The Joys and Education of Stamp Collecting

Love it or loathe it, stamp collecting has been around for a long time, and is here to stay. Nevertheless, it captivates people in all walks of life, and from all age groups. Even with fax machines and e-mails, many items are still being sent by conventional post. It would seem that the earliest reference to collecting stamps was in England in 1841, the year after they were first issued. People have different reasons for collecting stamps. Some find it relieves stress. Others like the educational side of it. Prospects of financial gain motivate still others. Prior to postal service, people forwarded messages and letters via trusted travelers. By the sixteenth century an international postal service operated among a number of European states.

In 1837 Sir Rowland Hill published a pamphlet on “Post Office Reform.” He recommended that letters be delivered anywhere in England for a penny. The British Government followed through and in 1840 penny postage started, issuing the first adhesive postage stamps for use on letters. These were the famous one-penny stamps bearing a profile of Queen Victoria (the Penny Black) and the blue two-pence stamps. A couple of years later the first adhesive stamp in the United States was put in circulation by the Despatch Post of New York city. It prepaid a three-cent delivery charge on a letter mailed inside the city. Canada followed suit in 1851 with a three-penny beaver design stamp. Innumerable books are available through public libraries and bookstores as aids to knowing stamp values and what to collect. Information is freely available on the Internet. An album is very helpful for classifying, as well as a magnifying glass.

Some start by saving stamps from letters coming into their homes or places of business. Others build a collection by purchasing packets of various kinds of stamps. Most collectors find that the larger packets have the best stamps in them. A chronicle of human history can be seen through the picture window of stamps. Peaceful scenes, war and other human tragedies, scientific accomplishments, profiles of kings, queens, presidents have all been depicted. During World War II postage stamps were converted into a medium of propaganda by the opposing sides. Commerce and industry have played a part in influencing their design. Some collectors specialize in animal stamps. The koala bear, the egg-laying platypus and that noted jumper the kangaroo have all had their pictures on Australian stamps. Peruvian stamps have illustrated the llama, while Liberian letters have been decorated with the crocodile. The tortoise has appeared on Vietnamese and Ecuadorean stamps. Some people enjoy doing this by collecting stamps on which various nations have portrayed birds common to their lands. The eagle has a place on the face of Polish, Albanian and Syrian stamps, to mention only a few. Venezuela has featured the vulture, Hungary the raven, Spanish Sahara the ostrich, Korea the hawk, while Austria, China, Monaco and others have pictured the soaring wings of the gull. The pelican has appeared on the stamps of Yugoslavia, Mozambique and Antigua.

Unusual stamps, needless to say, interest many collectors. Stamps come in literally all shapes and sizes. A Papua stamp bearing the names of every post office in the country was not only an oddity but a first. In 1853 the Cape of Good Hope issued the first triangular stamps. Brazil’s first stamps in 1843 were oval shaped. One of the world’s rarest stamps, (thus very expensive) is the British Guiana – now Guyana – 1ยข magenta, issued in 1856. It was issued in limited numbers, and only one specimen is now known to exist.

An Austrian stamp pictured a wine merchant of Lower Austria in native costume with everything correct except the man’s ears, which were the wrong way around. A St. Kitts-Nevis stamp showed Christopher Columbus on his ship approaching the Americas on his historic trip of 1492. A sharp-eyed stamp collector noted that Columbus was looking at the land through a telescope. Yet telescopes were not invented until over a hundred years later!