If you have recently started collecting stamps, or are thinking about starting, you may be wondering if the hobby is expensive. Can you enjoy it with limited financial resources? What if you have no money at all for the hobby?
One of the biggest questions any stamp collector faces is where to find stamps inexpensively. If you intent to save stamps of the United States or the world and want to save used as well as unused stamps, the opportunities are really great. Not all collections consist mainly of unused stamps that you buy in the post office. Used stamps are worth saving, have value, and they may cost you nothing.
Many stamp collectors save only used stamps. Others save both used and unused ones. Others save stamps only from one country or one part of the world. Some collectors save stamps by "topic," for example, stamps that depict horse or trains or birds. There are any number of different types of collections.
1. All postally used stamps started out being received in someone's mailbox, at no cost to the person receiving them. The first place to search for stamps, then, is your own mailbox. Don't be discouraged when you notice that many senders use postage meters or the imprint "Bulk Rate Postage Paid' on their envelopes to enjoy a better postal rate or to keep from affixing stamps. Also, when people do use real stamps, they often use the same common small ones.
You can begin to change this by asking people who write to you to use commemorative stamps on their mail. These are normally the larger stamps issued to honor famous people, places, or events. These stamps are printed in lesser quantities than the common smaller (definitive) stamps and usually are of much more interest to collects. Many people will remember to ask for commemorative stamps at the post office when mailing letters to you or your family if you let them know you are a stamp collector. Also, if you write away for offers that require postage or a self-addressed, stamped envelope, you can put commemoratives on your return envelope, knowing that they will come back to you later.
2. Neighbors, friends, and relatives are another good source of stamps. The majority of people just throw away stamps when they receive them on mail and are only too happy to save them for someone who appreciates them. You may even know someone who gets letters from other countries who can save these stamps, too. Always be on the lookout for potentially good stamp contacts, and don't be afraid to ask them to go through their mail for you before they throw away all the envelopes.
3. Office mail maybe even better. You may know someone who works in an office that gets a lot of mail. Out of 100 letters a day, there may be ten or twenty good stamps that are being thrown away. Many businesses get a lot of foreign mail and regularly throw away stamps that have interest and/or value to a collector.
4. Ask your parents if they have any old letters, which may have stamps on the envelopes. When taking stamps off envelopes, always tear off the corner so that there is paper all around the stamp, and the stamp and all its perforations are undamaged. Anyone who is saving stamps for you should be told that this is the way to do it; otherwise, he/she may try to peel the stamp off the envelope. This will cause thin spots or tears, both of which ruin a stamp's appearance and lessen its value to collectors. If you run across envelopes that are very old or have postal markings that may be of particular interest, it is best to save the entire envelope until you can find out if the stamp is worth more attached to the cover.
Now that you have stamps on paper, what do you do with them? The most common way to get stamps off paper is to soak them in cool water, then dry them on paper. To understand more about soaking stamps, it is best to find a handbook on stamp collecting at the library.
There is a lot to learn about stamps as you get more and more of the. For example, different shades of color may exist on stamps with the same design, or them may have different perforation measurements (number of holes per side). Major varieties of stamps and "catalog values" are listed in stamp catalogs, which are available in most libraries. The most common one, the Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue, has a very good section in front that explains how stamps are made and how to tell varieties apart, as well as how to use the catalog. Having access to a catalog in a nearby library is very useful until you decide if you want one of your own.
5. Longtime collectors may be another source of stamps. Usually a person who has been a collector for a number of years has developed many sources for stamps. The collector may have thousands of duplicates, some of which may be very inexpensive while others may have more value. Often older collectors are willing to help new philatelists get started by giving them stamps, or at least providing packets of stamps mush more cheaply than can be purchased in stores or by mail.
6. Many stamp companies advertise free stamps. However, these ads must be read carefully before you send away from anything. Usually these ads offer "approvals," which means they will send you the free stamps advertised, plus an assortment of other stamps which you may either buy or return. By sending for the free stamps, you have already agreed that you will return the other stamps within a reasonable period of time if you do not buy anything. Usually you must pay the return postage. This is a convenient way to buy stamps from your own home.
7. Stamp clubs are another place to get stamps. A club may offer stamps as prizes, or have inexpensive stamps as prizes, or have inexpensive stamps you can afford to buy.
Some stamp clubs sponsor junior clubs that meet at schools or the local YMCA or community center. If you are fortunate enough to have one of these in your area, it can be a great source of both stamps and advice.
8. One way to increase your sources for stamps and also have a lot of fun is to help start a local club, if one does not already exist. All it takes are our or five other stamp collectors who are interested in getting together to learn about and trade stamps and ideas.
9. Obtaining a pen pal in another country is a very good way to get stamps from that country. His or her extra stamps may seem really common in that country, but over here they are much scarcer. Your own stamps may look fairly common to you, but he or she is sure to appreciate them.
10. Trading off your duplicate stamps can be a lot of fun. Even if you don't know many collectors where you live, stamps are so lightweight that they can easily be trades by mail. Check out the stamp newspapers and magazines available at your local library for classified ads that list stamp trades. You may find, for example, that another collector will send you 100 large foreign stamps if you send 100 U.S. commemoratives. Usually schools do not subscribe to any of the periodical stamp publications, so you will have to go to your public library. (Many stamp publications also offer to send one free sample issue if your request it, because they are always looking for potential new subscribers.)
Collecting stamps need not be an expensive hobby. Thousands of stamps are issued every year, and while some of them cost many dollars, others cost just a few cents each. Nobody expects you to try to save every stamp that exists, and they key to enjoying philately is to save whatever you enjoy the most! With free stamps and a few inexpensive accessories, such as a small album and a package of stamp hinges, even collectors with little money can have a great time. Don't forget to mention stamps, stamp albums, and hinges before your birthday or Christmas! Also remember that a great many inexpensive stamps in the past have turned into ore valuable stamps over the years.
You never know what will happen in stamp collecting!
The Junior Philatelists of America, founded in 1963, is an organization primarily for stamp collectors under age 18. The JPA brings together young collectors from every part of the United States and many foreign counties. One benefit of membership is receiving the bi-monthly newsletter, The Philatelic Observer. As a member, you also can write articles for the newsletter, or buy and sell stamps through free or low-cost advertising.
Other JPA services include auctions where members may buy or sell their stamps, a service to help find penpals throughout the world, awards for junior stamp exhibitors, study groups, local chapter clubs, and contests.
To learn more about the Junior Philatelists of America, send a business size, self-addressed, stamped envelope to JPA, P.O. Box 850, Boalsburg, PA 16827.
The JPA also offers an Adult Supporting Membership for adult collectors who want to support and assist the collectors of the future.
The American Philatelic Society is the nation's largest and foremost organization of stamp collectors. Among the many services offered to members are a monthly 100-page stamp journal, The American Philatelist; by-mail use of the largest public-access philatelic library in the U.S.; a division where members may buy and sell stamps among themselves (with APS serving as the agent); low-cost stamp insurance; and a variety of educational offerings. Information about membership and service is available from APS, P.O. Box 8000, State College, PA 16803.
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Article is the property of American Philatelic Society
Richard M. Parke 3/22/97
All rights reserved by "Oceania Philatelic Galleries", P.O. Box 4511, Ventura, CA 93007-0511 -- USA.