So far in this series of posts about stamp collecting for beginners we’ve covered why stamp collecting might be a good hobby for you, and a little about the history of stamp collecting. At this point, you’ve now decided that stamp collecting is the hobby that’s right for you and you want to know more about how to get started. That’s precisely what this post will be about, how to get started in stamp collecting.
The first and most obvious step in getting started in this wonderful hobby is, of course, to get some stamps. There are, however, some preparatory questions that need to be answered before you just run out and buy some stamps for your budding collection. These questions include what kind of stamps you want to collect, and in what condition should those stamps be? For many folks, the answers to these questions change over time, and in reality, it is totally optional to answer them at this point. If you want to just start accumulating and decide on this stuff later, that is perfectly fine. This is, after all, a hobby and it’s meant to provide you rest, relaxation, and enjoyment. There’s really no sense in putting any undue pressure on yourself if you’re not ready to decide these things yet. Just be aware that at some point, you are probably going to want to limit your collecting and these are the basic questions that will guide you toward that.
So, lets take a look at just what those questions mean. First, what kind of stamps do you want to collect? If you recall from the history of stamp collecting post, I mentioned that there are more than just postage stamps available to stamp collectors. Yes, the main focus of stamp collecting these days is the collecting of postage stamps from the various countries around the world that
have issued them. There are however, an almost unlimited number of other types of stamps that can be collected. A few of the more popular types of stamps that are not postage stamps include revenue stamps, savings stamps, hunting and fishing license stamps, automobile registration stamps, charity stamps, Christmas and Easter seals, and even stamp-like labels issued for a whole host of reasons.
The reason that this is an important question is that it will dictate where you might look to find the type of stamps you are interested in. For obvious reasons, postage stamps are the easiest to find because they come on the daily mail and you can just run down to the local post office to buy the most recent stamps. Other types of stamps are not necessarily so easy to find, although in recent years the advent of the online stamp dealer and online stamp auctions, finding other types of collectible stamps is a much easier task than it might have been prior to say, 1995.
Most people will choose a country to start focusing their collecting interests on, and most choose the country in which they live for obvious reasons: it’s always easier to find stamps from a country that you live in. Another popular option is to choose a topic to focus on instead of a specific country. This type of stamp collecting is called topical stamp collecting and is probably the fastest growing segment of the hobby today. In days past, so-called serious collectors would ridicule the very idea of topical stamp collecting, but those days are very quickly disappearing and the hobby has accepted topical collecting with open arms.
Even many very experienced stamp collectors have sideline collections that are topical stamp collections. For instance, my main focus is United States stamps up to 1945, but I have several sideline collections that are focused on topical subjects including
train stamps, ferraris on stamps, and dinosaurs on stamps. The subjects and topics can be as varied as the personalities of the stamp collectors themselves.
The second part of the equation is the condition of the stamps that you decide to put in your collection. Specifically, I’m referring to whether you should focus on mint or used stamps and the quality of the stamps themselves. This opens up a whole can of worms that has been the subject of hot debate since the beginning of stamp collecting as a hobby. It will pay for us to examine just what some of the terms used in the hobby are and what they mean.
Mint stamps are stamps with full, original gum (provided there was gum on the stamp when issued), outstanding color, excellent centering, and an overall appearance that just says quality. Unfortunately, there is an element of subjectivity to this term and most other condition related terms in stamp collecting. One collector will tell you a stamp is mint simply because it is unused and has gum on the back, while another will tell you the same stamp is worthy only as postage or the trash bin. One thing is for certain, if it is the person who is selling the stamp to you that is describing the stamp as mint, you will most certainly pay a premium for the stamp, generally much more than what the catalog says the stamp is worth. The important thing here is, does that stamp measure up to your personal definition of mint and is it worth the price you will pay to you.
Used stamps are the way that many beginning collectors start out, because they can simply soak the stamps off their incoming mail and add them to their collection. That’s not to say that used stamp collecting is only for beginners, though, as there are plenty of experienced collectors that also concentrate on used stamps. In fact, some purists insist that this is the only proper
way to collect stamps, because then you know that the stamps were employed to do what they were originally intended to do: move the mails. Personally, I agree with this philosophy whole-heartedly, but there is another reason why collecting used stamps may be appealing to you: used stamps are usually (not always) much cheaper to acquire and maintain than their mint counterparts.
Your choice of mint or used stamps, coupled with the type of stamps you choose to collect will determine where and how you will acquire your first stamps. If you choose mint current stamps of the country in which you live, getting started can be as simple as heading down to your local post office and purchasing the latest stamps issued. If you choose used current stamps of the country in which you live, it’s even simpler: just start watching your mail, and the mail of your friends, family, and acquaintances and save what stamps come in. Anything other than the country in which you live will prove to be a little more difficult, but just as rewarding.
Mint modern issues of other countries can usually be purchased from the postal service of that country through mail order via the philatelic bureau of that country. Used stamps and mint older stamps from other countries will require you to deal with either stamp dealers or other collectors with stamps for trade or sale. These can be found at online stamp collecting or stamp auction sites, through advertisements in any of the various stamp collecting periodicals, or at local stamp shows and stamp bourses.
Generally speaking, the best way to get started in any new stamp collection is to purchase the largest packet of the type of stamps you are interested in. In this way, you will get most of the common stamps in that area at the most inexpensive price possible, due to the economies realized from buying in bulk. For larger countries with highly active stamp issuing histories, this could literally be thousands of stamps and can be somewhat expensive. Still, it is well worth the price to do this, as buying the stamps just a few at a time or one at a time will prove to far, far more expensive in the long run.
If you’re still undecided as to what type of stamps you’d like to collect, then perhaps the best bet is for you to purchase a large world-wide mixture. These can be purchased for relatively little money, and will give you a very good idea of what is out there to
collect. One of my fondest memories in stamp collecting was a HUGE box of stamps that was given to me by an older collector when I was a kid. This box literally had about 50,000 stamps in it from every country in the world. I spent at least two years digging through and sorting out that box, and utilized the leftover duplicate stamps for trading with other collectors for many years after that.
So, now we’ve discussed where to acquire your first stamps for your collection. This is definitely the most exciting part of the hobby for beginning collectors. In fact, the acquisition of new stamps for your collection will always be the most exciting part of the hobby. Keeping in mind that this post is about stamp collecting for beginners, here’s a list of key phrases discussed that should help you find those stamps in online searches or in searching through advertisements:
- New issues service – combine this with the name of the country of interest – ie “Canada new issues service”
- mint stamps
- used stamps
- stamp mixtures
- stamp packets
- philatelic bureau
- stamp periodicals
- online stamp auction
- stamp auction
- stamp show – combine this with the name of your locale – ie Sacramento stamp show
- stamp bourse – same as above
In the next post in the stamp collecting for beginners series, we’ll discuss just what to do with those stamps and the necessary tools you’ll need to acquire in order to properly handle and care for those new stamps.
For other posts on Stamp Collecting for Beginners see the following:
- Stamp Collecting for Beginners – Why Stamp Collecting?
- Stamp Collecting for Beginners – The History of Stamp Collecting