By Michael Baadke
So you're a stamp collector? Join the club.
And believe me, there are plenty of clubs to choose from. To start out with, local stamp groups can be found in cities throughout the world. These neighborhood clubs give collectors a chance to regularly meet with others who enjoy the hobby as much as they do.
Something many collectors don't realize is that there are also a tremendous number of specialty groups that accept members from just about everywhere.
While many of these groups hold meetings from time to time at different locations, most of their members never attend those meetings.
Instead, they learn about the group's activities through regular journals or newsletters.
These journals provide news and articles that specifically appeal to collectors with a specific area of interest.
While Linn's Stamp News will always keep you informed about news and events in the stamp collecting world, these specialty groups will give you details about what's happening in your favorite collecting area.
If you're a collector of the stamps or postal history from Germany, for instance, the Germany Philatelic Society provides its members with a journal, German Postal Specialist, which is published six times per year.
A recent issue is shown at the top in Figure 1.
Members read about new stamps from Germany, specialist studies on new and classic issues, new postal history discoveries and much more.
The November-December 1998 issue of German Postal Specialist shown in the illustration includes an article by Gunter Bechtold describing a very rare use of Germany's perforated 50 million mark stamp of 1923.
The postcard that prompted the feature is shown here at the bottom in Figure 1.
Local GPS chapters hold regular meetings at locations all around the United States and in Canada, but many members live far from the meeting sites and can't regularly attend.
The Germany Philatelic Society is just one of dozens of groups that specialize in one country or geographic area.
There are groups for collectors of Austria, Canada, Great Britain, Haiti, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Scandinavia, Switzerland and many other areas, including Earth's polar regions.
For collectors of U.S. stamps, the Bureau Issues Association publishes its monthly journal, the United States Specialist, "for the collector of postage and revenue stamp issues of the United States," as the journal says.
Another U.S. group is the U.S. Philatelic Classics Society. Its quarterly journal, the Chronicle of the U.S. Classic Postal Issues, presents important studies of the earliest U.S. stamps and postal history.
Stamp collecting isn't just about accumulating the issues of individual countries, however, and collectors with other interests can often find groups that help them as well.
For example, the United Postal Stationery Society was established in 1945 for collectors with an interest in worldwide postal stationery items: stamped envelopes, postal cards, aerograms and so on.
A recent copy of the journal Postal Stationery is shown at left in Figure 2. Articles cover a range of topics on U.S. and worldwide issues, including highlights of new items, specialized studies of classic items and much more.
Like many groups, the United Postal Stationery Society also publishes reference materials for the benefit of its members. Shown at right in Figure 2 is the 1995 United States Postal Card Catalog from UPSS.
The society also holds club auctions that allow members to buy and sell items of interest. Auctions are a feature that many different specialty groups provide for their members as an easy way to help them build their collections.
A number of other societies exist that appeal to collectors with interests in similarly specialized areas. For example, there are groups that cater to collectors of airmail items, perfinned stamps (those with initials or designs punched through the face of the stamp), precanceled stamps, postal history, cinderellas (stamplike labels and bogus issues), revenues, postage meter stamps, U.S. plate number coils, postmarks and many others.
One very popular collecting society is the American Topical Association, a group of collectors who are interested in building collections that focus on the subject shown on the stamp rather than the country of origin.
Many who are interested in topical issues build one or more collections based on the stamp's subject. Thematic collectors look for stamps with related subjects as well, to help tell a story about the main subject — such as a stamp showing honey to be used in a thematic collection about bees.
Other topical collectors just keep an eye out for any stamp that shows their favorite topic.
Figure 3, for instance, pictures four different stamps that would appeal to the bicycle topic collector.
The ATA has nearly 50 separate study units that further specialize on varied topics such as astronomy, chess, lighthouses, music, railroads and sports. There's even a Bicycle Stamp Club that is an ATA study unit.
Members of the ATA receive its journal, Topical Time, 10 times per year, and have access to many handbooks and checklists of popular collecting subjects. Figure 4 pictures the cover of an issue of Topical Time.
Different groups offer their members different benefits, and as a result, the membership dues can vary considerably, from just a few dollars annually, to $25 or more.
Stamp-society dues are a very worthwhile investment for collectors who are serious about their hobby.
The information that comes from belonging to a specialty society can more than make up for the money spent.
Many club members find information that helps them save money in their stamp purchases.
Others find great deals in club auctions they might not see anywhere else.
Remember, too, that every group has to pay for mailing and journal production costs.
Some clubs maintain libraries that allow members to check out reference works and other research materials.
Others offer stamp circuits, so that members may view and purchase stamps at home.
One group that provides all of these benefits as well as many others is the American Philatelic Society.
The APS has the most extensive public-access philatelic library in the United States. Its sales division gives APS members an opportunity to buy or sell stamps by mail in more than 150 categories of countries and topics.
Members also receive the monthly journal American Philatelist, which keeps members up-to-date on APS-sponsored shows, activities and other hobby events, and includes numerous interesting feature articles in each issue.
More than 54,000 members the world over enjoy these and many other benefits of APS membership.
The APS also maintains a list of its many specialty society affiliates, so if you're looking for a special group to join, the APS will probably be able to help you.
More information about the American Philatelic Society and some of the other fine groups mentioned in this article can be found in the information box below.