I’m a big fan of collecting, but not a big fan of structure.
For instance, when I look at stamp exhibits I’m more interested in the story than the details of the exhibit. I have to remind myself that judges look at more than just a good read, but have to take so much more into consideration.
From the perspective of exhibiting that makes a lot of sense. It is a scored event that moves from the local to the international levels, so consistency among judges is the only way a serious exhibitor can move ahead.
However, when it comes to the rest of stamp collecting, rules are not so important. By that, I mean stamp collectors can pretty much define their own collection and collecting goals. That is one of the greatest advantages of stamp collecting. While traditional collecting, in the sense of gathering one of everything, may not appeal to novices, the idea of setting their own collecting rules and goals has appeal for a generation raised on empowerment and individuality.
This personalization can take many forms, and I think it is practiced by most collectors, even those who consider themselves traditional generalists.
The sheer volume of stamps out there makes the goal of one of everything from around the world impossible. That isn’t new, even 50 years ago most collectors knew there were some stamps just too rare and expensive for their tastes. So even back then, collectors adjusted their goals to be able to get a sense of purpose and completeness.
This personalization is usually more pronounced. A collector may specialize in a particular nation, or time period. The world of topical and thematic collecting is all about personalization.
As collectors we recognize the importance of personalization when we ask questions such as “what do you collect?” If all stamp collecting was the same, we wouldn’t need that question.
As I said, versatility is strength for stamp collecting. I also think it is the key to the future of the hobby. There is no doubt the use of postage stamps is in decline. That is a global phenomenon linked to the decline in letter mail and simply cannot be reversed. That doesn’t, however, mean the end to stamp collecting.
So much of collecting is about older stamps not the ones being used today. The number of stamps used today, or even the existence of letter mail at all, is not significant to a collector of say Large Queens or postal history. The shortage of stamps in regular mail today does have an impact on new collectors, who traditionally start postally with used modern world stamps.
That means when we encounter new collectors we should be asking about what they like, and encouraging them to follow that route.
As a child, I collected stamps the way we all did, by soaking mixtures off paper and matching them up to pictures in a cheap stamp album. When I became involved in Canadian Stamp News my collecting was different. I have a handful of postcards from St. Kitts and Nevis, a smattering of military-related mail, and a small thematic collection of military bands on stamps. I think the last one is cool because I used to play in a military band. They are colourful, fun, and connected to my life.
For me, this is not a collection that will ever make it to an exhibition, but it gives me pleasure, and that is what stamp collecting is all about.