Stamp Collecting: a Royal Beginning
Collecting postage stamps has long fascinated old and young alike. Both have derived enjoyment and knowledge. President Franklin D. Roosevelt amassed an incredible stamp collection during his lifetime. There have been many collections, sold over the years, that have realized more than $1 million dollars each for their owners. At present time, the United States Post Office estimates there are nearly 16 million people in the United States alone who collect postage stamps. In his book, Fun and Profit in Stamp Collecting, Herman Hearst Jr. explains how the hobby really got started.
Parents encouraged their youngsters to collect stamps knowing the knowledge they would gain would be helpful in their education. The children were taking a sweet pill that under its sugar coating of pleasure was teaching history, economics, sociology, geography, and, most important of all, a knowledge and awareness of the world around them.
"But a king made stamp collecting respectable for adults. King George V of England was proud to exhibit his collection in his own country and abroad. In 1926 New York put on the greatest philatelic exhibition the world has ever seen, and names that were great in public esteem, politically, and industrially, were represented". That was the real beginning of stamp collecting as we know it in the United States.
All types of collections
As opposed to other collectibles, stamp collecting offers an immense variety of possibilities. Some of the major categories are listed and briefly described below:
1. Mint Single Stamps - Unused
Stamps that have just come off of the press and has not been used as postage.
2. Used Single Stamps.
3. Pre-Cancelled Stamps
Stamps that have been cancelled by the post office before use by the buyer. Businesses generally utilize pre-cancelled stamps in large mailings.
4. Topical Collections.
Collections consisting of single stamps relating to a particular topic. For example, one might collect all stamps worldwide that depict flowers, insects, kings, sports, flags, nurses, photography, space exploration, Boy Scouts - the list is endless.
When a stamp is affixed to an envelope, it is called a cover. Cover collecting is pursued both in the United States and foreign countries.
6. First Day Covers.
Most countries, including the United States, offer First Day Covers. Each time a new stamp is issued, the country of origin offers to cancel it on cover with a special cancellation which states "First Day of Issue" and the date.
7. Mint Sheets.
Many collectors opt to collect unused stamps in complete sheets.
These are not postage stamps: they are stamps used on such things as legal documents, wines, liquor, and playing cards.
9. Postal Cards.
Both used and unused from the United States and around the world.
10. Souvenir Sheets.
Many counties issue Souvenir Sheets - designed especially for stamp collectors - to commemorate certain events. The United States has issued nearly a dozen, one of which was in 1976 for the U.S. Bicentennial Celebration.
11. Plate Blocks.
These are four or more stamps joined together with the printing plate number in the margin.
These types of stamp collections represent only a smattering of the total possibilities, which are limited only by the collector's imagination. Within each of these categories there are even more specific areas of interest that can consume a lifetime of searching.
More than just a hobby
In the Stamp Collectors Handbook, Author Fred Reinfeld notes that, as a hobby, stamp collecting has few rivals. Stamp collecting he wrote, is comparatively inexpensive, is an absorbing way of spending leisure time, and offers "entertainment, constant novelty and the thrill of making unexpected discoveries".
Reinfeld also said, "At the very least, stamp collecting offers its devotees the means to forget the cares and irritations of their workday lives".
Furthermore, stamp collecting is more than a hobby - it's now a big business. Because it is so diversified, it is difficult to establish exact figures, but it is generally agreed among knowledgeable people in the industry that the total philatelic volume in the United States is at or near $1 billion annually.