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Stamp Collecting

Stamp collecting can be a most satisfying and educational hobby. But, given two stamps of the same issue, what makes one collectable and the other worthy only of pushing the mail to its destination? We'll look at those differences here by following one person's oddessy of collecting stamps from day one to three decades later. Along the way, I hope we'll all be fulfilled.

Stamp collecting is a most satisfying hobby for me for two reason. First, because I am an historian and most stamps commemorate or represent some aspect of history. Second, because the artist in me can appreciate the often fine engravings and delicate colors of many stamps.

I began collecting stamps as a young boy when my grandfather gave me a cigar box full of stamps he had soaked off of envelopes over the years. I thus began collecting used stamps and I just pasted them in a beginner's album I had gotten for Christmas. Gradually, in comparing my collection with those of other boys I knew, I learned that it was considered to be better to use stamp hinges to mount the stamps in the album. I didn't know why, but I bought some and discovered the stamps I had pasted in the album couldn't be removed to be hinged without ruining the stamps, the album, or both. I saved my allowance (25 cents a week) and bought a new, even larger album and started over. Somewhere along the line, I discovered that mint, or never used, stamps were more desirable than cancelled ones.

When I was 13, I went to a stamp shop in San Bernardino, California and bought my first mint stamps. I bought the complete set of the Pan American Exposition issue of 1901 for $20.65. Although this is a beautiful issue, the stamps I bought that day were not all that good. Only the one-cent and four-cent stamps (Scott U.S. #294 and 296) were well centered, and the ten-cent stamp (Scott #299) was discolored, had missing perforations, and had a tear in it. In truth, it was a lousy stamp, but I loved it; I had my first complete mint issue (set)!

Scott #294-299

Scott's U.S. #294-299 (mint)

Since then, I have collected thousands of stamps, all mints, most never hinged and with old gum on the back, most as perfectly centered and with large or at least decent borders as I could find, almost all with fresh color, and many with certificates of authenticity--all of which are characteristics which make a stamp desirable. I have a pretty decent collection. In 1984, I went to Stockholm on business and bought the complete 1895 set of Gustov V, and that's when I began collecting Swedish stamps as well as U.S.

In 1988, I returned to that same stamp shop in San Bernardino and confronted the owner, who originally sold me that Pan-American Exposition set 31 years previously. I took out my Scott's National Postage Stamp Album and opened it to the Pan-Am issues. Then I opened an envelope and took out the original receipt for the set I had purchased in 1957. The man was astounded that I still had the receipt, but when I showed him the set he admitted it wasn't very good. I flipped through my album and he saw page after page after page of supurb to perfect stamps. I told him that it took me years to learn what to look for in a stamp and not settle for anything less, but I could have learned that lesson when I was 13 if he had only showed me what to look for. Instead, he took advantage of my youthful ignorance and sold me stamps that no serious collector would really want. He was now an old man, and he looked at me for perhaps 15-20 seconds in silence, said "You're right," then turned and went to a large safe. He took out a stock book and opened it to his stock of No. 299, of which he had dozens. He handed me a magnifying glass and a pair of tweezers and said, "Take your pick."

Scott #299I examined the stamps and chose the most perfect one he
had, which was supurbly centered and never hinged. I then
showed it to him and he said, "It's yours." I was surprised,
but pleased. I took the bad stamp he had sold me as a kid
out of it's mount and slid it across the counter. He looked
at it and said, "It really is a bad stamp." Then he took an
envelope out of a drawer, licked the stamp, stuck it on the
envelope, and handed it to me. "Mail it to a collector friend.
That's all it's good for...and be sure to put another 14 cents
with it or it won't post."

Scott U.S. #299

I lamented the sad fact that this stamp, which I had once been so very proud of, had been reduced to...to...to a common postage stamp! A few weeks later, I put extra postage on it and mailed it to a friend, who noticed it at once and called to thank me. Collecting stamps can be unexpectantly fun....

If you collect Swedish and/or U.S. stamps, here are a few links that may be of value to you.

The Pan American Exposition issue set of 1901 (Scott's U.S. #294-299), and the single
#299, were photographed by Mike Davenport and used here with his kind permission.

Stamp Collecting Links of Interest

A Guide to the Washington - Franklins
Alibris: Books on Postage Stamps
The American Philatelic Foundation [Postage Stamp Price Guide]
American Philatelic Society
Benjamin Franklin American Stamp Gallery
Classic U.S. Stamp Images (by David H. Aeschliman) [NOTE: This link no longer works]
Glassine Surfer
Joseph Luft's Philatelic Resources on the Web [Collectors Pages]
Joseph Luft's Philatelic Resources on the Web [Downloadable Images]
Joseph Luft's Philatelic Resources on the Web [General Resources]
Joseph Luft's Philatelic Resources on the Web [New Additions]
Joseph Luft's Philatelic Resources on the Web [Shows and Societies]
Joseph Luft's Philatelic Resources on the Web [Software]
Linn's Stamp News
Military Postal History Society
National Postal Museum
Olof Linder Scandinavians, Swedish auction
Public Domain Stamp Collecting Articles
Scandinavian Collectors Club
Scott Stamp Monthly
Stamp News Online
Stamp Resources
Texas Philately Home Page
Texas Postal History Society
United States Classics
United States New Stamp Issues
United States Stamp Society

Last update was October 11th, 2008.


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