By Janet Klug
It is September and most youngsters in America have gone back to school.
Aland's 1.90-markka 350th Anniversary of the Education System of the Province stamp (Scott 57) shown in Figure 1 depicts children in a classroom.
With cooler weather setting in to encourage indoor activities, it is a perfect time for stamp collectors of any age to sharpen their collecting skills and learn something new.
This can be as easy as buying or borrowing a book about something you collect or a subject that captures your interest.
Each year new books and monographs are written by stamp collectors who wish to share their knowledge and research with other collectors.
Not every stamp show is fortunate enough to have dealers who carry a stock of books, but when I attend a show where a dealer has books on display, I always look at what is available and try to come home with a new title to add to my library.
This spring I purchased Special Mail Routes of the American Civil War: A Guide to Across-the-Lines Postal History by Steven Walske and Scott Trepel.
This book is outside my usual collecting area, but a quick flip through it made me realize it was special, and likely to be the definitive work on the subject.
I brought the book home to be enjoyed during this time of the year, when the days are cooler and the nights are longer.
It is interesting and well-written, about a pivotal time in America's history.
Figure 2 shows the United States 20¢ stamp issued in 1984 picturing Abraham Lincoln, the U.S. president during the Civil War, reading to his son Tad (Scott 2105).
As the inscription on the 1984 Lincoln stamp points out, we are a nation of readers.
It is essential to read about the stamps and postal history you collect, but it is also good to move outside your comfort zone and explore new subjects from time to time.
In doing so, you might still discover information that applies to your collecting area, but even if that does not occur, you will gain a deeper appreciation of the vast scope of the stamp hobby.
The Internet, celebrated on Moldova's 4.50-leu Letters and Computer Screen stamp of 2008 (Scott 585) shown in Figure 3, offers a wealth of learning opportunities for stamp collectors.
A good place to begin finding answers to basic stamp collecting questions is a new web site co-sponsored by the American Philatelic Society, the Smithsonian's National Postal Museum, the Philatelic Foundation and the U.S. Postal Service. Visit it at www.learnaboutstamps.com.
The web site is arranged by asking questions such as "What is stamp collecting?" or "How can I begin stamp collecting?" Each main question is followed by other questions.
In the "How can I begin stamp collecting?" category, the user scrolls through questions such as "How do I obtain stamps for my collection?" and "How can I arrange my stamp collection?"
Each question is followed by links to web sites that provide answers.
Free courses and programmed learning opportunities are available online. A good starting point for minicourses on stamp collecting is found at www.askphil.org, under the Ask Phil academy banner on the home page.
Single-page instructions cover key subjects, such as tools of stamp collecting, collecting by country, and soaking, drying and saving your stamps.
WikiHow (www.wikihow.com/collect-stamps) has a multimedia presentation of basic stamp collecting that includes text and video. However, anyone can add to the text and videos and, as a result, some of the information published there at various times might require verification.
The WikiHow page currently states: "For many, stamp collecting is a competitive lifestyle. Because of this, you must always acknowledge the possibility that the person with whom you are trading may be trying to scam you."
There have been thousands of honest dealers and collectors throughout the history of the hobby, such as Emilio Diena (1860-1941) commemorated on the Italian 500-lira stamp (Scott 1793) shown in Figure 4.
It would be better to recommend that collectors do business with reputable dealers and join a stamp collectors society or club with high ethical standards.
The National Postal Museum has a number of exhibits on its web site at www.arago.si.edu.
Click the button "View all exhibits," and many interesting subjects appear, including "The Nation's First Commemorative Stamps," "The Jeanette Rudy Duck Stamp Collection," "Women on Stamps" and "Farley's Follies."
The stamp images on this site are spectacular. Add to that sparkling text and you have a joyous experience awaiting you. Learning this way is fun.
Learning does not have to be a solitary experience. The APS offers in-person courses at the week-long summer seminar, and shorter events around the country, usually held in conjunction with stamp shows.
Internet-based courses also are available where you can brush up on basics, learn about collecting first-day covers or put together your first exhibit.
Write to the APS at 100 Match Factory Place, Bellefonte, PA 16823 or visit the web site at www.stamps.org.
The Linn's Stamp News web site at www.linns.com contains a great deal of free instructional content. There are how-to articles, including an archive of past Refresher Course columns, and a reference section that will guide you through philatelic terms and stamp-issuing countries of the world, among other things.
Joining a stamp club and attending a stamp show are both good ways to expand your knowledge.
Stamp clubs often have talks about stamps given by members or guest speakers. The same is true for stamp shows, which may also host meetings of specialized collecting societies. In addition to the learning opportunities, there are also social events that promote friendships and fellowship.
This autumn, join the youngsters and go back to school in whatever way suits your style. Learn more about your hobby, and you will appreciate it more.
As the inscription states on the U.S. 1980 15¢ Education Issue stamp (Scott 1833) shown in Figure 5, "Learning never ends."