Stamp Collecting: Still Relevant in the 21st Century

The first postage stamp, the “Penny Black”, was issued by Great Britain (United Kingdom) in 1840. Postage stamps were introduced as a means of prepaying for mail delivery. Prior to this innovation, mail was paid for by the addressee when it was delivered or picked up at the post office. Many letters went undelivered because either the addressee would not or could not pay the fee.The United States followed Britain’s lead in 1847 with its first stamps. Canada issued their first stamp in 1851.

Almost from the beginning people began collecting them. At first they were soaked from the envelopes and stuck on walls and other things as decoration. Later they were mounted in albums in the true collector’s format.

Collecting was most popular during the 1930s and 1940s in the United States and Canada. When a stamp collector named Franklin Roosevelt was elected President of the United States in 1933, the hobby received a tremendous boost in popularity.

Today it is still ranked as one of the top two or three hobbies with an estimated 20 million collectors in US alone.

Collectors are an important source of revenue for postal authorities. They purchase stamps for their collections. Because these stamps will likely never be used on mail, the post office wins because they do not have to provide a service in exchange for the cost of the stamp. Talk about a winning situation for them.

Human beings tend to be packrats. It is in our make-up. What person at some time in their life has not collected something? Kids start off with rocks, bugs, stickers, sports cards, and the list goes on. Stamps are a natural item to collect because we see them everyday on mail. Some of the reasons stamps and postal history are collected include investment (bad idea), relaxation and social interaction with other collectors. Investment is possible, but there are far better instruments for making money than the collection of postage stamps.

Stamps are still relevant today. They are still used to prepayment of postage on mail. Even with email the mail system is still relevant in a country as vast as Canada. Granted volumes of first class letter mail have decreased because of email, but ironically eBay and other on-line auction houses have increased the need for shipping via the postal system. There is more and more on-line shopping being done on the internet. A delivery system is still a requirement to make this work. The postal system is aggressively competing for their share of this market.

Young people today tend to want instant gratification. Video games and the internet give that. People need to be shown the benefits and fun that collecting can provide. The baby boomers entering their retirement years are looking for a hobby. Many were exposed to stamp collecting when they were children. A substantial number are returning to the hobby.

Ironically the internet can and has encouraged people to get into collecting. Dealers are moving their retail stamp stores to virtual locations on the net. This provides them lower overhead and a worldwide versus local exposure to customers.

Auction sites like eBay have been invaluable to collectors. They can obtain material for their collections that is just not available from local dealers. A collector can sit at his or her desk at home able to browse and purchase material at their leisure.

My hometown of Calgary, Alberta (population 1 million, 2007) for example only few years ago had three or four retail locations. Now there is only one and he has been forced out of the downtown core to outlying area. Even this individual is selling on eBay. Quite a few of the others did not go out of business but just moved to on-line stores.

Stamp clubs and specialized philatelic societies can add a social aspect to the experience of stamp collecting, and provide a forum where newbies can meet and talk to experienced collectors. Stamp clubs, even in urban areas, are sometimes difficult to set up and sustain. The internet has provided a partial solution to this problem because the number of collectors in the virtual world on-line is not limited by geographical distance. Because of this many stamp clubs and groups have been established on the web, with international membership. These are booming. What can be more exciting then chatting with like-minded collectors from all over the world and receiving almost instant feedback?

For now the future of collecting is strong. I believe that it is in our nature to want to collect things. The internet actually makes it easier to network with other collectors and to obtain material from dealers. It is an exciting time to be a collector if you embrace the technology and use it to get involved in this great hobby called “stamp collecting”.

Websites with information for new and experienced collectors can be found on the home page of this blog under “Philatelic Resources”.

Definitions Used in this Article
Covers – envelopes with stamps still affixed. Postal history is collected this way.
Letter mail – personal or business mail usually in form of #8 or #10 envelopes and mailed at the First Class rate. Rate in Canada in 2007 is 52c per ounce (30 grams) and in United States 41c per ounce.

Postal History – the collection and study of postal rates and usages. Collectors retain the envelopes with stamps and cancellations still on them. Stamps are not removed.

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