Pick a country, any country

Aug 10, 1998, 6 AM

By Michael Baadke

A lot of stamp collectors like to concentrate their efforts on collecting the stamps of a single country.

Some choose to accumulate stamps from the country where they were born, while others have an interest in stamps from a foreign land.

Stamps from another country may appeal to the collector because of ancestral ties, or because the collector spent some time visiting or living there.

Others find that collecting stamps from another country is like opening a new book and learning as much as possible.

Developing the foreign collection can be a very satisfying educational experience, as each stamp tells a little bit about the country's people, its history and its culture.

Printed album pages are a starting point for many single-country collectors, because the pages provide a logical layout for the stamps.

Most albums begin with spaces for the earliest issues and continue to the most recent, with stamps in sets usually grouped together. This arrangement makes it easy for the collector to see which stamps have been obtained and which are still missing.

Shown in Figure 1 are Scott specialty album pages for the country of Denmark, located in northern Europe.

Albums and album pages are available by mail from stamp collector supply dealers — including many Linn's advertisers — or from local retail stamp dealers.

Finding the stamps to go on the pages is what makes this a lifelong hobby.

The collector interested in the stamps of Denmark has about 1,100 stamps to track down, not including minor varieties, airmails, semipostals, Official stamps, postage dues and more.

An ancient Chinese proverb states that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. In a similar way, the collection of a thousand stamps can begin with just one.

It can also begin with a bunch.

Collectors have been accumulating stamps for a long time, and often those collections are sold by their owners and bought by other collectors.

Complete collections can cost a fortune, and buying one really eliminates the adventure of building your own.

The purchase of a smaller, unfinished collection, however, can give you a jump start as you begin to assemble your own single-country collection.

Such collections are often advertised by stamp dealers or sold at stamp shows.

An early decision the collector might make is whether to collect stamps in mint condition (unused) or postally used.

Some collections combine the two, particularly when a stamp is hard to find or considerably more expensive in one condition, but easily available or reasonably priced in another.

Current new issues, such as the recent Danish stamps and booklets shown in Figure 2, can often be purchased at face value directly from the postal service of the issuing country, from an authorized agent or from a new issues dealer.

Stamps from Denmark, for instance, are available from Post Denmark, Stamps, Telegrafvej 7, DK-2750 Ballerup, Denmark.

The agent for Post Denmark in the United States is Nordica, Box 284, Old Bethpage, NY 11804.

Older issues, used or unused, may be purchased from stamp dealers and auction houses. Many prominent stamp and auction dealers advertise regularly in Linn's.

Many collectors begin with packets and mixtures that contain only stamps from the country that interests them.

Figure 3 shows a selection of 300 different stamps from Denmark. Each stamp is off paper and postally used.

These carefully sorted selections are called packets. A mixture is a large group of stamps that may include duplication.

Some stamp dealers also provide what are called approvals, an offering of stamps sent to the collector's home for examination. The collector must return the stamps within a certain time, including payment for any stamps he decides to purchase.

Approval dealers continue to send new selections regularly until the collector requests that the approval service end.

Many stamp dealers have set up shop using computers, posting their business on the Internet's World Wide Web.

A new Internet stamp dealing experience can be found by visiting Zillions of Stamps!, at

This is a new online stamp shopping center sponsored by Linn's.

As a collection grows and the album spaces fill, the collector may find that mixtures and approvals contain mostly duplicates of the stamps in his collection.

To obtain the stamps he is missing, the collector may send "want lists" to dealers.

A want list usually is simply a description of difficult-to-find stamps that the collector is looking for, often listed by catalog number.

For instance, a collector may write to a dealer requesting unused copies of Denmark Scott 212 and 215, two less common stamps from the 1930 King Christian X set.

Most want lists contain numerous stamps. The dealer will reply with stamps he has in stock or with information about them.

Some collectors eventually decide to specialize in a single stamp or series of stamps. They may seek out multiple copies of the same stamp, to look for different printing varieties, for instance.

Often these collectors also begin to look for covers that show a use of the stamp that interests them.

Covers are mailed envelopes, postcards and the like. Figure 4 shows Denmark Scott 4, the 4-skilling brown stamp from 1854, on an 1858 cover sent from Assens in the northeastern part of the Jutland peninsula to Flensburg, a city that is now part of northern Germany.

Covers can range in cost from a few cents to hundreds of dollars or more. The scarcity of the stamp, the rarity of the usage, the condition of the piece and collector demand for the cover are all factors that can affect prices.

First-day covers from many countries, bearing postmarks that show the first day a stamp was placed on sale, are also actively collected.

Additional information about cover collecting was presented last week in Refresher Course.

Specialty collections go beyond printed album pages and standard stamp catalogs, and the collector begins a journey of research and study that may result in new discoveries and information that can enrich the collecting community.

All collectors can benefit from literature published about the area of interest. As shown in Figure 5, this can include auction catalogs and specialized stamp catalogs (left) as well as books that document research in different specialty fields (right).

Collector organizations are particularly helpful to the single-country collector. Most groups publish regular journals to keep members informed about new discoveries, publications, auctions, dealer offerings and more.

Details about these groups are often published in Linn's.

It's a good idea to be thoughtful about the country you wish to collect. Consult catalogs and published literature to see what kind of stamps have been issued, if there are interesting historical areas to pursue, and if there is a specialty group that can help you as you get started.

And, as always, keep reading Linn's and Refresher Course for additional help as you build your country collection.