Philately, or the study of postage stamps and its history, has been a popular subject since the late 19th century, when the postal service saw a rapid growth. Although they have a passion for all aspects of stamps, Philatelists oftentimes also collect, so the name has become synonymous with the term “stamp collector.”
The Penny Black was what’s considered the first postage stamp and was issued in Britain in May of 1840. It featured a picture of a young Queen Victoria. This early stamp had to be cut from a sheet with scissors in order for it to be used.
As stamp collecting became more common through the 1880s, publishers like Stanley Gibbons made a business out of selling stamp albums and stamp-related literature, targeting mostly children and teenagers. They were the early collectors through the 1860s and 1870s because adults dismissed the hobby as childish. However, those children grew up continuing to collect stamps and publish books about them, thus keeping the tradition alive.
The early 2000s saw a decline in collecting as traditional hobbies made way for the digital age. Modern collectors do still exist, but are known as being “hidden,” meaning they collect at home but aren’t associated with a traditional stamp club. A philatelic named Graham Beck sought to find these types of collectors by creating a YouTube Channel called Exploring Stamps, which proved to be successful.
Two main types of collectors exist today. The “Traditional Collector” is normally associated with those born before the 1970s, who prefer paper publications, in person stamp meetings, and discussing more technical aspects of the hobby. The “Modern Collector” is typically born after the 1970s, interacts more through social platforms, prefers digital publications, and focuses more on the presentation of subjects of stamps. Previously struggling stamp clubs have made comebacks and seen growth in their membership by modernizing in order to cater to the latter group of stamp collectors.
Other interesting facts about stamp collecting:
- Count Philipp von Ferrary was a famous stamp collector at the beginning of the 20th century and was said to have the most complete collection to ever exist.
- Famous rare stamps include the British Guiana 1c magenta, which is the most valuable of all stamps, and the “Inverted Jenny,” because of its printing error – the Curtis JN-4 airplane on the stamp was printed upside down.
- The most important tools to have as a collector are tongs to handle the stamps safely, a magnifying glass to help view the fine details, and an album to store them easily.
- Popular types of stamps to collect include postage stamps, postal stationary, sheetlets, and revenue stamps, among others.
- Queen Elizabeth II has a collection of British and Commonwealth first day covers (envelopes with stamps attached and cancelled on the first day the stamp was issued), which she started in 1952. Her collection was passed on to her by her grandfather, King George V, who was President of the Royal Philatelic Society.