Stamp Collecting Basics

Expand your topical collection with postmarks, stationery and more

By Michael Baadke

Topical and thematic collecting have strong foundations in postage stamps, but there are other items you can use to build a collection with diverse elements.

Figure 1. The United States issued an 8¢ stamped envelope in 1971 that celebrates the sport of bowling. Topical collectors might focus on stamps alone, but postal stationery also can provide topical material.
Figure 2. For the topical collector with an interest in beer or perhaps for the topical collector with an interest in religion: a happy monk celebrates beer on this whimsical postmark from Munich, Germany.
Figure 3. Some postage meter stamps include pictorial elements that fit well with a topical collection. This 1949 example from Chicago has a railroad theme but also shows a horse.
Figure 4. A stock book is a useful tool for safely storing stamps for a topical collection. The stamps can be rearranged as the collection grows.

The previous Stamp Collecting Basics column (Linn's, March 31, page 30) introduced the basics of topical collecting and suggested ways to develop a more specialized collection by narrowing its scope.

As an example, a collection of guitars on stamps is more manageable than a collection of all music stamps.

But stamps aren't the only philatelic items collectors can look for to tell the story of their favorite topic.

Many countries issue postal stationery that includes pictorial elements with topical subjects. The different kinds of postal stationery are all items with imprinted postage stamps, such as stamped envelopes, aerograms and postal cards.

Along with many other postal administrations, the United States Postal Service and its predecessor, the U.S. Post Office Department, have issued postal stationery depicting a wide range of subjects, including golfing, birds, fish, gymnastics, clipper ships, waterfalls (with a rainbow), farming, and even the hobby of stamp collecting.

The popular sport of bowling was the subject of a U.S. 8¢ stamped envelope issued in 1971 (Scott U563). The imprinted stamp from the Bowling envelope is pictured in Figure 1.

Many local and national stamp shows include stamp dealers who sell postal stationery and postal history. If you know of an item you need for your collection, one of Linn's advertisers might be able to track it down for you.

Postmarks are another source for topical material, and they come in many different forms.

For example, some postmarks are used repeatedly year after year by localities that identify with a certain subject.

The city of Munich, Germany, for example, is known for its annual Oktoberfest, which celebrates beer. The city's postmark has long shown the image of a happy monk with a beer stein in his hand, and includes the phrase "Munchen, Stadt Weltberuhmten Biere," meaning "Munich, city of world famous beers."

An example of this postmark from 1998 is pictured in Figure 2. It's a nice addition to a beer topical collection, but it might also be of interest to a collector whose favorite topic is religion.

Some communities offer commemorative postmarks for only a limited time, but many of these have a specific theme.

Such postmarks from the United States are regularly listed in Linn's Postmark Pursuit column, which appears this week on page 42.

Topical collectors can check the Postmark Pursuit column for subjects of interest and also can keep an eye out for postmarked material from dealers and other sources.

Although many collectors disdain meter stamps on mail, these postage imprints can be another source for topical material.

Meter stamps have evolved dramatically in recent years, and new illustrated postage labels that many collectors equate with meter stamps have appeared on the market.

Meter stamps from certain early mechanical postage meters have included a pictorial element that businesses used for advertising or promotion.

Shown in Figure 3 is a 1949 U.S. postage meter stamp from Chicago that has a pictorial element depicting a railroad and a tiny figure on horseback.

The meter stamp promotes the Chicago Railroad Fair and would be attractive to anyone building a topical collection with a railroad theme.

A collector with an interest in horses might also find this meter stamp appealing.

Items such as stamped envelopes, postmarks and postage meter stamps are best kept intact as originally received, rather than cutting them off envelopes, postcards and the like.

The intact item provides more historical information, including its full size, the location to which it was addressed, how it was mailed and so on.

Envelopes and postcards can be stored in clear plastic sleeves specially designed for archival philatelic storage. These are available from many stamp hobby supply firms and retail stamp dealers.

Topical collectors can use stock pages and stock books to safely store and arrange stamps.

Stock pages are individual pages, usually punched for storage in a binder, that include rows of horizontal strips made of safe plastic, glassine or paperboard to serve as pockets to hold stamps in place.

Stock books have similar pages bound together to keep all of the pages secure and in one place.

Figure 4 shows an open stock book that contains stamps from a topical collection of zebras.

This particular example has eight two-sided pages, with each page measuring 6 inches by 8½ inches, and with seven horizontal rows created from glassine strips on each page.

Larger books with more pages are also available. These items also can be obtained from stamp hobby suppliers.

The American Topical Association publishes a journal for topical collectors and sponsors an annual topical stamp show. For more information about the ATA visit online at http://americantopicalassn.org.