US Stamps

What is an advanced collection?

Sep 29, 2020, 8 AM
Must certain stamps, such as the 1930 Graf Zeppelin airmails, be included for a collection to be called “advanced?”

U.S. Stamp Notes by John M. Hotchner

Linn’s reader Jack Ellison of Knoxville, Tenn., poses an interesting problem: “Over the past several years I have read the word ‘advanced’ used in articles that have appeared in Linn’s as related to stamp collections. However, I have never read a word as to what ‘advanced’ constitutes or means …”

He goes on to suggest that a definition might address the number of stamps in the collection, the grade of the stamps, and the inclusion of specific stamps or complete sets of certain issues.

Instead of numbers, I would suggest that an advanced collection would be one where the collector has acquired all of the easy stamps, whether mint or used, that cost under, say $25, and is seriously going after the more elusive items. And as the collector is successful in adding more desirable stamps, whether singly or in complete sets, the collection becomes more and more advanced.

Because there can be a number assigned to “all the easy stamps,” an advanced collection can be quantified, but that does not tell the whole story; I agree with Ellison that there is a grade-of-stamps component.

I am not troubled by a folded corner or pinhole in an otherwise valuable stamp that fills a space while the collector searches for a better example, but if 5 to 10 percent of the stamps — cheap or expensive — are seconds, then I would not call the collection advanced.

This gets into the realm of what is an advanced collector, and that can be a swamp.

The quality of the collector’s stamps is only one measure. Another could be the collector’s knowledge.

For example, what if a collector has an advanced collection but paid someone else to put it together? Such a collector enjoys turning the pages of the stamp album but does not know enough about printing processes, color differences, perforating machinery and so on to appreciate the stamps displayed. While this collector has an advanced collection, is he or she an advanced collector? I say no.

An advanced collector has to understand what the stamps represent, how and why stamps with a similar appearance are different, and more about how values are arrived at than the experience of writing a check. If that sounds elitist, I suppose it is. But every worthwhile goal in life has standards associated with it, and to reach advanced status requires serious effort.

Malcolm Gladwell in his 2008 book Outliers: The Story of Success suggests that 10,000 hours is the magic number for achieving greatness. In other words, to be considered advanced and truly experienced within a certain craft, you must have practiced it for at least 10,000 hours.

I would add that a lot of that time for stamp collectors would need to be devoted to learning about the subjects of our enjoyment — not just acquisition — and to hands-on experience with soaking, determining perforations and watermarks, using a millimeter gauge and catalogs, dealing with dealers and auctioneers, and more.

So the bottom line is a stamp collection can be described as advanced when it is complete as to the easy material and more difficult material is being added. But then we can get hung up on how advanced the collection is.

Defining degrees of “advanced” might include looking for specific items that have achieved a high level of interest in the philatelic community, but is there a reason to spend time doing that? Maybe there is for auctioneers trying to describe a collection, but otherwise, the time can be better spent playing with stamps.

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