Admit it. You’re secretly intrigued by the idea of collecting stamps, aren’t you? It’s at least crossed your mind. Otherwise you wouldn’t have just clicked that headline.
It’s OK, relax, I won’t tell anyone. But I can see that something’s holding you back. Maybe it’s our image problem. Maybe you have questions and you don’t know who to ask. Maybe you just haven’t got around to it.
It’s definitely our image problem.
Well, you need to know that stamp collecting (also known as philately) is currently enjoying a boom among returning collectors and newbies. Even – wait for it – young people. So if you need a nudge, now is a great time to jump in. I’m here to reassure you that there are things they didn’t tell you about stamp collecting.
Who are ‘they’? ‘They’ are the people who gave you the impression that you can’t, or wouldn’t want to, be a stamp collector. ‘They’ are the people responsible for the image that just popped into your head when I said ‘stamp collector’.
To help you out, here are the answers to some questions that I’ve either actually been asked, or that I imagine you asking your screen right now.
Can I collect stamps? Am I allowed?
Yes. You don’t need anyone’s permission, and you don’t need to apply for membership. Philately involves people of every culture, religion, age, gender, sexuality and walk of life. It might look daunting from the outside, but we’ll be here to help.
Don’t I have to be rich?
No. The rich guys make headlines, but you can enjoy yourself without spending much money at all.
But I’ll be a nerd!
It’s true that philately calls for some use of the grey matter. But does that make you a nerd? You might have an appreciation for graphic design, a talent for craftwork, or an interest in historical artifacts. You might have a canny eye for a bargain, or maybe you’re a bounty hunter who enjoys the satisfaction of drawing up a hit-list and ticking it off. Tennis champions, chart-topping pop stars: you’d be surprised who we count as one of us. At this time in history, idiots are running the show and expertise is derided. If you have a brain, the most revolutionary thing you can do is use it.
But do I have to go to nerd meetings?
Not necessarily. You can choose to keep totally to yourself. But you have the option to enjoy the hobby in the company of local collectors (some of whom, I’ll admit, may be nerds), or get involved with the burgeoning online philatelic community. In other words, jump on Twitter and Instagram with the other cool kids!
Aren’t stamp collectors all old men?
I’m guilty of making jokes along these very lines, because what we call ‘traditional philately’ tends to skew old and male. But there have always been female collectors among us, and these days, younger people are being drawn to the hobby, especially in its online form. Dealers are reporting that many of those newer, younger collectors are female. We’re not as Old Man as we used to be. (And for the record, the vast majority of the old men are really quite nice.)
Are there rules?
Rule number 1: learn to store your collection correctly so that it does not get damaged.
Rule number 2: there are no further rules.
So do you try to collect every stamp in the world?
Not at all! It wouldn’t be possible. You decide the scope of your collection. Collect whatever you want. You can collect by country, era, topic, shape, color, or have no parameters at all and just choose stamps that you like. You can even forget the stamps and get into postcards, envelopes, historical letters… sorry, you’re still nervous. I got a bit excited there.
I’m not really into all those old queens and presidents.
That’s fine. Stamps have long depicted sport, art, animals, flowers, trains, planes, celebrities and political propaganda. These days you can find rock legends, fashion designers, comics, street art, and movie posters. Find your thing and go nuts.
Should I soak stamps off the mail when they arrive?
You can, but how often do you get letters these days? You’ll need other sources. And before you start soaking, be aware that a growing trend in the hobby is to keep stamps on their envelopes. (We call them covers.) Anyway, modern adhesives can make soaking almost impossible. But don’t let me stop you. Like I said: no further rules.
What are these other sources?
Stamp dealers, online auction sites, friends, workplaces, local stamp shows or stamp clubs (once COVID-19 has passed, of course). Real-world auctions when you’re ready to level up.
What stamps should I buy as an investment?
Ha! If it was that easy, we’d all be rich. Philately has trends; the flavor of the month today might be in the bargain bin tomorrow. Treat with extreme suspicion anyone selling you stamps as a guaranteed investment – especially when you’re new to the game.
Investing in stamps assumes that when you come to sell, there will be buyers prepared to pay more than what you did. Scarce material that’s in excellent condition – ie the stuff that’s already expensive – generally holds its value. Buying direct from the post office is a great way to collect material in perfect condition, but recent history suggests you probably won’t get all your money back. You can try to identify underappreciated material and grab it while it’s cheap, hoping the market catches up to you. Or jump in on a developing country, because demand tends to increase as middle class income improves. But whatever your approach: cool your jets. You wouldn’t make any other investment without taking time to do some research. Investing in stamps is no different.
Oh, and here’s a rule of thumb: when you spot something on Ebay described as “RARE!!!!”, I guarantee you it’s not.
I have an old stamp collection. Am I rich?
Funny you should ask, I wrote a whole piece about it! Short answer: probably not, but it’s a great way to start collecting. Welcome aboard.
You are a very convincing blogger and I’m in! Where do I begin?
Aw shucks, thanks. In practical terms: buy a stamp album and a big bunch of random world stamps (a search for ‘kiloware’ might help), and start sorting them any way you like. This might help you figure out the direction in which you’d like to head.
In educational terms: I won’t do Google’s work for you, but there are lots of sites out there designed as introductions to stamp collecting, including those from the American Philatelic Society, Australia Post, and UK stamp catalogue publisher Stanley Gibbons. Browse through stamp chat boards like Reddit’s Philately page, Stamp Community, Stampboards or any number of Facebook groups. If you want to get involved, take the time to check each site’s rules for members. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, but also, use basic chatboard etiquette and search the site first to check whether your question hasn’t already been asked and answered. Plenty of newcomers will have been in the same boat before you.
To explore more of the world of stamp collecting, there’s a great YouTube channel called Exploring Stamps that might whet your appetite – the regular seasons generally explore a particular issue from around the world, and the Philately 101 playlist offers collecting tips.
Also: READ! Click through this blog, and those I’ve listed for further reading. (They’ll appear on the right or on the bottom, depending on your platform.) And poke through through social media sites like Twitter and Instagram and search for hashtags like #philately and #snailmailrevolution. Mmm, pretty pictures.
Welcome aboard! Now go and tell your hot babe that it’s over. You’re just not going to have the time anymore.
Did I miss anything? Ask your questions in the Comments section!
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