The Evolving of a Stamp Collection
by John M. Hotchner
If I ever began a column with a subject and little idea what I would say about it, this is it. I’m prompted to think about it by a realization that my journey in the hobby has come a long way from the days when my father gave me as an 11-year-old a packet of 1,000 worldwide stamps, and said, in essence, “Have fun!” He did know that I would, as I had pressed him to let me get started as early as age 5.
So I began what I now consider my apprenticeship as a worldwide collector with no date limitations. And I assumed that would be my approach forever. In 1954, this was not an unreasonable approach. Today, what I see happening is that this is not the way that most who come to the hobby begin. Rather they start as topical collectors based on another interest they may have; be it trains, space, cats, Princess Diana, Chinese New Year, or anything else that might tickle a mind engaged in today’s events or other aspects of their lives.
I believe this trend is equally true whether the new collector is young or an adult, though I think that the urge to collect one’s own country of origin or citizenship is probably more an adult way to approach the hobby than the topical approach.
Worldwiders are a vanishing species, and where I see it continuing to be a presence is in the realm of collecting time periods. The early trend was to collect the first century, 1840-1940, because it limited the challenge. And to hear it discussed, the stamps of this period were if not more colorful and attractive, then they at least represented the time when stamps were actually issued to be used, and the quality of production resulted in aesthetically beautiful engraved designs.
Today, there seem to be more worldwiders who prefer later time periods, or worldwide stamps from the year of their birth, or stamps that are blue, or stamps that feature in their designs a particular type of subject. Yes, we are back to topicalists, who are indeed a species of worldwide collector!
What I have learned is that however our collecting interests end up, they are likely to have become something very different from where we began. There are many reasons. Regardless of how generally we begin, or with what subject, as we play with our stamps, and acquire more, it is only natural that we are attracted to some stamps more than others. For the true worldwider, that may be because of the attractiveness of the stamps, the content of the designs, a connection to family origin or history (to include service in an area under military occupation or in combat), and for other reasons.
For the country collector, usually a particular issue (The Prexies, The Liberties, Washington-Franklins, may stand out; or you may be attracted especially to the Columbian issues, or Revenues.
So long as the bank account holds out and you can buy anything you wish, collecting broadly is no problem. You can add to your collections what you find. But for those of us, in fact most of us, who have limited funds to spend on our hobby, there usually comes a time when we have to decide to focus on one or more particular areas of interest, and to stop spending our scarce resources on things that do not give as much pleasure.
For me there was another pressure to retreat from worldwide collecting. At age 12, I began going with my father to the New Delhi, India Stamp Club. At a particular meeting, the club was holding its members-only auction. I had just gotten my 5 Rupees allowance, and flush with cash decided to bid on a lot of inexpensive India official overprints. Trouble was that in my enthusiasm to win the lot, I did not realize that I was bidding against my Dad. He won the lot, but not until he had been bid up to a level beyond my 5 Rupees. He was not, in today’s jargon, a Happy Camper.
This led us, once he started speaking to me again, to dividing up the world into his countries and my countries. In the course of that division of labor, I was also forced to consider what my slim resources could support, and I ended up with about 15 countries that I really liked. He ended up with about the same number, but countries that stamp-for-stamp cost a lot more. We agreed that we would each pursue our own USA collections — only his would be mint and mine would be used. We, mostly me, also agreed that we would not bid against each other any more.
I ultimately dropped a couple of the countries I had chosen, and again, ultimately, inherited his collections. I have continued most of his countries along with mine; a combined total of 22 countries plus a few that I have picked up along the way like Italy (my wife’s heritage) and Peru because a nephew married into a Peruvian family.
The countries I have kept up have been for a variety of reasons. For example, Poland (heritage), China (interesting complexity of the overprints), France (attractiveness of the stamps), Russia and Soviet Union (academic interest; especially in the period up to 1925), the early stamps of Great Britain (the fascinating number cancellations), and India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh (because of the history they represent and the fact that I lived in the region as a teenager).
For true worldwide collecting, my early collection of stamps honoring every aspect of United Nations involvement got cut down to what I could afford, including World Refugee Year, and World United Against Malaria. And my early interest in number and letter cancellations has evolved into a collection of stamps costing no more than 10¢ with a clear number and/or letter cancel. In my U.S. collecting, I fairly rapidly reached a point where I had everything I could reasonably afford — as a teenager, everything that cost under $2! But I discovered a wide range of specialized material that cost next to nothing at the time, but found interesting. And based on the prices, apparently this material had not been discovered by the mass of collectors.
Among these were the “F” category of Errors, Freaks and Oddities. I could not afford the Errors. But I could and did seek out misperforations, color varieties, paper folds and creases, and anything else from the production process that was defective and classed by most collectors as damaged stamps.
Also of interest and added to my U.S. collecting were in depth interests in plate singles of the Liberty issue, all Bureau precancels, non-Bureau precancels of the Washington-Franklin issue, and Christmas seals — which eventually evolved into specialized collections of the 1934 and 1935 seals.
But along the way, I was also bitten by the U.S. postal history bug, which never interested Dad. Specifically, I found fascinating the wide range of reasons that mail might be delayed through the fault of the mailer, the fault of the postal system, or how blind luck might intervene, such as with a plane crash, hurricane, or pranksters throwing firecrackers into a mail collection box.
While retaining my interest in stamps, the lure of covers has pushed me in new directions: for examples rates paid by the stamps used, covers rerouted because of the exigencies of war, and covers that were used to comply with the social practices surrounding the mourning of relatives, friends and high profile leaders.
Bottom line (a truly appropriate term), my trek through the by ways of stamp collecting has been influenced by financial resources, family and professional considerations, the aspects of specific countries that I have found interesting, and blind luck — the specialties I have been introduced to by other collectors.
The result of how my collecting has evolved is that I went from a worldwide collector to a collector of several of the world’s countries, and in many cases, have delved into one or more aspects of the philately of the countries I enjoy.
Along the way I have made peace with the fact that I will never own the great rarities of the countries I enjoy but in just about all cases I have collections that are over 90% complete, and there is enough variety of things to work on and update that I am never bored. Nor do I come close to breaking the bank in order to maintain my interests.
Who could ask for more?!
Should you wish to comment on this editorial, or have questions or ideas you would like to have explored in a future column, please write to John Hotchner, VSC Contributor, P.O. Box 1125, Falls Church, VA 22041-0125, or email, putting “VSC” in the subject line.
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