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Published January 14 2003

Bob Lind column: Neighbors: 1898 stamp featured regional farmer -- kind of

Some of you remember when letter postage was 3 cents.

But if you remember when a letter postage was 2 cents, you've been around for a really long time.

The 2-cent stamp was widely used and circulated in 1898. One of those stamps issued that year featured a farm scene from Cass County, N.D.

Information on this comes from Louise Bakken, Fargo, who has the stamp.

It is one of America's best-known stamps. It was one of nine stamps in the 1898 Trans-Mississippi Exposition series which honored early Western explorers and settlers.

The stamp is based on a photograph of a farm in Cass County, but it doesn't say exactly where.

It shows the driver of a team of horses, Evan Nybakken, raising his hand to grab his hat to keep it from blowing off, so his face was blocked just as the picture was taken.

The engraver of the stamp copied the photo faithfully, so Evan lost his chance for fame by having his picture on a stamp.

Neighbors has learned that Evan was related to the late Odvar Nybakken, but Odvar's wife Esther, of Fargo, is unsure how.

The farming scene originally was intended to be on the $2 stamp with a picture of a Mississippi River bridge on the 2-cent. But the Congressional Postal Committee swapped the designs, so the farm scene from Cass County wound up on the popular 2-cent.

Today that 2-cent stamp sells for $2 if it has been used, $25 if it is unused.

Louise has several thousand stamps in her collection -- the "inexpensive used ones," she says. "I don't like to invest a lot of money into the hobby because when you sell your collection, you only get about 60 percent of what you have invested in it."

She puts a notice on the bulletin boards in her apartment complex asking people to save their stamps for her. "Many nice people have taken the time and effort to save interesting stamps for me," she says.

She'd like to get her grandchildren interested in the hobby, but to no avail. That's OK; Louise will go on collecting stamps because she finds it "very educational and relaxing."

But her story about the 1898 stamp raises a question: Why, if the letter postage was only 2 cents in those days, would anybody need a $2 stamp? What would you be mailing, the whole team of horses?

N.D. pair is champs

North Dakota is the home of two champions.

Well, actually, North Dakota is the home of many champions. But the two the focus is on today are Rick Ekstrum, Crystal, and Linda Webb, Fargo. They are the reigning national mixed pairs bridge champs.

Word on them comes from Roberta Lana, Fargo, who forwards an article from the Minneapolis Star Tribune about bridge players. It includes a mention of Rick and Linda, who won the championship last year in Houston.

The article says little about Linda and Neighbors couldn't track her down.

But Rick, 58, told the Star Tribune that he has played bridge for 25 years. His parents played it, too, but not his children, who are in their 30s, and he thinks that's too bad.

"Years ago," Rick said, "kids would play bridge in college and become so hooked they'd never graduate. Now with the Internet and video games, people want instant gratification. Where does that leave bridge, a game that takes time to learn?"

Be that as it may, congratulations to Rick and Linda for bringing the national championship home to North Dakota.

It's pretty hard to trump that.

If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors, The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107; fax it to (701) 241-5487; or e-mail rlind@forumcomm.com