The most-hated question in stamp collecting

One of the questions I hate is that old standby “what do you collect?”

Usually, I hear it in conjunction with a coin or stamp event, so I have some context. In most cases the other person is curious about what the editor likes, but I have to admit it is a good way to strike up a conversation with a relative stranger.

The reason that the question bugs me is that I can’t really answer, except by saying “stuff.”

I have a handful of items from St. Kitts and Nevis, but it started out as postcards, and my interest is more in the post offices than the stamps. There are also a couple of themes that have formed over the years: mostly military bands and space. But there is also a lot of stuff that defies understanding. Things that caught my eye.

I know that most collectors have tighter criteria. In fact, more than a few people believe that unless a collecting goal is formed, with a strategy and plan, that all you have is an accumulation. For them, my magpie approach to philately doesn’t make a lot of sense.

But to me it is every bit as much a collection as the old album I bought at Woolworth’s in the 1960s, stuffed with stamps selected from a big cotton bag of world stamps. I think my total investment at that time was around a buck for the album, five cents for hinges, and maybe two bucks more for that bag of 1,000 stamps (of which half were Spanish orange 1 peseta stamps with General Franco’s bald head and stern visage).According to my handy inflation calculator, that modest investment, from around 1965, is equivalent to about $22.50 today. The irony is that my present accumulation is probably not worth all that much more. I guess it is best to say that I collect pretty pieces of paper, sometimes envelopes, sometimes stamps.

So for me, stamp collecting is not buying and selling, or money. It is about having fun, and filling a few stock books with some interesting stuff.

That’s both the strength and weakness of stamp collecting; the collector gets to make his or her own determinations.

On the positive side, it means that the hobby can be customized to an incredible degree. I know specialized collectors who mine a selected area of postal history, and collectors who have topical collections with incredibly tight criteria. I have met collectors who have holdings worth several times more than their home, and collectors who have little more than books full of pretty pieces of paper.

They are all collectors, and they all find fun and fulfilment in their hobby.

On the negative side, it means collectors can specialize to the point that they develop tunnel vision and never look beyond their self-made boundaries; even worse it can lead to snobbery and judgment.

I sometimes wonder how many potential club members have been turned away because the old guard at their local stamp club sneered at the new member’s shoe box full of modern cinderellas and definitives as not worthy of a true collector’s time.

Any time I find someone who likes stamps, I think it’s a good day.

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