By Michael Baadke
Here at Linn's Stamp News we field a lot of questions from collectors, ranging from very basic concerns about starting out in the stamp hobby to complex questions that address very specialized topics.
We try to answer as many questions as we can, but limitations of time and manpower mean we're just not able to answer them all.
Sometimes we recommend that collectors with specialized questions contact a society or club that may have more detailed information on a specific subject.
Other times we try to answer questions in our regular Question Corner and Collectors' Forum features.
Collectors who are just starting out in the stamp hobby often wonder if they are collecting "the right way," as they say. Such collectors wonder if their choices in collecting are good ones.
It's not surprising that there is some concern about this, because collectors have a lot of choices to make. Just take a look at all the areas that exist: stamp collecting, souvenir cards, first-day covers, first-day ceremony programs, postage meter stamps, and on and on. The list probably is endless.
Some new collectors may run into more experienced collectors who voice disdain for a basic collecting choice.
Just recently I came across one collector who sniffed at what he called "amateurs who just fill in the blanks in their stamp albums."
Presumably the scoffer considered himself an advanced specialist who is somehow superior to those who enjoy searching out the many different stamps of a certain country.
If you think this attitude is hogwash, you're not alone. In a survey conducted last year, 69 percent of Linn's readers stated that they store their collections in regular printed albums, such as the album shown in Figure 1.
That's my Scott United Nations album in the illustration, by the way, and I have a great time filling in the blanks when I get the chance.
I have some more specialized collecting interests as well, but I sure wouldn't look down on anyone enjoying the hobby, no matter what they're collecting.
The collector who uses a printed album to fill his hobby needs is assembling a historical overview of one or more country's stamps. I think this presents some great opportunities to learn.
Getting back to the concern about "collecting the right way," though, I usually ask, "What do you want to get out of the stamp hobby?"
If you want to know if your collecting choice is going to make you rich, the answer is probably "No."
Stamp collecting is a hobby. You may be able to sell your collection some day (a great advantage over many other hobbies), but it's unlikely that you'll make a great profit, no matter what you collect.
The attraction of stamp collecting as a hobby is that you can learn so much about the world, your own country, history, printing technology, or just about any other area of interest. That can help you decide what to collect.
If you're interested in how stamps are printed, what causes varieties to occur, or the postal history of a certain area, then you should concentrate in one of those specialty areas.
If you want to assemble all the stamps of one country, or stamps that show a certain subject (a field known as topical collecting), or some other area that interests you, then that's probably a good place for you to begin.
Read up about your specialty, take your time deciding how you want to go at it, ask some questions of stamp collecting friends or your local stamp dealer, and choose a way to collect that you can afford and that is right for you.
If you're enjoying it, then you're probably doing it the "right way."
Newer collectors sometimes ask about different items they see advertised and wonder if the cost is worth the investment.
We can use as an example the framed collection of U.S. stamps shown in Figure 2.
This item is sold by the U.S. Postal Service for $125. The value of the stamps inside is about $10.
Why the big price difference?
Most of the cost probably can be attributed to the frame, the matting, the glass, marketing costs and so on.
You can go to the mall and easily spend $125 on artwork for your home. The fact is that you're not likely to recover that cost if you decide to sell that artwork after a few years.
The framed stamps in Figure 2 are sold for decorative purposes. It's the customer's decision whether or not the decorative value of the item is worth the price being charged.
A more complicated question arises out of continuity collectible plans that are often offered to collectors through the mail.
I've seen some offers that sell first-day covers with decorative cachets (a design on the envelope that often follows the theme of the stamp) for new stamps or older stamps.
The envelopes arrive addressed to the collector on a regular basis, and the collector also receives a bill for the items that are sent.
Are these worthwhile collectibles?
It depends on what you like. If you want to collect these covers and you think you'll enjoy looking through them, you then need to decide if the asking price is reasonable for the enjoyment you will get out of them.
I've heard some collectors express disappointment when they try to sell such covers years later and find they can't profit from their investment.
Once again, I'll stress that this is a hobby, and profit probably should not be the reason you're entering into it.
There are first-day covers available from many sources all around the world.
The three covers shown in Figure 3 include one sold by a foreign postal administration and two produced by independent artists in the United States.
Learning more about these and similar items will help you decide how you would like to go about collecting them.
For first-day covers, you can learn a lot by reading First Days, the journal of the American First Day Cover Society. More information is available from AFDCS, Box 65960, Tucson, AZ 85728.
There are many other specialty societies around the world, and more than likely there is one that will help you learn more about an area that interests you.
In a future Refresher Course column, we'll look at how collector clubs and societies help keep the collector informed about the hobby.
And, of course, reading Linn's Stamp News each week is another great way to keep up with the many enjoyable aspects of the stamp hobby.