Refresher Course

Does the stamp hobby have a Y2K problem?

By Michael Baadke

To start out, I should mention that the only thing this column has to do with computers is that it was written on one.

Figure 1. Europa postage stamps in 2000 will all have the same design, shown here on preliminary artwork for the issue from France. The Europa stamps, issued by numerous countries across Europe, will be released May 9.
 
Figure 2. Stamp collecting — it's cheaper than watching TV.
 
Figure 3. The United States Postal Service encourages stamp collecting among youngsters through its Stampers youth program.

Just about everyone knows that the term "Y2K problem" has been used to describe concerns about how computer programs around the world will react when the year date changes from 1999 to 2000 less than four months from now.

The abbreviation Y2K stands for "year 2000."

Many believe that computer software throughout the world that uses two-digit year dates (such as "99" instead of "1999") will freak out or drop dead when confronted with a "00" year date.

I've encountered a different kind of Y2K problem.

Some stamp collectors have said that the coming year 2000 sounds like a good time to quit collecting stamps. Others say they're simply going to stop buying new issues.

Some of these folks are collectors of United States stamps. Others are worldwide collectors.

There are a couple of reasons behind this kind of thinking.

Year 2000 has a nice round ring to it, as everyone knows. "My collection ends at 2000," collectors envision themselves telling their stamp collecting pals.

I guess it sounds better than "My collection ends at February 1997," or "November 2002" or something like that.

I told my wife about my concerns.

"I hear collectors saying that year 2000 is the perfect time to quit collecting," I said.

"Sounds to me like it's the perfect time to start," she replied without batting an eye.

Now you know who has the brains at my house.

What an excellent idea. This is the chance you have to start your collection of 21st-century stamp issues from the very beginning.

Instead of saying, "My collection ends at 2000," you can say, "My collection begins at 2000."

Choose a collecting area that's new and exciting for you, whether it's United States stamps, issues of another country or a new topical collection.

You have your chance to collect the zebra stamps, or baseball stamps, or Seinfeld stamps that are issued starting with 2000. The year makes an even better starting point for a collection than it does an ending.

Some stamp designs for 2000 have already been revealed. Figure 1 shows the design that will be used on Europa stamps from many countries. The example in the illustration is from France.

You've never collected Europa stamps? Isn't 2000 a great time to start?

Let's take another look at another concern: the cost of collecting stamps.

To be fair, many collectors are simply wiped out by the huge numbers of stamps being issued today — from the United States Postal Service and from many other countries all around the world.

If the current stamp issuing schedule holds up, collectors who buy one each of every U.S. stamp issued in 1999 will add more than 180 stamps to their collections at a cost exceeding $60.

Is $60 a year a lot to pay for a hobby? It can be a lot for someone who wants to collect every issue of the United States, and it's probably a lot for youngsters whose spending power is limited by small allowances.

But kids aren't the ones I hear threatening to quit the stamp hobby. I hear those words from adults.

Let's start with the reminder that stamp collectors aren't required to own every stamp that's ever been issued. That's just silly, unless you start with the 1861 U.S. 1¢ blue with Z Grill (Scott 85A, currently available at retail for $2.5 million).

Where I live, if you want to watch television, you have to get cable or satellite service. Your TV simply won't bring in more than one or two clear channels otherwise.

My monthly cable bill is $30.34, and that's without any premium channels.

That means collecting one year's worth of U.S. stamps in 1999 will cost me less than two months of watching television, a subject depicted on the stamp selvage shown in Figure 2. And to tell you the truth, I think I'll get a lot more out of the stamps.

Even if I splurge for a set of premium hingeless stamp album pages ($49.95), a one-year subscription to Linn's Stamp News ($39) and a year's dues in the American Philatelic Society ($22), I still won't spend as much money in 12 months as I would for six months of cable TV.

I recently checked on a few other leisure activities around town to see what my participation would cost.

At the end of August my local bowling alley was charging $1 a game as a summer special.

Even if that low price stayed the same year-round, I would pay $104 for two games of bowling each week, far more than my $60 stamp bill.

The local golf course charges $18 for 18 holes of golf during the week. I figured out that if I played a round of golf once every two weeks from April through October, I'd pay more than $250 for the pleasure.

And I understand that golfers' greens fees are much higher in other parts of the country.

Collecting U.S. new issues costs about $1.15 a week, less than a cup of coffee at some stamp shows (where the admission is usually free).

Yes, there are a lot of new issues to contend with, and it can be a little overwhelming (and a lot more expensive) if the collector wants to add to his collection plate number varieties, coil strips, errors and freaks, and so on.

If that's where the cost problem comes in, it may be time to start a new collection instead of abandoning the stamp hobby altogether.

Postally used stamps of the United States are generally less expensive than mint ones, and they make collecting a little more of a challenge.

Even hard-to-find postally used newer stamps often can be purchased from a stamp dealer for less than what the postal service charges for a mint example.

Joining a stamp club will give you the chance to swap duplicate stamps with collecting friends.

For some collectors cost may not be the problem. It may simply be time to try something new.

Like my wife said, "Sounds to me like it's the perfect time to start."

How about getting a youngster involved with your collecting interests or helping them start a new Y2K collection?

The U.S. Postal Service offers its Stampers youth collecting program free of charge. Youngsters can be enrolled simply by calling toll-free 888-782-6738 (888-STAMP-FUN).

They'll receive a catalog like the one pictured in Figure 3. It contains stamp offers, articles and activities designed specifically for kids.

You can help by introducing a youngster to stamp soaking, one of the easiest ways to get a kid interested in collecting.

The American Philatelic Society is also trying to help adults who want to introduce kids to the stamp hobby.

Youngsters who write to the APS will receive brochures about stamp collecting, along with a packet of stamps to get them started.

Kids can send their name and address to APS Youth Coordinator, Box 8000, State College, PA 16803.

Adults who have stamps they can donate to this program can send them to the same address.

Perhaps the Y2K collection you start with a youngster will lead to an award-winning exhibit years from now.

Many of us are fascinated with the idea of the calendar changing from 1999 to 2000. The turn of the year is a good opportunity to continue one of the world's finest hobbies.