It might not be as popular a hobby as it once was, but a lot of people still collect stamps, today. From my own experience, those who enjoy this quiet but satisfying hobby are not apt to talk about it much, except when in the company of other stamp collectors.
What’s the attraction in collecting stamps?
For me, as an eight-year-old, it was a mixture of geography, color, novelty, order, and fun. It was also a chance to work on my collection along side my father who got me started and passed his duplicates along to me. He’s gone, but that’s something I still remember, today.
Stamp collecting is also a relaxing hobby that can soothe a troubling day. There is something almost therapeutic about sorting through a group of stamps, and it’s very pleasurable to find and place needed items into an album and to watch your collection grow.
At one time, stamp shops that sold stamps and philatelic supplies to collectors were everywhere. Even Macy’s and Gimbles had stamp departments. I can remember going into Woolworth’s, say in the 1950’s and 1960’s and purchasing packets of stamps, usually colorful and exotic stamps, for my collection.
My grandparents even took to saving stamps for me, and my grandmother who worked at an office building downtown, faithfully brought back the stamps she salvaged from incoming mail for many years. There were also magazines that advertised pen pals, and I exchanged letters and stamps with a boy in Korea who was about my age and also a stamp collector. And mail order stamp companies selling “stamps on approval” advertised everywhere from match books to comic books. And once you passed the beginner stage, joining a stamp exchange was a way to trade your duplicates with other members, using the mail.
Today, with email, low long distance rates, and metered postage being used instead of stamps, even recent U.S. commemorative stamps are hard to find unless you buy them mint, as they are issued, at the post office.
Publishers like White Ace still offer album pages for U.S. commemoratives stamps, if collecting stamps bought at the post office appeals to you. But doing this may not be as relaxing or satisfying as putting together an old fashioned international collection in a world-wide album.
If you’re new to the hobby, beginning with a general world-wide collection can be a good way to go. Not only will it give you an overview of the hobby, you might find that you have a special interest in stamps from a country or two, or from a certain part of the world, or from a certain point in time, or even stamps that feature specific subject matter. The latter are called topicals, and are widely collected.
There may not be as many stamps on the mail as there once were, but that doesn’t mean that collectible stamps aren’t out there. It just means having to find them — or finding sources for them.
Unless you carried on a wide-ranging foreign correspondence, collecting stamps from the mail never was much fun, anyway. In fact there are more stamps out there today than there ever were. The growth in quantity is cumulative. Not only are more stamps issued throughout the world, but once in the hands of collectors, stamps are seldom lost, except possibly in a flood or fire.
Over time, most stamps will resurface somewhere because most people who come across an old stamp collection left behind by a loved-one tend to think it might be worth something, no matter how poor or basic it is, and will not throw it away but look for a way to dispose of it if only by giving it to a thrift shop.
Today, a lot of stamps that were collected during what might have been stamp collecting’s high point, say just before WWII through Vietnam, continue to fill the market with older and interesting material. Much of it is available through auctions as well as through dealers who advertise in the philatelic press or offer their holdings online. The Modern-Vue Stamp Store, for example, is a good place to look for “philatelic treasure” online. And if you check your phone book, you may still find a stamp shop or stamp dealer in your area.
Where you take your collection will depend on where you want to go with your hobby. For those with the interest and the means, or with investment in mind, the more valuable stamps can be found in printed catalogs from philatelic auction houses, but the more plentiful and less expensive items can be a lot of fun, too, especially if you have an album in which to place them.