By Janet Klug
Stamp collectors, in common with most of society, love the word "free." Happily, free stuff is everywhere in our wonderful hobby.
The catalogs often are in the library's reference collection and don't circulate, but some libraries retain previous editions of the catalogs and allow them to be checked out. If working on your collection at the library is not something you want to do, you can check out the available volumes and work at home.For those of us who are on a tight hobby budget, the local public library might be able to help. Most libraries have a selection of the Scott stamp catalogs, as well as a table in a quiet place where you can work on your collection while using the reference works you need to correctly identify your stamps.
The world's largest museum devoted to our hobby is free. The National Postal Museum, a Smithsonian Institution museum, is a gem. In September of this year, a huge new gallery will open in the NPM where you can see many of the famous stamps we dream about.
The National Postal Museum is located in Washington D.C., at 2 Massachusetts Ave., N.E., across the street from Union Station.
If traveling to the nation's capital is not possible for you, no problem! The museum's website at www.postalmuseum.si.edu allows you to make a virtual visit to most of the exhibits. If you don't have a computer, once again your local public library may come to the rescue. Most libraries these days have a bank of computers for free public use, and the library staff can help you get started.
Most of us would love to have a complete collection of U.S. stamps, including all of the rarities. This dream can almost come true, thanks to the museum's Arago online database at www.arago.si.edu. Create a free account for yourself and then tour the website looking for stamps and covers that you want in your dream collection.
When you find a stamp you like, click "Add to My Collection" at the top right of the screen. At the bottom right is a "My Collection" button, and clicking there will take you directly to your saved collection so you can see what you have accumulated. Figure 1 shows a screen shot of my own collection, virtual though it may be.
Clicking on any stamp in your collection will both enlarge and give you information about it. Figure 2 shows one of the stamps from my virtual collection: the inverted 1869 15¢ Landing of Columbus (Scott 119b). Creating a virtual collection is fun, free and a great way to learn about U.S. stamps.
The National Postal Museum and the American Philatelic Society have partnered to produce a series of annual postal history symposia. Many of the papers presented at these events have been collected into e-books that are available as free downloads. Knowledge is power in our hobby, and you will be enthralled with the research that philatelists and educators have freely shared on the APS website at http://stamps.org/DisplayPage.aspx?id=Postal-History-Symposium.
How would you like to have a free album for your stamps and covers? The American Philatelic Society website has album pages that you can download free and print on the paper of your choice.
The pages have color pictures of the stamps that belong in the spaces, so even if you don't have the actual stamps yet, the pages still look attractive and full. These are nice items to download and print for your favorite schoolteachers to use in their classroom work, using stamps as a fun method for children to learn history and geography. There are currently 54 different free stamp albums on the APS website at http://stamps.org/Free-Album-Pages.
Do you like to collect and make cacheted event covers? APS has free cachets as well, at http://stamps.org/Free-Cachets.
Have you ever wondered if a published reference work exists for something related to your stamp collection? Now you can do a single search of many of the world's greatest philatelic libraries to see if there is a book or article you could read to learn more about your current collection or a new area of interest.
The Philatelic Union Catalog, a project hosted by the American Philatelic Research Library, currently allows you to search the holdings of seven major philatelic libraries at http://catalog.stamplibrary.org/InmagicGenie/opac.aspx. Searching is free; borrowing or copies may have a fee.
Most stamp shows have free admission, and while collectors who attend shows might budget for and expect to spend money buying material from participating dealers, there are usually many free activities at a show.
You can spend hours examining the exhibits, prepared by collectors just like you who enjoy displaying their collections. Societies have meetings that are open to all and often there are lectures and seminars to attend. Plus, never underestimate the joy of meeting and chatting with other collectors. That is great fun and it is free.
Many of us have surplus stamps in stock books and shoeboxes that clutter our closets. Find someone who would like to swap stamps with you — you get rid of your unwanted items and receive new material in a free deal.
If you can't find a swapper, then remember that stamp collecting is a generous hobby. Donate your surplus to a school stamp club, to the American Philatelic Society for use in its youth programs, or to some other charitable organization that can make use of them.
That warm, fuzzy feeling you will get from sharing? That's free, too!