Starting your own stamp collection can be a fun, rewarding hobby that you can continue throughout your life.
In this article, we touch on the history of stamps and stamp collecting, some of the key terms, and finish off with advice about starting your very own stamp collection from our experts at The Warehouse Antiques.
HISTORY OF STAMPS AND STAMP COLLECTING
Postage was first created in 1516 by Henry VIII, and it was originally paid for by the recipient, rather than the sender. Before postage stamps, the word ‘stamp collector’ was used more than a century before. In 1710 it was used to describe a collector or receiver of stamp duties. Since then, the meaning has changed and refers to someone that collects stamps for pleasure.
The first stamp was issued in 1840. Rowland Hill (1795 - 1879), an English teacher, inventor and social reformer, proposed that all postage should be prepaid, rather than being paid for by the recipient. It was suggested as a way to reverse the financial losses of the Post Office.
The very first, initial flat postage rate began on 5th December 1839 and lasted for just 36 days. From 10th January 1840, fixed rates were introduced, meaning that an adhesive label could be attached to the letter and there was no need to handle money.
The Penny Black was the first postage stamp to come into use in the world from 6th May 1840. Once in circulation, it was clear that black was the wrong colour to use as it meant cancellation marks were hard to see. From 1841 Penny Black stamps were printed in red.
The Penny Black showed a young Queen Victoria and was printed without perforations, meaning that the stamp had to be cut from the sheet before it could be used. An unused example is extremely rare and highly collectable.
Stamp collecting itself became almost immediately popular. There are records of people collecting stamps as early as 1860, just 20 years after the first stamp was issued. Stamp collecting took off in the late 19th century and has remained a popular hobby ever since. The Wall Street Journal estimated that there were around 60 million stamp collectors worldwide in 2013.
Glossary of Terms
If you’re going to start a stamp collection, it can help to understand some of the key terms that you might hear or read while researching which stamps to collect.
Cancellation - A postal mark on top of the stamp, showing it has been through the post and cannot be reused.
Commemorative Stamp - Produced to commemorate an event or theme. They can also be referred to as special if there is no anniversary involved.
Definitive Stamp - a stamp intended for everyday use over a long period. In the UK, the definitive stamp usually shows the profile of the Queen’s [or kings?] head.
Mint - A stamp in perfect condition, uncancelled and with its original gum.
Philately - the study/collecting of postage stamps, stamped envelopes, postmarks and other materials.
Perforation - allows removal of individual stamps by removing small pieces of paper from between the stamps.
Used - a stamp that has been used and shows part (or all) of a postmark.
STARTING YOUR STAMP COLLECTION
Deciding where to start with any collection can be a tricky decision. We think it’s always best to start collecting what you’re interested in, or something you’re passionate about. You’re much more likely to stay motivated that way, and doing the research won’t feel like a chore.
The exciting thing about starting your stamp collection is that you can make it unique to you. However, if you’re looking for inspiration, here is a list of some popular themes for stamp collections:
• Commemorative stamps If you’re a history buff, finding stamps commemorating some of the more unique and obscure events might get you hooked. Sometimes they are used to mark historical events. For example, following the death of Princess Diana in August 1997, a set of five stamps were issued in the UK on 3rd February 1998 to commemorate her life.
• Airmail stamps Airmail is a popular stamp type to collect as it typically costs more to purchase and send and uses special rates depending on where in the world it is going. If you love to travel and explore the world, collecting airmail stamps might satisfy some of your wanderlust between trips!
• Postage due stamps These were applied by the Post Office to mail which did not hold enough postage. Whilst unused postage due stamps are common and unremarkable, surviving examples of valid, used postage due stamps, together with a postage stamp on the cover are sought after by collectors.
• Definitive stamps If the idea of amassing a large collection of stamps appeals to you, there’s plenty to be getting on with collecting everyday stamps. Collecting definitive stamps requires an eye for detail, as many of the rare and valuable stamps are subtle variations of ordinary stamps - and may appear identical to the casual observer!
• Topical Topical stamps can cover a large number of themes, such as Disney, sports, insects, birds and animals. If you already have a passion for a certain topic, why not see if you can build a stamp collection around it!
VALUING A STAMP COLLECTION
When it comes to valuing a stamp collection, as with many antique collections, the most important factor is the condition of the stamps. Missing perforations, faded colour and other imperfections can greatly reduce the value of a stamp. Rarity is also important - the less common the stamp, the more likely it is to be valuable.
However, when you start collecting stamps it’s probably best to just relax and have fun - after all, stamp collecting is a great hobby and can be an interesting way to meet new people with similar interests at auctions and events.