There is no doubt in my mind that the hobby of stamp collecting is going through a period of vast change.
It isn’t that the hobby is dying out, because I am hearing from a number of sources that there are plenty of new people interested in stamp collecting; it is just that they are not necessarily involved in the world of stamp clubs, so-called organized philately. It makes a lot of sense when you look at it objectively. Today it is easy to buy stamps by email, or through web pages, without ever attending a meeting or going to a show. From talking to Canada Post, I know these people are out there, they are buying Superman stamps, they are buying flower stamps, they are buying lunar zodiacs, and they are doing so on the primary market, either through their local outlets or through the National Philatelic Centre in Antigonish, N.S.
Now it is easy to sort of shrug these folks off as non-collectors because they may not own an album, they may not have a collecting plan, and they are probably not studying their stamps. They are simply buying the stuff they like. I will be the first to admit that some of them will never become serious stamp collectors, but I suspect that quite a few of them could become interested in purchasing similar stamps, and chances are they will be doing that online. They may have little more than an accumulation of interesting stuff, but they probably consider it a collection. I think the hobby should be viewing these people not as aberrations, but as potential hobbyists. They should be welcomed into the hobby and given encouragement and information. To me the situation is similar to the old practice of encouraging children to fill up album pages with world stamps taken from kiloware. While that practice looks a little bit more like mainstream philately, the truth is that those of us who filled album pages as children did so with stamps that the collectors of that day didn’t want. It is also true that almost none of those children’s collections ever amounted to any financial value. Even today, most of those albums end up, not in dealer’s inventory, but as freebies at kids’ tables, or as giveaways for novices.
Today’s new collector starts, not at the local department store counter, but by responding to the announcement of a new stamp that interests them. If they are interested enough to buy one stamp, they are interested enough to buy more, as long as their imagination is tweaked. The challenge of the future is to encourage that natural tendency many people have to collect into collecting action. I suspect the best way remains topical collecting. If someone likes this year’s Superman issue, they should be exposed to earlier stamps on the same subject. Canada Post has featured him before, for example. Perhaps from there they will develop an interest in a broader subject and who knows, they may one day discover the beauty of a classic engraved stamp. Canada Post puts in considerable effort trying to find new stamps that interest new collectors. We should be trying to capitalize on that effort to build the hobby.