Stamp collecting has grown in just over 150 years from a hobby for children to a worldwide phenomenon for collectors and investors. Today, thousands of collectors spend time and money to obtain everything from a mundane 1840 One Penny Black for a few dollars to the $2.2 million 1855 Tre Skilling Banco Yellow.
But whether rare or common, stamps exert a powerful romantic influence on those who catch the philatelic bug. The mystery of history, the intrigue of detection and the exactitude of science combine in one of the world’s most fascinating pursuits.
Like coin collecting, stamp collecting can be pursued solely for the pleasure the hobby brings. A few dollars can get you started and you can enjoy it in your spare time. Or, it can grow to become an obsession that evolves into an all-consuming passion. For many, philately is a profession, for others an investment that diversifies their portfolio.
Whatever your ultimate level of interest, getting started is very much the same. You’ll need some basic tools, some elementary information and a lot of patience.
Finding a great stamp requires the same focus and dedication as that needed for tracking down major and minor masterpieces of art. After more than 150 years, so far as anyone knows, the truly rare and valuable are all known and part of a museum’s or individual’s collection.
But there are always the mid-tier stamps that continue to be traded. Locating and negotiating for those requires getting up to speed on the latest trading info. In decades past, dealers, personal correspondence, magazines and catalogs and occasionally libraries formed the sources of ‘intel’ about a good scoop.
With the growth of the Internet, many catalogs have been placed online and websites abound to help collectors and investors find out about the latest offerings and their values.
Proper care once you find them is essential. Stamps are easily damaged and, like coins, the condition plays a part in the value of a sample. The proper mounting, display and care of a stamp requires some study. The knowledge of how to use a stamp hinge properly can mean the difference between a valuable item in your collection and a worthless piece of scrap paper.
A knowledge of elementary chemistry and the available tools is helpful. Soaking a stamp is both an art and science and takes practice to master. Using fluorescence and even x-rays to examine a stamp can be really useful and needn’t be expensive or difficult.
But even if you are just beginning your journey into the world of stamp collecting, and don’t yet have any stamps, there is much of interest to read.
The Internet has helped tremendously in making it easy to find information about the history and worth of those rare stamps that everyone covets. Even if you can’t afford a million dollar stamp, studying the stories of their birth and journey is an adventure all by itself.