Stamp Collecting Basics

Set parameters, be selective to collect classics on a budget

By Janet Klug

Many stamp collectors express affection for classic stamps, specifically those issued in the 19th century. We appreciate the recess printing, the often flashy bicolors, stamps that carried mail by carriages and steamships, and stamps that documented the reign of a queen or the growth of a nation.

Figure 1. These two 19th-century stamps from Mauritius are inexpensive classic stamps from an exotic country.
Figure 2. This example of the 1894 Mauritius 15¢ blue Queen Victoria stamp has a Mauritius socked-on-the-nose cancel.
Figure 3. Barred oval numeral cancels on Mauritius stamps from 1882 (top) and 1892 (bottom).
Figure 4. Bavaria Scott 2 is a 3-kreuzer stamp issued in 1849.
Figure 5. The reverse of the Figure 4 stamp shows a silk thread running vertically on the left side, about a third of the way in.
Figure 6. Bavaria issued this 9kr Coat of Arms stamp in 1872.
Figure 7. Guatemala Scott 15 is a 1/4-real Quetzal bird in brown and green issued in 1879.
Figure 8. Guatemala Scott 31 is the 1886 1-centavo Coat of Arms with Quetzal bird.

The reasons go on, but the bank account does not.

Collectors can get tangled up in a desire for completion, but completion is greatly overrated. You don't have to own every stamp issued by a country. You can have fun and form a satisfying collection of classic stamps by setting limits.

These limiting factors might be a dollar amount, a time period, a design type or some combination of these characteristics.

It is amazing, for example, how inexpensively a collection of early Mauritius can be put together.

Most collectors are spooked to even think about Mauritius because of the world-class rarities known as the 1847 Post Office Mauritius stamps (Scott 1-2). Very few of these little treasures exist in private hands, so most collectors are unlikely to ever own one.

However, Mauritius is still a fun, exotic country to collect, and it is possible to acquire many of its beautiful, classic Queen Victoria stamps. Figure 1 illustrates two 1¢ Mauritius stamps issued in the 1890s, late in Queen Victoria's reign. The overprinted stamp on the top is Scott 89, and the bottom stamp is Scott 68.

Used or unused, the catalog values for either of these stamps are a couple of dollars or less.

There are other varieties of the same design that can be sought, or you could try finding interesting postmarks.

Figure 2 shows an 1894 15¢ blue Mauritius stamp (Scott 81) with a socked-on-the-nose cancel.

Like many British Commonwealth nations, Mauritius used barred oval numeral cancels, where the number in the cancel identifies the place of mailing.

Figure 3 shows two barred oval numeral cancels on Mauritius stamps. On the top is an 1882 4¢ rose stamp (Scott 72) with a B53 barred numeral from Port Lewis. The 1892 15¢ stamp (Scott 80) has a 28 barred oval numeral cancel from Petite Riviere.

For a list and additional information about other barred oval numeral cancels on Mauritius stamps, visit the Philatelic Corner of Mauritius website at

The Kingdom of Bavaria, a German state that is now part of the Federal Republic of Germany, had its own stamps from 1849 until 1920. Some of the interesting stamps from Bavaria's classic period can be acquired inexpensively.

Figure 4 shows a used example of Bavaria Scott 2, a 3-kreuzer stamp issued in 1849. These stamps have a silk thread running through them as a security feature that made counterfeiting more difficult. Figure 5 shows the back of the Bavarian stamp with a single reddish silk thread running vertically about a third of the way in from the left side.

A later issue bearing Bavaria's coat of arms arrived in 1867. The stamps are beautifully embossed and worthy of attention. Figure 6 shows the 1872 9kr Coat of Arms stamp.

The stamps in this series were issued both with and without silk threads, and with a variety of watermarks, perforations, paper types and color shades. The catalog values are determined by these factors, but nevertheless, a representative collection can be assembled on a tight budget.

For those who love flashy bicolor classic stamps, Guatemala is a good choice. In 1879, Guatemala issued its first bicolor showing its national bird, the quetzal, also known (for good reason) as the resplendent quetzal.

Some of Guatemala's stamps depict the showy male Quetzal perched on a pillar, as seen in Figure 7. This 1879 brown and green ¼-real Quetzal stamp is Scott 15.

A series of 1886 single-color stamps show a version of the Guatemalan arms that includes a quetzal nestled against a scroll. Figure 8 shows the affordable 1-centavo stamp (Scott 31).

Capturing examples of these beautiful bird stamps is not difficult or financially painful if you ignore the fact that some inverts and other varieties might be out of reach.

If you love to collect classic stamps, set your parameters and then collect what you like. You might not be able to fill all of the blank spaces in your album, but don't let that discourage you from enjoying what you can collect.