Sunday, May 1, 2016

Why Care About Stamps?

Stamp collecting has a reputation as a hobby for eccentric people and old people. Few can see any relevance to stamps and even fewer can see any reason to spend their time collecting and studying them.

I started this blog primarily for those of you who currently have no interest in stamps, or have somewhat of an interest, but are intimidated by the current hobby - its organizations and its participants. My aim is to show you a whole new world that lies within your grasp that can bring you a lifetime of enjoyment and satisfaction.

So Why Bother Collecting Anything?

We live in a very fast paced world where we have access to a seemingly endless number of fun experiences:

  • Endless sources of amusement on our tablets and phones.
  • Nice restaurants.
  • Clubs to go dancing.
  • All-inclusive resorts to go on vacation
  • Amusement parks, movies, and other places to amuse ourselves and spend our money.
  • Spending time with family doing most if not all the above. 
With all that available to us, the question of why bother collecting anything is a very fair one. After all collections take up room to store them, they cost time and money and above all they are rarely if ever of interest to anyone but ourselves - or so it seems. 

One Perspective

As nice, as fun and cool as all the above experiences are, most of them provide us with very little in the way of lasting satisfaction and enjoyment once they are over:

  • We forget about nearly everything we read online in blogs, top 10 lists and the like, and most of what we see on Youtube shortly after we watch it. There are a few things that stay with us, but think about all the time you spend on your tablet and your phone this past week and name three things that you saw that really stand out in your mind. I'll bet you will be hard pressed to think of three things that you still think were particularly amusing or funny such that you would want to read or see them again. 
  • Unless you are fortunate enough to eat at Michelin star restaurants, most restaurant meals - even good ones, will be a distant memory the day after you have had them and certainly the week after, or the month after. 
  • When was the last time you remembered fondly the rave that you attended or the club that you went dancing in? 
  • Most resorts are great fun for a few days to let loose and unwind, but the same activities, drinks and activities can get old real quick, and a week after you are back it can feel as though you never went away. 
  • Nearly all other experiences we pay for, whether it is going to see a movie, paintball, horseback riding, bungee jumping, skydiving, white water rafting, rock climbing, playing golf, going to the bar and so on are only fun while we are engaged in them and once they are over, the leave us wondering "OK what's next?". Think about it. 
  • While doing the above with family will create lasting memories, and it is good to have those memories, it is nice to create some experiences that will build us up. 
Not only is the amusement that comes to us from all the above fleeting in nature, there are also many instances when we will find that we do not have access to them either because:

  • We can't afford them.
  • We don't have time to engage in them.
  • We can't physically do them because we are sick or incapacitated.
  • We don't have our phones with us or access to the internet. 

When we collect something that interests us, several things happen:

  • We increase our knowledge of that thing. If the object of your interest is trains for example, you will learn more about trains and you will find yourself seeking out knowledge about trains. Not only that, but you will appreciate that thing all the more when you see it in real life. So going back to the train example, you will find yourself appreciating the trains that you either see in a museum setting because of the knowledge that you have about them, or you will appreciate the trains you travel on for the same reason. No matter what you collect, you will broaden your knowledge about that thing that you have decided to collect. 
  • The knowledge that you gain from your hobby will stay with you for life, and the beauty of the thing that you collect will reside in your mind in the form of images for life. You can call those images or that knowledge up to your conscious anytime on a moments notice and can derive enjoyment from that without having to be engaged in the activity. Stuck in an airport waiting hours for a flight? You can think about your collection and what you want to do with it or what you have learned. You can do this while riding the bus to work or driving in you car. In fact you can derive enjoyment from your hobby in all the otherwise "dead space" in your life, when you cannot do those other things. 
  • You build an actual physical collection that will have value. Not always a lot of monetary value, but at the very least great sentimental value and a sense of accomplishment. This is not unlike the satisfaction that someone gets from fixing a car or building a model boat for instance, or even mastering all the levels in a video game. Unlike the video game or the model boat, your collection can often be rearranged, re-invented or taken in a different direction to yield yet more satisfaction and enjoyment. In other words, it can be never-ending as opposed to finite. Sometimes though, if you collect something with discipline and an eye for quality and scarcity, you can wind up forming a collection that actually has serious monetary value as well. 
  • You open up the possibility of forming meaningful connections with other people by sharing your knowledge and your passion for your collection. Your connections become deep and meaningful precisely because you are sharing something that took time and effort to learn about and master. 
Sounds Pretty Good, But Why Stamps?

Stamps as a collectible offer all the above benefits that I have outlined with collecting, but on steroids:

  • Unlike an object such as a model train, or a piece of pottery,, a stamp in addition to being an object used to mail a letter, also features an actual subject. Look at the four stamps at the beginning of this post. They show:                          
                          1. A very retro early 1960's motif that depicts the importance of conserving                                            resources.

                          2. A beautifully engraved image of Queen Victoria in her diamond jubilee year.

                          3. An image of the Quebec coat of arms with their provincial flower, the white                                      garden lily. 

                          4. A map of the world in 1898 with the British Empire in red, with the words "We                                 Hold A Vaster Empire Than Has Been" at the bottom. 

All of these things are actual snapshots of history. In looking at them we gain a greater appreciation of things in both the past and the present. In looking at the first stamp we gain an appreciation for the early 1960's design aesthetic. This makes watching those episodes of Mad Men all the more interesting. We also realize that today's environmental concerns are nothing new - we were concerned about this as a society back in 1961. The second stamp in addition to being a work of engraver's art shows us a time when the Queen was revered in a way that the current Queen is not. The third stamp makes us aware that each Canadian province has its own coat of arms and provincial flower. A bit of delving into the backstory behind this issue reveals that this stamp was released as part of a set that the Canadian government issued as propaganda to keep Quebec from separating from the rest of Canada - something that was once a real possibility. Finally the last stamp is a tangible piece of evidence of just how proud were were of the British Empire at one time. Thus the knowledge and appreciation that you gain about the world around you is vast. Stamps provide a structured medium in which to learn about the world, in much the same way as online blogs and Youtube channels but you will retain nearly all this knowledge. 

  • All these images that you see on stamps will stay with you for life in much the same way that the sound of a song that you hear will stay with you. You can visualize these images whenever you want, wherever you are. You can think about what stamps you want to find next, what you want to study about them or how you want to arrange them when you do have time to work on them. 
  • They take up much less room than other collectibles and are much lighter. You can fit your entire collection into an album that weighs no more than 10 pounds and fits on a bookshelf. The same cannot be said for very many collectibles. 
  • Many stamp collections are worth A LOT of money when they are complete. Many are not, but most other hobbies yield no chance of a financial return - at all. Stamp collecting can. 
  • There are an estimated 30  million stamp collectors in the world today. In terms of the total human population that is a mere blip. However, most stamp collectors are very excited by their hobby and are usually eager to share their interest with other collectors, so the chances of forming lasting friendships with them are excellent. 
  • Collecting stamps is a very affordable hobby. Most stamps, including two of the above stamps can be had in mint condition for under $1. There aren't very many experiences you can have nowadays for under $10. But with stamps there are hundreds of thousands that you can buy for less than $1. 
So this is my take on why stamps are worth caring about. My next post will look at all the different ways that you can collect stamps and what the satisfaction you can gain from each of these. 


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks Linda. I wanted to try and start a blog to raise awareness of the hobby for those who have never considered collecting before. The idea came to me while I was attending a show this weekend as a dealer. There was so little traffic there and it just seemed to me that we should be promoting the hobby to others if we want to see it continue to thrive.

  2. Perhaps an innovative way to merge stamp trading and stamp collecting with apps and phones? We all more or less resent how smart phones changed our lives but if we can't beat it then ride with it right?

    1. Excellent point Mario! I have long thought that some stamp related Apps would be good. I do think Pinterest is one that is already seeing quite a lot of use by younger collectors. That and plain old Facebook.

  3. This is a wonderful description about the lure of stamp collecting. Like many people in their 60's, I collected stamps as a kid, and then forgot about it. I recently picked it up again mostly to appease my scientific interest in trees. I am now hooked. This post accurately describes why people, like me, collect stamps. Congratulations for your insights.


    1. Hi Scott. Thanks very much for the feedback! I am really glad to hear that you have gotten back into this fantastic hobby. Do you collect trees on stamps? I know that British Honduras, New Zealand and Indonesia have some good stamps on this topic, as well as many others.