrations should be relevant and of good quality.
(4) Comprehensive identification of past literature and proper citations so that future researchers will have a knowledge of what was known to the author.
While original research is most important, the others factors need to be considered as well. Note that the length of the article is not in itself a factor and the award can go to a single article just as well as a long series. Often lengthier presentations contain more research results and are more comprehensive, so they do in general fare better in the judging. The “best” article will generally be interesting reading, and be neither too short to treat the subject adequately nor be excessively lengthy due to filler material.
A Brief History of the Award
Walter W. Hopkinson was a member of the Philatelic Plate Number Association, the predecessor to the BIA. He formed one of the most extensive plate number collections and used it to share information with numerous other collectors, assembling data on plate numbers and studying plate varieties. He is credited with discovering “Blue Moon” and “Red Sun” varieties on the bicolored Beacon Air Mail issue of 1928, Scott C11. As a retired engineer, he traveled widely and was personally well known among collectors. He passed away at age 71 in 1953.2,3 His wife, Constance Braine Hopkinson, established the literature award in his honor and the first award was made in 1954 for articles published by a member in the 1953 issues of The Specialist. The award at the time was an honorarium of $100, an amount now increased to $500.
In 1955 she added an additional bequest for a trophy for the best exhibit of 20th Century United States stamps. The trophy was to be presented at certain important national or regional exhibitions. That award is known as the Walter W. Hopkinson Trophy, which is customarily a sterling silver tray. It is presented only if sufficient competition exists and only if exhibits are of sufficient caliber. The history of that award may be found on the USSS website. Constance passed away in 19604 and at that time a bequest was made to the BIA permitting creation of a trust with income sufficient to maintain these awards. The two awards she established remain prominent among those offered by the USSS. The literature award now has been presented for 59 years. Despite not being required to be awarded routinely every year, it has
been continuously awarded since its inception. This is unlike the Walter W. Hopkinson Trophy, which has not been awarded during many years. Since its establishment, the award has been presented to 47 individuals who have had their work honored, with nine of these being multiple winners and just four persons receiving the award three times or more.
The award serves the USSS well by continuing to encourage the presentation of quality articles in The Specialist, honoring those members who achieve that goal and preserving the memory of Walter W. Hopkinson.
At times it has been suggested that the award process and criteria be codified to provide future Selection Committee members firm guidance and perhaps achieve greater uniformity of awards. The 59-year history of the award has provided adequate examples of how to accomplish the selection.
The traditions forming the eligibility criteria for the award have been
inadequately documented, unevenly applied over the years, and contain unnecessary restrictions such as the ineligibility of the Executive Secretary and the Treasurer.
Recent USSS Board Action
With the intention of better defining the eligibility criteria and eliminating unnecessary restrictions, the current USSS Board recently unanimously approved the following criteria for the Hopkinson Literature.
(1) The Selection Committee for the Hopkinson Literature Award will be
composed of the winners of the past three awards. Should one or more of
the past three award winners be unavailable, the next most current available
winner(s) will fill the position.
(2) The author(s) must be a member(s) of the USSS at the time the article
or series of articles was published in The Specialist.
(3) An article is not eligible if its author or a co-author was editor of The
Specialist when the article was published.
(4) The members of the Selection Committee are not eligible.
(5) The article must have been published during the year being considered.
In the case of a series of articles, the series can extend back to the previous
(6) Any uncertainty as to the eligibility of articles, authors or the makeup
of the Selection Committee shall be resolved by the President.
(7) The winner(s) of the Hopkinson Literature Award will be determined
by the Selection Committee using whatever process they deem appropriate.
1. George W. Brett, “The BIA-Hopkinson Awards,” The United States
Specialist, Vol. 39, No. 2 (February, 1968), pp. 68-69.
2. G. William Patten, “Plate Number Check List Service,” The United States
Specialist, Vol. 24, No. 9 (September, 1953), p. 197.
3. Obituary – “Walter W. Hopkinson,” The United States Specialist, Vol. 24,
No. 9 (September, 1953), p. 198.
4. Obituary – “Constance Braine Hopkinson,” The United States Specialist,
Vol. 41, No. 5 (May, 1960), p. 116