Little pieces of paper tell big stories

"Philately starts where the catalogue ends." - Anonymous


Sorry, I'm not trying to get too deep here, but I do really like this quote. Stamp catalogues list important stamp traits, including color, year of issue, and price. However, to me, philately (the study of postage) means taking these details and making meaning out of them. Why was an Indian stamp on malaria control released in 1955? Who was Lope de Vega? What distinguishes Yemen's 1970 FIFA World Cup stamps from other soccer-themed stamps? I want to use this site to share my explorations into these questions and what they teach about history/politics, culture, and even children's stories. But first: what's the deal about stamp collecting and why am I writing about it?


The "Penny Black" stamp released in 1840 (5)

A conventional timeline places the beginning of stamps and subsequent collecting in 1840 Great Britain, when Sir Rowland Hill introduced the now famous "Penny Black" stamp as a novel way for a sender to pay for postage (1). Today, some estimates claim that there are over 60 million stamp collectors world wide (2). However, many people in this group fall into the category of "casual" collectors: ie people who may aesthetically appreciate a postage stamp image but otherwise do not engage with its context within the history of postage itself (3). I likely fall within this category, and I am completely fine with that. Stamp collecting can be whatever you want it to be, and indeed that's one reason why I have continued collecting. As a child, I was obsessed with colorful Disney images and iconic World Cup moments. Now, I am more interested in connecting stamps to a country's history by studying the kinds of messages and policies they promote. In both cases, there is material out there to last a lifetime of exploration.


British postage/revenue stamps over time

I also don't think that I am alone in focusing on the messages within a stamp, rather than its pathway towards development in the postal service or use of a specific plate type (though these are of course very interesting and classical questions in stamp collecting). Caroline Bullock wrote an article for BBC in 2019 illustrating how the younger generation of stamp collectors is potentially revitalizing philately by primarily focusing on the stamp image and using social media platforms (4). While this may differ from traditional stamp collecting, it is perhaps an indication on how perception of the hobby can shift to accommodate emerging young collectors.




The rich global history of postage celebrated on stamps

All in all, this website represents my attempt to contribute in this discussion. I want to share what I find special and didactic about my collection. I hope that I can do my part to spread the word on this hobby and make it more accessible for people. It is certainly true that the meaning and usage of postage has dramatically changed in the last few decades. However, countries continue producing stamps and people continue using them. Moreover, the millions of stamps from the past still have lessons that are still worth hanging on to. So here goes nothing. Philately has my stamp of approval, and for those of you who have stuck with me in this series of thoughts, I hope that it will eventually have yours as well.



References:

  1. “Stamps and Collectors - a Little History.” American Philatelic Society, American Philatelic Society, classic.stamps.org/Stamp-History.

  2. “Stamp Collecting: Alive and Well in the 21st Century.” Is Stamp Collecting Dead? We Say No, 25 Aug. 2016, www.apfelbauminc.com/stamp-collecting-not-dead/.

  3. Earl P.L. Apfelbaum Inc. “How Many People Collect Stamps.” Buy & Sell Stamp Collections Online, Earl P.L. Apfelbaum Inc., 8 June 2018, www.apfelbauminc.com/blog/post/how-many-people-collect-stamps.

  4. Bullock, Caroline. “Tech-Savvy Stamp Collectors Energise an Old Hobby.” BBC News, BBC, 17 Sept. 2019, www.bbc.com/news/business-49632306.

  5. “First World Postal Stamp Ever Issued : the Penny Black, Great Britain, 1840.” Wikimedia Commons, 4 Mar. 2007, commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?sort=relevance&search=penny+black&title=Special:Search&profile=advanced&fulltext=1&advancedSearch-current=%7B%7D&ns0=1&ns6=1&ns12=1&ns14=1&ns100=1&ns106=1#/media/File:Penny-black.jpg. (Public Domain)

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