Stamp Collecting for Fun and Knowledge

“Stamp Collecting dispels boredom, enlarges our vision, broadens our knowledge, makes us better citizens and in innumerable ways, enriches our lives.” ~President Franklin Roosevelt

October is National Stamp Collecting Month! The American Philatelic Society and millions of stamp collectors across the nation and around the world are celebrating “the hobby of a lifetime.” Stamp collectors, or philatelists, can be any age and they come from all walks of life. Stamp collecting has long been one of the most popular indoor pastimes. Collecting stamps and displaying them in a special album is a hobby that has entertained generations of children and adults alike.

Franklin Roosevelt, who designed several American commemorative stamps while U.S. President, was an avid philatelist. First introduced to the hobby by his parents when he was 8 years old, he ended up with over a million stamps in his collection, which was sold at auction after his death. President Dwight D. Eisenhower also collected stamps in his youth. His collection is in The Spellman Museum in Weston, Massachusetts. Even John Lennon of The Beatles was a childhood stamp collector. His stamp album is held by the National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C.

Some people are lucky enough to inherit a treasured stamp collection from a relative. Most begin by collecting stamps that come on envelopes through the mail, while others buy stamps at the post office or hobby shop, and still others hunt for stamps in online auctions, stamp shows, stamp dealers, and estate sales. Last week I went to the grand opening of a new Hobby Lobby store, and happened upon the stamp collecting section (their selection can be viewed online here). Looking at the stamp collecting kits and packs of stamps brought back fond memories of my own stamp collecting days. Although I don’t have time right now to actively devote to the hobby, I still have my treasured albums and a growing pile of stamps that I’ve been saving.

Sadly, the number of young stamp collectors has been declining rapidly in recent years. The trend is blamed on a decline in the use of postage stamps, as e-mail and text messages replace traditional letter-writing. Much of what the postal service delivers anymore is junk mail, business mail, or products bought off the internet – none of which use stamps. But all you have to do is go to the Postal Store @ USPS.com and you will find all kinds of pretty postage stamps!

In the fun world of stamp collecting, the possibilities are limited only by one’s interests and imagination. Some people collect anything and everything (that’s me!), while others focus on a specific theme. Maybe you like stamps that feature scenery, folk art, social issues, famous people, cartoon characters, or even toys. Or you may want to explore outer space, travel across the United States or around the world, follow your favorite sport, immerse yourself in history, or just spend some quiet time arranging flowers (on stamps, of course!).

There are individuals who collect stamps as an investment, but most collect stamps for enjoyment and it’s easy to get started without a big investment. Stamp collecting can often be combined with other hobbies for the enrichment of both. Genealogists have long known the value of letters and postcards when studying family history. Pen Pals can double as a source of stamps from around the world. A family vacation can be made more memorable by sending picture postcards home with postmarks from special places along the way.

Whether you stick with USA stamps or include foreign stamps in your collection, the best thing about postage stamps is that no matter the country of issue, they all tell a story. Stamps are miniature works of art, and it’s nearly impossible to collect them without gaining a large amount of knowledge. All postage stamps have historical value because they reflect the history, politics, art, economics, etc. of the place and time they are issued. Stamp collecting is an ideal hobby for homeschoolers because you can learn so much. A single commemorative postage stamp can be turned into a whole unit study!

Stamp collecting has been around as long as there have been postage stamps. But stamp collecting in the 21st century is not the same hobby it was in our parents’ or grandparents’ day. No longer is the focus simply on trying to fill in the little squares in a stamp album. Technology has opened the album and allowed the collector to experience more of the many possibilities the hobby has to offer. Computers and the internet are now important components in the collector’s tool box along with the traditional tongs and album pages. Here’s how:

  • With a computer and some graphic software, a collector can design and print their own album pages or download some of the many ready-to-use albums that are available online. The APS has more than forty FREE albums ready for the collector. The topics range from sports such as fishing, the Olympics, and baseball to Hollywood, from Outer Space to National Parks, and many more. The albums are available for downloading at http://www.stamps.org/Free-Album-Pages.
  • Social media enables collectors to keep in touch with each other and share favorite stamps, stories, advice, techniques, etc. Check out America’s Stamp Club online at http://www.stamps.org. APS also is on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and YouTube. Stamp collecting is everywhere!
  • Young Stamp Collectors of America (YSCA) is a virtual club for the young collector — http://www.stamps.org/YSCA. The YSCA quarterly eNewsletter is filled with articles, how-to information, collecting basics, activities, stamp offers, and more! Each month young collectors can chat online with other young stamp enthusiasts from across the country. The YSCA breaks with the online-only tradition in order to have face-to-face live meetings at the two APS shows each year.
  • The internet has made looking for and buying stamps easier than ever before. The APS has more than 600 dealer members whose contact information can be found at http://www.stamps.org/Dealers. The listing is searchable by collecting topic, such as Olympics, and by geographic location. Stamp shows and local stamp clubs are two other good sources for stamps and information (http://www.stamps.org/Show-Calendar).
  • Stamps: An American Journey – This 13 1/2-minute video was created by The History Channel and the United States Postal Service to tell the surprising story of the journey of stamps from an idea, to art, to the issued stamp. You can view it online at:
    http://www.postalmuseum.si.edu/stampsvideo/index.html

So, who are some of today’s collectors? A few celebrity collectors you might recognize include ESPN basketball personality and former Notre Dame coach Digger Phelps; financial gurus Bill Gross and Warren Buffet; political analyst Karl Rove; astronaut Henry Hartsfield; actors Gary Burghoff, James Earl Jones, and Patrick Dempsey; author Lawrence Block; former Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova; musician Ron Wood; singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor; and cartoonist Gary Trudeau.

Stamp collecting is one of the most popular and enduring hobbies! So take a chance on an old hobby that is new again. Start your own stamp collection!

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