Refresher Course

What else can stamp collectors collect?

By Janet Klug

Stamp collectors collect postage stamps, right?

Figure 1. Revenue stamps are part of stamp collecting. Click on image to enlarge.
 
Figure 2. First-day covers, advertising covers and censored mail are just a few of the many categories of covers that can be collected as part of a postal history collection. Click on image to enlarge.
 
Figure 3. Deciphering the markings on stampless covers, such as this one, is a bit like being a historical detective. Click on image to enlarge.
 
Figure 4. This 1¢ blue William McKinley postal card, Scott UX22, bears a June 30, 1912, waving flag machine cancel from Portsmouth, Ohio. It might interest a cancel collector. Click on image to enlarge.
 
Figure 5. The front and back of a W.H.&J. Woods Ltd. "Romance of the Royal Mail" cigarette card. Click on image to enlarge.
 
Figure 6. A picture postcard showing an antique view of the author's hometown, Cincinnati, Ohio. Click on image to enlarge.
 
Figure 7. A block of four 1911 American National Red Cross Christmas seals, Scott WX7. Click on image to enlarge.

It seems like such a logical assumption, but stamp collecting, also called "philately," a word that implies intense activity and study, has such breadth and scope that stamp collectors can collect a wide variety of items besides postage stamps and still consider themselves stamp collectors.

I find this to be one of the most appealing aspects of the stamp hobby.

You, the collector, define the limits of your own collection. If you wish to add items that are not necessarily depicted in albums or listed in catalogs, then go for it. No one, including those in organized collecting, can tell you that your interest is illegitimate.

It's your money and your collection, so why allow yourself to be limited by illustrations in an album or listings in a catalog? If you like it, collect it.

Some of the most beautiful stamps ever printed are not even postage stamps.

According to Linn's World Stamp Almanac, revenue stamps are "Stamps representing the pre-payment or payment of various taxes."

Some specialized catalogs list revenue stamps, but general catalogs and pre-printed albums used by most collectors do not.

Yet collecting revenue stamps and revenue stamped documents is a rich and rewarding field.

Have a look at the attractive revenue stamps from the United States, Latvia, Romania and Estonia shown in Figure 1. There are hundreds of thousands more that are just as beautiful and intriguing.

Many stamp collectors branch out to collecting envelopes with the stamps and other postal markings still affixed. The collecting community calls these items "covers."

Cover collecting, one part of postal history, is a field as broad as stamp collecting. It can be broken into hundreds of sub-specialties, among them first-day covers, advertising covers, metered mail, censored mail, flight covers, and ship covers. There are many other categories.

Figure 2 shows, top to bottom, an Australian first-day cover, a United States cover with an advertising corner card for the Thayer Co. and a censored Irish cover

Mail existed before official adhesive postage stamps were invented in 1840.

Collectors almost always start in the hobby by collecting stamps, but some are drawn back in time to the pre-stamp era.

Letters then were written on sheets of paper that were folded and sealed, usually with sealing wax or wafers. The letter was addressed on the folded sheet.

When the letter was mailed, the post office would apply manuscript or handstamped markings. These markings help collectors discover the rate of postage and the route of delivery that a given letter took. Deciphering these covers often is a bit like being a detective.

A stampless cover mailed from New York City is shown in Figure 3. For the collector who looks, it has many stories to tell.

Another offshoot of stamp collecting is the collection and study of postmarks.

Just trying to collect all the available postmarks ever used in one city can be a lifetime challenge. It is possible, though, to define a postmark collection to narrow its focus.

Some collect specific types of machine-applied postmarks, slogan postmarks, or even just those that are perfectly centered on a stamp.

These are called bull's-eyes or socked-on-the-nose cancels.

Postmarks are a broad category that is a perfect jumping-off point for a collector looking for a new specialty.

The waving-flag machine cancel dated June 30, 1912, at Portsmouth, Ohio, on the 1¢ blue William McKinley postal card, Scott UX22, shown in Figure 4 might interest a cancel collector.

Other stamp-related collectibles might catch your eye from time to time.

I drink my tea from a stamp mug. A stamp replica dangles from my key ring.

Recently I discovered stamp-related cigarette cards that were given as premiums with packs of cigarettes in the 1930s.

I have a series of 25 cigarette cards titled "Romance of the Royal Mail" that was published by W.H. & J. Woods Ltd. in Great Britain.

The card fronts show scenes relating to forms of mail delivery, with explanatory text on the backs. The front and back of one of these cigarette cards are shown in Figure 5.

The front has a picture of a form of mail delivery, and the back has a description of the scene.

I understand that there are a number of different sets of these cards. I might pursue this area of collecting more in the future.

Some collectors branch off into collecting picture postcards. At first they might look for hometown postmarks or a particular stamp usage.

Often that interest is superceded by an interest in postcards picturing views of train depots, volcanoes, bridges or even saucy cartoons.

A picture postcard showing an antique view of my hometown, Cincinnati, Ohio, is shown in Figure 6.

Easter seals, Christmas seals, tuberculosis seals, charity seals and other stamplike labels are collectible.

Seals are just one of many different types of cinderella stamps.

Perhaps they are called cinderellas because these labels are all dressed up like a postage stamp, but they can't legally carry mail.

Labels have been issued to raise money for a charity, publicize an event or sell a product. Some are extraordinary examples of the printer's art, and some could have been used to decorate an envelope that went through the mail.

Yes, some stamp collectors collect them, and nobody can force these collectors to surrender their stamp collecting credentials.

An example of a cinderella, a block of four 1911 American National Red Cross Christmas seals, Scott WX7, is shown in Figure 7.

Philatelic literature (books and other published matter about stamps and covers) is certainly collectible and functional. A good, solid library of essential reference works is money well spent. The knowledge gained from reading it will certainly enhance and enrich your collecting experiences.

So, if you start collecting all of these other things, does that mean you stop being a stamp collector? Not likely.

You get to make the rules. Stamp collecting is what you decide it is.

It is a big-tent hobby with open, welcoming arms for diverse interests.

Don't be afraid to explore a different path from time to time.

It's fun. And after all, isn't having fun the real point of stamp collecting?