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Getting Started as a U.S. Stamp Collector: Your Thoughts Wanted

By John M. Hotchner

For people who still have the capacity to dream, a recurrent phrase is "Wouldn't it be fun, or interesting, or rewarding, to do X?!"

But somehow, it never gets done. Life gets in the way, or it seems like an overwhelming expedition, and we drop the idea as impractical. It is said that the hardest part of any new adventure or project is to begin. And that is where many potential stamp collectors get tripped up.

Having talked with a large number of people over the years who expressed interest in stamp collecting, who were attracted to the idea, but never followed through, I have begun to wonder what might have helped them.

To start with, I think we have to overcome the goal-orientation that Americans suffer from. As we dream, we tend to focus on what the end point looks like, rather than the practicalities of how to begin. We have no trouble picturing a full album, but not what it will take to get there. To the extent that there is a realization, of the time, the expense, the knowledge ... it seems overwhelming.

This is precisely the wrong approach. Stamp collecting is all about the journey, not the destination. The object of stamp collecting is the enjoyment of learning, the search for stamps, handling them to create order, completing a set or a page, not a country. How do we convey that to someone who sees a stamp collection as a completed album on a coffee table?

To the extent that the busy American, in today's world, has a sense of what it takes to get to the presumed goal, it may be seen as not possible. How many of us in our busy lives have reserves of time, energy, and money to devote to a new hobby?

But here again the underlying assumptions may be off. How do we convey to people that the time spent "working" on a stamp collection is more often than not energy-renewing, that the vast majority of stamps are inexpensive, that if you enjoy the hobby, you will creatively find time for it?

Relying upon you who are reading this, I would like to come up with a "How to..." pamphlet–guide to stamp collecting that is no more than four pages. Its object will be to reorient the reader's approach to the hobby; to convey that it is something that is easy to start and fun to engage in. A critical part of it will be a series of helpful hints on how to get started without having to commit large amounts of money, time and energy, and this is where you come in.

What I need from you to write this is the lessons you have learned from getting started in the hobby, and your recommendations as to how others might start, in ways that promote enjoyment and enthusiasm. I need a lot of input from Virtual Stamp Club readers to do this — and I am happy to get it in the form of letters, emails, essays, notes on a post card, or any other way you can contribute.

Yes, there are already several good books that lay out the basics of the hobby. Some are even good at conveying the enthusiasm that energizes the happiest of stamp collectors. But books are for those who have already decided to get involved in the hobby. I want to reach a different audience — those who are still undecided; who might be inclined to try it if they saw it as something attractive and do-able.

Contact me at PO Box 1125, Falls Church, VA 22041-0125, or via email at jmhstamp@verizon.net or leave a message in this discussion in The Virtual Stamp Club message board.

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