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Stamp collecting

Stamp collecting is the collecting of postage stamps and things related to postage stamps. It is one of the world's most popular hobbies.

Philately is a broader term for the study of stamps, and it is frequently (and wrongly) equated to stamp collecting. A philatelist often does but need not collect the objects of his study.

In spite of its global popularity, it remains unprofitable for many individuals, giving rise to the phrase, "Philately will get you nowhere". (Who says stamp collectors have no sense of humor?..) However, stamp collectors are an important source of revenue for some small countries who create limited runs of elaborate stamps designed mainly to be bought by stamp collectors. The stamps produced by these countries far exceed the postal needs of the countries.

Stamp collectors collect:

  • postage stamps
  • Postal stationery - includes government-issued post cards, aerograms[?], air letter sheets, etc.
  • revenue stamps[?]
  • Postage Due stamps[?]
  • Duck stamps[?] (stamps for duck hunting licenses, mainly U.S. with some other countries such as Canada)
  • souvenir sheets - the US Postal Service sometimes releases stamps in a format that look like a sheet with a big picture. Various parts of the picture can be torn out and used as postage stamps. See example (http://new.usps.com/cgi-bin/uspsbv/scripts/printfriendly.jsp?D=16480) with 10 stamps in one picture. (Souvenir sheets should be distinguished from souvenir cards, which are souvenirs of a philatelic meeting or exhibition but are not valid for postage.)
  • first day covers[?] - envelopes with designs matching the stamps being issued. The cancellation mark must be imprinted on the day of the first issue and at the postal office designated for the issuing of the stamp.
  • souvenir pages[?] - with first day cancelled stamps on a page describing all design, printing and issuing details. This is similar to first day covers except that it is done on a printed sheet of paper instead of an envelope, and the specification of the stamp is printed by the official source. See picture of first souvenir page in the US (http://www.stampprof.com/sp/sp72-00a.gif).
  • Philatelic literature
  • Government issued material associated with postage stamps (e.g., envelopes)
  • stamp-like labels
  • non-stamp items picturing actual postage stamps
  • non-stamp items picturing stamp-like labels
  • counterfeit/forged postage stamps - These are difficult to collect in that they are often illegal and subject to confiscation.
  • postmarks

History of stamp collecting

Children and teenagers were early collectors of stamps in the 1860s and 1870s. Many adults dismissed it as a childish pursuit.

During the late 1800s many of those collectors, now adults, began to systematically study the available postage stamps and published research works on their production, plate flaws[?], etc.

It was not until the 1920s that publicity about valuable stamps encouraged a large increase in the number of stamp collectors. This rapid increase in postage stamp values was largely due to very few of the older stamps being saved in good condition. Especially difficult to find were pairs, triples, and large blocks of older stamps.

During the 1930s many people stockpiled mint stamps with the hopes of selling them for a large profit in a few years' time. This never materialized. Even today, more than 60 years later, one can find 1930s stamps in mint condition for close to face value.

Most postage stamps issued since the 1930s are easy to obtain and have minimal value. Some high face value stamps, such as the $2.60 United States Graf Zeppelin issued in 1930, are worth substantial amounts of money. Other stamps issued since 1930 that are usually worth something are souvenir sheets[?] from popular countries, hard to find plate number coils[?], and errors in printing.

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