Refresher Course

Going from a stamp to a stamp collection

By Michael Baadke

Starting a stamp collection is easy. Becoming a stamp collector takes a little effort.

Figure 1. These foreign issues purchased from a stamp dealer could be the start of a successful stamp collection.
Figure 2. Protecting stamps and covers is essential to maintaining the collection. Keeping loose items together in protective sleeves and pages reduces the chance of damage.
Figure 3. Specialized catalogs are a resource collectors can use to learn more about the stamps or covers they collect.

To start a stamp collection all you need is a stamp. You can find one on your daily mail, pick one up at the post office, or buy one from a stamp dealer.

So you've started a stamp collection. But are you a stamp collector?

The simple answer may be yes, but a stamp collector does more than just buy and save stamps.

For more than 150 years, stamp collectors have accumulated stamps, organized them, protected them and studied them. They have developed a culture that is specific to the stamp hobby, and they have preserved historical information, not only about stamps, but also about the hobby of stamp collecting.

Every stamp collector is different and every stamp collection is different, but many of us share in similar experiences and activities as we go along.


The first step you take as a stamp collector is one that you continue to take as long as you enjoy the hobby.

There are very few stamp collectors who are content with the stamps they have. Most are still looking for stamps they desire, even after decades of collecting.

For the greatest success in accumulating stamps, decide what you want to collect before you begin. This will give you a focus as you obtain stamps, and will help you as you build your collection.

Stamp dealers, auction houses, new issue agents and even some postal authorities advertise regularly in the pages of Linn's Stamp News. Other advertisers may offer stamps in on-paper or off-paper mixtures of used stamps, or fulfill "want lists," by selling the collector exactly the stamps he is looking for.

The local stamp dealer is another important source for stamps.

Accumulating stamps is an important first step for the collector, but it is only a first step. An accumulation of stamps is shown in Figure 1. There's more to be done before it can be called a collection.


How should you store your stamps?

If you're just starting out, a comprehensive stamp album may seem like just too much to handle. If you've collected 25 stamps from a big country, they're going to get lost among the thousands of spaces on the pages.

Yet, it's important to protect your stamps from damage, and there are a number of different ways to do that.

Stamps are fragile, and the collectible value of stamps depends upon them being undamaged. A stamp with a bent corner or a crease through it is far less desirable than one that has not been harmed.

Some of the accumulated stamps in Figure 1 have been placed into glassine envelopes, which are available from local stamp dealers or through stamp collecting suppliers.

The photos in Figure 2 suggest other ways to protect stamps and covers. The items are loose and unprotected in the photo at left. In the photo at right, stamp collecting supplies are used to keep them safe from harm.

Shown as examples are an album page, a stock page and cover protectors.

Stock pages and stock books keep stamps visible, flat, and away from harm. Plastic cover protectors provide similar protection for envelopes and cards.

As your collection grows, album pages can be used to keep stamps in place and protected from dirt or damage.

These items are available from stamp and supply dealers. It is important to use only supplies created specifically for the stamp hobby. Other storage methods may actually damage stamps or covers by releasing chemicals or chemical vapors that can destroy paper or alter color.


Often one of the tougher assignments for the stamp collector is organization, but an organized collection leads the collector toward a finished presentation, such as a stamp album or exhibit pages.

Selecting a method of organization again depends on the type of collection.

One collector may choose to keep together all stamps from a single country.

A topical collector may disregard the country of origin and, instead, keep together stamps that show common elements in the design.

A country collector may choose to save only commemorative stamps (larger colorful stamps that are sold at post offices for limited periods) and disregard definitive stamps (which are usually smaller stamps printed in great quantities and sold indefinitely).

The collector may choose to save stamps in an album, following the organizational scheme developed by the album page manufacturer, or he may decide to organize his stamps by another method.

Specialist collectors may save stamps and covers that show the use of a special type of stamp, such as postage dues or Official stamps, or they may save only stamps from a specific series, such as the U.S. Transportation coil stamps issued during the 1980s and 1990s.

These specialist collectors must determine the organizational method that most suits their collecting needs.


Learning about the stamps you collect will help you in all other areas of the hobby, including the accumulation of stamps, and protecting and organizing your collection.

The more you know about your stamps, the better your decisions will be when it comes to buying stamps or creating a presentation.

You can increase your knowledge of the stamps and covers you collect by reading general philatelic publications (like Linn's Stamp News), specialized catalogs, books about stamps and covers, and journals from stamp societies.

Catalogs, like those shown in Figure 3, will give you information about when stamps were issued, how they were created, and often will help you determine their value.

The many publications that have been written and published about stamp collecting will provide you with the knowledge of what has been learned so far.

Your own study of your stamps will add to the knowledge you have, and may lead you to new discoveries. Perhaps you will have an opportunity to write up information that eventually will help other collectors as they learn about their stamps.

Stamp collecting goes much deeper than the simple accumulation of stamps. It is a process that involves the care and study of stamps, to preserve them for future collectors, and to share information that all stamp collectors can use.