Refresher Course

Is it time to start your next stamp collection?

By Michael Baadke

Have you ever completed a stamp collection? Most collectors haven't. There always seem to be stamps so rare that you can't afford them, or covers that you can't find anywhere, or just so many stamps to collect that it would take forever to fill the pages of your stamp album or albums.

Figure 1. Your collection of United States stamps won't be complete unless you have $2.5 million to purchase this stamp. Maybe creating a complete collection isn't as important as enjoying the collection that you have.
 
Figure 2. Someone who collects the stamps of a single country may wish to begin a new collection of postal stationery from the same area. The examples shown here illustrate how stamps and stationery are often related by design similarities. Click on image to enlarge.
 
Figure 3. Four 33¢ Fruit Berries stamps were issued March 15. A collector who takes a closer look at the Fruit Berries issue will find more varieties than just the four basic designs.
 
Figure 4. Three stamps showing cats from three different countries: Japan, Great Britain and Czech Republic. Topical collecting concerns the subject matter portrayed on the stamp.

Some collectors despair when they look at their unfinished collections. They desperately want to fill those empty spaces with stamps, but there just isn't enough time or money to get it done. Other collectors delight in the fact that there are still plenty of stamps that they can look for.

Perhaps one of the stamps missing from their collections will turn up with the next visit to a stamp show, the next visit to the stamp dealer, the next auction catalog that arrives in the mail, or the next Internet visit to stamp sources such as an auction site or to Linn's zillionsofstamps.com.

Collectors who are dejected because of their unfinished collections probably have set their collecting sights too high. You're not likely to complete a collection of United States stamps, for example. There are, after all, only two known examples of the 1¢ Franklin Z-grill from the 1861 series (Scott 85A, shown in Figure 1). One is in the collection of the New York Public Library. Chances are pretty good that you won't be getting the other one, which is presently owned by Mystic Stamp Co. of Camden, N.Y. Last year Mystic was offering the Z-grill to interested buyers for $2.5 million.

But just because the Z-grill may be out of your financial reach is no reason to get depressed. Completing a collection shouldn't be an essential goal. Many collectors understand that the collection they are developing will never be complete, but they still enjoy looking for the pieces they need, and they have fun taking their collection as far as it will go.

There can be times, however, when the collection seems to be at a virtual standstill. Perhaps taking the collection to the next level requires more financial resources than the collector can spare. Perhaps the collection has simply reached a point where the material that is needed is very hard to find.

While the collection itself may be an achievement of which the collector can be proud, if it's not really active, it may be time for the collector to try something new. The older collection still can be saved and upgraded while the collector takes a stab at something else.

Some collectors may be ready to launch into an altogether new collecting field as vast and challenging as possible. Others may be looking for something a little less daunting, a pastime to enjoy as a sideline to the original collection.

One possible starting point for a new collection is to look for one that has a relationship to the original collection. Let's say you've been collecting Danish stamps. You've filled most of your album pages, but there are a few items that you won't be able to afford for quite some time.

You know it's not time to stop collecting, or you're really unable to stop, but at present there isn't much more that you can do with your stamp collection. Consider branching out that collection into unexplored territory.

A collector of Danish stamps, for example, could begin looking into Danish postal stationery. Like many countries, Denmark has issued much postal stationery that has a direct link to the designs of its postage stamps. An example is shown in Figure 2. At top left in the illustration is Denmark Scott 314, the 75-ore King Frederik IX stamp of 1950, from the definitive series that began in 1948.

All of the stamps in that series share the same basic design, but they come in different colors and are inscribed with different denominations. The bottom of Figure 2 shows a 35-ore postal card from Denmark, mailed to New York in 1960. The imprinted stamp of that postal card is enlarged at top right in Figure 2. As you can see, the design of the postal card stamp is virtually the same as that of the 1950 definitive stamp. Denmark also produced folded letter cards and aerograms using the same stamp design. Clearly these objects would be appropriate additions to any collection of Danish stamps.

Most countries have issued stamped postal stationery, and anyone who has been collecting a country's stamps could consider branching out into the field of postal cards, stamped envelopes, aerograms and other postal stationery.

Another way to develop a new collecting interest is to take a closer look at the stamps you are collecting. If you're a collector of the new issues of the United States, you may have already obtained the 33¢ self-adhesive Fruit Berries stamps issued in 1999. But do you have all of the Fruit Berries stamps?

So far the Berries stamps have been issued in four formats. For these stamps, this means 16 different collectible stamps (four each of four different designs: Blueberry, Raspberry, Strawberry and Blackberry). Figure 3 shows the latest issue: four Berries booklet stamps issued March 15. This new variety can be distinguished from earlier varieties because the year date 2000 is printed in the lower-left corner and its die cutting is a distinct gauge.

Some collectors see even more than just 16 stamps in this series, however. There are four different coil stamp designs, but one might also consider that every third Blackberry coil stamp bears small plate numbers. Counting both numbered and nonnumbered coils, that adds up to five different coil stamps.

But there have been at least five different plate number combinations reported for this issue. That makes five different numbered and one nonnumbered Blackberry stamps, plus one each of the three other fruits, or nine different coil stamps in all. If you examine the booklet stamps closely, you'll notice that some have straight edges on the left or right, and some also have a straight edge at top or bottom.

Using this criteria, the 20-stamp Fruit Berries pane of 1999 contains three different Strawberry stamps, four different Blackberry stamps, and five different Raspberry and Blueberry stamps, or 17 different stamps for the pane. You should be able to see where this is going. There is also a folded booklet of 15 Fruit Berries stamps, and the double-sided pane of 20 stamps issued March 15.

The United States Postal Service plans to issue another variety on June 16 — linerless self-adhesive Fruit Berries coil stamps. Many ways exist to develop this kind of specialization. Varieties of perforation, phosphorescent tagging, color and paper can make collecting in-depth an intriguing challenge.

For many collectors, a new stamp collection might blossom in a topical area. Some collectors prefer to create only topical or thematic collections, by searching out items that are linked by a common theme. For example, the three stamps shown together in Figure 4 are all from different countries, but they share a common subject matter: cats.

Topical collections can be created on any subject, from animals and plants to occupations, inventions, individuals or events. Some die-hard single-country collectors enjoy nurturing a growing topical collection as a way to inject a fresh perspective into their hobby.

If the idea of starting a new collection appeals to you, consider carefully what your interests are, and how you can develop a collection that is right for you. Do you know of stamp dealers who may be able to help you locate the items you will need to build your collection? If you have Internet access, you may be able to locate many items using some of the many available online stamp hobby resources.

Can you find reference materials that will help you build your collection? One important resource available to collectors is the American Philatelic Research Library. Although it is located in State College, Pa., collectors can obtain materials on loan by mail. Information is available by contacting the American Philatelic Society online at www.stamps.org, or by writing to American Philatelic Society-APRL, Box 8000, State College, PA 16803.

Use your imagination and consider all the different collecting possibilities available, and it won't be hard to begin a second stamp collection that you will enjoy as much as you enjoy your first.