Cheap thrills await the collector of old, inexpensive, fascinating stamps

May 1, 2021, 4 AM

By Janet Klug

The advice to specialize is often given to beginning or intermediate collectors by those who have been collecting for a long time.

The advice is well intended. Although it might not be technically impossible to complete a collection of all the postage stamps ever issued by every country in the world, the likelihood of doing this is very slim. The cost in both money and time, not to mention the space necessary to store the stamps, is beyond the ability of most collectors.

I believe that the goal of completing a collection is highly overrated. Completing a single country collection is certainly achievable in many cases.

But once a collection is complete, what do you do? Do you stop collecting? Are you relegated to collecting only new issues? Do you move on to another country and then work on completing that one?

My advice to new collectors is quite different from the advice to specialize. I encourage new collectors to collect anything that interests them. This week it might be French colonies. Next week it might be Portugal. A month later it might be United States 2¢ reds. Exposure to everything the world of stamps offers assures that a new collector has a chance to learn much more about all kinds of stamps and where they come from, and it extends the excitement of finding new items for a collection. Collecting everything is a sure cure for boredom.

Within that framework of collecting everything that appeals to you, small specialized collections can be formed without the need to take out a second mortgage on the house.

The trick is to pick a stamp or series of stamps that are plentiful and cheap and then start accumulating as many of them as you can.

The easiest stamps to collect in this manner are often recent definitive stamps. Gather a bunch of U.S. Flag Over Something stamps and begin looking for all the various permutations and varieties.

But wait — recent and current stamps are not the only ones that are cheap and plentiful. People who do not know much about stamps often mistakenly believe that a stamp must be valuable if it is old.

Many stamps were issued in huge quantities and are not valuable. Many 19th-century stamps still have minimum catalog values and can be purchased for a few cents each, making stamp collecting one of the most economical hobbies for those who love antiques.

Another economical aspect of collecting old stamps is that you can get by with the single-volume Scott Classic Specialized Catalogue of Stamps and Covers 1840-1940 instead of the six-volume Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue. The Scott Classic specialized catalog lists all the world's stamps issued up to 1940, plus British Empire stamps issued through the reign of King George VI (1952).

New South Wales is a good example. Before Australia federated in 1901, the continent comprised several British colonies. One was New South Wales, whose largest city was (and still is) Sydney.

Stamps were first issued in New South Wales in 1850, but the first several decades do not have much to offer bargain hunters. Fast forward to 1888 and you will find a lovely pictorial stamp series that shows Australian wildlife, Captain Cook and a view of old Sydney town. Best of all, collecting a used set will cost only a couple of dollars.

Furthermore, if you are a collector who wants to delve a little deeper and go after collectible varieties, the New South Wales 1888 set is a good place to start. An 8-penny red-violet Lyrebird stamp (Scott 81) from the set is shown in Figure 1.

The Scott Classic specialized catalog lists several perforation varieties for each of the six stamps in the set (Scott 77-82).

The 1d View of Sydney and 2d Emu stamps also exist with two different watermarks.

Some of the varieties have a bit more catalog value. As you work through an accumulation of these stamps, you might get lucky and find some of the pricier ones mixed in with the more common ones.

The stamps were overprinted with the initials

"O S" ("Official Service") for use on Official mail. A 2d blue Emu stamp overprinted "O S" (Scott O25) is shown in Figure 2. While the Official stamps are a bit more difficult to find than the regular issues, they are not budget busters.

How do you find such stamps? Start by looking through your own duplicates.

Mixtures are a wonderful place to search for potential areas for a small specialized collection. You can find advertisements for all sorts of mixtures in the classified section of Linn's. Local stamp club meetings and stamp shows often offer stamps from mixtures for 5¢ each or less.

For many years, I saved every Australian King George V definitive stamp that I could find in mixtures. An Australian 2d red King George V stamp (Scott 71) is shown in Figure 3.

I now have several stock books full of them, organized by watermark type. I have found some of the scarcer inverted watermark varieties this way and some interesting plate varieties.

The varieties are listed in specialized catalogs, often at a considerable premium above the regular examples. I admit that a whole stock book full of a single stamp might not be everyone's idea of fun.

Maybe you would like something a little flashier. Check out the Portuguese colony of Nyassa for some of the most gorgeous stamps ever issued.

In 1901, the colony issued a set of 13 bicolor stamps featuring a giraffe or two camels in the vignette (Scott 26-38) and a small portrait of King Carlos set in the frame.

The frames are a nice, uniform black that sets off the vignettes that are printed in a variety of harmonious colors. The engraving is exquisite. The stamps were printed by Waterlow & Sons in Great Britain.

Figure 4 shows a Nyassa 10-reis black and deep green Giraffe stamp (Scott 28). Figure 5 shows an 80r black and lilac Camels stamp (Scott 34).

This entire set can be bought in unused, hinged condition for less than the price of a movie and popcorn, and you will have them to enjoy a whole lot longer.

Canada has issued some wonderful definitive stamps. You can go back a long way and still find stamps worth minimum catalog value that are plentiful, inexpensive and great fun to collect.

Some of the King George V Admiral stamps issued beginning in 1911 are fine examples of the engraver's art and fit the bill for bargain hunting stamp collectors. These stamps are called "Admirals" because they show the king wearing the uniform of a Royal Navy admiral.

A Canadian 10¢ bister-brown King George V Admiral stamp (Scott 118) is shown in Figure 6.

The Admirals also offer much to collect, with die varieties, color varieties, coils, booklets, war tax stamps and other goodies. Furthermore, there are excellent reference works, such as George Marler's seminal The Admiral Issue of Canadapublished in 1982 by the American Philatelic Society.

If you prefer something more modern, any of Canada's Queen Elizabeth II definitives are pocketbook friendly. In 1967 Canada began a definitive series known as "the Centennials" because they were first issued in 1967, the centennial of the Confederation of Canada.

The low-denomination stamps bear a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II in the foreground, with Canadian scenes in the background. A 2¢ green Queen Elizabeth II and Totem Pole stamp (Scott 455) is shown in Figure 7.

The Centennials were issued at a time when postal administrations began using mail-sorting machinery that was triggered by a nearly invisible tagging (a coating) on stamps.

The Centennials are marvelously complex to collect and learn about because of the many paper, tagging, gum, die and color varieties. The issue also includes booklets, coils, precancels and postal stationery bearing similar Centennial designs.

You'll always find something new in stamp collecting. Every stamp has a story. Troll your albums for undiscovered or under-appreciated treasures.