Planning Your Stamp Collection
The stamp collector has the world at his or her feet. Stamps personify every aspect of the society and the time that we live in. Stamps celebrate great works of art, cultural events and institutions, important people, holidays, sports, noteworthy moments in history, geographical wonders, botanical marvels, technological innovations, scientific discoveries, great feats of architecture, popular culture, economics, and almost everything else.
The American Philatelic Society Web site at www.stamps.org is loaded with information and history, has a store and a library to rummage through, and provides resource links and an almanac. You can also write to them at 100 Oakwood Avenue, P.O. Box 8000, State College, PA 16803, for more information.
And since societies and cultures differ so mightily, so do the stamps that come out of them. This has been the case since the introduction of the postage stamp. Authoritarian Tsarist Russia's stamps showcased far different things than did the burgeoning, open society across the ocean called America. And it's no different today. Free societies that recognize free expression and free thinking have a wide variety of stamps in circulation. Closed, repressive societies do not.
In addition to the historical scope that stamp collecting affords its collectors, it is also affordable. Stamp collecting is one of the least expensive hobbies to pursue. You don't need a lot of money to be a stamp collector. But plotting a strategy is a necessity. Beginning stamp collectors often collect, literally, all over the map, because stamps are truly a worldly collectible. And why not? Stamps on letters in the mailbox are varied and unique. It's a great way to feel your way around the hobby, and to learn the basics, including how to remove stamps from their envelopes without damaging them. It's good form to first practice this technique on common, everyday stamps before moving up the philatelist ladder.
As time passes, and you become more experienced, however, you might want to consider taking the path that many of the more seasoned stamp collectors venture down. These collectors put all their stamps in one basket—or one album, as it were. If you are interested in starting a stamp collection with a design in mind, or getting an existing one under control, contemplate collecting within one of the popular parameters listed in the following sections.
Stamps issued to raise funds for a charity or nonprofit organization are referred to as semi-postals. The United States has only issued one semi-postal stamp, and that was for breast cancer research. It was a regular first-class stamp, but it cost 40 cents, with the premium on the price going to support breast cancer research. Semi-postal stamps are very popular among the Kiwis in New Zealand.
You will have to narrow this category down even further—to a specific country, for starters. The United States Postal Service, for example, issues commemorative stamps in all categories. From U.S. presidents to military heroes to historical events to famous movie monsters, they've all been honored by the Postal Service. This is fertile territory for stamp collecting.
The most popular stamp collector magazine is Stamp Collector. This biweekly journal is written by collectors for collectors, keeping hobbyists informed on all the latest happenings in the world of stamp collecting. Subscribe at www.krause.com/stamps, or pick up a copy at any bookstore or retailer that carries magazines.
Collecting stamps of a particular motif is the most widespread form of stamp collecting. Collectors select stamp subjects that coincide with their own interests and lifestyles. Some hobbyists collect stamps that feature great patriots, civil rights pioneers, prominent political leaders, pets and animals, states, flowers, architecture, weapons, locomotives, ships, space exploration, comely women, environmental treasures, favorite vacation spots, and on and on. The scope of theme stamp collecting is limitless.
Collect First-Day Covers (FDCs)
You've no doubt seen envelopes with a stamp and cancellation on them indicating the first day of issue. Variations of first-day covers include first-flight covers and special-event covers. These catchy-looking covers sport an imprint (for whomever or whatever is being honored) to the left of the cancellation. This imprint is called a cachet. Covers, by the way, refer to the envelopes or postcards to which stamps are attached.
The Citizen's Stamp Advisory Committee (CSAC) was created to give people a voice in selecting stamp honorees. If you think a certain person or event merits placement on a stamp, send your idea to the CSAC, U.S. Postal Service, 475 L'Enfant Plaza, SW, Room 4474E, Washington, DC 20260-2437. Keep in mind that a person needs to be dead for at least ten years before being commemorated, unless it's a U.S. president, who only has to be dead for one year.
Collect Error, Freak, and Oddity Stamps (EFOs)
Some collectors just relish collecting the mistakes of life. On the stamp scene, they seek out stamps born with deformities, the result of printing or perforation blunders somewhere in the production process.
The Collectibles Insurance Agency at www.collectinsure.com is the insurer of the American Association of Philatelic Exhibitors. Online quotes are available. Beyond stamp collections, they insure autographs, books and manuscripts, ceramics, comics, dolls, records, postcards, trains, toys, and guns and firearms. For a quote by phone, call them at 888-837-9537.
Collect Complete Covers
These are the entire mailing pieces, replete with their original stamps and postal markings. Letters dropped in the mail become, in effect, globetrotters. They zip across the country in a matter of days, and sometimes travel abroad. Many people live vicariously through these letters. Some collectors are fascinated with the life stories of pieces of mail, and they relish finding unique machine and town postmarks on envelopes and postcards.
A great Web site to visit is www.the-stamp-collector.com. Here you'll get links to dealers, auctioneers, magazines, exhibitions, societies, and literature. Want to join the Chess on Stamps Study Unit? How about the Cats on Stamps Study Unit? Or the Maritime Postmark Society? You'll find them all here.
Collect Christmas Seals, Easter Seals, or Other Non-Postage Stamps
In the world of stamp collecting, non-postage stamps, issued by nongovernment enterprises, are known as Cinderellas. Often, they originate from charity organizations.