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"Welcome to Stamp Collecting"

Challenge…information…friendships… and just plain fun are part of "the World's Most Popular Hobby," stamp collecting! For more than 150 years, stamp collecting has been the hobby choice of royalty, movie stars, sports celebrities, and hundreds of thousands of other people. Why do so many different types of people like stamps? One reason is, the hobby of stamp collecting suits almost anybody – it's very personal. You fit the hobby to yourself, instead of forcing yourself to fit rules, as with many hobbies. There's not much free choice about how to play golf or softball or square dance – there are many rules.

But stamp collecting can be done in a very simple way using stamps you find on your everyday mail and place on plain paper in a three-ring binder. Or you can give a "want list" to a stamp dealer. He will pull the stamps you want from his stock, and you mount them in the correct spaces in a custom-made album that you bought.

Or you can go to stamp shows or stamp shops and spend hours looking through boxes of stamps and envelopes in search of a particular stamp with a certain postal marking or a special first-day cover that has a meaning to suit your own interests.

Stamp collecting is a special mix of the structured and the unstructured, and you can make it a personal hobby that will not be like anyone else's. It's a world all its own, and anyone can find a comfortable place in it.

"Stamp Collector" or "Philatelist"?

Some people think that a "philatelist" (fi-LAT-uh.list) means someone who is more expert or serious than someone who is a "stamp collector." That's not true! But one advantage of using the word "philately" (fi-LAT-uh-lee) is that it includes all areas of the hobby – not just stamps – such as postal markings, postal history, postal stationery, and the postal items from the time before there were stamps, such as folded letters.

Finding Material for Your Collection

You can easily find everything for your stamp hobby by mail. Stamps, other philatelic material, catalogues, albums, and so on are easy to get by mail order. The philatelic press carries advertising for all of these hobby needs, and stamp shows in your area also will have dealers there. If you are lucky, you also may have a retail stamp store nearby.

Stamp shows may be small on - or two-day events in your local area, or very large events in big-city convention halls lasting several days and featuring hundreds of dealers and thousands of pages of stamp exhibits to see. Stamp shows also provide chances to meet other collectors, some of whom you may have "met" only by mail before.

How to Learn About Your New Hobby

Organizations, publications, and other collectors can help you grow in the hobby. The hobbies/recreation section of your local library may have basic books about stamp collecting, and the reference department may have a set of catalogs.

If your local library has no books on stamp collecting, you can borrow some from the huge collection of the American Philatelic Research Library through interlibrary loan or by becoming a member of the American Philatelic Society.

The ASP/APR are the largest stamp club and library in the United States and offer many services to collectors, including a 100-page monthly magazine, insurance for stamp collections, and a Sales Division through which members can buy and sell stamps by mail among themselves. The ASP/APR are at P.O. Box 8000, State College, PA 16803, or call (814) 237-3803.

There also are many newspapers and magazines in the stamp hobby, including Line's Stamp News, Stamp Collector, Scott's Stamp Monthly, Melee's, Global Stamp News, and Stamps. Some can be found on large newsstands.

Taking Care of Your Collection

Paper is very fragile and must be handled with care. Stamp collectors use special tools and materials to protect their collectibles. Stamp tongs may look like cosmetic tweezers, but they have special tips that will not damage stamps, so be sure to buy your tongs from a stamp dealer and not in the beauty section at the drugstore!

Stamp albums and other storage methods (temporary file folders and boxes, envelopes, etc.) should be of archival-quality acid-free paper, and any plastic used on or near stamps and covers (postal-used envelopes of philatelic interest) also should be archival – as used for safe storage by museums. Plastic that is not archival safe has oil-based softeners that can leach out and do much damage to stamps. In recent years philatelic manufacturers have become more careful about their products, and it is easy now to find safe paper and plastic for hobby use.

Never use cellophane or other tapes around your stamps. Even so-called "magic" tape will cause damage that cannot be undone. Stamps should be put on pages either with hinges (small rectangles of special gummed paper) or with mounts (little self-adhesive plastic envelopes in many sizes to fit stamps and covers). Mounts keep stamps in the condition in which you bought them. Also available are pages with strips of plastic attached to them; these are "self-mounting" pages, meaning all you have to do is slip your stamp into the plastic strip..

Other hobby tools include gauges, for measuring the perforations on stamps, and watermark fluid, which makes the special marks in some stamp papers visible momentarily. "Per's" and watermarks are important if you decide to do some types of specialized collecting.

A Stamp Is a Stamp?

Not really – a stamp can be many things: a feast for the eye with beautiful design and color and printing technique…a study in history as you find out about the person, place, or event behind the stamp…a mystery story, as you try to find out how and why this stamp and envelope traveled and received certain postal markings. Collectors who enjoy postal history always want the stamp with its envelope, which is one reason why you should not be quick to soak stamps off their covers. If you find an old hoard of envelopes, get some advice before you take the stamps off!

Some collectors enjoy the "scientific" side of the hobby, studying production methods and paper and ink types. This also might include collecting stamps in which something went wrong in production: errors, freaks, and oddities. Studying watermarks takes special fluids and lighting equipment, also needed to study the luminescent inks used on modern stamps to trigger high-tech canceling equipment in the post office.

Other branches of collecting include first-day covers (ADCs), which carry a stamp on the first day it was sold with that day's postmark. Some ADCs have a cachet (ca-SHAY), which is a design on the envelope that relates to the stamp and adds an attractive quality to the cover. Some clubs, catalogues, and dealers specialize in ADCs.

Clubs, etc.

It is possible to collect for a lifetime and never leave home – get everything you need by mail – but a lot of enjoyment can be added if you join a club or go to stamp shows and exhibitions, and meet other collectors like yourself. Local clubs usually have a general focus, have meetings, and may organize stamp shows as part of their activities. Specialty-collecting groups, which may focus on stamps of one country or one type of stamp, will have a publication as the main service to members, but may have other activities and occasional meetings at large stamp shows. The American Philatelic Society, "America's Stamp Club" is the oldest and largest stamp organization in the United States and has served hundreds of thousands of collectors since 1886.

Again, Welcome to Stamp Collecting!

The more you know about it, the more you will like it – Happy Collecting!

Let me know what you think of having articles like these posted at the "Youth Collectors Zone" by sending me an message. I will answer every inquiry, so feel free to send me E-Mail messages anytime.

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For information on the American Philatelic Society®, call or write: ASP, P.O. Box 8000, State College, PA 16803 – (814) 237-3803.

This 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.