Stamps disappearing, but the hobby won’t

Any thinking philatelist has to agree that the postage stamp is, for all intents and purposes, on its last legs. For one thing, there are fewer and fewer letters being mailed every day. Secondly, fewer and fewer letters have postage stamps attached. The simple truth is that every year, fewer and fewer stamps are being used. There is nothing that collectors, Canadian Stamp News, or even Canada Post can do to reverse these long-term trends. However, there is reason to take heart. While the quantity of stamps being issued is dropping, the quality is going up at a staggering rate.

By that I mean that we are seeing stamps being produced using interesting security features, such as fluorescent design elements, stamps that interact with our smartphones, and even stamps that we can create on our own, and then have drop-shipped on postcards we create on the fly. These are interesting stamps that catch the imagination. You may believe that there were way too many Grey Cup and CFL stamps, but I would much rather see that than the usual herd of stamps commemorating anniversaries of government departments, or anniversaries that most Canadians don’t even know happened. These are stamp designs that connect to Canadians who never thought of themselves as stamp collectors. Whether they use them, or simply buy a few as keepsakes, it is good news that Canadians who never thought about a stamp as more than a way to mail the odd letter are taking an interest in them. We also can expect that some stamps, such as those with Christmas themes, will have a longer life.

It is also a safe bet that the collector market will remain strong enough that stamps will be produced for that market for some time to come. The philatelic marketplace is worldwide, and the number of stamp collectors is probably in the millions. I’m not trying to put a good face on bad news. The truth is that I believe stamp collecting will be around for a long time, but I believe that stamp collecting, and the use of postage stamps, will evolve and change. This isn’t news. I remember when major newspapers were mailed in quantity. When I worked in weekly newspapers, most copies were delivered by mail. But we didn’t have the special newspaper-rate stamps of the past, or any stamps in fact. I dropped off a cheque, filled out some paperwork, and got a receipt. Most of us probably remember a time when airmail was a premium service.

I wrote letters to relatives in Britain on thin blue pieces of paper, which folded up into an envelope. Those are gone, as are the airmail stamps we used on regular mail that we wanted delivered in a hurry. When was the last time any of us saw a stamp with any sort of overprint or perfs to mark it as used for government service? A mere generation ago, all of those uses were not only part of the stamp collecting world, but they were part of the day-to-day mail service. Today we just don’t have that. Even the wonderful $10 blue whale stamp, ideal for parcel mail, is often ignored in favour of a little piece of paper punched out a by machine at the post office counter. Stamp collecting will be around for some time, but postage stamps are once again evolving. We should be happy; this era represents another chapter of postal history that dates back to before the day that Rowland Hill got the idea of a fixed-rate service prepaid by little stamps.

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