November 13, 2012
Irwin Weinberg's name and story are well-known in international philatelic circles but in the Wyoming Valley, where he lives and works, he's just a face in the crowd.
And he likes it that way.
That will likely change Thursday as the first screening of the documentary, True Rarity: The Amazing Story of Irwin Weinberg, is shown at Wilkes University.
Weinberg, 84, a Kingston resident who has an office in the Citizens Bank Building on Public Square, has been featured in magazines and newspapers around the world after gaining fame for buying and later selling an 1856 British Guiana one-cent magenta stamp that many collectors consider to be the rarest stamp in the world.
In 1970, he purchased the stamp for $280,000 during a 90-second auction inside the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Manhattan. A decade later he sold the stamp to an heir of the DuPont family for $935,000. In between he traveled the world, often with a briefcase containing the stamp handcuffed to his wrist.
But after the rare stamp was sold, he slipped out of the limelight and went about quietly tending to his career as one of the world's top stamp sellers and buyers.
That is until he met Linda Winkler in 2010 and the stories and historical footnote that are Irwin Weinberg piqued her interest.
Winkler, dean of Wilkes' College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, first met Weinberg at his annual Labor Day picnic at Harveys Lake in 2010. She found the stamp-collecting tales interesting and the man himself even more so.
She pitched an idea to the Wyoming Valley History Project for a potential documentary film to add to the group's library.
The organization, founded by Wilkes professors Mark Stine and John Hepp, have produced documentaries on local history and have focused on subject matter including trolleys, trains, downtown Wilkes-Barre and department stores. Weinberg is the first individual to be the sole focus of a documentary done by the group.
While the stamp transaction might have been Weinberg's most memorable moment, Winkler said Weinberg has many stories to tell and allowing him to share them with others fulfills the mission of the Wyoming Valley History Project.
People don't know a lot about Irwin; that's what's so interesting, said Winkler, who has not seen the final documentary and won't until the public screening.
She said biographies fascinate her and she believes that everyone has a story to tell and by telling Weinberg's the region itself will be highlighted. You can't tell a story about an individual unless you talk about the community and those who shaped him, Winkler said.
The documentary does not focus solely on the rare stamp, but tells the story of how Weinberg, an entrepreneur, built a lucrative career dealing in stamps and other rare items.
That was the only reason Weinberg agreed to the project.
I had a big enough ego trip (in the 70s), Weinberg said. But he thought if he could convey a message to those watching the movie, especially those still in their formative years, that entrepreneurship works, it would be a worthwhile endeavor.
Entrepreneurship and perspiration can take you a long, long way, Weinberg said while standing inside his office on Monday. He said many young people today are faced with despair about a bleak future and he wanted to send the message that sometimes the best person to help you turn things around is yourself.
This movie is intended to encourage, said Weinberg, a 1945 graduate of Meyers High School.
Weinberg's is the only voice other than Stine's in the 40-minute film.
It's Irwin telling the story of Irwin, said Stine, who noted the movie exceeded my expectations.
When he first heard about Weinberg and his international acclaim and reputation, Stine was intrigued about how someone like that could be unknown locally.
That's part of the fascination. Here we have someone who's world renowned and ultimately many people right here in Wilkes-Barre have no idea that for the past 50 years or so he's been operating out of downtown Wilkes-Barre, Stine said. I was astounded he wasn't more of a household name in this area.
While the movie might change that slightly, the goal isn't to provide publicity for Weinberg.
It's Irwin's hope, and mine, that seeing a documentary that shows how Irwin pursued his lofty dreams will inspire others to follow their dreams, Stine said.
On June 16, 1995, then-U.S. Rep. Paul E. Kanjorski, spoke on the House floor to honor Irwin Weinberg, whom he called a friend.
Here is a brief excerpt from his speech that was entered into the Congressional Record:
To deal in stamps is to traffic in history. Each stamp is a distillation of a single, significant moment, a freezing of time to mark it for mankind. Irwin Weinberg has collected stamps since he was 12 years old. … In this business he is respected throughout the world. Not unlike the delicate stamps themselves, Irwin Weinberg has maintained the integrity of the moment.
The documentary will be shown Thursday at 7 p.m. in the ballroom of the Henry Student Center on the campus of Wilkes University. The screening is free and open to the public.