Refresher Course

What to do when there is nothing to do because you've got it all

By Janet Klug

Collecting a single country, theme, time period or method of mail delivery is enormously gratifying.

Figure 1. A cover with an embossed design of a mill, mailed in the 1850s from New Vienna, Ohio.
Figure 2. The 1998 British Indian Ocean Territory Dolphins stamp.

If you collect something that fits not only your interest but also your wallet, then it is likely you will eventually complete the collection. Adding that last stamp or cover needed for completion is satisfying for a short time. Then you find yourself with nothing to do.

"Well, that was fun," you might say. "Now what?"

Those of us who have diversified interests and collect pretty much everything always have something to do. There are stamps that need to be sorted, mounted, traded, sold, replaced with better, identified, checked for watermarks or perforations, read about, written about and cleaned up after.

We diversified collectors would like some of the time you have left over now that you have completed your collection.

So, maybe collectors with complete collections should follow the example of collectors who never met a stamp they didn't like. The world of stamps is huge and encompasses numerous fields of interest.

For example, if you collect United States stamps you may find yourself in the same position as I did a few decades ago. The collection was as complete as I could afford to make it, and so I was left with adding only new issues.

While enjoyable, it didn't carry the same thrill as adding a lovely stamp from the 19th century. I fulfilled my quest for beautiful, affordable 19th century items for my collection by branching off into stampless folded letters. By collecting those I learned about prestamp postal markings and rates, plus there was the added historical context of being able to read the letter contained within the folds of the outer covering.

Stamp collectors who collect the whole world tend not to worry so much about completion, because completion is highly unlikely. Even those of us who begin with Britain's Penny Black stamp from 1840 and limit the collection to a certain date thereafter are unlikely to complete a collection with every stamp in place.

The thrill for worldwide collectors is the hunt. Finding a scarce but inexpensive stamp to fill out an album page can be just as exciting for worldwide collectors as completing all of the stamps in a single country collection is for a specialist.

If you are a specialist, it doesn't hurt to think about what you will do when you have reached all your goals with your specialty. Will you give up stamp collecting altogether? Will you begin anew with another country?

Plan ahead now to have an interesting project to fill in the hours you spent on your specialty instead of waiting for that day to arrive. You can begin by setting aside material that will form a new collection when the mood strikes.

Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Collect old family letters that are in grandma's attic. Your siblings and other family members might have useful letters, photographs and memories that can be recorded. Eventually you can assemble all of these things into an annotated collection that tells your family history. Make photocopies of the collection and distribute them to your family members. It will become a cherished heirloom for them, an absorbing project for you, and maybe you will recruit a few new stamp collectors into the hobby.

A similar project would concentrate on your town's postal history.

Figure 1 shows a cover from the late 1850s sent from New Vienna, Ohio, on July 26, sometime in the late 1850s.

It has a beautiful embossed design of a mill and mill stream within a bucolic town. It would be a perfect beginning to a collection for someone who was born or lived in this Ohio town.

You could select the town you grew up in, the place where you now live, a favorite town, or all of these. Begin acquiring covers bearing readable postmarks from your town. See how far you can go back. If your town has a museum, inquire if the museum has collections of old correspondence you could research. You will be surprised by how much you will learn about the history of your town. This collection can be expanded to county history and state history as you move along. Don't be afraid to add some picture postcards and photographs to illustrate the town's schools, churches, monuments and houses from bygone days. It will help bring the collection to life.

Begin collecting another country. You enjoyed specializing in one country? Pick another and relive the excitement of filling lots of spaces in the album all at once before it becomes more difficult. Pick a country adjacent to the country you have just completed, or go halfway around the world and collect one that is entirely new to you.

If you now specialize in British Commonwealth countries, start a new collection of German or French colonies.

An easy, cost effective way to start a new country collection is by buying a collection that is already in a good, used specialized album. Depending on the contents of the collection, it could either have many or few stamps, but you instantly have a starting point and an album in which to put new acquisitions.

Pick a topic, any topic, and run with it. This works best when you are passionate about the topic you select. Football, food, race cars, astronomy and many thousands of other topics could be dealt with in depth using a myriad of colorful postage stamps.

Do you like dolphins? Two are shown on the 1998 British Indian Ocean Territory Striped Dolphin stamp (Scott 203) in Figure 2.

These suggestions are for large collecting projects that can take years to establish and decades to attempt a modicum of completion.

However, scaling back to multiple smaller projects is also fun. Have you traveled extensively? You can document those journeys through stamps. Pick a single stamp or a group of them that shows one or more places you visited. Write a few lines to remind yourself of interesting events or people you experienced or food you tasted. Make one page for each trip you took. You can even add a few of your own photographs and relive the entire travel experience.

Try collecting stamps that have readable postmarks on your birthday or some other significant date. This isn't as easy as it sounds, but it is fun pawing through dealers nickel boxes at stamp shows, looking for new material. You can even make new friends by telling the collector sitting next to you what you are seeking and asking them to help, too.

There are as many ways to enjoy stamp collecting as there are stamp collectors. Use your imagination and expand your horizons. You will love collecting even more.