By Michael Baadke
What do you have to do to become a philatelist?
Do you have to take a test?Is there a big difference between a stamp collector and a philatelist?
The word "philatelist" is pronounced "fih-LAT-ul-ist."
The word comes from the same roots as the word "philately" (pronounced "fih-LAT-ul-ee"), which was created in the 1860s by a French stamp collector named Georges Herpin to describe the hobby of stamp collecting.
It is thought that root words for philately are "philo," meaning a love of something, and "ateleia," which means something that is not taxed.
Some collectors think that the word "philatelist" has come to mean a more advanced stamp collector.
It is actually more like a bank deciding to call its tellers "customer service representatives": It's just a different label.
Any stamp collector who has shown interest in learning more about the stamp hobby by reading Linn's Stamp News certainly deserves to think of himself as a philatelist if he wishes.
There are, of course, countless different ways that people who are interested in stamps begin collecting.
Someone who once spent time in American Samoa, for instance, may like to buy and keep some of the 33¢ American Samoa stamps when they are released in April.
That single purchase really doesn't make that individual a stamp collector.
If that same person starts looking a little more closely at other stamps from the United States or from countries around the world and decides to start saving different new stamps that he likes, then we have a stamp collector — or a philatelist — in the making.
A stamp collector goes a little farther than just buying stamps and storing them away. He also organizes his stamps and comes to think of his accumulation in a specific way.
Perhaps he's creating a collection of U.S. stamps or one of stamps showing birds, but he's starting to put his stamps together with some concept in mind.
A survey of Linn's readers taken a couple of years ago showed that nearly 70 percent save their stamps in regular printed albums.
Figure 1 shows part of a page from a Scott National postage stamp album.
Certainly a collector who has put forth the effort to organize his stamps on an album page can consider himself to be a philatelist.
For many collectors, the stamp hobby doesn't have to mean anything more than collecting stamps and filling the spaces on an album page.
For most folks this is a leisure-time hobby, a terrific way to relax and enjoy a little pleasant diversion.
One wonderful aspect of the stamp hobby is that a collector enjoying the very basic, very fulfilling process of creating a stamp collection in an album can add to it or take away from it in any way he sees fit, to make the hobby something he can enjoy on his own terms.
Some collectors are most interested in colorful commemorative stamps (such as the upcoming American Samoa stamp), and they don't care for common definitives (such as the 33¢ Flag Over City stamp), so they choose to collect the former and ignore the latter.
Other collectors are intrigued by the many stamp varieties that exist, or they become interested in the many ways that stamps are used and decide to begin collecting in ways beyond the printed album.
Studying how stamps are used is an area known as postal history.
There are at least as many different ways to collect and study postal history as there are to collect and study stamps.
For example, collectors might choose to collect the stamps of East Germany, or they may study how East German stamps were used to fulfill various postage rates during the time that country was in existence.
Here's a very basic explanation of how one might collect postal history with regard to postage rates.
Let's say a collector wants to show how U.S. overseas postage rates have been fulfilled over the years.
Shown in Figure 2 are three covers (in this case, envelopes rather than cards) that show postage rates to foreign countries (other than Canada and Mexico) during the period of July 9, 1995, to May 30, 1999.
The top cover pays the 60¢ rate for a letter of one-half ounce or less.
The second cover pays the $1 rate for a letter greater than one-half ounce but not more than 1 ounce.
The third cover pays the $1.40 rate for a letter greater than 1 ounce but not more than 1½ ounces.
U.S. postage rates are documented in numerous Postal Service charts and in various texts. Most recently, two excellent books by Anthony S. Wawrukiewicz and Henry W. Beecher have summed up much of the rate information helpful to collectors: U.S. International Postal Rates, 1872-1996, and U.S. Domestic Postal Rates, 1872-1999 (revised second edition).
Other options include doing a specific postal history study of a single stamp or a series of stamps.
The Great Americans stamps on the album page shown in Figure 1 could be collected fulfilling many different postage rates on covers. In fact, the third cover in Figure 2 shows four 10¢ Red Cloud stamps of 1987 making up 40¢ of the $1.40 postage rate.
Other collectors are more interested in the intricacies of the stamps themselves than in how they are used to carry the mail.
For these collectors, building a collection on album pages may lead to looking for varieties in the printing and processing of postage stamps.
Figure 3 shows two very similar coil stamps, both issued in 1991. Both stamps show canoes and include the phrase "Additional Nonprofit Postage Paid."
There are, however, differences between the two stamps that will catch a collector's eye.
On the stamp on the top, the canoe is printed in brown, the paper is cream colored, and the letters of the nonprofit message are close together.
The canoe is red on the stamp on the bottom, the paper is bright white, and the nonprofit message lettering is more spread apart.
Because of these differences the two stamps are identified with separate numbers in most U.S. specialized stamp catalogs.
Collectors who begin to notice such differences may soon find themselves searching for more subtle differences. These can be differences in perforation gauge (or die-cut gauge on self-adhesive stamps), luminescent tagging, watermarks, ink color, and so on.
Whether a collector's interest is in filling the pages of a stamp album, looking for postal history, or searching out minute stamp varieties, he can be considered a philatelist.
The word "philatelist" is useful in that it includes the postal historian, where the term "stamp collector" seems to exclude the collector whose interest is covers rather than stamps alone.
In any case, all of these stamp hobby specialties are evidence of the many ways you can follow your favorite pursuits, making it possible to personalize the hobby to fit your own interests.
July 23, 2015 04:35 PMThe Tieton, Wash., post office is a simple 1935 cement block building with a slat wood facade. Townsfolk in the agricultural community of 1,200 in central Washington believe the post office could become a landmark, if only the United States Postal Service would allow them to cover the front with a stamp-like mosaic. Read More ›
July 23, 2015 03:11 PMThe American Philatelic Society will host the nation’s largest annual stamp exhibition Aug. 20-23. The show will take place at the DeVos Place Convention Center, 303 Monroe Ave. NW, Grand Rapids, Mich. Read More ›
July 21, 2015 01:00 PMLinn’s Washington Correspondent Bill McAllister recently reported that the Inspector General of the United States Postal Service has taken the nation’s mail agency to task for intentionally creating 100 upright $2 Jenny Invert panes. Read More ›
July 19, 2015 07:23 PMHere in Sidney, Ohio, when the hot, sultry days of summer are upon us, the Scott catalog editors begin to feel the heat of deadlines for the two Scott specialized catalogs. Read More ›
Watch as Scott catalog senior editor Marty Frankevicz discusses the largest souvenir card produced by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. The card is one of three issued to honor the centenary of San Francisco’s Panama-Pacific International Exposition.
Watch as Linn’s Stamp News associate editor Michael Baadke discusses Canada’s recently recalled $1.20 Dinosaur Provincial Park stamps featuring inaccurately described Hoodoo rock formations.
Watch as Linn’s Stamp News editorial director Donna Houseman discusses the discovery of another pane of the intentionally created upright variety of the $2 Jenny Invert stamp.
Chad Snee discusses the recent sale of the glass locket containing the famed 1918 Jenny Invert airmail error stamp.
It is always a treat to get to see stamp dealers’ own collections.
In the recently concluded Linn’s United States Stamp Popularity Poll, the Circus Posters set of eight stamps was chosen as the overall favorite issue of 2014.
Dispersal of the splendid Daniel B. Curtis collection continued March 25, with Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries gaveling items from United States back-of-the-book and possessions.
The 175th anniversary of the first postage stamp, Great Britain's Penny Black, is May 6, but the stamp was placed on sale May 1, 1840, for mailers to use beginning on May 6, the designated issue date.