Monday, May 30, 2016

Some Novel Approaches to Stamp Collecting

Most people who collect stamps, start off collecting the whole world. While this is a lot of fun and there is no end to the amount of interest and scope available, many collectors soon find that they want to specialize and limit the scope of their collecting.

One of the most common lines along which collectors specialize is by country. The collector will most often choose a country, or group of countries in which to specialize and then collect only those stamps. Their goal is usually to obtain a representative example of each stamp issued by the country or group of countries. Most often they will choose the country in which they are from, but often will collect something completely different. I, for example have collected Nigeria for the past 10 years, and I have one of the largest collections in the world, even through I am not from Nigeria. How I came to collect Nigeria is the subject of another post.  There are several ways that collectors can choose a group of countries, but the two main ones are:

  • Geographically - i.e. Benelux countries (i.e. Belgum, Netherlands and Luxembourg), Western Europe, Southeast Asia.
  • Politically - i.e. British Empire, Spanish Colonies, Portuguese Colonies, French Colonies.
This often still proves to be a very large amount of scope and may not appeal to collectors whose budget is limited, or who are primarily interested in material from a certain era. 

However, I feel that one of the wonderful thing about this hobby is the infinite possibilities that it affords in how you can specialize and organize a collection. In this post, I want to suggest some outside-of-the-box ways to structure your collection. These can appeal to those of you with broad interests and limited budgets, where you have 30 years to collect, but can't spend more than say $10-$20 each week or month on a hobby. So here are my top ten creative ways to collect:

1. Worldwide souvenir sheets
2. Worldwide, but only for one particular year, say your birth year. 
3. All the stamps of a certain colour. 
4. By printing process - i.e. all the engraved stamps of the world. 
5. By stamp type - i.e. only airmail stamps, only postage due stamps etc. 
6. By shape -i.e. all triangular stamps.
7. By topic - i.e. ships on stamps, flowers on stamps etc. 
8. Stamp booklets. 
9. The first stamps of the world - i.e. a copy of each #1 of every country in the world.
10. By some technical detail such as all imperforate stamps, or watermarked stamps. 

The first option is interesting in the sense that souvenir sheets are quite beautiful usually and make a nice display on an album page. A souvenir sheets is a small sheetlet that usually contains some stamps from a particular issue and then a large decorative border. In the early days, they were often only available at stamp exhibitions to customers holding a ticket to the exhibition. However in recent years, they have been issued by post offices to appeal to collectors. The oldest souvenir sheets go back to the 1910's, so collectors wanting to avoid costly 19th century material are served well here. However, there are some very expensive sheets from the 1010's through to the 1950's. Since the 1950's there have been tens of thousands of souvenir sheets issued around the world, so there is plenty of scope. 

The second option should be extremely popular but isn't. I think it is a very affordable way to collect the world in a way that is very relevant on a highly personal level. For pretty well anybody born after 1945, it is a very affordable way to collect and promises plenty of scope to keep you occupied for a lifetime. 

If you are passionate about a particular colour such as orange or purple, then collecting by colour might be the thing for you. Imagine trying to get one of each orange stamp issued around the world and trying to see how many different shades of orange you can find. It could be a lot of fun. 

Other collectors find that they like stamps printed using a particular printing method more than others. For many collectors the top pick would be those stamps that are engraved, or those that employ engraving in tandem with some other printing process like modern photogravure. You could decide that you want to trace the origins of the printing process itself. For example you might be interested in following the development of modern 4-colour multicolour photogravure printing. This journey would take you back to Lichetenstein and Switzerland in the early 1930's when the first stamps printed using this process were issued, followed by Great Britain and then more and more countries until we get to the modern era, where nearly all stamps are printed this way. Or you could decide to collect stamps with holograms on the design, or self-adhesive stamps, which first appeared in the 1960's and did not become mainstream until recently. 

Besides regular postage stamps, many countries issued stamps that were required for particular purposes, such as those used for airmail, special delivery, parcel post, war-tax, postage dues, revenues and so forth. These can form an interesting basis for specialization. If your budget is limited, you can stick to those stamp types that only appeared for the first time in the 20th century, such as airmail stamps, or if you are adventurous, you could choose a field like postage dues which go all the way back to the 1850's for some countries in Europe. 

Other people like unusual shapes. Until the 1930's the vast  majority of stamps were either rectangular or square in shape. However, as early as 1853 some countries were issuing triangular stamps. By the 1960's some countries such as Tonga and Sierra Leone began issuing stamps in odd shapes resembling objects, such as a map of the actual island, coins or a bunch of bananas. This could form a very affordable and novel way to collect a portion of stamps from the world. The beauty of this one is that it can include very expensive stamps from Cape of Good Hope, while containing plenty of inexpensive sets. 

Collecting by topic has been popular for decades and is continuing to grow in popularity. As the number of stamps issued worldwide has exploded, some of these topics such as ships on stamps have become too broad for many collectors. However, you can make your collection more manageable by narrowing the topic. One advantage is that if you are a collector whose budget is limited now, but you expect your budget to increase, some of these topics can be made to go all the way back to the 1860's and can thus include some rare and expensive material in addition to all the less expensive modern material. One disadvantage to collecting this way is that there are a lot of sets in the world where only one stamp from the set depicts the topic. In these cases, it may be difficult to buy just the stamp you need, as most dealers don't like to break sets to supply just one stamp. 

Complete booklets containing small panes of stamps, that were usually sold through vending machines for convenience are an innovation that dates back to the turn of the 19th century. It is an often overlooked field of collecting, but it is not cheap when you get back to the 1940's and before. However, if you limit yourself to modern booklets issued since 1945, you can build an interesting collection without breaking the bank. 

Another novel idea is to collect a particular numbered stamp from each country. A popular one is the first issued stamp of each country, but it could be any stamp like the 100th stamp or something like that. This is ideal for someone who really wants to collect the ultra-classic period and wants quality but cannot afford to collect all the classic issues and has to limit themselves in some way. 

Finally, another way to collect is by some other technical detail. For example: watermarks. For many years many countries in the world attempted to foil counterfeiting by printing their stamps on watermarked paper. What is a watermark? It is a design impressed into the paper during manufacture. If you've ever handled some kinds of writing paper, you may have seen writing within the paper that only becomes visible when held up to the light. This is a watermark - and it is usually put there by the papermaker to mark their brand. The same was done with papers used to print stamps from all over the world. There must be hundreds of different watermark designs used over the years, and obtaining a reconstructed image of all the different watermarks would make for a fun and interesting project. Or you could focus on stamps with no teeth and only straight edges. These are called imperforate stamps. They were the standard until the first perforated stamps appeared in the mid 1850's. Or you could collect the first perforated stamps from each country. 

Hopefully you can now see possibilities for collecting that you may not have thought of before. The most important thing is to have fun by choosing a topic that is most interesting to you. 

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