To collect stamps you need three things;
a storage system
a reason for doing it !
What is Stamp Collecting and why do it ?
Stamp collecting is an illogical activity that gives pleasure, but then, run through some other hobbies and pastimes (many of which might be thought of as sensible or "normal") and you'll find a distinct lack of logical reasons for doing them. It sometimes gets a bit of a reputation for being a slightly "nerdy" hobby. Maybe it's because it's a pastime pursued mostly by lone participants, indoors, with their curtains closed. Stamp collectors should have self-confidence in their pursuit - it is no less sensible than most other indoor pursuits, and much more sensible than many. (Remind me, just what is the point in watching a soap on the television ?)
Humans have always had an instinct to collect. Apparently there are examples of primeval man having gathered stones and pebbles from different sources, and arranging them at the side of their dwelling. Done for no other reason but that this "caveman" was a collector ! When adhesive postage stamps first appeared in 1840, people started collecting them, even though there was such a tiny variety available. As other countries started issuing stamps, and the range of varieties increased, stamp collecting emerged as we might recognise it. People exchanged information as well as stamps. Collectors aimed at completion. The rest is history.
What are The Rules ?
There are no rules. Anybody stating that there are rules doesn't understand the rules, or is ignorant, or arrogant. However, it is irresponsible to make your own decisions without first getting informed on all the choices, all the pros and cons. A serious beginner should take their time and take on as much information as possible before embarking on a path they might later regret. Speak to other collectors - if you can manage to find ten to ask, you'll find ten different sets of recommendations.
However, you could keep waiting and waiting, until you know everything, before starting. Clearly there has to be a balance - yes, get active, get started, but don't jump in too fast.
And when you start, it will be your collection, taking the form and direction you have chosen. Stamp collecting is therefore a hobby well-suited to self-confident individuals, as well as being accessible to people who would rather follow popular trends.
There are as many different styles of collecting as there are types of people – nobody can say their way is right. Different people might be attracted by;
technical aspects of printing and stamp production
the aesthetic quality of designs
ticking boxes/filling lists
the attractive pictures of their favourite animals
the stamps' historical background
interest in market prices
pleasure of arranging collection
social aspects of the hobby
the openings for carrying out research
the fact that stamps can be an “add-on” to other existing interest
showing off ! - and there's more reasons.
What to Collect ?
There are so many choices – you should look at as much as possible, use your imagination, talk to people. If possible, visit a stamp shop, a philatelic society meeting, a postal museum, an ordinary museum (many have stamps), a stamp fair or exhibition, or a stamp auction. Find something that you are drawn to. Do a bit of research to see if it is going to be possible to find enough material to fit into your collection - and that you can afford it.
How Should it be Stored ?
In the most basic forms, the choices are as follows;
|Shoebox||A surprising number of collections
never make it past the shoebox stage ! (Other
kinds of box do almost as well, of course . . .
||Cheap, easy, quick, and actually quite
good for the stamps.
||Difficult to organise in such a way as
to see what is in the collection.
||Albums with strips across the page
where the stamps slip in and out.
||Quick and easy to use, and easy to
change the stamps' positions as the collection
grows. Loose leaf versions are even more
||A certain amount of the layout is not
variable. Difficult to write-up or annotate. You
miss out on the pleasures of page arrangement.
||Loose leaf album with pages normally
printed with a faint squared pattern.
Stamps mounted using either stamp hinges or plastic mounts.
|Can be the most satisfying method
available, creating a very personal collection,
and with the widest options for layout (on each
page, and of the collection as a whole). Fairly
||Reasonably time-consuming, especially
if pages are laid out to their best advantage
and research done for background information.
Unless using proper stamp albums, you must be
wary of the chemical properties of the paper you
||Normally an album with pages already
marked out with spaces for all the stamps of a
particular country. Some come with plastic
mounts already in place.
||Unless you make a mess of it, your
collection will look good. OK, the same as other
people's, but you will easily attain a certain
||Little room for individuality. One of
the most expensive storage methods available,
particularly if the "hingeless" type of album
(with mounts) is chosen.
How to Mount Stamps
Stamp Hinges; These have been used commonly by stamp collectors almost since the earliest days of collecting. Cheap and practical, they are specially gummed slips of paper, part of which is stuck to the stamp, with the larger part being stuck to the page. Note that there are no stamp hinges available anywhere in the world which approach the peelable qualities of the hinges available some decades ago.
Plastic Mounts; Brands such as Hawid and Showgard are popular as a method of mounting a stamp on a page without the stamp being stuck to anything. The "gard" types are sealed top and bottom, and split along the centre of the back - make sure when wetting the back of the mount that no moisture can get near the stamp. The other types are sealed at the bottom only.
Photo Corners; These should not be used for stamps or for miniature sheets as they will probably, given time, dent or bend or crease the corner of the item mounted. They are fine for thicker items such as cards and covers.
Packets on Pages; Some collectors mount larger items (e.g. blocks or miniature sheets) using a clear-fronted packet which they then stick on the page. That's ok but for two reservations; firstly that some packets are made of materials that are only intended for short-term use and may discolour with time, and secondly that if sticky tape or glue are used to stick the packet to the page it will probably deteriorate with age and this might damage the stamps.
What Use are Stamp Catalogues ?
Strangely, the reason many people use a catalogue (to check prices) is the one area where most stamp catalogues fall down.
They are very useful, and generally accurate, at giving you information like dates of issue, descriptions of the stamps' designs, background technical data such as printing methods and perforation measurements, details of artists and designers, and providing a complete list of all the stamps available so that you can get your collection in order and see where you have gaps.
On prices they fail. They are so misleading, so inaccurate, that many people would be better off never seeing one !
Tools of the Trade
There are various accessories available to stamp collectors. One is a necessity (I think !) and that is proper stamp tweezers.
My advice on other accessories is to get what you need when you need it - that is to get the correct tools to do the job, once you have identified what the job is.
The various things you might find useful include;
Floating tray and drying book
Sources of Stamps
Here's some ideas about where you can get stamps from, and what good or bad about each one;
The Post; Of course this is the cheapest method, but it rather limits the amount and variety of stamps you are likely to obtain.
Friends; Great if you have a contact who works in an organisation that gets lots of foreign mail, but still limiting, and you might also feel that you are due your friend something back.
Post Offices; The prime source. Most people feel that they can't do better, as you get everything at issue price, not realising that sometimes you can get things a few years later for less than issue price. Some post offices are very helpful towards collectors, others just can't be bothered.
Stamp Dealers (shops, fairs, or mail order); Generally tend to be a bit more expensive that other sources, but a good dealer can be a very worthwhile contact as they often provide a wide range of permanent stock, and can be the source of good advice.
Auctions; Very popular with many collectors, although any individual auction sale will have a limited range of material on offer, and will not be able for commercial reasons to sell things in very small "bites". Usually considered as being the indication of the mid-market for buying and selling.
Internet; An excellent source of material, with millions of items available worldwide every day, sometimes at very reasonable prices (at times even bargains). However, it is good to be wary, as there are lots of "pups" on offer, where there are problems such as forgeries, reprints, misidentifications, and poor quality. There are very few people selling through internet auctions who are deliberately trying to cheat others, but many are selling things in innocent ignorance - and some of these things end up being bought by someone who is also innocently ignorant !