What is Stamp Collecting

It’s surprising just how often the question, “What is Stamp Collecting?” is asked.  This seems to request a more thorough answer than the obvious.  Of course, stamp collecting is the act of collecting stamps.  (Remember the last time you got away with giving a definition like that…2nd grade, maybe?)  Often, it seems, that the real question is related to the difference between stamp collecting and philately.  More often, however, I believe the question is really about how a collector goes about their hobby.  The fact that the question is asked at all implies that this hobby differs greatly from others.  I’ve never heard, “What is Kite Flying?”, for example.

What makes stamp collecting so unique from other hobbies?

The terms Stamp Collecting and Philately are often used interchangeably in modern use.  Mary H. Lawson of the National Postal Museum defined philately as “the study and collection of stamps”.  Others have differentiated among the two terms further by describing philately as more of a science.  That science is studying stamp collectors and the hobby itself while not necessarily participating in it.  Hmmm.  That sounds like it could be summarized as the hobby of studying the hobby.  Nevertheless, Stamp Collecting must be a pretty unique hobby to have a separate word to define its study!  What makes it so unique?

…a hobby with an astronomical variety of collectibles

For one, it would be realistically impossible to collect one of every single stamp ever to exist.  Even it it were possible, what about all the different postmarks of used stamps, the differences in centering, or conditions?  Ok, so stamp collecting is a hobby with an astronomical variety of collectibles.  But that’s not what makes it really unique.  After all, a person could collect grains of sand I suppose.  The real reason why it is such a unique hobby is the number ways a person can categorize stamps and the order in which they do so.

Many a beginning stamp collector will start with a set of stamps from a particular country or those of a specific theme.  But their journey and their eventual collection will be uniquely patterned by those stamps which pique their continually evolving interests.   A Stamps on Approval customer may ask to examine and consider the purchase of stamps from Canada and those depicting mushrooms.  Their interest in Canada may lead to hockey stamps.  That leads to Olympics stamps, which leads to Great Britain, WWII…royalty, and eventually first day covers from Great Britain.  The possibilities are endless.

Stamp Collecting is the journey one takes between his or her very first stamp and their last!

The otherwise obvious definition of stamp collecting doesn’t work.  So, just what is stamp collecting?  Stamp Collecting is the journey one takes between his or her very first stamp and their last!  In this way, every stamp collection is 100% unique.  And that is why the hobby can only be truly defined by the collector themselves.

Tell us About Your Stamp Collection

During our early school days, we were encouraged to tell about our day, what we learned, what we found interesting. Perhaps you gave detailed replies. Or, perhaps, like me, you gave vague answers in an attempt to speak like an adult. Either way, as we age, our interests become more unique, more personal. Likewise we become more selective of the interests of others about which we genuinely wish to hear. And we become more selective with whom we share them. Then, before we realize it, our interests expand, contract, or change entirely.

This might make it difficult to talk about your stamp collection. It’s unique. It’s personal. And it may have changed direction or focus several times. But unlike other hobbies, stamp collecting isn’t competitive. Nor can it be accurately graded in true value by anyone other than you. But if you’ve ever had the opportunity to talk about your interests with someone who truly appreciates them, you know how rewarding that experience can be. This is what we do. We honestly want to hear about your stamp collection.

Our entire stamps on approval business is, and has been since 1939, about understanding and catering to your unique stamp collecting interests. Our success or failure depends upon you approving of the stamps we send to you. This would be impossible to do without being genuinely interested in what you like to collect. Feel free to share here publicly on our blog. Other stamp collectors may be interested as well. But you may also write to us via email. But please, tell us about your stamp collection. We really want to hear.

What are Definitive Stamps?

In its common English usage the word ‘definitive’ implies something as ultimately final…the ‘be-all and end-all’, if you will.  In Stamp Collecting terminology, Definitive might be defined as ‘new standards’ for postage stamp rates.  The philatelic glossary at Arago concisely defines Definitive Stamps as those that are “issued in an indefinite quantity and for an indefinite period, usually several years or more”.  Wikipedia defines definitives as stamps “designed to serve the everyday postal needs of the country”.

Ok.  So, they’re authoritatively final, standardized, everyday, stamps issued potentially forever in unknown quantities?  This all still begs the question, What are Definitive Stamps?

some descriptions make definitive stamps sound rigid and boring

Trying to be concise, many definitions of what Definitive Stamps are actually better describe what they are not.  Unfortunately, these descriptions might make definitives sound rigid and boring.  While the 1991 U.S. F rate Stamp shown at above left is perhaps the most boring stamp of all time, the majority are just the opposite like the $2.90 Eagle stamp issued the same year.  In fact, definitive stamp issues are sought after by many a serious stamp collector.  Why?  And again, what are they already?

Expert Philatelist Roger S. Brody of Arago describes definitive stamps as the “the workhorses of United States postage stamps” “whose designs might be used for many years“.  And here lies the key to some of the interest collectors find in definitive stamps.  Imagine yourself being tasked with the duty of creating a new definitive stamp issue.  Its range has to be flexible for denominational combinations.  And its designs have to convey meaning for many years to come.  No one hit wonders allowed here.

“You can’t expect to take a definitive image in half an hour. It takes days, often years.” – Photographer Fay Godwin

The expectations of a definitive stamp are so high that it is bound to fail in the modern day.  New postage printing procedures, new postal rates, and even minor design flaws eventually require re-issues or outright replacement.  Therefore, the result for collectors is a smorgasbord of stamp variety.  Wikipedia notes that over 1,000 variations of the U.K.’s Machin Stamps have been identified.  Likewise, the popular U.S. Prominent Americans series of Definitive Stamps saw many of its own changes but also contains wide variations in design and type.

I daresay that definitive stamps are fascinating due in part to their glorious failure at attempting to be definitive.  And isn’t that what makes stamp collecting so intriguing to many of us?  We attempt to categorically categorize something so richly diverse as postage stamps.   Yet, we discover a wonderfully engaging and mentally challenging hobby to be enjoyed for a lifetime!

What are Back of the Book Stamps?

The term “Back of the Book Stamps” generally refers to those stamp issues that have appeared in the back of the Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue’s country sections.  The catalog itself is released in volumes, each covering a set of stamp issuing nations.  U.S. “back of the book” stamps appear at the end of the United States section.  These stamps also have one or more letters appearing before their catalog number.  An example of a regular postage stamp issue would be U.S. 4119.  An example Back of the Book stamp would be U.S. C7.  The “C” is the notation for Airmail stamps.

they require special categorization

So, why do they appear in the back of the catalog?  Are they not as popular, valuable, or collectible?  No. They are more seldom seen by the general public.  But the reason they appear in the back is that they require special categorization.  Their use differs from regular issues.  And their costs are applied differently.  For example, Semi-Postal stamps were and can be used for sending a regular letter to a regular U.S. destination.  But they carry a special surcharge that is donated to charity.  Recently we wrote a bit about a couple of semi-postal stamps — the 2001 Mongolia B27-28 Unity Against Terrorism Stamp and the U.S. B1 Breast Cancer Research Stamp (which has raised an astounding $83.9 million for breast cancer research).

One shouldn’t think of the back of the book as synonymous with bottom of the barrel.  Nor should one think of all back of the book stamps as particularly rare.  After all, over 1 Billion of the Breast Cancer Research Semi-Postal Stamps were sold!  But while all postage stamps are unique and fascinating, back of the book stamps are just a little more special.  Do you have any in your stamp collection?  Let us know in the comments.

National Hobby Month

January is National Hobby month.

Isn’t it telling that we now have to have a national month of awareness to remember to treat ourselves to time spent on activities we love?  If only there were a way to remind you to spend time with it regularly.  Like a good little puppy bringing its ball to you, your hobby could wait patiently for your attention.

Purchase only those stamps you keep

Actually, this is similar to the way our Stamps on Approval Service works.  Approximately once per month, a new selection of collectible stamps arrives in your mailbox.  The stamps are chosen by our expert staff and are carefully selected according to your specific areas of interest.  When you have the time to do so, you can look through the stamps to see if you approve of any being added to your stamp collection.  Purchase only those stamps you keep.  Return the rest to us.  We’ll make sure they get into the hands of another collector whose interests they might better fit.

As your interests grow and change, we adapt to fit your specific needs.  As a business, of course it makes sense for us to do the best job possible at sending you only those stamps of which we believe you will approve.  We get many letters and email messages from collectors just like you who excitedly wait for their next selection of postage stamps to arrive in the mail.  We do our very best to keep your hobby fun and exciting.

If you have not tried our stamps on approval service, do yourself a favor and try it today!  Let us help you build a better stamp collection.  It’s like making an appointment with your stamp collection when it fits your busy schedule.  We love stamp collecting.  Our job is making it more lovable to you.

Images from the Smithsonian National Postal Museum

Stamp Album Supplements

During our youth, the end of the year signaled things like exciting new changes and vacation time.  As we grow older the new year begins to mark deadlines and expiration dates.  We certainly hope you find some time to relax and enjoy the finer things in life like your growing stamp collection.  One thing that never really expires is your stamp album.

Say you were to purchase one of our high quality postage stamp albums that covers stamps from your country of choice issued through, say, 2013.  What to do when you begin to acquire collectible stamps from 2014?  You add a Stamp Album Supplement, of course.  A stamp album supplement increases the life of your album by adding pages that cover another year of issued stamps.

As you know, a stamp album is much more than a binder and slots for your stamps.  Depending on the album, it contains reference information, interesting facts, and depictions of the stamps you may not have yet.  Yearly stamp album supplements have these same features.  Because stamp collecting is such an exacting hobby, the supplements do take time to produce and become available to the public.  Compiling and organizing all the information that comes with a year’s worth of postage stamp issues takes time.  Therefore supplements are rarely available on the first day of a new year.

Also, if you have had experience with one album and its supplements but now have another album, keep in mind that it’s release schedule for supplements may differ.  Never hesitate to call or email our highly experienced expert staff members.  With hundreds of years of combined experience, they have used most stamp albums ever created.  They can assist you in creating the most enjoyable experience with your stamp album.  In fact, if you’re already one of our many satisfied stamps on approval customers and you have included notes on what albums you have, our expert staff takes this into account when creating your selections.  We are here to serve you–our valued stamp collecting customer.  We’re all about your Approval!

Best wishes in 2017 from all of us at Jamestown Stamp Company Inc.

Modern Stamp Design Techniques

The artistry of postage stamp design has certainly gone through many evolutionary changes over the last two centuries.  What began with mere text and numerals became portraits and reproductions of famous paintings and photographs.  Today we see a wide range of bold artwork and design elements such as holographic imagery and embossed lettering.

Of course, the available production equipment determines what can be achieved in final designs.  What used to require manual printing presses now utilizes more automated machinery.  Today, with the aid of computerized equipment, more minute details can be reproduced on the tiny canvas that is the final postage stamp.

some artists achieve results the old fashioned way

With all the advances in design and production equipment, one would think that all modern postage stamp design techniques involve specialized graphic design software.  However, some amazing artists choose to produce their artwork the old fashioned way–with some modern twists.  And the results are truly awesome.  Stuart McLachlan is one such artist.

Mr. McLachlan has mastered and made famous the art technique known as “paper-cut”.  His artwork featured in Australia’s 2016 Christmas Stamp series shows the elegance of paper-cut artwork.  I do a little computer graphic work here and there.  So, at first glance, I thought the designs shown above were computer generated.  Yet somehow they seemed more lifelike…had more depth.

his effect is much more realistic

As I read the article on the Australia Post Web site about Stuart McLachlan’s paper-cut Christmas Stamps, I was truly amazed at how these designs were created.  See, most computer graphic designs that attempt to display depth involve shadowing behind an object.  Likewise an embossed “feel” is often created with mathematically generated shadowing around areas intended to appear raised or textured.  McLachlan’s work clearly doesn’t have this; yet his effect is much more realistic.  (See the Australia Post site link above for larger images which show the texture in more detail)

the results speak for themselves

So how does Stuart pull this off?  Well, it’s not with computer software.  Instead, McLachlan’s paper-cut designs are achieved with wire, water color paper, an Xacto knife, a camera, some lighting, and many hours of effort.  The only parts of the process that involve software are final coloring and conversion to digital artwork for reproduction.  If I had to paraphrase the technique as I now understand it, I’d say that the procedure is like photographing a diorama containing only silhouette figures and objects.  He cuts the silhouette figures by hand.  The entire process is manual, by-hand, work.  And the results speak for themselves.

Why does it look so real?  Because it is!  Each figure and object is cut by hand, hung by wire in proportional distance from the rest, and photographed as a group scene.  Clearly, smarter use of old-fashioned tools mixed with a passion for beauty can result in truly amazing artwork.


Holidays on Foreign Stamps

In the recent past we’ve talked about Stamp Collecting and its relation to Global Diversity, World Geography, and even Creating Memories.  Perhaps it was with these topics still in mind that I began to research the topic of holidays on Foreign Stamps.  The intention was to research holiday themes on worldwide postage stamps.  I planned to start with Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, and go wherever the research led.  But just as though I were working with an actual stamp collection, the journey had its own plans.

I got stuck on Christmas Island.  No matter how diligently I tried to stick to the plan, Christmas Island kept calling me back.  A stamp image here, a snippet of new information there…I just couldn’t ignore it.  It was when I first began working with Jamestown Stamp Company that I learned of a place called Christmas Island.  Now, more than 16 years later, I’ve realized that my research on it and its stamps was nowhere near complete.  And THIS is exactly why I find stamp collecting rewarding and fascinating.

Apparently back then I was like the first discoverers of the little island in the Indian Ocean and unable to scale its steep shoreline to learn more.  Christmas Island wasn’t even named until nearly 30 years after its discovery on Christmas Day.  And it remained unsettled for approximately 200 years more.  But like the curious stamp collector, explorers, scientists, and miners could not ignore the call of the 12 mile island to the north and west of Australia.

Christmas Island is no less philatelically fascinating.  Today, Christmas Island’s population of just over 2,000 people use stamps issued by the Australian Postal Corporation.  But it has used postage stamps issued by the Strait Settlements, the British Military, and under its own authority as well.  Perusing Christmas Island stamp art is like taking a tour of the island.  They highlight its flora, fauna, geographic features, and of course its people.

How can you have an island named after Christmas and not have an abundance of holiday themes?  If you love the holidays, enjoy philatelic discovery, and have even a shred of historical curiosity, then Christmas Island is worth looking into.  Happy Holidays.  And Happy Stamp Collecting from all of us at Jamestown Stamp Company Inc.

(images from the Philatelic Team at the Australian Post)

Making Time for Your Collection

If there is a time of year when time is in short supply, it’s during the month of December.  Mail holidays, school closures, crowded stores, inclement weather, and end of the year deadlines all work against any prospects of having some quiet time with your stamp collection.  But you can make time if you pencil yourself into your hectic December schedule.

A close friend once told me that the key to making time is making memories.  In this way you can give yourself a much needed break during the here and now but also when you fondly recall those peaceful moments in the future.  Give yourself some mental room by starting small.  And if it takes too long to drag your entire collection out of hiding, try learning more about the stamps in your collection with philatelic literature or references.  This will help against becoming frustrated by interruptions.

Even if you can only allow yourself 20 minutes per day, it will be well worth the effort.  Let the stress and deadlines wait for you for a change.  Likely when you return to the hustle and bustle, you’ll be a bit more refreshed.  You may even be more prepared to handle it all.  Whatever you do, give yourself and your stamp collection the time you both deserve.  A hobby can’t be rewarding if you don’t engage in it.  Enjoy the quiet excitement of stamp collecting.

Collecting Stamps and Memories for the Holidays

“Every passion borders on the chaotic, but the collector’s passion borders on the chaos of memories.”
– Walter Benjamin

The Holidays!  Many will play host to family and friends this holiday season.  And many of the invited will be children.  Above the cacophony of video game consoles and mobile devices, you might hear the distant sounds of memory of calmer, quieter times.  That’s when the background noise consisted of things like water boiling on the stove, toy train tracks being driven upon, and perhaps even the faint ringing of holiday music.  One might think that spending some quality time with one’s stamp collection would have to wait until some time early next year.  But make no mistake.  Collecting Stamps can be a family hobby and even become a tradition.

Here are some thoughts to consider if you plan to bring your collection out before children this holiday season:

Don’t be afraid to work with your collection in front of others

– Eventually curious minds will want to know what you’re so interested in.  And a curious mind is one that can be shaped, molded, and filled with quality thoughts and ideas.

Don’t be afraid to answer questions

– Often children don’t appear to be listening when they are actually absorbing detail.  At the very least, they may recall in years to come that fascinating hobby by which they saw you being quietly entertained.

Don’t be afraid to teach respect for collectible stamps

– As a child, did you find things you could not touch to be fascinating?

Don’t allow yourself to become frustrated

– Not every child will grow to appreciate collecting stamps as you do.  But they will very likely develop an appreciation and respect for meaningful hobbies if you nurture those traits.

Draw parallels between video games and stamp collecting

– Ask if they have to collect anything in their favorite games.  A player progresses in many popular modern video games by collecting artifacts, weaponry, gems, and characters.

Above all, enjoy the time together, however brief

– If you find yourself recalling your time together fondly, likely they will do the same!