The hobby is evolving

For years, I have maintained that stamp collecting isn’t about to die out, but it is evolving.

It is easy to complain that young people are no longer collecting stamps, but I don’t think that young collectors have ever played much of a role in the financial health of the hobby. Young collectors usually have limited financial means and even years ago, rarely bought high-end stamps.

For me, one of the first signs was when stamp shops began to vanish. The independent dealer was often one of the biggest promoters of the hobby, but as buyers moved towards online sources dealers were quick to realize they could do more business over the computer or at shows and didn’t need the expense of a storefront operation.

The second sign was when local clubs began to wither. For decades stamp clubs managed to survive just by being there. Enough new collectors turned up to make up for losses and clubs just existed. However the same collectors, who started buying online, also found that they could meet other collectors over the internet, at their own convenience, without leaving home.

More recently, the number of stamps in use has dropped dramatically.

Few collectors realize that for years, one of the largest sources of used stamps was not individual mail boxes, but businesses who often received hundreds of letters a week from customers and suppliers. As postage meters and permit mailing grew the number of stamps in use dropped, and then the internet came along and more and more business communications moved electronically.

Does all that mean that stamp collecting is about to die? I don’t think so.

There are literally dozens of stamp auctions each year, with millions of dollars changing hands. Almost without exception this part of the hobby is dominated by older material, most of it printed long before the advent of home computers or the Internet. You can argue that those collectors started out as youngsters, but they almost without exception left the hobby at some point and returned as an adult. I have little doubt that, presented correctly, the history and collectability of stamps will continue to draw for many years.

The endangered species is the small collector of limited means – the generalist who doesn’t spend a lot of money on collecting but gets great pleasure owning, researching, and reading about stamps.

While their demise may not be noticed at the top end of the hobby, where stamps costing tens of thousands of dollars are common, I for one think that the hobby will be diminished greatly if it is robbed of their passion and enthusiasm.

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