I have often written about the impact of the Internet on stamp collecting, how modern collectors have access to information and stamps at the touch of a keyboard.
Those changes are very real, and they do have an impact on organized collecting and stamp shows, but in another way it is a case of the more things change, the more they stay the same.
The old stereotype of a stamp collector sitting alone in a room with his stamps does contain more than a grain of truth. For many collectors, stamp collecting is a solitary pursuit.
While there is no specific definition of a collector, most of us recognize certain characteristics that separate a collector from a stamp hoarder. The collector is someone who organizes their stamps, studies their stamps, and has a collecting goal.
Those are activities best done alone. No matter how social a collector is, or how active they are in a local club, they spend a large amount of time alone with their stamps.
That isn’t a bad thing. In fact it is one of the benefits of the hobby. Time spent with your stamp collection can be quite calming. For the collector it is a time to shut out all the stresses and distractions of the world and focus on the calm and quiet of the stamp album. Collecting teaches us such adult concepts as delayed gratification. As our collection grows and evolves, it becomes something bigger than us, and as we learn more about our stamps we grow in knowledge and experience.
I have talked to countless collectors over the years who tell me they collect alone, often not even sharing their passion with family members.
These are not collectors I have met at stamp shows, because most of them rarely take their collecting out of the house. In some cases, their only collecting contacts have been with a handful of dealers, and through the pages of Canadian Stamp News.
That is one reason why most collectors do not belong to clubs, or even the Royal Philatelic Society of Canada. For them, just working on their collection is enough.
I would suggest that this is nothing new.
Over the years I have probably read every single issue of CSN at least once, and I see that as a pattern that goes back at least into the 1970s. Back then, organized philately of a generation ago faced the same concerns. Clubs were worried about getting and keeping members, and most collectors just didn’t feel the need for social interaction based on stamp collecting.
I see that pattern continuing today. Every dealer I know has customers who have never been to a club meeting or a stamp show. In some cases they haven’t even met the dealer face to face, but have built their entire collection through mail, email and telephone transactions.
I’m pretty sure that pattern will continue in the future.
Looking ahead 20 years or so, I think there will still be stamp collectors, and a large number of them will continue to work on their collections alone in quiet rooms.
I also predict that there will still be stamp clubs, and club executives will still worry about how to attract new members and keep the club going in the future. The successful ones will be based on helping collectors meet their goals and sharing information, rather than geographical proximity.
Does that mean that there will be no changes? Of course not!
Stamp collecting will continue to embrace new technology both as a research tool and as a means of communicating. I also think that, as the number of stamps in use continues to decline, collectors will become less and less interested in modern issues and more and more interested in classic stamps.
That too will be a good thing, because the market for older stamps is mature and established. Future collectors will be able to view their stamps as a hobby, and as a predictable part of their investment portfolio.
But that stereotypical image of a stamp collector sitting alone in a room, poring over a stamp album or stock book with a bright light and magnifying glass will be just as true in 2037 as it was in 1927.