By Janet Klug
Adding stamps and covers to your collection usually means buying them from dealers or postal authorities.
Make no mistake, those are excellent sources of new material. But it is also possible to swap with other collectors, a process that involves little or no cash. In today's recessionary economy, swapping stamps is a great way to include more stamps in the collection without having to first swing by the drive-through window at the bank.
Finding fellow stamp swappers may be as simple as joining your local stamp club. Many clubs have organized trading activities. Some clubs have swap circuits. Others may have a program or two each year at the club meeting where members can bring stock books full of duplicate stamps to trade with other members.
To find a stamp club near you, visit the American Philatelic Society web site at www.stamps.org and look for the link to clubs and societies.
Perhaps you live in an area where there are no stamp clubs, or maybe you cannot get out as much as you would like. You can still meet other collectors, swap stamps with them and make new friends all over the world.
It is an old-fashioned idea, perhaps, but having pen pals throughout the world and sending real letters using real stamps is an effective and fun way to get more stamps for your collection at a low cost.
The Cover Collectors Circuit Club has been in existence since 1947 and has 4,000 active members worldwide. The organization's goal is to help stamp and cover collectors find contacts and promote international friendships.
Membership dues for a lifetime membership are just $15. With membership, you get a list of members and a starter pack of circuit forms.
Once you have the membership list and circuit forms, you use the list to create a circuit. You mail the circuit form with four addresses of club members on it to the first person on the circuit, using a cover with a variety of attractive, interesting stamps.
You can decorate the cover or use a printed cachet, create a first-day cover, or do whatever you wish to make your cover one that the collector you send it to will appreciate.
When that person receives your cover and circuit form, he will do as you have done and prepare a cover for the next person on the list. Eventually, the completed form and a cover from the last person on the circuit will be returned to you. As the circuit travels along from country to country, those who receive the circuit will learn about you and your willingness to swap stamps or covers. It is a fun and inexpensive way to increase your collection and make friends.
For more information, write to the Cover Collectors Circuit Club, Renata Thompson, 241 Beachers Brook Lane, Cary, NC 27511; or visit the web site www.covercollectors.org.
If you enjoy collecting picture postcards, there is a movement gaining popularity called "postcrossing." It is operated on the Internet with a web site at www.postcrossing.com.
Postcrossing is a project that allows anyone to receive postcards (real ones, not the electronic kind) from places all over the world.
It is free to join and there are no dues. To participate, you have to register on the web site.
You will then be given a membership I.D. and the name and address of one of the more than 213,000 members worldwide. You send a picture postcard to that person. Once you have sent notification to Postcrossing that you have mailed the card, your name goes on the list for the next member who requests another contact.
Soon you will receive a picture postcard from another member. You can have as many as five postcards in the mail at one time. The faster you record that you have received a card and request to mail another, the faster you will get more postcards. Soon you will be looking forward to the mail to see what surprises may be waiting for you.
If you are looking for a way to combine your stamp collecting interests with a creative inclination, the Art Cover Exchange may be just the outlet you need. It began in 1937 with "the sole purpose ... to exchange hand-decorated covers among its members. The concept was simple: send a cover with a handmade cachet to a member and receive one in return."
The exchange went out of operation for a number of years, but reformed in the 1980s and has been going strong ever since.
You don't necessarily have to be artistic to participate (although that doesn't hurt). Cachets can be created by using cutouts from magazines, folding up old maps and using them as all-over cachets, or by some other creative process known only to your imagination. The more you send, the more you receive.
Dues are $12 per year. For more information, write to Joseph Doles, 105 Lawson Road, Rochester, NY 14616; or visit the web site at www.artcoverexchange.org.
The International Society of Worldwide Stamp Collectors has much to commend it. In addition to its bimonthly newsletter the Circuit, the club has several methods whereby members can swap stamps with one another.
The society's swap circuit is the simplest form of trading. You request to go on a circuit. Someone on the circuit will send you a packet of 100 stamps. You take what you want from the packet, add enough of your own duplicates to the packet to top it back up to 100 stamps, and mail it to the next person on the circuit.
There are different circuits for United States stamps, foreign stamps, large commemoratives, small definitives, and canceled-to-order stamps.
The contents of a foreign large commemorative circuit are shown in Figure 1.
Members who opt to join international swap circuits have the added bonus of receiving the covers that international members use to mail their circuits to you. You can soak the stamps from them or collect them as entires, as your collecting tastes dictate.
A cover from a Dutch member of one of the circuits is shown in Figure 2.
The club operates the omni circuit as well. This circuit connects traders who wish to exchange stamps on a catalog-value basis.
For more information, write to International Society of Worldwide Stamp Collectors, Box 19006, Sacramento, CA 95819. Information is also availabe on the society's web site at www.iswsc.org.
Finding a few swap partners is not just a good way to add to your collection without spending a lot of money – it is a marvelous way to make new friends.
Try it and see for yourself the fun you may have been missing.