ABOUT STAMP COLLECTING
WHAT IS IT AND WHY DOES IT STILL APPEAL?
THREE DIFFERING VIEWS ?
"Stamps were, and sometimes still are, things of beauty and history, links to distant places that spawned a global hobby known as philately, or, simply, stamp collecting" (from 'The Free Dictionary").
"Not philosophers, but fret-sawyers and stamp collectors compose the backbone of society." (Aldous Huxley - 'Brave New World'?
"the primary motivation is the simple pleasure of collecting" - 91% of 3,001 participants in a survey conducted in France by L'Ifop for E Bay in March 2021.
Note: in this L'Ifop (French Institute for Public Opinion) survey another question asked was "if you had to give up your collection what would you like to happen [to it]?" 50% of the responses were that they wished it to remain in the family.
MYTH, HISTORY, OR SOCIOLOGY?
A popular story about how stamp collecting started is that of a Victorian lady who decided to decorate her lounge by covering the walls with the newly introduced postage stamps. her accumulation of these led to her storing some in albums, and thence into 'collections'. An alternative telling is that her 'advertising for more stamps' for this purpose in the popular press was a clever marketing ploy by the emerging trade of stamp dealing - with a certain Stanley Gibbons named as the possible perpetrator.
"Stamps" pre-date the Penny Black. In 1680 William Docwra set up a "penny post" for the collection and delivery of letters within the City of London; with letter boxes, collections every hour, and branch offices that stamped the exact time of the letter collection to serve as a receipt. The story then goes that the Duke of York was so impressed with the efficiency of this story that he claimed royal prerogative for the delivery of mail - and 'the rest is history'. (From "Stamp Collecting" by Prescott Holden Thorp -1961).
But sometimes myths and history cannot be separated. A letter from Vita Sackville-West to the Times in 1956 describes how her mother amused herself whilst pregnant with Vita in 1892 " by papering a small room at Knowle (a house now shared between the Sackville-West family and the National Trust and known as 'Knole')) with stamps arranged in strips and patterns ....I remember there were many Russian stamps of the Tsarist regime and there were some early Victorian stamps also".
"Why do people collect stamps?" is a frequent question. In his book "The Sociology of Collecting" published in 2014, Jack Shamash commented that for King George V it was 'his greatest ambition to have the finest stamp collection in Britain, and he succeeded admirably'. Yet, Shamash comments, 'Collecting is in many ways a bizarre practice. It demands that we should have an interest in a particular item and not just a burning desire to look at it in a museum or a picture book, but a tremendous desire to own it': yet he goes on to observe that ' acquiring a collection, for most people , is a social activity' where people come together to exchange items, ideas and knowledge; to share, and sometimes to compete. (Editor's note - Hence Philatelic Societies like Kingston and District?)
Here at Kingston and District Philatelic Society, we know that sometimes all it takes to change the world is a little support. Since our founding in 2000, we have been determined to make an impact. The core of our efforts is to bring our team’s fresh ideas and passion to the range of activities we’re involved in. Through all of our endeavors we hope to display the conviction behind our beliefs.
How others may see us?
Stamp collectors are found in every country of the world.
A hobby that thrives on international exchanges.
How we may see ourselves?
And come from many backgrounds
And welcomes a myriad of interests
THIS PAGE OF OUR WEB-SITE HAS SIX SECTIONS
A. SOME HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVES
B. MODERN CHALLENGES
C. APPROACHES TO COLLECTING
D. ADDITIONAL INSIGHTS
E. JOURNALS AND BOOKS
F. STAMP EXHIBITIONS AND SHOWS.
KINGSTON AND DISTRICT PHILATELIC SOCIETY
We were founded in 1927 but the history of philatelic societies and stamp collecting long predates us!
Stanley Gibbons was established in 1856 to meet the growing market for stamps, and the London Philatelic Society was founded in 1869.
Times change, our hobby continues, but it needs to constantly adapt and these pages reflect some of the diverse thinking and activities that underpin our hobby.
A. SOME HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVES
A serendipitous dip into some of the views expressed about stamp collecting in the 19th Century
"THE FUTURE OF STAMP COLLECTING"
(PUBLISHED IN 1886!)
"This movement towards become specialists will, in all likelihood, steadily continue, and it will not be long before it will be an exception to find a person collecting even all varieties of postage stamps. Of course this will only be the case if new issues continue to appear as often as they do now, and from present appearances we should judge that they would. But none of us know what the future may have in store for philately, and indeed in the onward march of invention it is not at all improbable that some new and improved system of prepayment of postage may be devised which will entirely do away with the use of stamps, so that but for collectors their very existence might be forgotten a few centuries hence. – The Stamp and Coin Gazette"
The full article is available on
And the Stamps of the German States
"STAMP COLLECTING AS A PASTIME"
Another perspective on the way the issuing of stamps reflects geo-political events is provided by Edward Nankivell in an article written for Stanley Gibbons in 1902.
Nankivell shows how the formation of the German Empire can be charted in the issuance of stamps by the German States.
"The stamps of Germany tell a somewhat similar story. They mark the gradual absorption into a confederation of states, and the ultimate creation of a German Empire. The postal issues of Baden ceased in 1871, when the Grand Duchy was incorporated in the Empire.
Bavaria, though also incorporated, holds out in postal matters, and still issues its separate series. Bergedorf was in 1867 placed under the control of the free city of Hamburg, and thereupon ceased issuing stamps. Bremen, Brunswick, Hamburg, Lubeck, Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Oldenburg, Prussia, Saxony, and Schleswig-Holstein formed the North German Confederation and closed their postal accounts with collectors in 1868.
Hanover became a province of Prussia after the war of 1866, and thereupon ceased its separate issue of postage stamps: and Thurn and Taxis followed suit in 1867.
In 1870 the North German Federation was merged in the German Empire, which issued its first postage stamp the Imperial eagle in 1872. But the Empire was not yet sufficiently united to place a portrait of the Emperor upon its Imperial postal series."
Edward James Nankivell (1848–1909) was a respected journalist in London and an avid early stamp collector. Stamp collecting was a relatively new hobby and not taken seriously at all by the people, who considered it only something to amuse children.
Nankivell was upset by the lack of respect the public had for his beloved hobby and he wrote his classic book - "Stamp Collecting as a Pastime" - as a passionate plea for the acceptance of stamp collecting as a serious pastime for everyone from the Prince of Wales to ordinary school children
John Nicholas Luff (1860 – 1938) came from New York. He was one of the most important philatelists during the 19th and early 20th centuries, notable as an early user of scientific methods in the study of postage stamps. The Luff Award of the American Philatelic Society is named after him.
This picture and is taken from the David Feldman web-site
This wonderful web-site contains a wealth of information for stamp collectors in addition to important information about upcoming sales.
“WHAT PHILATELY TEACHES”
The following is taken from a lecture delivered before the section on philately of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences. February 24, 1899. By John N. Luff
“By some, philately has been called a science. Perhaps it hardly merits so exalted a title but it opens for us a wide field of research, in which we may find many curious, interesting and instructive things. It trains our powers of observation, enlarges our perceptions, broadens our views, and adds to our knowledge of history, art, languages, geography, botany, mythology and many kindred branches of learning”.
In his lecture John Luff develops many themes illustrated by stamps of the period. And discourses on the physical processes involved in producing stamps. One example of his linking of the study of stamps to a broadening of knowledge concerns the stamps of Turkey issued at that time.
“The stamps of Turkey at the end of the 19th Century had no portraits, adhering to the Moslem prohibition on the reproduction of the human figure.
On these stamps we find the crescent, said to have been the emblem of the Byzantine Empire and adopted by the Turks after the fall of Constantinople. We also find an elaborate device called the Toughra or signature of the Sultan. It owes its origins to Sultan Murad I … who signed imperial decrees by dipping his fingers in ink and placing them on documents with three fingers close together and the little finger and thumb extended. …..This emblem was elaborated over time and contains certain characters which are permanent and minor ones such as the name of the Sultan, which change.....
The toughra is often referred to as a hand. In an article published in 1867 I find the following…
“The hand has, to a Moslem, three mystic significations; it denotes providence; it is the expression of law; and thirdly of power……
As an emblem of law the five fingers, with the exception of the thumb, have three joints. All the fingers are subordinate to the unity of the hand, their common foundation. The five fundamental precepts of the law are: Belief in God and his prophet: Prayer: Giving alms: fasting during the sacred months and at appointed times: Visiting the temples of Mecca and Medina. Each of these precepts admits of three divisions, except the first symbolized by the thumb, which has only two ‘heart’ and ‘work’.
The hand placed upon the gates of the Alhambra, upon the Sultan’s seal, and upon the stamps symbolizes the spiritual and temporal power which protects the good and the faithful, and punishes their adversaries”.
Luff concludes his lecture with:
“A postage stamp is a tiny thing but it holds in its pictured space thoughts that embrace the beginning and end of things, life, death and – and we know not what.”
THE FATHERS OF PHILATELY
BRIAN BIRCH FRPSL
The Roll of Distinguished Philatelists was established in 1921 by the Philatelic Congress of Great Britain to recognise outstanding contributions to the development of philately. At its launch, 43 philatelists were deemed to be "The Fathers of Philately". The oldest had been born 40 years before the issue of the 1d black. The Roll now consists of over 300 signatories, each of whom has been selected on merit.
A century after the last of the "Fathers" died, this book recalls and recounts the reasons for the establishment of the Roll, and its development as the most prestigious honour in philately.
"FATHERS OF PHILATELY"
Brian Birch FRPSL, has written an interesting book, published by the RPSL - available from their offices in Abchurch Street or via their web-site - which gives biographies of the first 42 philatelists enrolled by jury into the "Roll of Distinguished Philatelists".
This is reviewed by Brian Livingston in the August 2020 Issue of "Stamp Lover".
Brian points out that whilst many of these philatelists are still known today, others are starting to fade from common knowledge.
Some well known names include Lord Crawford (Conservative MP for Wigan before his elevation to the peerage) who amassed the finest library of philatelic literature of his time(now in the British Library) and whose name is remembered in the Crawford Medal awarded for the best published philatelic research each year.
Thomas Tapling, whose magnificent collection was bequeathed to the British Museum and may still be viewed in the British Library.
Philipp Arnold, also known as Phiipp von Ferrary, and also as Baron or Count Ferrary, and even briefly as the Duke of Galliera. Fabulously wealthy he collected on impulse, buying with gold, and owned amongst other stamps the Swedish 3 skilling in yellow, and the 1 cent magenta from British Guiana. He also bought many forgeries sold to him to unscrupulous dealers and these are still known as 'ferrarities'. His plan to bequeath his collection to the German state was sadly overtaken by his death in 1915 in Switzerland, and after the war his collection was seized by the French Government and sold off for war reparations.
In his review Brian Livingston also singles out Jean-Baptiste Moens as one of the lesser known figures today. He was a published and stamp dealer and the firm he established in Brussels (Galerie Bortier) was much esteemed in the world of philately. His use of careful cataloguing supported with accurate illustrations made philately accessible to many more people. Obituary writers in 1908 recognised him as the world's first dealer in stamps (and reputably one of the fairest).
KING GEORGE V
King George V had two passions: shooting and stamp collecting. He was guided into the latter through his uncle, The Duke of Edinburgh, and built up much of his early collection when travelling widely as a junior naval officer.
Even when king he would devote two hours a day to his stamp collection, and in addition to becoming the owner of many priceless stamps (such as the Mauritius 2d blue, and the British Guiana 1 Cent) was a formidable philatelic scholar in his own right.
Jack Shamash has published a not uncritical book about the King and his collection which contains many interesting insights into stamp collecting during this early period, and the genesis of the fabulous Royal Collection - now housed in Saint James Palace. HM the Queen continues to maintain the Royal Collection (her albums are bound in green leather to distinguish them from the Blue of her father, and the red albums of her grandfather.
"George V's Obsession - a king and his stamps" by Jack Shamash was published in 2013 : and is available through various booksellers and in an electronic format.
THE PERIL OF BEING A CELEBRITY COLLECTOR?
In 1904 a copy of the Mauritius 2d blue was discovered by a civil servant and put up for auction.
The bidding started at £500 and rose rapidly with fierce competition between two agents; Mr C Phillips representing the Reichpostmuseum in Berlin and Mr J Crawford. Mr Crawford finally secured the stamp with a bid of £1,450 - a world record price for a single stamp at that time (about £155,000 in today's terms).
Shortly afterwards, in conversation with the Prince of Wales (later King George V), one of the royal courtiers remarked, "Did your Royal Highness hear that some damned fool has just paid £1,450 for a single stamp?"
Yes, the Prince is reputed to have replied, "I was that damned fool". An unlikely conversation but one that strikes a chord with many stamp collectors when they are tempted by an item and wonder if they have paid too much?
However, Should the stamp come back on the market today, however, (unlikely - since it is safely housed in the Royal Collection) the estimated value at auction is in the region of £2 to £3 million. Perhaps not "such a damned fool"?
B. MODERN CHALLENGES
From "Any Number Can Play" by Clifton Faddiman (1957)
"The philatelist will tell you that stamps are educational, that they are valuable, that they are beautiful. This is only part of the truth. My notation is that the collection is a hedge, a comfort, a shelter into which the sorely beset mind can withdraw. It is orderly, it grows towards completion, it is something that can't be taken away from us"
WHO ISSUES POSTAGE STAMPS?
It used to clear that unlike other collectibles such as postcards, or match-books, postage stamps were issued exclusively by governments, or entities that had government status. Their purpose was the collection of pre-paid tax for the transmission of mail.
Today the distinction is not always so clear. There are many territories listed by Stanley Gibbons in an appendix to their catalogues whose issues, it believes, "are essentially intended for foreign collectors": i.e. no postal use was ever intended and whose production is usually off-shore with the stamps sent direct to dealers, and rarely, if ever, to post offices!
Examples include territories such as Fujeira, Khor Fakkan, and Umm al-Qiwain, in the United Arab Emirates - where the stamps were never valid for postal use; Redonda in Antigua, which has no post office but issues stamps, or Tuvalu that issues a volume of stamps out of proportion to its population.
But historically, and even today, most countries issue stamps that do have postal use as their purpose, but are also a representation in miniature of a territory, sovereignty, its history, values, interests, and identity.
V.S. Naipaul, the Trinidad born novelists, travelled widely and in his book "A Bend in the River" set in East Africa - then under British Colonial rule - he wrote: Small things can start us off in new ways of thinking, and I was started off by the postage stamps of our area. These stamps depicted local scenes and local things: there was one called 'Arab Dhow' [probably the Kenya Uganda Tanganyika 1935 5 Cent green and black showing a dhow on Lake Victoria] It was as though, in these stamps, a foreigner had said,'This is what is most striking about this place'. Without that stamp of the dhow I might have taken dhows for granted. Whenever I saw them tied up at our waterfront I thought of them as something peculiar to our region, quaint, something the foreigner would remark on, something not quite modern and certainly nothing like the liners and cargo ships that berthed in our own modern docks". (Published by Deutsch, London, 1979).
In a similar way postage stamps may also mark a passing of countries and empires. Carinthia, Fiume, Heligoland, Marienwerder, Saar, and Vrijheid, are redolent of states that flourished briefly before they were subsumed into larger entities. Ghana, Malaysia, Myamar, Sri Lanka are examples of states where the name on the stamp symbolizes independence from previous colonial rule.
The Australian author Angelo Loukakis’s parents came from the island of Crete (Greece) and he is acutely aware his ancestry. His novel, "The Memory of Tides", has the backdrop of the 1940 battle for Crete.
Of this novel Loukakis writes: "I wanted to show the extraordinary and positive relationships that were formed between Greeks and Aussies at a time of profound crisis. There were many instances of cross-cultural revelation during the Greek campaign. For humble, frightened village people an awakening and relief—they could scarcely believe that complete strangers would come from across the world to try to protect them from the Nazi tyrants. For Aussie boys, an awareness of a culture that had given birth to the very things they were fighting for—freedom and democracy."
(Whitmont, Scott (6 January 2007). "The Memory of War: Interview with Angelo Loukakis". Australian Bookseller & Publisher)
In a similar way he reflected on his early interest in stamp collecting: "A traitor to my origins, I suppose, I was much keener on British Empire stamps than I was on Greek or European ones....But stamp collecting, like nicking off after school, ended for me a long time ago. And the Queen no longer matters except as a side-show, and the British Empire has vanished." ("The Royal Arcade" Good Weekend, 18 March 1988)
Except, of course, that in the world of philately the 'British Commonwealth' has certainly not vanished.
TOO MANY STAMPS?
In 2017 France issued 108 new stamps, plus 154 self-adhesive stamps, plus 12 mini-sheets, plus one Air Mail stamp.
In 1938 a poem appeared in Gibbons Stamp Monthly by an author "WHH". This was apparently written in lament that in 1938 the French Post Office had issued 52 new stamps, an increase on the 26 issued in 1937, or the 25 issued in 1936.
The last two verses read:
"But my patience is now at its limit
With "football" the joking must cease,
Ere philatelists give you the motto -
"At commerce, but never at Peace".
Oh listen, Bell France, to this warning,
If you're going to go on at this rate,
I shall sever all friendly relations,
And go back to my Orange Free State!"
WOMEN IN PHILATELY
Philatelists and stamp collectors are not all "old white men"! At Kingston & District Philatelic Society we are very fortunate. We have a distinguished President in Susan Oliver, and several other active Members (who also happen to be female). There is a long history of women 'flying under the radar' in what has often been perceived to be a male preserve. Luckily this perception is now changing.
Her are some examples of the current "movers and shakers" listed on the Southeast Federation of Stamp Clubs (USA) for their Expo in 2020.
President of the American Topical Association, the largest organization in the world for topical stamp collectors. In 2013 she won the Mary Ann Owens Single Frame Grand Award at the National Topical Stamp Show, and in 2019 she won the Reserve Grand. She was awarded the Nicholas G. Carter Volunteer Recognition Award for national service in 2017.
WARACHAL EILEEN FAISON, MD
President of the Ebony Society of Philatelic Events and Reflections (ESPER), a philatelic society whose members study the stamps celebrating African American achievements and the African diaspora as well as encourages African Americans to embrace all aspects of philately. Dr. Faison has served as the Director of Social Media for ESPER since 2015 expanding its outreach via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn.
ELIZABETH M. HISSAY
Life member of the American Philatelic Society, an APS accredited Chief Judge, co-founder of Women Exhibitors and current Chair of the Committee on the Accreditation of National Exhibitions and Judges, the APS subcommittee that manages national shows and accredits and develops philatelic judges. Ms. Hisey is a past secretary of the American Association of Philatelic Exhibitors and is Treasurer for Women Exhibitors. Ms. Hisey owned a catering company for ten years and with that experience she collects and exhibits food-related philately, collects turn of the century advertising covers and early 1950s Bolivia.
NANCY B. CLARK
Accomplished philatelic exhibitor, an accredited Chief Philatelic Judge and a FIP accredited judge. She is a Luff Award winner for Service to Philately, and was the inaugural winner of the Rowland Hill Award for Service to Philately in the Southeastern States in 2005. She has held numerous leadership roles in philatelic societies including a term as treasurer of the American Philatelic Society. She was the host of APS Stamp Talk, an Internet Radio program, for 17 years. Ms. Clark's current project is the Presidency of the Boston 2026 World Stamp Show. She has personally founded a local stamp club, a state federation and a national stamp show.
"STAMP COLLECTING IS VERY ANALOGUE"
From an article in the Wall Street Journal June 2020.
"GORGING ON HBO in Washington, D.C., while waiting for the city to unlock itself, my eye wandered from TV to the media cabinet shelf where my long-forgotten stamp albums sat. An inveterate traveler now marooned by pestilence, I began leafing through them, every postmark a childhood touchstone: The Belgian king, dyed an unflattering rose, that I had nicknamed “pink head.” The Czech hockey team that seemed sad to be trapped behind their Iron Curtain. The tiny Laotian mahout atop his enormous elephant sparked dreams of jungle journeys across Southeast Asia. Each stamp was a ticket to a destination I would, and did, later visit.
After an absorbing afternoon, I wondered if a revival is due for this fusty pastime where history, graphic design and exotic landscapes commingle on a bit of sticky perforated paper.
Scott English, executive director of the nonprofit American Philatelic Society (APS) that serves as a resource for stamp collecting and collectors, says online search results listing the APS have roughly doubled to 1.2 million since March.
Gerard McCulloch, whose blog Punk Philatelist explores stamps and pop culture, has observed more millennials and women taking up the hobby in the pandemic. Both men think stamp collecting’s nondigital nature is compelling. “It’s a very analog way to spend your day,” said Mr. English."
"TECH-SAVVY STAMP COLLECTORS ENERGISE AN OLD HOBBY"
Reads the headline of a BBC News report on 17 September 2019.
The report broadcast by Catherine Bullock (Technology and Business reporter) describes how some younger collectors are taking a digital approach to the hobby. It quotes one such collector (Anita Lo) "who shares her collection on Instagram and WhatsApp and uses an online catalogue to search for items by price and country instead of the hard copies traditionally taken to auctions".
Similarly the report quotes Graham Beck who has set up his own You Tube channel "Exploring Stamps" to interact with fellow enthusiasts. He points out this media allows him to explore the story behind the stamp and his most popular video at that time had attracted 80,000 views.
"We need to capture the excitement of stamps - whether it's through learning about them on YouTube or using QR codes on stamp displays at exhibitions that can be scanned with your phone and linked to a video".
This report is now 18 months old but recent activity in this digital world of stamp collecting has accelerated through the restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic and it will be interesting to see what current research will uncover when published later in 2021.
THE NEW DIGITAL WORLD ?
On March 23 the Royal Mail commenced a trial of new 2nd class stamps to business customers.
If the trial is successful this may well be the start of a revolution in stamp design - and perhaps more importantly a continued future for the adhesive stamp?
John Deering has written a fascinating and detailed article about the design of the new stamp in the May Issue of Gibbons Stamp Monthly.
THE ON-LINE WORLD AND YOUNG COLLECTORS
Please see page "Kid's Stuff" on this web-site. Capturing the interest of new collectors is a challenge but one resource is "Kid's Active".
Stamp Active Website wins International Award
The Stamp Active Website was awarded a Large Gold Medal (with Felicitations) and Overall Best Website at the Italia 2018 International Stamp Exhibition. This beat many other philatelic websites from around Europe and as far afield as Australia and Brazil.
The Italia 2018 Exhibition was held under the auspices of the Federation of European Philatelic Associations (FEPA).
Stamp Active is a voluntary organisation which promotes stamp collecting for young people in the UK. The patron is the Rt Hon. Alan Johnson (stamp collector, former Home Secretary and once a postman).
The website is well worth visiting. It is a source of inspiration of how our hobby is still relevant for younger people today – if only they knew about it - and a reminder for older collectors that there is still more they learn about their hobby through looking at with younger eyes!
Apart from news and events topics covered covered on the Website, include: Kidstamps free postal club; downloadable activity books; competitions; advice on joining and running Stamp clubs; tips on how to start collecting; how to support school stamp clubs – and lots more.
The Web site is well worth visiting on a regular basis.
BUT ARE WE NOT LUCKY?
"In 25 years the nature of philately has changed somewhat - certainly the number of local societies has fallen. Stamp shops have closed and school clubs are fewer than previously but we must not be pessimistic......
It is clear that there are many collectors who enjoy their collecting in isolation. We can be aware of the situation and try and persuade them to come to society meetings occasionally especially if we know there is something planned which might be of interest.....
But first we must be prepared to talk about what we enjoy in collecting. No - I do not mean that everyone ought to be displaying, entering competitions or giving talks to outside groups - but aren't we lucky that so many people are willing to do these things?"
From the Editorial of the ABPS Magazine Decermber 2018
C. APPROACHES TO COLLECTING
One of the joys of stamp collecting is that each collection can be unique. The choice of subject, the selection of material and the method of presentation is up to each individual collector. There are no 'rights' and 'wrongs' (apart perhaps of gumming stamps to sheets of paper?. Entries into competitions may have to conform to some rules, but even here there is great scope for individualism.
In this section we will share some views and examples on some of the general categories used to define types of collecting - but these are not exclusive! Twelve months of "Zoom Meetings" have shown us the infinity variety of the way people collect, and the multiplicity of ways in which they display and share their material.
From "Why People Collect Stamps"
"All stamp collectors agree (even if not everyone admits it) that what motivates them to collect stamps is the pure simple joy they feel when collecting. The process of searching, locating and buying common stamps, new stamps, old stamps, rare stamps, or any other types of stamps which are needed in order to complete a specific type of stamp collection gives the stamp collector a sense of pride, success and accomplishment. For some people, just the simple and pure fun of the hunt (similar to treasure hunting), and the moment of actually finding and successfully acquiring a particular stamp is a good enough reason to collect stamps."
From a speech by Francis Cardinal Spellman
while laying the foundation stone of Cardinal Spellman Museum at Weston (USA) in 1972.
"The collecting of stamps brings untold millions of people of all nations into greater understandings of their world neighbours"
From "Generally Speaking: all 33 columns plus a few more" by Lawrence Block
(for three years novelist and stamp collector Lawrence Block wrote a monthly column for Linn's Stamp News - these extracts are taken from one of these).
"One buys a stamp album with the intention of filling it - but it is in moving towards this goal that satisfaction lies, not in attaining it."
"And then there are the blocks and other multiples, not to mention covers. The whole world of postal history could ensure against the possibility of ever bringing a collection of Mayotte [ a French colony that issued 32 stamps between 1892 and 1912] to completion. I don't think I'll go that route. I don't know that I'm interested in chasing down the wide-space stamps, let alone the double surcharges - but it is comfrting to know that they're there if I want to pursue them."
"Alexander, we are told, wept when he realized there no more lands left to conquer."
"You never fill all the spaces, not really. And I find that enormously comfrting. In philately, Alexander would have nothing to worry about. There are always fresh worlds to conquer."
"THE WORLD'S YOUR OYSTER"
An article by Mike Dovey in the July 2021 Gibbons Stamp Monthly illustrates the scope that any stamp collector has to choose a unique way of collecting - and one that may not necessarily involve great expenditure.
Mike recounts how in the 1970's / 1980's he contacted the Masters of P-Class cargo ships and asked them to send him covers as they criss-crossed the world in these new (but soon to be outdated) ships.
He tells how "I am deeply indebted for the superb help and consideration shown to me in my quest for covers from these masters. ....The masters received no commercial gain for their help, just the knowledge that someone out there cared about their vessels and the shipping companies they worked for".
As a result Mike was able to assemble a collection of some 400 covers from eight ships that operated around the world routes; picking up and dropping off cargoes at an ever changing list of smaller ports and harbours.
Many of these covers bear identification marks of the ships, the point of cancellation, and dates and times.
These covers, backed up by some formidable research (only lightly touched on by the author) into shipping companies, routes, and the economic changes that engulfed the shipping world in this period, make for fascinating reading - and a source of inspiration to other collectors as to how anyone can forge their own unique collection.
We are very fortunate in the Kingston and District Society in that our Honorary Secretary, Brian Sole, is a leading light in thematic collecting, and has been for many years.
He is a great source of knowledge about the discipline and has the ability to simplify and explain some of the more arcane rules that govern competition entries. He himself, has won many prizes including a Gold Medal at the prestigious Washington 2006 International Stamp Exhibition for "Go by Cycle!".
He is also very good at reminding people that thematic collecting is fun; with the opportunity to explore and add booklets, proofs, errors, covers, stationery, postmarks, revenue and fiduciary stamps, and any other item directly related to postal services to illustrate any chosen topic.
For more information about 'what is thematic collecting?' please see the British Thematic Association web site - detailed above: or come along to one of our meetings when we would be pleased to share some of our experiences and discuss how we might help you develop your own interests.
As in any branch of philately pursuing some items can prove expensive, but in thematic collecting it is also possible to construct fascinating, and very personal displays, quite cheaply.
In previous meetings we have been privileged to see displays of stamps about gemstones, space exploration, flowers, sports, and a host of other topics: sometimes just stamps, sometimes with other philatelic material.
"WHAT IS THEMATIC COLLECTING?"
A TRULY GLOBAL HOBBY
Not surprisingly a prepondrance of UK stamp collectors have an interest of the stamps of Great Britain and the British Commonwealth.
However, both in the UK and across the world people collect stamps and postal history from their own countries, or others, as the fancy takes them and a casual perusal of the media, auctions, exhibitions and philatelic socety memberships indicates that some of the fastest growing areas of interest are outside of Europe and North America - the traditional heartlands for collectors.
One country that has always held interest for collectors and is now increasing its global presence is India.
Indian philately is as vast as the Indian subcontinent and as varied as its multiple regions, languages, beliefs and cultures.
Former colonial links are but one aspect of a history (and postal history) that dates back milennia, and with a burgeoning and increasingly highly educated population an interest in collecting stamps is also on the rise.
One small aspect of this may be seen in the publication of a new book by Subamenu which discusses famous Indian artists and the issue of Indian stamps celebrating these artists and their work. It contains fascinating insights into both the artists and philately and may be of interest to collectors who are interested in collecting across a range of topics.
The following are a small selection of the artists, works, and stamp referenced in this book.
AJANATI CAVE PAINTINGS
Situated In Northwest India, some 200 miles from Mumbai, at Ajanta Caves about 30 rock-cut Buddhist cave monuments which date from the 2nd century BCE.
The Ajanta cave paintings and rock cut sculptures are among the finest surviving examples of ancient Indian art, particularly expressive painting that present emotion through gesture, pose and form. According to UNESCO, these are masterpieces of Buddhist religious art that influenced Indian art that followed.
This India / Unesco stamp showing one of the cave paintings was issued in 1971.
A legendary figure, Nobel Prize Laureate for literature, interested in biology, physics, astronomy, poet; and campaigner for Indian independence and for the rights of Dalits.
His paintings are less well known, as is his interest in theatre. he was fascinated by form and did not name his paintings, preferring the viewer to see in them a wordless theatre. His portrayals of the human face are poignant and convey an essential humanity and emotion.
This stamp was issued in 2019.
Is best known for combining traditional Indian and Western art styles to create unique and complex works.
His stated aims as an artist were: to capture the essence of simplicity embodied in the life of the folk people; to make art accessible to a wider section of people; and to give Indian art its own identity.
He exhibited for the first time in Kolkata in 1938 and his popularity grew in the 1940's appealing to both Indian and European collectors.
This stamp "Two Vaisnavas" was issued in 1978.
RAJA RAVI VARMA
Is thought by many to be one of the greatest painters in the history of Indian art.
He was one of the first artists to successfully combine European classical techniques with the vision and tradition of Indian art.
Much of his work interprets the stories in the epic Puranas, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana: bringing the beauty and relevance of these to contemporary India. He often used South Indian women for his models and his pictures were embraced as icons by many of the lower castes who were not always allowed access to the images in their temples.
This stamp "Shakuntala writing a letter to Dushyanta" was issued in 1960.
LUCINIO PEREZ HERRES
FOUNDATIONS OF THEMATIC PHILATELY
This independently published book (2019) is available on Kindle (which therefore limits the quality of the illustrations) or in a large format paperback.
The author is Spanish and the translation is sometimes idiosyncratic. The examples used in this handbook are also predominantly Spanish but this does not detract from the insight this book provides into how to approach thematic collecting - and indeed what it is.
Early in the book is a list of "proper material" for a thematic collection: i.e. pieces issued or authorized by the official postal services of the countries recognized by the U.P.U. Reading through the 56 categories listed is itself an inspiration as to how creative a thematic collection can be. Most will be well known to collectors but examples of a few that may be less familiar include:
* ATM labels
* authorized private postal stationery
* travelling marks
* marks of private dealers
* shipments by atypical means
* printed in braille cecogram
* postal cheques
The discussion of 'purist' thematic collectors, and those who are more 'freestyle' is interesting; as is the distinction between collecting and organizing to meet competition rules, or collecting and organizing outside of such rules.
For people who are unsure of what thematic collecting is, or how to start, this guide covers a lot of ground - and is perhaps the more interesting because it has such a Spanish flavour.
There are literally hundreds of "themes" or "topics" that people may choose to collect. Everyone can develop their own. If you need inspiration the British Thematic Association () has an array of on-line resources to help; and the list of themes on Colnect Stamps () provides another perspective.
One theme that has attracted a lot of attention in the last eighteen months has been "CHESS". The enthralling TV series "The Queen's Gambit" engaged a large audience. Prompting many people to either try the sport / hobby or to return to it. The pandemic proved to be an ideal time for chess to further demonstrate its suitability for on-line play, and chess clubs report record new membership.
Ginger's prowess in "The Philosopher's Stone" (J. K. Rowling) has also attracted an audience that is not exclusive to the young among us.
So interest in 'chess' as a philatelic topic also appears to have increased and there are certainly many countires that issue 'chess stamps'.
"THE ERROR WORLD; AN AFFAIR WITH STAMPS"
An autobiographical reflection by Simon Garfield on his own passion for collecting stamps.
Simon Garfield is an accomplished author and journalist. "The end of innocence: Britain in the time of Aids" is perhaps his best known work. In "the error world" he recounts his early interest in stamp collecting, and, as like many collectors, how this became a passion when he returned to the hobby after a long break in his 20' and 30's.
His main interest was the collection of major errors on GB stamps - the hunt for a copy of the missing Queen's Head on the 1961 Parliamentary Issue is a running theme.
The book offers many perspectives on stamp collecting but three may interest our society members and friends:
1. The hindsight that there are always stamps or material one could have bought, but did not for a variety of reasons, and then watched as it became more an more unobtainable for reasons of price or scarcity. Balanced, of course, by the pleasure in reflecting on those items were bought at the right time.
2. The importance of the quality of the stamps in terms of condition, and then their protection in storage. For the rarest stamps provenance is important, for all stamps condition is paramount.
3. The realization (in Simon's case in 2007) that there were now simply too many stamps being issued and the cost of maintaining the completeness of a modern collection was simply too high.
There were 18 new issues of GB stamps in 2007: "The nightmare was cost. Some of the stamps went as high as £1.19, most new issues would include six stamps, and in a year a collector could easily spend more than £100 trying to keep up with the basics". Let alone also pursuing miniature sheets, presentation packs, gutter pairs, booklets, covers etc.
Many GB collectors have reached the same conclusion and have an end date for their collection: 1952 (End of George VI's reign); 1971 (decimalisation); 1999 (the Millennium) etc. But there has now been a resurgence in the collection of current issues fuelled by the interest of some collectors in thematics, social history, and open class collecting. Whilst the collection of Machins has become a passion for many, in its own right. The hobby continues to develop and adapt.
There is also a thread in Simon's personal story that is relevant to many local philatelic societies. The "Strand" of the 1950's - 1970's as the epicentre of stamp collecting in the UK , with numerous shops and local characters, has now become a memory. In his view stamp collectors have often tended to be rather secretive about their hobby - especially to non-stamp collectors (including spouses!). But they do enjoy talking with other philatelists - on occasion. He recounts many such conversations. Local societies, such as Kingston, therefore offer an alternative to the forums, and meeting places, once found around the Strand or in other regional centres, where fellow enthusiasts may meet, exchange notes, learn from the displays of others, and perhaps offer each other material: or just gossip about stamps.
"The Error World" is published by Faber and Faber.
STAMPS OTHER THAN FOR POSTAGE
Whilst most collectors pursue stamps that were printed, sold, and used for postal purposes there are many other stamps that were designed and used for other purposes. Often referred to as 'back of the book' issues, since they are usually listed at the back of catalogues, or in the back pages of printed albums, these issues have a devoted following of their own and are of growing interest to many collectors. These examples are from the United States of America.
The US Authorities issue bird hunting licences each year, which are issued in the form of a stamp. These are beautifully designed and have been selected from competitions held for this purpose.
The US Authorities, as in many other countries, have issued and used special stamps to signify that appropriate taxes have been paid. These are often finely engraved, as in this example of George Washington.
Stamps are often affixed to all manner of legal documents to indicate appropriate fees have been paid and under legal authority. These US stamps were used for leases, probate, and alcohol and drugs licences
Collecting Cinderella stamps is a fast growing area of the hobby. It has always been popular but the inclusion of thematic and open classes for philatelic competitions, and now also of ephemera has increased the appeal of these 'stamps'.
A cinderella stamp is "virtually anything resembling a postage stamp but one not issued for postal purposes by a government postal administration" (James Mackay. "Philatelic Terms Illustrated". Stanley Gibbons)
It is probably easier to define a cinderella stamp by what it is not. It is not for postage but could be a poster stamp: a propaganda label, a commemorative sticker, some railway stamps, or a stamp issued by a non-recognised country or for local use only.
These are examples of some of these highly decorative cinderellas.
Poznan is famous for its trade fairs, situated at the heart of mainland Europe. This cinderella stamp was issued for the 1930 "travel and tourism" fair and illustrates the Art Deco style that characterised the 1930's.
The coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 was celebrated with a review of the fleet in which the battleship HMS Vanguard, was the flagship. This event is commemorated on a local cinderella issued by the city of Plymouth.
The 1914 Jubilee Exhibition took place in Kristiana in 1914. It marked the centennial anniversary of the 1814 Constitution and this cinderella stamp captures the themes of tradition, liberal monarchy, and modernism of the exhibition.
COLLECTING STAMP 'ERRORS'
Stamp collectors have always been fascinated by stamps which show an error in terms of the paper, the perforation, the colours, or missing elements; usually as a result of the printing process.
One of the most famous errors is the Three Skilling Banco stamp first issued by the Swedish postal mail service in 1855. Its regular colour was green, but a few sheets were printed with the wrong yellow colour, normally reserved for another face value, the Eight Skilling stamp. Only one certified copy is currently known and it sold for over $2 million when last auctioned.
Modern errors are more numerous, and whilst some command high prices (thousands not millions!) - such as the missing GPO tower on the 1965 issue or the missing Queen's head on the 1961 Parliament Issue - many can be obtained for only a few pennies more than normal copies. Tom Pierron published a catalogue of known GB and Commonwealth errors in 2003 - now available on CD ROM and revised - and this provides information on such errors and the probably number of copies of each.
Many collectors are attracted to 'errors' because they offer the possibility of 'finds' amongst material that is otherwise commonplace, and because of the detection work involved in establishing how the error occurred, and ensuring the stamp has not been deliberately doctored to fool collectors (such as by ironing out the embossed Queen's head, or by chemical removal of a specific colour). An example of a common GB error is shown below, using stamps that actually went through the post, and were not just bought, unused, by a stamp dealer.
BATTLE OF HASTINGS
BATTLE OF HASTINGS
"Club Flaw": the dark shape on the right thigh of the soldier lying underneath the horse.
"Open Class" Stamp collecting encourages a very individual approach to collecting
COVERS DECORATED WITH ORIGINAL ARTWORK
Interesting stamps as they show Gabon stamps accepted for postage in newly independent Gabon - but with a striking hand painted illustration on the cover.
Striking graphical design
A card sent from one philatelist to another but decorated by a local woman working as a street artist with a striking design
from Congo to the BBC in London
A lovely example of the phonetic translation of an address into a foreign language - and a tribute to the postal authorities in directing it to the right address.
D. ADDITIONAL INSIGHTS
In the limitless world of stamp collecting many people use these small pieces of paper (receipts for paying the cost of postage in advance) as an adjunct to additional forms of art.
Some examples are shown below.
From "Grrr" a poem in "Stamp Collection. Poems inspired by Postage Stamps" by Dawn Anderon.
Published by Amazon 2017. Dawn Anderson has a blog at dawn.wordpress.com
Dawn Anderson writes "I decided to use my stamp collection as writing prompts. Over many years, my collection of interesting stamps has grown tucked into bowls and trinket caches. At the time each stamp found its way into my possession, I wrote a word that embodied the stamp on the back. This word and the stamp picture served as the subject for the corresponding poem.
[Perhaps not an ideal way to store or catalogue stamps?] but this collection of poems is a beautiful example of 'positive poetry' - and reflects the inspiration that each stamp may generate. As Dawn writes in the dedication"To collectors and dreamers everywhere, collect what you love; collect what inspires you be it postage stamps, classic cars, heirloom seeds, or positive poetry."
Puff of ash from seething volcano
warning shot over the bow
Tremors in a glass of water"
Left a note by the door
"had a bad day,
went for a walk
to let off steam."
This $2 stamp is of a Bobcat (lynx rufus) issued in 1990 by the USA.
A POEM BY ROBERT WILLIAM SERVICE
From "Stamp Collector"
(a British-Canadian poet (1874-1958) who latterly lived in France.
“My worldly wealth I hoard in albums three,
My life collection of rare postage stamps;
My room is cold and bare as you can see,
My coat is old and shabby as a tramp's;
Yet more to me than balances in banks,
My albums three are worth a million francs.
They are my very life, for every night
over my catalogues I pore and pore;
I recognize rare items with delight,
Nothing I read but philatelic lore;
And when some specimen of choice I buy,
In all the world there's none more glad than I.
Behold my gem, my British penny black;
To pay its price I starved myself a year;
And many a night my dinner I would lack,
But when I bought it, oh, what radiant cheer!
Hitler made war that day - I did not care,
So long as my collection he would spare.
Poor Monsieur Pns, he's cold and dead,
One of those stamp-collecting cranks.
His garret held no crust of bread,
But albums worth a million francs.
on them his income he would spend,
By philatelic frenzy driven:
What did it profit in the end. . .
You can't take stamps to Heaven.”
E. JOURNALS AND BOOKS
There are many journals and magazines that serve philatelists and stamp collectors.
Many of these are now available in digital format, and there are indeed many web-sites and blogs that only exist in an on-line form.
There is, however, a continuing demand for hard copy magazines - perhaps because of the affinity of paper with the physical nature of stamps? Also because such magazines are sometimes easier to dip into; to access without the need for an electronic device; and to better see illustrations?
The days when most newsagents offered several such magazines on their racks for perusal are now gone. But the magazines are still available through subscription. The page "Philatelic Journals" on this site shows some of the more popular magazines as suggested by our Members.
* Stamp Magazine
* Stamp Lover
* Gibbons Stamp Monthly
* Stamp Lover
* Echo de Timbre
* The London Philatelist
and of course, our own Journal.
Further suggestions would be very welcome (including non-English publications) and how these may be sourced. If you have any such suggestions please send an e mail to .
Our hobby is usually well served by exhibitions, conferences, and fairs: international, national, regional, and local.
Sadly the current Covid pandemic has led to wholesale cancellation of these events.
There is still considerable doubt as to when national restrictions will permit the resumption of such events and gatherings. Those of which we are aware are listed on our "Other Philatelic Events" page on this site.
But given the volatility of the current regulatory environment anyone planning to attend such an event should always check direct with the organisers before setting off!