By Michael Baadke
The first step in stamp collecting is to have an interest in stamps. That's an instinct that comes naturally to many, although some folks need an introduction to the hobby before they learn that they have this special interest.
You can start your stamp collection by going to the post office and buying the most interesting stamps you see. If you live in the United States, that might be an issue such as the new 33¢ Legends of Baseball stamps that were placed on sale July 6. Putting new issues like these in an album or stock book is the next step in building a collection.
Casual collectors may occasionally buy other new issues that catch their eye, but those sporadic purchases may be the extent of their involvement in the stamp hobby. Everyone collects at a level they are comfortable with, but there are many ways that you can branch out from casual collecting to become more involved with your collection and with the stamp collecting community.
Join the club. Almost any stamp collecting club will get you more involved with the stamp hobby. It will provide you with a great opportunity to learn more about collecting and to meet people with interests similar to yours.
There are different kinds of stamp clubs that provide different kinds of benefits. Most clubs have annual dues to pay for a meeting place, newsletter mailing costs or other expenses, but usually these fees are quite reasonable.
One important organization in the United States is the American Philatelic Society. The insignia of the APS is shown in Figure 1. Although the word "American" is prominent in its name, membership in the APS is not limited to Americans or to those who collect U.S. stamps.
The APS has members all over the world, and it welcomes collectors with every possible philatelic interest. Members receive the monthly magazine American Philatelist, containing feature articles on subjects covering every facet of the stamp hobby.
The APS also offers a library service, an insurance plan specifically for your stamp collectibles, estate advice, translation services and much more. Collectors can buy and sell stamps and covers by mail through the popular APS sales division.
Details about the APS are available on the World Wide Web at www.stamps.org, or by mail from American Philatelic Society, Box 8000, State College, PA 16803-8000.
The APS can also steer you to local stamp clubs in your own community, where collectors come together on a regular basis to exchange information, trade stamps and learn from interesting presentations by members and guests.
There are also many groups around the world that study in specialized collecting areas, such as first-day covers, airmail, revenue stamps and postal history. Other groups support collectors with interests in specific stamp topics or the issues of individual countries.
Most of these groups regularly publish newsletters or journals to inform members of new discoveries or ongoing discoveries in their chosen area. Some also publish books and catalogs. Many hold mail bid auctions featuring items offered by members.
You can find out more about local or specialized clubs by visiting the APS web site and clicking on "Local Clubs" or "Specialty Societies." If you don't have Internet access, you can write to the APS and ask if there is a club in your town, or one that caters to your specific collecting interest. Please enclose a stamped, addressed return envelope with your inquiry.
Read all about it. Stamp clubs regularly publish newsletters and journals, but there are many more publications that will provide you with information about your collecting interests. Figure 2 shows a few different kinds of stamp hobby publications.
Why bother reading about stamps when you could spend the money buying stamps? The fact is that most stamp hobby publications provide you with the knowledge that will help you build a terrific collection.
If you just buy stamps without knowing anything about them, you may put together a pretty collection, but you may be missing some great items that will make it even better. Publications about the hobby can also help you find stamp bargains and learn how to take care of the collection you're putting together.
You're starting off on the right foot by reading Linn's Stamp News, which is filled each week with breaking news in the stamp world, as well as a variety of feature articles and regular columns. Linn's advertisers offer everything under the stamp collecting sun, from stamps and covers to essential supplies.
Among the other commercial publications available to collectors is Scott Stamp Monthly, which, like Linn's, is published by Amos Press of Sidney, Ohio.
Books on stamp collecting come from many different sources, including Linn's, the APS, and many collecting groups around the country.
You can also learn much about your hobby by reading the descriptions in auction catalogs that sell items of interest to you. Even if you can't afford the finest rarities in the world, you can learn a great deal by reading about them when they come up for sale.
Many publications are offered through advertisements in Linn's and society journals, but APS members can also obtain books on loan from the American Philatelic Research Library.
Auction catalogs are offered directly by auction houses. Some catalogs are free, but others are available for a fee that helps pay for the firm's printing and postage costs.
One great way to learn postage stamp basics is to read the introduction to your standard or specialized stamp catalog, as shown in Figure 3. Many collectors simply use the catalog to look up a stamp and learn about its value, but most catalogs provide a great deal of essential stamp information that is of particular use to the collector who wants to learn more about hobby basics.
Take in a show. Attending a stamp show is a wonderful way to immerse yourself in the stamp hobby. It's like going to a shopping mall where every store is a stamp store, and each store offers something different.
You can compare prices and quality, look for hard-to-find items for your collection, and pick up supplies that will protect and help you organize your stamps and covers. Figure 4 shows collectors and vendors together during a recent stamp show in New York City.
Shows take place every week in locations all over the country. Most have free admission. Linn's provides a listing of shows in the weekly Stamp Events Calendar.
Many stamp shows also feature exhibits of collections on display. A walk through the exhibit area can be an eye-opening experience, as you see how other people put together collections in their particular areas of interest. One section of an exhibit frame is shown in Figure 5.
It's fascinating to see how some collections are built upon a single stamp issue, a specific time period, or a particular theme that is featured on stamps and postmarks.
Be a show-off. Putting together an exhibit of your own is a great way to rethink your own stamp collection. Could you assemble your collection in such a way that someone looking at it would learn more about your area of interest?
Most exhibits include write-ups on each page that explain what is being exhibited and why it is important to the exhibit. As you build your own collection, you may find a specialty area that draws you back again and again. With a little research and some careful attention, there's no reason why you can't build upon that area and become an exhibitor yourself.
Exhibiting means thinking beyond the preprinted pages of a stamp album, to create your own presentation of your favorite part of the stamp hobby.
A specialized group that helps exhibitors and those who would like to exhibit is the American Association of Philatelic Exhibitors. The group publishes a quarterly journal, the Philatelic Exhibitor, that features articles in each issue about designing and preparing your stamp exhibit.
For more information, send an addressed, stamped envelope to the American Association of Philatelic Exhibitors, 1023 Rocky Point Court N.E., Albuquerque, NM 87123.