Postal stamps have been around since 1840, and today stamp collecting is one of the world’s most popular hobbies. Over 200 million people around the globe enjoy stamp collecting; about 10% of them live in the United States. Stamp collecting doesn’t come with a fixed set of rules. You get to make up your own! Save your stamps in albums or display them — it’s all up to you.
Ways to Collect
Some collectors buy only unused “mint” stamps while others don’t mind if their stamps have cancellation marks on them from mailing. When you buy new stamps but don’t use them for mailing, governments get to keep the revenue, which is why stamps are such works of art — to encourage collectors to buy! Current U.S. stamps are available at USPS.com. Postbeeld, the largest internet stamp shop, is based in The Netherlands. They offer hundreds of thousands of older stamps from around the world, as well as subscriptions to newly-issued stamps. Bob Pyle, owner of Stamp House in Boise, Idaho, says, “These days, it’s a buyer’s market. Lots of supply as older folks and dealers sell off their collections, and not much demand as youngsters turn to social media instead of stamp collecting. Ninety percent of stamps can be bought from other collectors for under a quarter. You can also browse the American Philatelic Society’s website.”
More Ways to Collect
My parents immigrated to the U.S. from Denmark and had friends around the world, so we used to get letters with stamps from Europe, Africa, even Australia. I would let the envelope soak in water and then gently lift the stamps off, but nowadays some people prefer stamp lift fluid, which goes through the back of the paper without soaking the stamp. Bob Pyle also recommends a magnifying glass or loupe to help you see the beautiful details in your stamps. As I look through my stamp collection now, 50+ years later, I realize that it’s a time capsule, depicting the culture, people, and achievements of the 1960s, from the moon landing, to the Johnson administration’s highway beautification program, even Robert Indiana’s famously mod LOVE stamp. My collection also features special-issue Christmas stamps from the U.S. and Denmark. But you could focus your collection on stamps that feature specific countries, printing errors, birds, butterflies, inventors, ships, cars, flowers, art, Disney characters, the Olympics, air mail, space, famous people, Chinese New Year, or other holidays. Arrange them by topic, country, or color — it’s all up to you!
Once you begin a collection, you’ll want to keep your stamps safe and organized. Stockbooks are albums made of extra heavy black or white card stock. Each page has horizontal rows of clear strips to hold your stamps—just slip them in and remove them any time. (Bob Pyle recommends stamp tongs so oils from your fingers don’t damage your stamps.) Between each page are clear or glassine interleaves to prevent stamps from sticking when you close the book. Stockbooks can be used for permanent storage, but they have additional uses because you can always remove or rearrange any of your stamps. Some people use stockbooks to store stamps before adding them to pre-printed albums as well as for keeping duplicates and extra stamps for trading. Others use stockbooks for starting topical collections or for storing valuable stamps in safe deposit boxes.
If your album doesn’t have pockets like those in the stockbooks described above, you’ll need hinges to stick your stamps to the pages of your album. Stamp hinges are small, folded, semi-transparent, rectangular pieces of archival paper coated with a mild gum. The short end is moistened and affixed to the stamp, while the long end is moistened and affixed to the page. The hinge keeps the stamp on the page yet allows you to lift it off slightly to examine the back for faults or watermarks. Hinges can be tricky to use at first and can damage your stamps if you don’t use the hinges properly, another reason I prefer to use a stockbook. If you go with hinges, cut up small pieces of blank paper and practice using those with hinges before you risk your stamps.
“Most people keep their stamps safe in albums, rather than displaying them,” says Bob Pyle. “But if you want to display them, since they’re flat, you can use any photo frame to hang them up. A small piece of two-way tape will secure them to the backing. Be sure your frame has UV-protection so your stamps don’t fade!”
Shop for stamps and stamp-collecting supplies:
- Buy stamps from other collectors
- USPS Stamps
- American Philatelic Society
- Stamp lift fluid
- Stamp tongs
- Magnifying Glass
- 10x Magnifying loupe
- 32-page hardcover stamp album stockbook
- Stamp hinges
- UV protection photo frame
Prices are accurate and items in stock as of time of publication.
Crista Worthy writes about aviation, travel, wildlife, and more from her home in Idaho.