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Philately

Philately is the study of stamps and postal history and other related items. Philately involves more than just stamp collecting, which does not necessarily involve the study of stamps. It is possible to be a philatelist without owning any stamps. For instance, the stamps being studied may be very rare, or reside only in museums.

Stamp Collection

Stamp collecting is the collecting of postage stamps and related objects. It is one of the world’s most popular hobbies. Many casual stamp collectors accumulate stamps for sheer enjoyment and relaxation without worrying about the tiny details. The creation of a large or comprehensive collection, however, generally requires some philatelic knowledge and will usually contain areas of philatelic studies. Postage stamps are often collected for their historical value and geographical aspects and also for the many different subjects depicted on them, ranging from ships, horses, and birds to kings, queens and presidents. Stamp collectors are an important source of income for some countries who create limited runs of elaborate stamps designed mainly to be bought by stamp collectors. The stamps produced by these countries may exceed their postal needs, but may also feature attractive topical designs that many collectors desire.

History of stamp collecting

Postage stamp collecting began at the same time that stamps were first issued, and by 1860 thousands of collectors and stamp dealers were appearing around the world as this new study and hobby spread across Europe, European colonies, the United States and other parts of the world. The first postage stamp, the Penny Black, was issued by Britain in 1840 and pictured a young Queen Victoria. It was produced without perforations(imperforate) and consequently had to be cut from the sheet with scissors in order to be used. While unused examples of the “Penny Black” are quite scarce, used examples are quite common, and may be purchased for $20 to $200, depending upon condition. People started to collect stamps almost immediately. One of the earliest and most notable was John Edward Gray. In 1862 Gray stated that he “began to collect postage stamps shortly after the system was established and before it had become a rage”.

 Stamp collecting equipment

A few basic items of equipment are needed to collect stamps.

  1. Stamp tongs help to handle stamps safely.
  2. A magnifying glass helps in viewing fine details and an album is a convenient way to store stamps.
  3. A stockbook with clear plastic pockets is one of the safest ways to store stamps. Some collectors prefer a traditional stamp Album

Acquiring stamps

Many collectors ask their family and friends to save stamps for them from their mail. Although the stamps received by major businesses and those kept by elderly relatives may be of international and historical interest, the stamps received from family members are often of the definitive sort. Many dealers sell stamps through the Internet while others have neighborhood shops which are among the best resources for beginning and intermediate collectors. They also meet collectors at regional exhibitions and stamp shows.

Collecting specialties

A worldwide collection would be enormous, running to thousands of volumes, and would be incredibly expensive to acquire. Many consider that Count Philipp von Ferrary’s collection at the beginning of the 20th century was the most complete ever formed. Many collectors limit their collecting to particular countries, certain time periods or particular subjects (called “topicals”) like birds or aircraft on stamps.

Some of the more popular collecting areas include:

  1. Postage stamps – particular countries and/or time periods
  2. Airmail stamps – stamps may be required for airmail, which is typically more expensive and has special postage rates.
  3. Topical stamp collecting – many collectors choose to organize their philatelic collection on the theme of the stamps, covers, or postmarks. Popular topical themes are animals, dogs, cats, butterflies, birds, flowers, art, sports, Olympics, maps, Disney, scouting, space, ships, Americana (topics relating to the US), stamps on stamps, famous people, chess, Chinese new year, and many others.
  4. Birds on stamps, Ships on stamps, Insects on stamps, People on stamps, Stamps on stamps
  5. Postal stationery – includes government-issued postal cards, aerograms, letter card, wrappers, envelopes, etc., that have an imprinted stamp.
  6. Sheets – Sheetlets – this is a format that is now issued regularly by postal administrations. Instead of issuing stamps in large sheets of 40, 100 or even 200 stamps, smaller sheetlets with 20 to 24 stamps are issued with a large selvedge area which may incorporate part of the stamp design or theme.
  7. Souvenir sheets – many postal services sometimes release stamps in a format that look like a sheet with a big picture. Various parts of the picture can be torn out and used as postage stamps. See example with 10 stamps in one picture. (Souvenir sheets should be distinguished from souvenir cards, which are souvenirs of a philatelic meeting or exhibition but are not valid for postage.)
  8. Miniature sheet – is very similar to a souvenir sheet, being in a sheetlet with a single or a number of stamps embedded in it.
  9. Revenue stamps – stamps issued to pay taxes.
  10. First day covers – (FDCs) – envelopes with stamps attached and canceled on the first day that the stamp was issued. Most modern FDCs bear designs, called “cachets”, related to the theme of the stamp issued.
  11. Souvenir pages – with first day canceled stamps on a page describing all design, printing and issuing details. These are similar to first day covers except that they are issued as printed sheets of paper instead of envelopes, and the specification of the stamp is printed by the official source. See picture of first souvenir page in the US.


Catalogue

Stamp catalogues are the primary tool used by serious collectors to organize their collections, and for the identification and valuation of stamps. Most stamp shops have stamp catalogues available for purchase. A few catalogues are offered on-line, either for free or for a fee. There are hundreds of different catalogues, most specializing in particular countries or periods.